Commitment to End Racism

September 05, 2015

From the Rev. Charles de Kay
St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Evanston, IL 

Texts for the day included Mark 7:24-37

In the name of God, who searches our hearts.  Amen.

Please be seated.

Good morning!

When asked what he imagined to be the greatest difference between himself and us Americans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said (as best I can remember): "I think that when you walk down the street and you see someone you do not know, you see a stranger. When I walk down the street and see someone I do not know, I see a friend I have not yet met."

This morning, we have been asked to participate in a specific, holy task. On Tuesday, the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings – these two are the current leaders of our denomination – issued a letter to the church, which was emailed to our mailing list, so I will excerpt it here.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

On June 17, nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered by a white racist during their weekly bible study. Just a few days later at General Convention in Salt Lake City, we committed ourselves to stand in solidarity with the AME Church as they respond with acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice.

Now our sisters and brothers in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church have asked us to make that solidarity visible by participating in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” on Sunday, September 6. We ask all Episcopal congregations to join this ecumenical effort with prayer and action.

“Racism will not end with the passage of legislation alone; it will also require a change of heart and thinking,” writes AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson. “This is an effort which the faith community must lead, and be the conscience of the nation. We will call upon every church, temple, mosque and faith communion to make their worship service on this Sunday a time to confess and repent for the sin and evil of racism, this includes ignoring, tolerating and accepting racism, and to make a commitment to end racism by the example of our lives and actions.”

There is much in our liturgy this morning, especially the in the prayers and in the brief but powerful confession from the New Zealand Prayer Book, that are in keeping with the “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.”  This morning we join with churches around the country certainly – and likely around the world – in making sure that those who died in Charleston did not die in vain.  I urge all of us to put our hearts into our prayers today.

Sisters and brothers, we lost nine good people on that night in June.  And we lost any illusions of living a post-racial society.  A locally born and bred young man named Dylan internalized the systemic racism of our nation, and was radicalized for American racial holy war.  Systemic racism with its poison pollutes the water we drink and the air we breathe, ever contaminating the home of the brave and the land of the free.  As horrifying as he may be and as obscene as his actions were, young Dylan Roof is a genuine product of the American way.  History tells us that he’s neither a wild aberration nor likely to be the last.  Perhaps the true horror is that he doesn’t really surprise us.  Have we become so accustomed to racial violence that we cannot muster outrage over such domestic terrorism any longer?

Let’s turn our attention to his targets.  Personal stories are important.  Here’s a smidgeon of what news outlets CBS, NPR, and BuzzFeed reported about those nine black women and men who were executed at their weekly Bible Study.

It’s no picnic – I’m told – being a clergy spouse.  The wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston, Myra Thompson, 59, found comfort in Mother Emmanuel Church’s bible study group and she was a Diamond Life member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.  She was initiated into the Sorority through the Gamma Upsilon Chapter at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. in 1977.  Her daughter, Denise Quarles, is also a member.

Black lives matter.

Charleston native, a member of the Mother Emmanuel church most her life, Ethel Lee Lance, 70, had worked at the church as a sexton or custodian, as well.  "She was a God-fearing woman," said granddaughter Najee Washington, 23, who lived with her. "She was the heart of the family. She is a very caring, giving and loving woman. She was beautiful inside and out." Lance had five children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“I’m lost, I’m lost,” her grandson Jon Quil Lance told the Post and Courier as he waited outside the trauma center of Medical University Hospital, where the victims were being treated. “She’s a Christian, hardworking; I could call my granny for anything. I don’t have anyone else like that.”

Black lives matter.

Now, Ethel Lance’s cousin, Susie Jackson, 87, was another long-time member; she sang in the choir.  She was a member of Eastern Star, and she was looking forward to the large family reunion in mid-July.

“She was one of the Golden Girls,” her sister Martha Drayton told the Post and Courier.

Her son, Walter Jackson, said his mother was a “loving person” who had “no animosity toward nobody.”  When he moved away from his home in the projects on the East Side, Walter Jackson said his mother gave his room to two young people who needed shelter in the neighborhood.  “She took in others,” he said. “She was just that type of person.”

Jackson, who was fond of playing slot machines, was scheduled to go on a church-sponsored bus trip to Chicago on Sunday and was looking forward to going to the top of the Willis Tower, said a member of the church.

Black lives matter.

Tywanza Sanders, 26, was a 2014 graduate in business administration from Allen University in Columbia.  The interim president of the University, described him: "He was a quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education. He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues.” 

Known as Ty, during school he had worked in sales at department stores such as Macy's.  Since graduation, Sanders worked at Smitty's Super Seven Barber in Charleston.

On his Instagram account Sanders described himself as a businessman, college grad, poet, artist and barber. He added in his profile that he is living life where God takes him.

Sanders died while trying to save his 87-year-old aunt, Susie Jackson. When Dylan Roof aimed his gun at Jackson, Sanders asked him to point the gun at him instead.  Roof then said, “It doesn’t matter, I’m going to shoot all of you.”  Sanders stood between Roof and his aunt to save her, and the first bullet struck him.

Black lives matter.

Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr., 74, survived the initial attack but then died in a hospital operating room.  Rev. Simmons was the former pastor of several AME churches in the 7th Episcopal District, a war veteran, a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and a loving father and grandfather. He was very proud of his family including his two children and his four grandchildren.

At Greater Zion AME Church, where he was pastor until 2009, he led weekly bible studies and helped the church establish a housing ministry and a hot meal program for those in need. 

"He was a by-the-book person," said church officer Patricia Brown. "He said the only way you really stay out of trouble is if you go by the rules."

Black lives matter.

