"As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.'" Luke 19:41-44
I write this letter in response to the events in Charlottesville, VA with horror and a heavy heart. When I learned of the death of Heather Heyer, who died trying to promote peace, I felt physically ill with grief. However, in the midst of my horror I still find hope because of my belief in the transformative power of prayer and in Jesus Christ. After watching the racially-motivated hatred, violence and death in Virginia, it is evident that something evil has occurred in this country.
I write as an American and a follower of Jesus Christ. I am sickened to my core to see these domestic terrorists espouse their hateful doctrine. The glorification of genocide, evil, and hate have no place in our civic discourse. The hearts of our forbearers who served in WWII must be breaking as the Nazi flag is raised on American soil. I implore our elected leaders to be unequivocal in their condemnation of white supremacy, white nationalism and the violence associated with it. Moreover, I ask they enact legislation that will help impede this type of domestic terrorism moving forward.
I write primarily as a Christian; one who follows and serves Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Savior, and all things are made new in Him. I thought of the passage from Luke, because I cannot help but think of Jesus weeping at the sight of such division and animosity. As Christians we are called to bring about an alternative Kingdom where heaven exists on earth. Such Kingdom building cannot be done passively or by repaying such hated with its own coin. Instead we must take proactive steps to change our church and our country.
Jesus entered into the suffering of the world, and we must do the same. We must go to the wealthy and poor, the included and excluded, those of all colors and nationalities, those who are LGBTQ, and to all those that feel the effects of marginalization and hate. We must continually preach that despite our supposed differences that everyone is created in the image of a loving and life-giving God. Now we must live it. We must be witnesses to the power of God's love and reconciliation in our neighborhoods, communities, and our country.
As Christians, we all worship the same God and follow Jesus Christ. We pray to the same loving and liberating God. Each week we come together as the body of Christ and share the Eucharistic meal and drink out of the same cup. Now we must live it. Our faith in Jesus Christ is the strongest force on earth. As your Bishop I want us to begin a discussion in our diocese that will create a vision in which all people find their place and truly belong as one flock under one shepherd. Yet in order for this to come to be, we must act. To that end here are a few thoughts I offer:
1. That we would openly discuss the issues that are occurring and how each church can be an agent of change. We should facilitate open and safe conversation. This means honestly sharing our experiences, but just as importantly it means actively engaging in sacred listening so that we may truly hear what others are saying.
2. That we would openly and honestly engage the issues of class and race that divide our society. Let us read and discuss books such as "White Like Me" by Tim Wise, "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, "Between the World and Me" by Ta-nehishi Coates and "Stand Your Ground." by Kelly Brown Douglas or "The Cross the Lynching Tree" by James Cone. In the same spirit and with resources like these, encourage your youth leaders to hold open and honest conversations with your young people.
3. That we would redouble our training to raise awareness of and dismantle racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry and exclusion. Such training must not simply become a box to "check off" on a form. Rather it must become a part of a diocesan culture that embodies a real desire to eradicate hate and exclusion of all forms.
4. That our call and discernment processes should be open to all and focus, first and foremost, on whether or not the candidate has Jesus Christ as the sole focus of ministry.
5. That we would actively confront racism and bigotry in all its forms. When a racist joke is told or comment is made, that we would train ourselves to respond by confronting it and naming it for what it is instead of just letting it pass unchallenged.
6. That we would acknowledge the internal work each of us needs to do. We should prayerfully and courageously look deep within our own hearts to identify our own prejudice. And once we identify such sin, we should seek forgiveness and confess it either corporately in worship or privately with a confessor. The Sacrament of Reconciliation can be a powerful tool in building a culture of belonging.
7. That our churches would intentionally engage their surrounding and greater community. We must create a Christian community where all churches challenge themselves to serve with those who are markedly different in terms of their skin color, economic status or geographic location. We must take an honest look at ourselves and discern what barriers we have erected that might make those from different backgrounds feel uncomfortable or that they don't belong. Ultimately, each congregation and each Christian must challenge themselves to create a sense of belonging to bring about this alternative world where we eat together, serve together, pray together, and love together.
8. That our churches would engage in earnest prayer for our country, and against the powers of hatred, racism, and violence which seek to destroy God's beloved children. This might take the form of organizing special prayer vigils, crafting Prayers of the People that address these issues, and encouraging and resourcing every member of our congregations to spend time in individual prayer and reflection on these issues.
Jesus Christ is the only solution. As the Church we are charged to speak with His voice and act as His Body on earth. I am asking you, as followers of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to join me in modeling a better way. The only way change will occur is if we come together as a people.
Too many times in my new Episcopate I have written to you as we have had to confront the horrors of violence, mass murder, school shootings, and bigotry. We cannot wait for the next instance to act. Instead we must engage this present darkness with the urgency it demands. For although the darkness may threaten to overwhelm us, we carry a flicker of light that begins in our souls, in our hearts, and draws its spark from our belief in Jesus Christ.
Therefore I am publically re-committing myself to working with you to rooting out all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of bigotry that were given voice in Charlottesville from our Diocese. We will continue to empower and support the work of the Anti-Racism Commission and bring other resources to bear in this critical and holy work so that we might truly become a Diocese in which people find not just welcome, but true belonging. If we can help you engage this work in your congregation in any way, please contact the Offices of the Diocese and we will gladly assist you.
In the name of our Savior we must act now to heal ourselves, our nation and our world. With God's help we will find a way to lead our church and to lead our country. May God open our eyes to see in one another His own divine likeness that we may then truly become instruments of God's peace. We may stumble and may fall along the way, but in the end we know that no matter what failures or setbacks occur, we are spoken for and held in the loving embrace of God.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania