Dear People of God:
Like many of you, I spend more time online these days. Recently, the hopeful face of a young black man named Ahmaud Arbery has appeared again and again in the newspapers I read and the social media feeds I scroll.
In February, Arbery was jogging unarmed near his home in Georgia when he was shot to death by white vigilantes. Only last week, after a video leaked to the public showed his death in graphic detail, were the men who allegedly murdered him arrested.
Arbery’s murder is a stark reminder of the devastating toll that the sin of racism exacts on people of color in our country. Here in Chicago, where young black men also die from gun violence fueled by poverty and racism, another plague is ravaging communities of color. Black and brown people are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at rates far higher than white people.
In this diocese, we are committed to working against white supremacy and confronting our own complicity in structural racism. In the last several years, we have hosted anti-gun violence rallies and conferences, examined how the legacy of slavery distorts our communities and churches to this day, and participated in the work of our Antiracism Commission and its Pathway to Reconciliation curriculum. Late last month, we held a teleconference to explore the church’s role in responding to the structural racism that undergirds the appalling COVID-19 death toll in communities of color.
But our thirst for true peace, which comes only with justice, requires us to do more. During our COVID-19 webinar, the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York, urged each of us to ask ourselves, “What is the one thing I can do?” You can watch a video of her remarks on our YouTube channel.
During the webinar, Kelly reminded us that it is “easy to protest. The harder thing is to plant the seeds for a more just future.” She challenged us to learn from “what justice means to those on the margins,” to educate ourselves, and to recognize the ways that the inequality revealed in our wider society is also part of our church.
If you are seeking ways to respond to this challenge, I commend the commission’s list of resources and especially Kelly’s book, “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.” I also urge you to join the Episcopal Public Policy Network, the grassroots organizing arm of the church’s Office of Government Relations. And as we begin to consider the shape of the post-pandemic church, I encourage you to consider how congregations with more material resources can find new ways to partner with churches that have less.
During the webinar, Kelly said, “If nothing else, we have a voice and a vote.” We can also find strength and fortitude in bringing our lamentations and aspirations to God. In this Easter season when the truth of the resurrection burns bright, let us renew our prayer that the sin of racism will be vanquished by the power of the Risen Christ.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago