Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Voices Cry Out: A Call for Episcopal Church Sexual Misconduct Report

 On Sunday, May 22, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, released a report commissioned on its handling of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse cases.

These issues have been festering for years in the SBC:  survivors of abuse have shared their stories and detailed how they were ignored, their abusers protected, and the institution sought to protect itself first; the president of the largest seminary (who was also one of the most well known and important members of the SBC in the past 40 years) was fired for deliberately mishandling accusations of misconduct at the seminary; and one of the most prominent Southern Baptists, Russell Moore, publicly left the denomination over its mishandling of misconduct and abuse.  Last year's Annual Meeting (the national body) of the SBC voted overwhelmingly to hire an outside, third-party agency to investigate the Executive Committee (which governs the church in between gatherings of Annual Meeting) and denominational handling of sexual misconduct and abuse.

The report turned out to be more shocking than most people could imagine.  The headline in The Atlantic was "No Atheist Has Done This Much Damage to the Christian Faith".   In Christianity Today, Russell Moore referred to it not as a shock, or a crisis, but in more stark terms: "This is the Southern

The Horsemen Ride on the SBC.

Baptist Apocalypse."

The details are horrific:  for decades senior leadership of the SBC privileged avoiding scandal and protecting the denomination over responding to allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse.  I urge you to read Moore's piece in Christianity Today for the details -- Moore, as the only person in senior leadership who consistently raised these concerns, was hounded out of the denomination through retaliation by other senior leadership.

Here are just two examples.  1)  The Southern Baptist Exec Committee and senior leadership repeatedly said they could not compile a database of people accused of misconduct or abuse, because to do so would violate Baptist ecclesiology, in which each congregation is independent and autonomous.  In reality, the SBC Exec Committee **did** keep their own internal database, with over 700 names on it, but did not share this with anybody.  They very thing they said they could not do, they did do, compiled hundreds of allegations of abuse and misconduct, and then did nothing about these hundreds of accusations.

2)  Leadership repeatedly attacked, gaslit, slandered and libeled, threatened, and belittled accusers, despite knowing of hundreds of allegations of abuse.  They referred to persons who came forward to share their abuse as  part of a  “satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”   Other persons who came forward to report abuse were said to have been inspired directly by the devil.  Leadership literally accused people who brought forth accusations of misconduct -- while at the same time they were secretly keeping a database with hundreds of allegations of abuse -- as being satanic instruments.

As Moore put it, "It [the report] includes written conversations among top Executive Committee

Messengers voting to commission Report
at 2021 SBC Annual Meeting

staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama."

Again, I urge you to read Moore's article in Christianity Today.

This apocalypse in the SBC has been decades in the making, a toxic by product of misogyny and all-male leadership, and the weaponizing of the Bible and Baptist polity in the service of unmitigated self-interest and evil by the SBC Executive Committee, abusers and perpertrators, and others in leadership in the SBC.

I certainly hope and pray for accountability for all those who abused their power and authority, implementation of effective reforms and oversight with regard to sexual abuse and misconduct, and that those survivors of abuse be accorded the support they always should have been received.  


As an Episcopalian, I am also very, very reluctant to engage in any kind of piling on or schadenfreude.  Because I know my own denomination has never done any kind of systemic accounting for its own failures in privileging avoidance of scandal and preserving the institution over accountability, and has its own decades of sins in denying accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

I cannot tell you -- literally, I cannot tell you -- some of what I have heard in over 25 years of full-time service as a lay and clergy professional.  I cannot tell you in part because I am bound by confidentiality in what was shared with me; and in part because they are not my stories to tell and I would not do so without the permission of those involved.

Let's just start with those in the public domain:

In 1994 Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning was made aware of sexual abuse committed by Bishop Donald Davis of Northwestern Pennsylvania, including incidents which took place at the diocesan church camp.   Some of these children were as young as 9 years old. PB Browning did not report anything to the police, did not report this through the formal Title IV disciplinary process.  After meeting with Browning, Bishop Davis resigned from the House of Bishops and voluntarily gave up performing any priestly or episcopal duties.  No formal, public discipline was ever taken, this was all done in secret, and Bishop Davis technically died as a clergy member in full standing.  This information came out in 2010. Bishop Browning was well enough to attend the 2012 General Convention and testify publicly at a legislative hearing but never made any statement about why he did what he did, and was never called to account for why he did what he did in any way other than I guess in my prior blog posts over the years.

At the 2018 General Convention, as a result of conversations among the House of Bishops,

Bishops reading accounts at
2018 Liturgy of Listening.
a Liturgy of Listening was organized and was held.  Accounts of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment were confidentially submitted in advance, and various bishops read a dozen of these accounts aloud.  We heard these voices themselves.  I watched online, and colleagues of mine were present in person: it was a solemn, moving, and devastating experience as we heard of abuse committed and the church's failure adequately to respond.

We cannot think that we have solved this matter by holding a listening session and acted on some of the recommendations of the Special Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment to the 2018 General Convention.  This is a lifelong process of holding ourselves and our institutions accountable, and continuing to build, create, and maintain a culture of safeguarding all of God's people.

As we see what the Southern Baptist Convention has done, as we have seen what the Roman Catholic Church has done, instead of thinking it couldn't happen here because we have women clergy or couldn't happen here because we have a democratic process or couldn't happen here because we addressed these issues already, let's not fool ourselves with such self-rationalizations at avoiding accountability.  Instead, let's do something else. 

Let's take a step towards continuing to hold ourselves accountable to those things we say are important to us.

1)  Like the Southern Baptist Annual Gathering did, let's commission an outside, independent, third-party review and audit of our misconduct processes and procedures.  We have done a racism audit which yielded important findings and recommendations.  Let's do one for sexual misconduct policies and procedures.

I have a couple of thoughts about what such an audit and report might address, others undoubtedly would have additional ones as well:

2)  Misconduct is handled at the diocesan level.  As part of the audit, let's make sure all dioceses are fully compliant with the current Title IV and have all policies and procedures in place.

3)  Let's find a way -- while respecting confidentiality -- to assess how dioceses are implementing Title IV.  For instance:  what if we find there are two dioceses of similar sizes, but one had 50 Title IV complaints that resulted in some kind of discipline, and another had zero?  That might indicate one diocese was taking Title IV complaints more seriously, or perhaps another was dismissing complaints as part of a continued pattern of coverup.  I certainly hope this isn't happening, but there's only one way to find out, given how clergy discipline is handled at the diocesan level.  

4)  Let's return to the report of the Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct's report and recommendations of 2018.  Commissioned in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, this Special Committee issued an extensive report, with a number of recommendations in various areas.

