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Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The Sin of Racism: A Call to Covenant
A Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church March 2006
We, the bishops of the Episcopal Church, acknowledged the painful reality of the consequences of racism in the 1994 pastoral letter “the Sin of Racism.” In that letter, we stated “the essence of racism is prejudice coupled with power. It is rooted in the sin of pride and exclusivity which assumes ‘that I and my kind are superior to others and therefore deserve special privileges.’” We issue this new pastoral on the pervasive sin that continues to plague our common life in the church and in our culture. We acknowledge our participation in this sin and we lament its corrosive effects on our lives. We repent of this sin, and ask God’s grace and forgiveness.
When Jesus entered the synagogue in his first public act of ministry (Luke 4), he read from the prophet Isaiah. The vision proclaimed is known as the desire of God, the peaceable kingdom, a society of justice and shalom, or the city set on a hill. It is an icon of what God intends for all creation – that human beings live in justice and peace with one another, that the poor are fed and housed and clothed, the ill are healed, prisoners set free, and that the whole created order is restored to right relationship. That vision is our goal and vocation as Christians.
The fundamental truth undergirding this vision is that all are made in the image of God. It is in our diversity that we discover the fullness of that image. If we judge one class or race or gender better than another, we violate that desire and intent of God. And when our social and cultural systems exacerbate or codify such judgments, we do violence to that which God has made. Racism is a radical affront to the good gift of God, both in the creation described in Genesis, and in the reality of the Incarnation. Jesus came among us to bring an end to that which divides us, as Paul so clearly identifies in Galatians 3:28, “in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.”
Whenever individual or community behaviors work against God’s vision, we have promised to respond in ways that will serve to heal: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will with God's help.” (BCP p 305) God has created us with skins of many colors, God has created us in thousands of tribes and languages, and none is adjudged more godly than another. It is our behavior that gives evidence of godliness, not the color of our skin.
The world has witnessed the evil of institutionalized racism and classism in the United States in the aftermath of the hurricanes of 2005. The poor and persons of color were often served last – or not at all – while wealthy and privileged residents had greater resources to escape the immediate danger of the hurricanes and begin the process of rebuilding. We are all shamed by the sin of racism in the reality of inequity in housing, employment, educational and healthcare opportunities, and the disaster response.
This House of Bishops, meeting in Hendersonville, North Carolina on 21 March 2006, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commit ourselves as bishops to discern and confess our own prejudice and complicity in the pervasive sin of racism, to confront it, and make amends for it in intentional ways every time we gather as a House. We ask the Holy Spirit to empower the House to fully live into this covenant, and we invite the members of this Church to covenant with us, in the following actions personally, corporately, and globally. With God’s help, we will: