We gather this morning in the wake of last Wednesday night’s shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As many of you know, Bishop Mariann Budde and I issued a statement on Thursday morning which read, in part:
We and all people of good will are compelled to name this tragedy for what it is: the product of the conjoined sins of racism and violence. For too long, our African-American sisters and brothers have endured a reign of terror that has targeted churches, homes and businesses in the name of the ugly ideology of white supremacy. Such a visceral hatred for people of color has no place in our country, our homes or our hearts. It certainly has no place in our churches.
The bishop and I also attended (along with cathedral colleagues Stuart Kenworthy, Ruth Frey, Patty Johnson, and my wife Kathy) a community prayer vigil Friday afternoon at Metropolitan AME Church here in Washington. And Preston Hannibal, Stuart, and I represented the cathedral at a diocesan prayer vigil at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Friday night. The response of the black church in America has been, for me, the purest expression of authentic Christianity I have seen in my life as a priest. Their powerful expressions of forgiveness and love remind us all of what it means really to follow Jesus.
Many people have asked me, “How is the cathedral going to respond?” I want to say that we are going to respond in three ways:
First, we respond by standing with our African American brothers and sisters in this moment and by showing up to mourn with them.
Second, we respond by joining with them in naming this murder for what it is: a hateful expression of racist white supremacy. This hate crime is not about mental illness or the persecution of Christians. This killing was an act of terrorism designed to intimidate and silence people of color in the United States. We need vocally to resist all attempts to explain the shootings away as anything other than a race crime.
Third, we respond by moving the cathedral’s work on racial justice to the very top of our missional agenda. As the most visible Christian institution in the United States, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to gather the faith community in calling America come to terms with its history of racism, violence, and segregation.
There are many issues—each of them serious and worthwhile—that claim the cathedral’s attention. But nothing is more important in this moment than for us to lead American people of faith not only to healing and repentance but to the hard and freeing work of taking the lid off a past we would rather ignore, exploring that past’s ongoing effects in the present, and working together with men and women and children of good will across the ethnic and racial spectrum of America to build a future in which racism, violence, and false notions of supremacy will cease to have a place.
The shooting of nine Christian martyrs in Charleston calls each of us to examine our own participation in systemic and cultural racism. It calls all of us to forge real relationships outside the comfort zones of our own racial identities. And it demands that we, as a cathedral community and as a great church for national purposes, act to lead church and society into a new way of being together in America.
It is time for America to face into the open wound of race relations in our nation. It is time for Washington National Cathedral to reach out to our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to build a new community of love and justice that can help all of us do right by the nine who died in Charleston and for our nation, finally, to do the right thing. I will dedicate the rest of my time here as your dean to that purpose. I ask that all of you join me and my cathedral colleagues in this work.