A summary can be found here: 

Specifically, we need to 

--Make sure there is followup and compliance on recommendations enacted. 

--Return to the matters **not** addressed.  Some recommendations were referred to interim bodies.  How have they addressed these referrals?  Some recommendations were referred for further study.  Where are those studies?  We all know referral to a committee for study is often where things go to die.

I want to reiterate, throughout these recommendations, that I am calling for an independent, third-party study to provide for greater accountability.  This is one of the things I appreciated most about being a seminary dean:  we were accountable to an outside, third party entity -- our accrediting body.  There was an accountability to requirements, standards, and practices in theological education that at times I have longed for while serving in other ministries in the church with no such external accountability.  

5)  Any such report should find a way to incorporate entities such as nursing or retirement homes, Episcopal schools, Episcopal colleges, and other non-diocesan and non-parish based church organizations.  The amount of abuse covered up by Episcopal secondary schools alone is shocking.  Places like St. Stephen's in Austin, St. George's in Rhode Island, and St. Paul's in New Hampshire, and others, are all already in the public record.

6)  Let's close the loopholes in our current misconduct system and find a way to have lay persons and clergy serving from other denominations accountable for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

I have called for this a number of times on this blog over the years, devoting a whole posting to it almost a year ago.  Lay persons were originally accountable in the first draft of Title IV  revision proposed in 2006-2009, only with accountability for lay persons dropped in the version adopted at the 2009 General Convention.

If a lay person commits sexual harassment or misconduct, the only recourse are civil or criminal options.  There's nothing to prevent a lay person from simply moving to another diocese and getting another position as volunteer or staff and being once again in a position to commit misconduct.

If a clergyperson from another denomination commits misconduct, the only recourse is to report them to their denomination of origin; if that denomination declines to do anything, there's nothing to prevent that clergyperson from serving simply moving on to another setting and be in a position to offend in another denomination.

There absolutely needs to be procedures for respecting due process and to protect persons both bringing charges and to protect persons accused of misconduct.

When I mentioned making lay persons accountable solely for sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, one comment I got was this:  "We can't do that, clergy and bishops will just abuse the system to intimidate or get rid of lay people they don't like or who get in their way."

You know what?  EVERY SINGLE TIME the clergy misconduct canons have been revised, those arguments were made: these changes will allow lay people to abuse the system to get back at clergy they don't like!  I was alive for the 1994 and 2009 revisions, and for the 2018 Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Task Force Recommendations, and heard those concerns.

You know what?  We built in provisions of due process and confidentiality, and instances of false accusations or accusations brought to defame or injure someone are incredibly rare.  

We did not let this be an excuse for revising our procedures for discipline of clergy, and should not let it be an excuse for developing a system to hold lay persons accountable for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the church.

Usually, when the church says "We can't do that" it means "I don't want to do that because it'd be hard and/or inconvenient."

To show it can be done, just over the course of one afternoon I drafted a revision of the Title IV myself to address accountability for lay persons and clergy from other denominations with regards to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment and included it in my blog post devoted to the topic. Here's a link to the proposed revision of Title IV:

You know, I've written hundreds of blog posts over 11 years.  The blog post on closing the loopholes in Title IV from September 2021 is one of the least-read blog posts I've ever posted.  That post literally got 1/20th of the usual traffic of one of my blog postings. Episcopalworld loves to read blog posts where I sputter in rage and quote 1990s hip hop songs, those get all the clicks, but for one of the most important and serious topics I've blogged on, hardly anybody cared. 

I still have never gotten a single email or text message or even Facebook or Twitter comment from anybody in governance in the Episcopal Church about my proposal.

So I have come to accept the Episcopal Church as a whole just doesn't really care about holding lay people and clergy from other denominations accountable for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, but I won't stop pointing out that we can take tangible steps to close important loopholes in our sexual misconduct policies.

Scripture tells a haunting story of the first effort to deny and deflect accountability.

"And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’" 

In response, God cries out:

"What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!"

These words from Genesis came to mind as I was reading various articles on the sexual

"What have you done?"

misconduct report produced by the Southern Baptist Convention.  One of the survivors described her experience of being attacked by leadership for coming forward with her account of abuse by her pastor as "a soul murder."  That of all entities in the world, the church she loved, that the represented Jesus to her, would not only be the perpetrator of abuse, but then actively cover it up, was like murdering her soul.

These words from Scripture came to mind as I remembered watching that 2018 livestream from General Convention, when the very words of people who suffered abuse at the hands of the church were spoken.  I thought, "We have heard these voices crying out!"

As God shouts to Cain at the death of Abel, so too should we wail at the sins of the church:

 "What have we done?"

God is shouting to us as God shouted to Cain:


Let us continue to listen to those voices that have cried out.  Let us continue to strive to be a church that is a place where all God's people are safeguarded, where there is accountability, even for those in power.


Are we the keepers of our brothers and sisters in Christ?



Commission an outside, independent, third-party audit and report.

Friday, June 25, 2021

We Are Pontius Pilate: Episcopal Church and Indian Boarding Schools

 Horrific news continues to emerge from Canada.  For nearly a century, the Canadian government developed policies of forced assimilation of Native American/First Peoples that included a network of boarding schools.  These boarding schools were run in collaboration with religious organizations, in particular the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Church of Canada.  For a time, attendance from First Peoples was compulsory.

These schools were rife with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse -- and the unreported deaths of thousands of children.  Recently, nearly 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered in two different sites, with the possibility and potential perhaps for thousands of more.

In addition to this abuse and literal genocide, these schools were also collaborators in a cultural genocide.  At these schools, native languages were banned; children were forced to cut their hair and dress in white, western, European styles; and adopt Western, "Christian" names.  This was part and parcel with governmental emphases on assimilation and "civilization" of First Peoples.

This is clearly, explicitly, and openly stated.  One government report stated that through these policies, “the ‘savage’ child would surely be re-made into the ‘civilized’ adult.”

The horrors of the past week are part of an ongoing process of examination.  As part of a massive legal and financial settlement -- the largest class action settlement in Canadian history -- Canada established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on its Residential Schools.  The Anglican Church of Canada, which administered a number of these schools on behalf of the government, implemented its own processes.  A formal apology by the church was made in 1993, and the Church has participated in the legal settlements, made financial payments, and established various programs and foundations to address these issues.

The Episcopal Church has done none of these things that the Anglican Church in Canada has done.

