August 21, 2020

The Liturgy of Racism: From Ritual to Repentance

The liturgy of the Episcopal Church is strikingly beautiful. The revenant execution of both Word and Sacrament draws many to a deeper relationship with God. But if we’re honest, many of us in the Body of Christ have witnessed another liturgy at work within its members, revealing a corporate disease of the heart. To clarify, I will give an example of the ritual within this sinful liturgy.

The Ritual:

Approximately 3 years ago, I was a new doctoral student and had been an aspirant to Holy Orders for quite some time. I was also working full time at an Episcopal Church in the North Texas area. I was well aware that locally, only about two or three Black people had made it through the discernment process, but I was hopeful. However, shortly after my start in the church, both parish and diocesan leadership decided to place a white male from another diocese, who had yet to finish his prerequisite seminary education, at the church for the discernment process. They wanted me to help train him yet denied my own discernment process. When I began to speak up about what I and others saw as racial injustice, they removed me and tried to silence me.

While the above is repugnant to some, it’s a ritual of which all too many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) members have experienced within the Church. The particulars of this practice usually involve gaslighting, blackballing, silencing and removal of BIPOC members.

The Repentance:
As leaders in the church, examine your hearts and see where you have been complicit in racial discrimination within the Body of Christ by humbly, and prayerfully considering the following:

● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or seminary refused to listen to BIPOC when they have called out instances and systems of racial injustice?
● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or seminary actually apologized to current and former BIPOC members or associates for attempting to silence and discard them for speaking up about the injustices they were experiencing under your watch?
● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or seminary held to policies that would make it hard to nearly impossible for BIPOC to be a part of your clergy?
● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or seminary deliberately ignored the applications of BIPOC clergy and then say, “We can’t find any who are qualified but we’re looking”?
● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or your seminary hit BIPOC clergy and employees with non-disclosure agreements and discarded them because they spoke up about the injustices they were experiencing under your watch?
● Have you, your parish, your diocese, or seminary actively sought out and hired BIPOC professors/theologians to teach future church leaders?

The intention of this article is to encourage the Body of Christ to render repentance to our merciful and compassionate Savior, who is able to forgive and loves us enough to correct. So, in step with the liturgy that honors both God and neighbor, let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

True repentance and love for our neighbor is achievable because remember, “…for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).