Mother of three, pastor, speech language pathologist, and high school track and field coach, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was 45.  Goose Creek High School Principal Jimmy Huskey said she was so dedicated she was at work before 8 a.m. and typically didn't leave until 8 p.m. "She had a big smile," Huskey said. "Her No. 1 concern was always the students. She made a difference in the lives of children. She cannot be replaced here at this school."

Her oldest son, Chris Singleton, is a Charleston Southern sophomore baseball player.  The day after the murder, Chris Singleton stood in front of cameras at the Charleston Southern baseball field to speak about his mother.  "We are mourning right now, but I know we will get through it," he said. "My mom was a God fearing woman. She loved everybody with all her heart.  Love is always stronger than hate," he added.

Black lives matter.

Cynthia Hurd, 54, was a 31-year employee of the Charleston County Public Library or CCPL.  “Her loss is incomprehensible,” the CCPL said.  Friends and co-workers described her as a “wonderful” and “lovely” person.  The CCPL closed all 16 of its locations to honor Hurd and all the victims of the shooting, the following day.  The St. Andrews Regional Library which she headed will be re-named the Cynthia Hurd Regional Library. 

Her brother, Malcolm Graham, described her as “a woman of faith” in a statement:

"My sister was a victim of the senseless hate crime at Emanuel AME Church. It is unimaginable that she would walk into church and not return. But that's who she was - a woman of faith." She would have turned 55 on the following Sunday.

Black lives matter.

The mother of four daughters, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: sang in the choir and preached in the pulpit at Mother Emmanuel. She had previously directed a community development program in Charleston County. In December, she started a new job as an admissions coordinator at the Charleston campus of Southern Wesleyan University.

The Middleton family released a statement:

The very thing many of us fight against—a deeply masked and far reaching culture of violence in our society—has devastated our family. This past Wednesday night during bible study and prayer service, a gunman filled with a racist heart entered the historical Mother Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire on the 12 persons gathered there. Only three people survived the attack.

Our loved one, Rev. Depayne Middleton, was among those killed. Ever since her death was confirmed, our family has been met with unspeakable pain and grief. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in God’s power to mend our broken hearts.

At this time of grave personal loss, we ask you for two things. First, please keep our family and our church community at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in your prayers. Next, please move away from the sidelines and unite together- regardless of your faith or religious practice- to seek an end to hatred and violence.

What happened to our family is part of a larger attack on Black and Brown bodies. To impact change, we must recognize the connection between racism, hate crimes and racialized policing. While the focus for this specific attack was on African Americans, we all have a responsibility to seek not only justice for the victims, but an end to racial injustice.

We call on all people, public officials, faith leaders and Americans from all walks of life to help address the festering sores of racism as it spurs an unforgiving culture of violence. This is a big task but may become more manageable if we work together and if all people see the attack in Charleston as an attack on their own families and loved ones.

Black lives matter.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, was a state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel; he was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana. He was a 1995 magna cum laude graduate of Allen University (business administration). While in college he served as freshman class president, student body president, and senior class president.  He received his master's degree in public administration at the University of South Carolina in 1999.

Pinckney received his first appointment to pastor when he was 18 years old. In 1997, at age 23, he was elected to the State House of Representatives , making him the youngest African-American legislator in South Carolina history . At age 27, he became South Carolina’s youngest state senator.

In 1999, Ebony Magazine named Pinckney one of the 30 African-American leaders of the future.

“I see my public life as an extension of my ministry,” he told the Post and Courier. “I believe in a progressive, holistic ministry where you are mentally, politically and socio-economically involved. Faith is not just getting you to heaven.”

"He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told the Associated Press. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

Following the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot by a police officer in April, Pinckney played a key role in getting a bill - mandating all officers to wear body cameras - passed.  “He was a very caring and competent pastor and he was a very brave man. And brave men sometimes die very difficult deaths.”

Black lives matter.

As the letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies notes: “Participating in ‘Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday’ on September 6 is just one way that we Episcopalians can undertake this essential work.”

There have been a number of other ideas kicking around St. Matthew’s lately.  For this morning, I tried to come up with 9 ways – one for each person killed at Mother Emmanuel AME.  If we include today’s service, here’s seven more.  The ninth one will have to be one of yours!  We are talking about:

  • Participating in theLet’s Talk At … [Lunch?] About Race at St. Matthew’s(or any of the other locations that our YWCA program is hosting around the City).  I’m still seeking feedback on best days and times during the month to hold it at church.
  • Participating in the2 and a half day anti-racism training:Analyzing Systemic Racism at the Diocesan Center in Chicago in early October.
  • Helping to imagine a newly engagedpartnership with St. Andrew’s Pentecost,our neighbor six blocks south in the historically African-American part of town, a partnership which could involve pulpit swaps, collaborative events, parishioner swaps, joint ministry projects such as bible study, youth projects, and church parties
  • Working with theArchives Teamto research St. Matthew’s history on matters of racial justice
  • Joining the newly formingWorship Teamto develop worship services that provide ways to offer before God our hurts and hopes around this issue
  • Helping theParish Life Team,led by Jennie Woodring, or theNewcomer Team,led by Judy Royal, to make sure that St. Matthew’s is always a community that’s warmly welcoming to all, including black people.

We welcome your ideas as we seek your commitment to this piece of living into the Gospel.  Jesus could not be more clear about his call to reach out to all who have been disempowered by the powerful.  Most of all, he said “Love your neighbor.”  Our immediate neighbor to the south is the fifth ward, a black and Hispanic area.  Let’s find creative, respectful ways to get to know our neighbors better.  May we, like His Holiness the Dalia Lama, learn to see in the person walking down the street toward us not a stranger, not as someone to be suspicious of, but a friend we’ve yet to meet.

And together, we can make tomorrow a brighter day for all of God’s children.

May God bless us and our efforts.  Amen.

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