There has been considerable criticism that Pope Francis has pointedly declined to apologize for the Catholic Church's complicity, despite nearly 1,000 remains in unmarked graves on former Catholic Church boarding schools in Canada.  My fear is that in the wake of the news emerging in Canada, the Episcopal Church will once again somehow find it in ourselves to criticize others for sins we have not

Students at
Shoshone Mission School, run
by Episcopal Church, Wyoming,


There were similar residential boarding schools in place in the United States, especially beginning on a large scale in the post-1871 period.  These were schools established under policies promoted by the United States government, with an emphasis on assimilation of Native Americans to "civilized" ways.  

The Episcopal Church operated at least 18 such boarding schools.

These schools actively endorsed the cultural genocide of Native Americans.  Native languages were forbidden; children were forced to cut their hair and dress in Western clothing; and were forced to adopt "Christian" names.  Literally the very first words of the Niobrara Catechism, the catechism used for 
Lakota children in Episcopal schools in South Dakota, are:

Q:  What is your Baptismal Name?

A:  My Baptismal Name is...

The first question of the Catechism ritualizes renaming of Native peoples, we can hardly find a better example of the church's enthusiastic partnership in cultural genocide.

Niobrara Prayer Book
and Catechism
Again, as with Canada, the cultural genocide of Native peoples was entirely, 100%, out in the open.  This is not revisionist history.  We have them all, all, in their own words, written at the time.  We have the written policies of these schools.  We have letters and journals from the missionaries and teachers and bishops and church organizations involved.  The founder of the Carlisle School, one of the better known residential schools (not run by the Episcopal Church), coined the motto: "Kill the Indian - Save the Man."

The Episcopal Church has not apologized for any of its involvement this process.

The Episcopal Church has done important and significant work in renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery.  The Doctrine of Discovery dates back to the late 1400s and 1500s, and refers to a series of papal bulls and legal declarations by European powers.  It was the theological and legal justification for Europeans to seize the lands of Native Americans: because they were "pagans", Christian Europeans could subjugate and seize lands from Native peoples.  The Doctrine of Discovery is the ur-text, the firm foundation, the essential component to white supremacy.  Europeans and their descendants can take what they want and do what they want because Africans and Native Americans are not human beings in the same way as Europeans.

The Episcopal Church, at the 2009 General Convention, renounced the Doctrine of Discovery, and called on the United States government to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.  As part of this process, the Episcopal Church produced a video giving important historical, sociological, cultural, and theological background, which you can watch here, or go directly here:  Since this video came out, I have shown it as part of every single Episcopal Church history course I have taught. 

And, on a national level, we more or less stopped after renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery.

We have pulled a Pontius Pilate: we renounced the Doctrine of Discovery, then washed our hands and abdicated any further responsibility or accountability.

The 2012,  2015, and 2018 General Conventions -- wait for it -- took decisive action and "reaffirmed" the renunciation, and called on dioceses to explore and examine how the Doctrine of Discovery has shaped their ministries.  

Where are the reports from the dioceses?

The 2018 General Convention required that ordinands receive four hours of training on the Doctrine of

Image from 2009, 2012,
2015, and 2018
General Conventions.


Where are the programs for ordinands?

The Episcopal Church has failed to apologize or examine its own complicity in the genocide of Native peoples through the boarding schools the church operated.  

We may well ask:  What can is to be done?  What are some possible steps?  We must state from the outset that any ways forward must involve the full and equal involvement and participation of Native peoples in all steps of any process.  To do otherwise would be to replicate the systems of marginalization by having the oppressors dictate processes of accountability or examination.

I offer some thoughts hear solely as someone who has taught Episcopal Church history, as preliminary efforts to address the historical record, acknowledging this is only a small part of a larger and necessary process.

1)   The records of these 18 Episcopal residential schools are out there in state, federal, local, tribal, and church archives.  The Church could allocate resources to draw up a comprehensive list of these schools, years they operated, and compile as much information as possible on who attended, as well as who ran these schools.  This is a complicated process, since some of these schools were established by the federal government and sub-contracted to churches to operate; some were established by Episcopal dioceses; others were set up and run by missionary organizations or other church-affiliated organizations  But it's certainly doable:  we know this because the Anglican Church of Canada already did all of this decades ago.

2)   Work to collect any and preserve any first hand sources involved: written and/or oral histories of attendees.  Voices and sources are often lost to history because they are deliberately suppressed.  We know of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at Canadian residential schools.  We know likely thousands died of disease, abuse, and neglect and were buried in unmarked graves.  Are we so high on our own supply of American exceptionalism that we really think the same things did not happen at schools that operated in the United States?

3)   Be in dialogue with impacted groups and communities about processes for proper acknowledgment of these wrongs and for formal apologies for the church's complicity.

4)   In discussion, cooperation, and full partnership and collaboration with Native/First Peoples, establish reparations funds and programs as part of this process of accountability.

This is not rocket science.  The Episcopal Church could have been doing any of these things in the past decade.  

It's not rocket science, the Anglican Church of Canada has, in various ways, done all of the above.  

The failure of the Episcopal Church to do any of the above is solely due to unwillingness by those with power.

In fact, in our context, it is perhaps *more* incumbent on the Episcopal Church to do this.  In Canada, the federal government was actively involved in processes of apology, accountability, and reparations for residential schools.  In our current political context, it is doubtful the US government will take any steps towards this, or, even if that should happen, that it would ever be at the level of the Canadian government's efforts.  

In what should stand as a cowardly, shameful act, President Obama signed a written apology over the federal government's role in residential schools -- an apology signed in private, away from cameras, and tucked into the annual, massive Defense Department appropriation bill.  The apology also admitted no responsibility and that nothing in it "authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States."

So it was a written apology, signed in private, not publicized, that renounced any accountability.  Here's the first time I've used this phrase unironically and with the derision originally intended: Thanks, Obama.

The United States government has apologized before.  The US government apologized for overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy and annexing Hawaii; for the medical experimentation on African Americans in the Tuskegee experiment; and for internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Despite our shameful past as a Church and a nation, perhaps we are entering a kairos moment.  There has been some movement in this past week, with the Department of the Interior announcing it will examine the boarding schools run by the federal government:  

Perhaps not coincidentally, this announcement comes after the first Native person nominated to serve as Secretary of the Interior. 

May this be a time for the Episcopal Church to take the lead and work with the state, local, tribal, and federal authorities to examine and compile all records and sources related to residential schools in the United States, and to begin processes of apology, acknowledgment, and reparations for the Church's complicity in literal and cultural genocide of Native peoples.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Christian Seders, Christian Supersessionism, and Christian Cluelessness

Over the past 25 years, I've preached about 10 times on Palm Sunday.  Over those 25 years and those 10 sermons, a lot has changed in my life, in the church, and in the world.

Yet the core of my Palm Sunday Sermon is the same as it was 25 years ago, regardless of whether we read the version of the passion from Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  This is not because I am unoriginal and lazy.  It's because sin abounds.

My Palm Sunday sermon goes roughly as follows:

--It specifically names, outlines, and calls out the anti-Judaism in the gospel narratives of Jesus' arrest, trial, death and crucifixion.  Each gospel seeks to shift blame from the Romans to the Jews, and each gospel assigns a collective blame to the Jewish people for Jesus' death.

--I specifically name these places in the gospel narrative; in Year A we have the appalling line from Matthew 27:25 "Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”, but they all do do it.

--I point out that this is simply not true.  Crucifixion is a Roman punishment, Jesus was condemned by the Roman state, perceived as a threat to public order.  All the gospels were written decades after Jesus' death, and shifting blame to the Jews reflects struggles within Judaism between those who accepted Jesus as Messiah and those who did not, and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 was a decisive turning point.  

--I name the consequences of this: assigning collective responsibility is at the root of a profound dehumanization and "othering" of the Jewish people, so that when Christians came into positions of power and authority, it became the foundation for centuries of Christian persecution of the Jewish people.  

In 388, the Christian emperor Theodosius confirmed the ruling of local authorities that a Jewish synagogue burned by a Christian mob should be rebuilt at the rioters' expense.  Bishop Ambrose of Milan, one of the most important bishops in the Empire, personally appealed to Theodosius to overturn this ruling, noting that a synagogue was "a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God himself has condemned."  Ambrose exulted in its destruction, thankful that "there might not be a place where Christ was denied." 

As Christians prepared for the First Crusade, stirred up against Muslims in the Holy Land, many made the connection to enemies of Christ right at home, and massacred Jewish

Jews being burned alive, Bavaria,
1338, accused of
desecrating the Eucharistic Host.

communities.  Some Jewish communities in Rhineland Germany committed suicide as they heard the mobs approaching, rather than be butchered and have their young children kidnapped.  

In the Middle Ages, Jewish communities were scapegoated during the Black Death in the 1340s, blamed for causing the plague and poisoning wells, with massacres and violence.

[We could go on and on and on and on with examples of anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish violence by Christians.]

I point out in the sermon that many Christian communions have officially denounced and rejected this.  The Second Vatican Council formally rejected the notion that Jews were collectively responsible for Jesus' death, the worldwide Lambeth Conference of Bishops did so in 1988, as have many individual member provinces of the Anglican Communion.

I then talk about why I am mentioning all of this:

1)  Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism persist in our society.  In fact, one of the big changes over the 25 years I have preached a version of this sermon is that anti-Jewish incidents have INCREASED, and increased dramatically in the past 10 years.  You can read all about it here:

A rabbi friend of mine shared with me over lunch how they have installed metal doors which they lock during every service and do not let anyone in after the service begins, and have trained ushers to keep an eye on anyone they do not recognize as a way to identify potential risks, all because of threats made against the synagogue.  

He then said to me, "Spain was a safe place for Jews, until it changed and it was no longer safe.  I sometimes wonder if the USA will not be safe for my Jewish grandchildren, and we will all have to emigrate again."

2)  Apart from this kind of virulent, violent anti-Semitism, there is also a casual, lazy, ignorant anti-Judaism born mostly of privilege and cluelessness.  This form is rife in so many churches, even in many progressive denominations that otherwise pride themselves as liberal, inclusive, open churches.  Here's some things which mark this anti-Judaism:

--"The god of the Old Testament is wrathful and judgmental, the God of Jesus is a god of love."

--"Judaism was a rigid set of rules, which Jesus freed us from to worship God in a more

From a Christian website.

affirming way."

--"So-and-so is such a Pharisee, such a rigid zealot."

And that's just a handful of examples.

These are all just as untrue as calling Jews Christ-killers; all are caricatures; all do not reflect the biblical and historical record.  Understanding the Pharisees solely through New Testament sources would be like trying to understand the British solely through pamphlets issued by the American Sons of Liberty.

And while not as intentionally malevolent, this kind of discourse still perpetuates an "othering" of Judaism, and its inferiority in comparison with Christianity.

We need to name the anti-Judaism baked into our gospel narrative; reject it; and continue to call it out in all forms. 

I conclude my Palm Sunday sermon by saying, "I hope I don't have to preach this again next year."

And guess what?  I always do. Year after year.  Because we still continue to see this kind of anti-Judaism in our world. 

This year, apparently I need to send a copy of the sermon to the Church of England.  The Church of England posted a resource for Maundy Thursday for families to have prayers at home, due to the pandemic limiting in-person worship.  This resource included the following

words (from a screenshot; the resource has been removed):

"While the prayers and actions echo motifs from the Jewish seder, this is not such a meal.  Jewish people will understand the resonance of the symbols and practices in different ways from Christians.

"The household gathers around a table in the kitchen.  A bowl of warm water and a towel, a dish with freshly baked flatbread, and a small jar of honey and sprigs of the herb rosemary are placed on the table.

"When all have gathered, the youngest says, 'Why is this night so different from all other nights?'

"And the eldest person answers, 'This was the night when God delivered his people Israel from bondage and oppression in Egypt.'"

Let's count the ways this is wrong!

1) The Church of England itself has guidelines that discourage this notion of appropriation of the seder, issued all the way back in (checks watch) 2019.  The Church of England's guidelines note that "the merging of liturgy from Christian and non-Christian sources raises

Next they'll go with the 
Krusty the Klown defense.

questions that need very careful consideration."

2)  The document claims it is not a seder, based on the detailed argument that...they themselves say it's not a seder.  Apparently, based on subsequent social media postings to do damage control, they claimed it's not a seder because there was no actual meal.  Thus this is not a seder according to their own in-house hair-splitting definition of what a seder is.

This is either willfully deceitful, or simply plain ignorant.  Christians don't get to define what a seder is.  Judaism gets to define what a seder is, and, guess what?  Without getting into a rabbit hole of Jewish liturgical theology, while there is no kind of central rule-making body in Judaism, the overwhelming majority of Jewish sources would understand that a seder is not just the actual meal itself.

3)  The document then does more than "echo", it practically lifts directly one of the most poignant and central aspects of the seder haggadah:  specifically the youngest child asking a question about why this night is different from other nights.  Depite claiming it's not a seder, it then LIFTS DIRECTLY FROM A SEDER.  

Christians don't get to define Jewish liturgical theology, and then use that to justify liturgical appropriation from Judaism. 

4)  But that's just what this does!  As if anticipating that very critique, the document then states, "Jewish people will understand the resonance of the symbols and practices in different ways from Christians."

Read that again.  This document then defines how Jewish people will understand the resonances of this service.  This is so mind-bogglingly clueless or arrogant, I really can't tell which, but I haven't worried much about it, because it doesn't matter.  

The notion that Christians get to speak definitively for Jews -- "Jewish people will understand..." -- simply needs to be rejected out of hand.

The resource was withdrawn barely 12 hours later during an outpouring of social media criticism, including from your truly.

But wait for it.

Then came the non-apology!  The following dropped on April 1.  I screenshotted it as well in case this peevish, supercilious, non-apology also gets withdrawn and removed from the website:

"The Maundy Thursday video and text has been withdrawn because of the perceived

Let's have Chidi break
down this non-apology.

association of the readings and actions with a Jewish seder meal.

“The brief prayers and actions are not, and were not intended to be a Christianised seder, as the text pointed out. 

“However, we do not wish to encourage an impression that was not intended by the resource and apologise for any offence caused."

Let's count the ways this is wrong!

1) It refuses to accept any critique.  It was withdrawn due to "perceived associations" with a Jewish seder.  It refuses to acknowledge it openly incorporates one of the most central components of the seder haggadah. 

This is either willful ignorance -- perhaps they truly don't understand what they've done -- or they simply don't care that they appropriated Jewish liturgy, that it's theirs for the taking.

2)  The circular reasoning is alive and well.  It was not intended to be a seder, because the resource said it wasn't intended to be a seder.  "The brief prayers and actions are not, and were not intended..."  They said it's not a Christianised seder; therefore it is not a Christianised seder.

The arrogant privilege here is breathtaking.  Central to a basic multicultural, diversity, and sensitivity training is:

distinguishing between intent and how something is received; just because one does not intend to be anti-Jewish or racist means nothing if that is how it is received or perceived.  

Frankly, I don't care whether this was intended to be a Christianised seder.  

Letting those in the majority get to define what anti-Judaism is reinforces the power of marginalization by those with status and privilege in society

3)  It refuses to apologis(z)e.   It later says it was only withdrawn because it did not want to encourage "an impression that was not intended" and "apologised for an offence caused."  

And it concludes with the classic non-apology, "We're sorry some people who are clearly wrong were somehow offended."

A statement which admits no wrongdoing, declines to accept the validity of any critique, and then apologizes for an offence is clearly doesn't consider valid, is not an apology.

So while the resource was withdrawn, anyone with a concern was essentially told to f**k off.  

Look, I have some background here -- one of my PhD comprehensive exams was in Christian-Jewish relations; I've been to actual Jewish liturgies like bar/bat mitzvahs, seders, and Jewish funerals; I was the Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and worked closely with Jewish organizations -- but I'm far from an expert.

Please, literally read *anything* by Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski and Dr. Amy-Jill Levine.  Google their names and click on any link that comes up, that'll bring you to important, deep, powerful resources that far outstrip this silly blog.

So while you are all here:

Don't do Christian seders.  Don't do anything that looks like a Christian seder.  Don't borrow imagery, don't "echo themes", and don't lift language directly from seders, tweak a few words and call it perfectly fine.

Because this perpetuates Christian supersessionism:  the belief that Christianity has replaced and fulfilled Judaism.  Christianity began to interpret the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 as God's rejection of the Jewish people, and that Christians were the real chosen people.

The Jews were at best replaced; at worst condemned and rejected, as noted above when Ambrose exulted in the destruction of a synagogue as a place that rejected God.

We see this supersessionism in the caricatured depictions of an Old Testament God as vengeful and the God of Jesus as loving and fuzzy: this is a simplistic, distorted interpretation of both the Tanakh and the New Testament.

We see this supersessionism in Christian seders: the privileged notion that somehow Jewish liturgy is theirs for the taking for Christians to do with and define as they believe.

This is why (deep dive here) as a parish priest I use Track 1 from the Revised Common Lectionary during the time between Pentecost and Advent.  Track 1 reads through books from the Tanakh sequentially. Track 2 tends to choose readings from the Old Testament that reflect, echo (there's that word again!), or prefigure themes in the New Testament.  

Track 1 lets the Tanakh speak for itself, without constantly making it a proof text of the New Testament.

Does Christianity see itself in continuity with aspects of Judaism?  Undoubtedly, Christians dealt with that in its response to Marcionism.  Are there ways in which Christianity sees the Old Testament as prefiguring Jesus?  Sure, I loves me a good typology.  But neither of these means we reduce the Old Testament to solely be a proof text to the New Testament in our liturgical cycle, which is why I use Track 1.     

These have been issues Christianity has always wrestled with.  Paul addresses the relationship between Judaism and the Jesus movement in the Letter to the Romans, arguing that God has not rejected the Jewish people, and that Christians should be careful about trusting too much in their own righteousness.

Christians, you don't need to peddle overt or implicit anti-Judaism to be a good Christian.

Christians, you do not get to define appropriation, and do not get to ignore how actions might be received or perceived, regardless of intent. 

If you find yourself doing this, apologize and try not to do it.  Christians have been doing this for 2,000 years, if it anti-Judaism was easy to correct, we wouldn't have to deal with this year in and year out.

Our actions and words matter.  Anti-semitic and anti-Jewish actions have increased dramatically in Europe and North America.   

So: don't do Christian seders.  You know what?  We have perfectly cromulent liturgies of our own! 

Also:  looks like I'm giving another version of my Palm Sunday sermon again next year.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Episcopal Church's Lost Causism

Though I'm a full time parish priest, I still do some teaching at Episcopal seminaries, have taught a little bit of everything on the history front but most of my teaching has been in Anglican & Episcopal Church History.  About 20 years ago I became concerned with how the Episcopal Church generally told its history around race and racism, which I summarize to my classes like this:

"We usually skip from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and skip over everything in between.  We talk about Absalom Jones then slip to Jonathan Myrick Daniels because we don't want to talk about how the church's complicity with racism and slavery and want to pat ourselves on the back and only tell what we think are the good parts."

This at times willful refusal to look at our own history of race and racism has shaped some of the received historical narrative of the Episcopal Church.   

Here's one:  "The Episcopal Church is the only/one of the few denominations that didn't split over slavery."

My response to this is usually something like, "Blithely asserting the Episcopal Church did not split over slavery, when, in fact, it did, has been our own version of the Lost Cause: a whitewashing and rewriting of the past by those in power to avoid confronting systemic racism."

There are a number of problems with asserting the Episcopal Church did not split over slavery.

Problem 1)  Yes, on one level, the Episcopal Church did not split in the 1840s or 1850s like Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other denominations.  But that's largely because the Episcopal Church did not take a stand, at times viewing slavery as a "political" issue and not one the church should come down on.  When Kansas Territory was being torn apart by armed conflict between pro- and anti-slavery factions in 1856, the General Convention refused to say anything about the violence or about how slavery was tearing the country apart.  It issued the following statement: the Church has “nothing to do [with] party politics, with sectional disputes, with earthly distinctions, with the wealth, the splendor, and the ambition of the world.”

So while perhaps technically true at best this statement should reveal deep shame: that unlike many Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church did not split because it did not take a stand.

Problem 2) But there's another problem: this statement simply isn't true.  The Episcopal Church did split, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States was created, issued its own Prayer Book, approved a Constitution, chose Presiding Bishop, reorganized some its missionary districts, and elected a bishop, among other things.  

See, it's the parsing that "splitting over secession" does not equal "splitting over slavery" that is the tell that reveals something.  Secession WAS over slavery.  We know this because lots of people said so at the time.  Southern senators and representatives resigned from Congress, and, in their resignation speeches, cited the legal and God-given right to own their slaves as the reason for secession.  We know this because the Confederate Constitution permitted amendments, except in one place: the right to own slaves could never be changed or amended.  Also, regarding the question of extending slavery to any territories acquired by the Confederacy:  the Confederate constitution automatically extended slavery to any new states or territory acquired, even if the people resident there did not want it (so much for states rights!).  So, you see, "States Rights" really means "the right to own slaves." We also know this because Confederate politicians on more than one occasion propounded the "correction" theory: that with the Confederacy, the mistakes of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution could be corrected.  And that mistake? That African Americans could ever be considered people and not an inferior race whose proper status was servitude.

This is parsing to avoid saying the separation in the Episcopal Church is our own piece of the broader revisionist history of the Lost Cause movement: an effort for over 100 years to rewrite the history of the Civil War to be about "states rights" and downplay slavery.  Even when most historians had already been debunking this for decades, Ken Burns helped to give this continued life by making Shelby Foote's half-baked drawling Lost Cause nostalgia somehow the centerpiece of his epic Civil War television documentary in the 1990s.  You know, Shelby Foote -- the guy who had a picture of Nathan Bedford Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, on his wall.

We see the Episcopal Church's version of Lost Causism reflected in another piece of folk history.  It's often stated: "The Episcopal Church quickly and seamlessly reunited after the Civil War, denominations like Methodists and Presbyterians took decades to reunite, and some never did, like Northern and Southern Baptists."

Guess what?  Same two problems!

Problem 1)  Perhaps technically true with some parsing.  Yes, several Southern bishops attended the 1865 General Convention.  Yes, the one Southern bishop elected in the Confederate Church was seated in the House of Bishops, even though that bishop's election had not been consented to by the General Convention.

But:  Sure, three bishops attended the 1865 Convention.  The rest didn't, and one Southern bishop had been under house arrest by occupying Federal troops because he told his clergy not to pray for the Union, since he considered the Confederate government to be the legitimate government in his state.  Several other bishops did not attend General Convention until they met as a rump group in late 1865 and 1866 and formally dissolved the Confederate Church.  They didn't attend because they believed that since they had left the Episcopal Church and joined another body, they could not return to the Episcopal Church until that body had been formally dissolved.

Problem 2)  That reunion was at the expense of the marginalization and oppression of freed African American Episcopalians.  After the Civil War, Black Episcopalians exited the denomination in the South in massive numbers.  In some dioceses, there had been thousands of Black communicants, nearly 50% in the diocese of South Carolina, for instance.  We can
The actual reality is all there in plain sight. 

wonder at how much these persons were "Episcopalians," since many had no choice in the matter and were baptized Episcopalian because the slave chapel had been built by their Episcopal master.  Yet we do know of many Black Episcopalians who did want to remain Episcopalians, and asked for Black clergy to be ordained for those congregations.  And we know that, by and large, bishops did not comply: only about 20 African Americans in the entire church, north and south, were ordained between 1866-1876.  We know that six congregations were formed by freed African Americans in South Carolina alone.  These congregations chose to be received into the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1875, which ordained clergy and a bishop for them, because the Episcopal diocese refused to ordain Black clergy for those congregations.  The refusal to ordain Black clergy was rooted directly in white supremacy: the reasons given were that Blacks were barely removed from barbarism and savagery, and were not fit to serve in any kind of leadership.  They said it, plainly and clearly, in writing.

The Episcopal Church's Freedmen's Commission, set up in 1868, wound down its operations by and large in 1877 and 1878 -- in part because Southern dioceses resented "national" church intrusion into their internal affairs, an echo of the resentment against Reconstruction.  In 1883, the southern bishops met at Sewanee and debated several different proposals to bring to General Convention to establish, by canon, segregation in the church.  

While the so-called "Sewanee Proposal" of 1883 never did get passed and never did set up formal separate missionary districts for African Americans by canon, some version of it was introduced at every General Convention until 1940.  Southern dioceses pioneered the concept of "provinces", introducing proposals in the 1890s and following that would, in essence, allow for a church-within-a-church, another blatant effort to find a mechanism to allow for legislated segregation.  One proposal put forward for provinces by Southerners would have created a Province which encompassed most southern dioceses, and each Province would have its own Archbishop/Presiding Bishop, and the General Convention would meet once every 10 years solely to deal with the Constitution and Prayer Book, with Provinces allowed wide leeway to manage their internal affairs.  

Eventually the Episcopal Church, as a whole, acquiesced to this "unity," after the Civil War but at the price of a segregated church.  "Colored" convocations were eventually established in the South, and, through the establishment of the office of Suffragan Bishop, two African Americans were ordained bishop to minister to African American Episcopalians.   Sometimes students ask, "Why were only two Black suffragans consecrated?"  The answer is, "Because when the bishop of South Carolina called for the consecration of a third Black Suffragan in his diocese, a white supremacist gunned him down and murdered him in his office, and no proposals for Black suffragans were made after that.  White supremacy had to be enforced by violence and murder to be most effective."

Yet we should not assume this was solely a "Southern" phenomenon.  Blacks were routinely denied admission at Northern seminaries, northern dioceses were rigidly segregated and it would have been unthinkable to have African American members or clergy in a predominantly white church.  And not in the past, by the way.  An African American clergy person who was ordained in the 1970s  shared with me that he was told by his diocesan bishop that he would likely need to take a secular job for a few years because "there were no black parishes available."   

So that's where this is coming from: these two shibboleths 

"The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery" and

"The Episcopal Church quickly reunited after the Civil War" 

are the Episcopal Church's own version of the Lost Cause because they are rewritten versions of history by the those in power to downplay or ignore addressing issues of systemic racism.

Sometimes people ask, "Where did all of this come from? How did this version of history happen?"

This is part of the pernicious poison of revisionism.  There's nothing more baffling than when people say, "We can't judge people in the past because things were different in the olden days" because PEOPLE AT THAT TIME judged their fellow people in the past.  People in the 1850s said slavery was wrong, barbaric, inhumane, and unjust.  People at the time it was happening pointed out and condemned southern states for disenfranchising African Americans in the 1870s and onward (again, it was all out there in plain sight; over 100,000 African Americans were registered to vote in Louisiana in the 1870s and 1880s and barely 1,200 were registered to vote in 1900).  People pointed out that white mobs routinely murdered African Americans (Wilmington; Atlanta; Memphis; New Orleans; Rosewood; Tulsa; Chicago; New York and on and on and on and on and on...) without anyone being held accountable.  The first federal anti-lynching law WAS INTRODUCED INTO CONGRESS IN 1900.  (And, by the way, today, in 2020, we still do not have a federal anti-lynching law.) When Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House Residence for dinner in 1901, a Southern Senator openly said "How many will we have to lynch to remind them of their proper place?"  Of course we can judge the past because people at the time knew damn well what was happening was wrong.

In the Church, there were Episcopalians AT THE TIME who saw and named exactly what was happening with the inhumanity of slavery the failure of Reconstruction, and the abandonment of African American Episcopalians in the 1870s: Alexander Crummell, George Freeman Bragg, and Anna Cooper, among others.  They wrote about these issues, organized, and lobbied.  There were white abolitionists, too, most notably the Jay family of New York, but overall the number of abolitionists in the Episcopal Church was less than in other denominations with a significant northern presence. 

This is the true evil of revisionism:  it rewrites the past, and, when that narrative becomes the received narrative, it somehow absolves those in the present from responsibility. Voila!  Erasing the past allows those with power and privilege in the present to vacate responsibility, thus ensuring justice is never done.

These two statements around splitting and reuniting are reflected in the mid-century historiography of the Episcopal Church.  The standard church histories used in seminary history classes well into the 1980s were written in the 1950s and 1960s.  I don't want to imply in any way that these Epsicopal Church history texbooks invented this revisionist history: rather, they reflected the way Lost Causism had become such a part of the air that people breathed, and that the marginalized voices had been completely erased.  

Let's see what they have to say!

A)  One standard history of the Episcopal Church was published in 1967 and was used widely into the 1980s.  This text devoted 6 pages out of 366 to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  All three of these in their entirety covered in 6 pages out of 366 pages in the book.  These three topics do not even get their own chapter, they are combined with one that also covers 19th century domestic and foreign missionary expansion.

In this text, the Southern Church is purely an accident of circumstance, as the author notes that after secession the southern bishops "were in full authority in their dioceses but no longer in the United States of America" and "under the necessity of reorganizing the general structure of the church."  Just an accident of history!  This text also states "Many denominations were permanently divided...the Episcopal Church in the North and South never declared a separation."  

While spending 6 pages on the Civil War and Reconstruction, and never mentioning the segregation of the church, this text spends 26 pages in a single chapter on the history of the Oxford Movement in the United States, and 4 pages alone on prominent Episcopalians who became Roman Catholics.

This text does not mention the Sewanee Conference of 1883, and Alexander Crummell's name does not appear once.  Like Voldemort, racism and prominent Black voices Are-Not-To-Be-Named.

B)  A second widespread standard history, published in 1951 and going through several later editions over the years, is more balanced.  It speaks of the "malignant cancer of slavery" and openly states "the Episcopal Church never split on the issue of slavery because it refused to take any position."

Yet it has some interesting explanations of why the Church refused to take a position.  One explanation is because the whole question was just so gosh-darned complicated: "The heritage of slavery had created a situation for which neither the diagnosis nor the remedy of the Abolitionist was was hard to see, even from a Christian point of view, what ought to be done with three or four million slaves in the midst of a white population."

But the gravest concern of all has nothing to do with what the author had named as the "cancer" of slavery.  

The author solemnly concludes, "Strongest and perhaps worthiest of all motives to avoid pressing for a verdict on slavery was the dread of schism in the church."

Here the author is not just recounting a historical fact -- that many at the time did in fact cite this notion that schism was to be avoided -- but editorializes, calling this "perhaps worthiest" of reasons.  There's another "tell".  We have no better example, right there on the written page, prizing the unity of white people at the expense of the marginalization and genocide of Black Americans.  Gosh, slavery might be bad, but [clutching pearls] WE CAN'T HAZ US A SCHISM.

Say their names: Anna Haywood Cooper

And, despite acknowledging this "cancer" of slavery, this text asserts "When division came it was...the actual fact of secession."  While spending 10 pages of 390 pages in the book on slavery and the Civil War, this text also spend 8 pages devoted entirely to life and career of Bishop William Lawrence of Massachusetts.  This text does not mention the Sewanee proposal and Alexander Crummell's name does not appear.  Erasure is not just an awesome 80s British pop group: segregation and African American voices are simply erased in these histories.

This shows the intentional historical constructs white supremacy creates: it not only edits the past, it erases the voices and witness of marginalized peoples, and ignores the fact that plenty of people about it at the time talked about all of this stuff quite openly.  

Where did I find out about the real narrative of those times?  In two places!

A)  I learned about it by reading about the white supremacy in plain sight, in their own words.  Racists aren't hiding out in caves, meeting in secret.   They are shouting their racism, in public, for everyone to see, then and now, BTW.  The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States issued its own Pastoral Letter which clearly spells out what it is and what it stands for.

The Southern bishops in their Pastoral Letter themselves helped to establish this narrative, noting they were "Forced by the providence of God to separate ourselves from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States" and "Believing, with a wonderful unanimity, that the providence of God had guided our footsteps, and for His own inscrutable purposes, had forced us into a separate organization..." and "With one mind and with one heart we have entered upon this blessed work, and we stand together this day a band of brothers, one in faith, one in hope, one in charity."  Separation is due to secession, and this, in turn, is part of God's will and Providence.  Never mind that secession was about slavery, which northern and southern political leaders openly named at the time.

And even better -- as part of God's providence, there is the wonderful opportunity that comes with slavery!  They write, "The religious instruction of the negroes has been thrust upon us in such a wonderful manner."  

Slavery is inherent in the apartheid, white supremacist nation they were fighting to establish.  According to the bishops, slaves "are a sacred trust committed to us, as a people...While under this tutelage He freely gives to us their labor, but expects us to give back to them religious and moral instruction."  God appointed slavery for Black people to give whites their labor, in return for religious and moral instruction.  They make a quick move into whataboutism, noting "The systems of labor which prevail in Europe and which are, in many respects, more severe than ours."

And, there's more to be thankful for with secession as a gift from God's providence! Previously, in this work of ministering to slaves southern Christians had "been hindered by the pressure of Abolitionism; now we have thrown off from us that hateful and infidel pestilence."  "Infidel" is a key tell here: an infidel is a non-Christian.  Abolition is infidel, and thus non-Christian, because slavery and racial superiority are part of the Christian God's will and providence for the ordering of creation and the church.

We have them all in their own words, over and over again, that secession was about slavery and white supremacy.  I have an original copy of the Journals of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States.  There are numerous, numerous sermons from clergy which were collected and published.  I could go on, but it really gets spiritually draining reading pages and pages of this racist s**t.  You can read the Presiding Bishop of the Confederate church's sermon for a Day of Prayer and Fasting proclaimed by the Confederate government here. Please, just trust me that I have the receipts.  

B)  And I learned about all of this this by reading African Americans Episcopalians.  W.E.B. duBois' chapter on Alexander Crummell in "Souls of Black Folk" is one of the more powerful historical essays I have read.  I always think of these words duBois writes about Crummell: "The more I met Alexander Crummell, the more I felt how much that world was losing which knew so little of him. In another age he might have sat among the elders of the land in purple–bordered toga; in another country mothers might have sung him to the cradles. He did his work,—he did it nobly and well; and yet I sorrow that here he worked alone, with so little human sympathy. His name to–day, in this broad land, means little, and comes to fifty million ears laden with no incense of memory or emulation. And herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men."

Other important texts for me have included George Freeman Bragg's "History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church" and "The Episcopal Church and the Black Man."  Born into

Say their names: George Freeman Bragg 
slavery in 1863, serving in the ministry of the Episcopal Church for over 53 years, Bragg wrote several definitive histories of the African American experience and was the leader for generations of African American Episcopalians. In just one of his several books, Bragg spends over 30 pages talking about the Reconstruction years alone.  Unlike the other mid-20th century histories, he mentions the Sewanee Conference of 1883, noting "Of course no Negroes, clergy or laity, were invited to participate."  And he names the Sewanee Proposal for what is was, that it "authorized the segregation of the colored people under the direction and authority of the diocesan."  All there, on the written page, by someone alive at the time the events happened and who lived through it all.

I knew all these historical folkways were untrue because I read Bragg, Alexander Crummell, Anna Cooper, and others.  I certainly don't mean to limit the contributions of African American Episcopalians to those three, there are many other voices important in the life of the Episcopal Church.  Their writings, the organizations they founded, the lobbying they did -- the real narrative was always there for those to see, if not for the barriers erected by our Lost Causism.

We can see the damage this kind of revisionist history can do in so many ways we live out our lives in the church.  Here's a couple.

I remember an incident from a seminary I was involved with.  I've taught at 5 different seminaries and attended 3 different ones, and  I don't want to name the one where this took place and single it out, because, frankly, I think it could have happened anywhere.

There was an end of year gathering, with students and some faculty present.  It then kind of morphed into a talent show, very unplanned and impromptu.  Some people sang or played instruments, recited poetry, that kind of stuff.  Then a group of students stood up and started singing.

With a jolt a realized they were singing "Dixie." I was stunned and looked around and saw only white faces in that entire room. I got up and walked out, went into the next room where the food and drinks were.  I just couldn't believe what had happened, and that nobody seemed to notice or care.  Someone came in, apparently I had gotten up and left rather abruptly, and asked if I was OK, perhaps thinking I wasn't feeling well.

I said, "I have ancestors who enlisted and fought in the Civil War to preserve the Union, there is no way in a million years I am going to sit in a room and have people sing the de facto Confederate national anthem nostalgically."

The person frowned, thought for a moment, then said, "Well it's part of their heritage, like your ancestors serving for the Union is part of yours." 

I said, "An all white group of people singing that song to a room full of only white people doesn't get to define the heritage of that song."

Here's another!  I had someone come to me saying they were thinking of proposing a resolution to add W.E.B. duBois to the calendar of commemorations, and if I was interested in writing in support of that.  I said, "DuBois wrote that  [this is a paraphrase of the quote] 'Of all denominations, the Episcopal Church has done the least for Black people.'  His chapter on Alexander Crummell in 'Souls of Black Folk' is a searing indictment of the racism of the Episcopal Church at the turn of the 20th century.  Adding him to the calendar without specifically lifting up and naming that, and without the church committing to take real, tangible steps to right the wrongs of the systemic racism duBois named, would be just historical whitewashing."

The person did not forward their resolution after our conversation, but was surprised to hear this about duBois, saying, "I didn't know all of that."  Again, this shows the ways in which history can be an extension of white privilege: how could someone put forth duBois for the calendar of commemoration and not be familiar with his writings on race and the church??

In order to counter these false narratives of revisionism, we have to name the systemic white supremacy what it is.  We also must lift up the voices of the marginalized to accurately tell the story.  We must also remember that issues of white supremacy and racism are not confined solely to this Church's relationship with African Americans: similar dynamics are present in interactions with Hispanic/Latinx, Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans/First Peoples.  The Episcopal Church's missionary work with Native Americans expanded in the 1870s and 1880s -- the funding from the Freedmen's Commission was folded over into this missionary work.  Yet this missionary work was an extension of white supremacy and cultural genocide: Native American children were sent to church-run boarding schools; converts were required to take a new, white, Christian name and give up their Indian name at baptism; cut their hair; wear Western/American/European clothes, and forbidden from speaking their native languages.  

Thankfully, there have been a number of really great histories written in the past 25 years, efforts to correct the systemic racism in how we have told our history:  Prichard's "History of the Episcopal Church," Hein & Shattuck's "The Episcopalians" among them.  There has been a number of works specifically on the history of race and racism in the Episcopal Church.  Harold Lewis literally wrote the book on this subject in "Yet With a Steady Beat."  Gardiner Shattuck's "Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights" is a conscious effort to right some of the historiographic wrongs I note in this post.

But it's also clear that we have not done enough.  The sheer number of people who say "The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery" and sheer number of people who do not know the Church's complicity with racism, slavery, and white supremacy are evidence of that.

We must name these aspects of telling our history that fail to challenge or acknowledge our systemic racism.  We have to stop teaching people in confirmation classes "The Episcopal Church never split over slavery."  One of the reasons statements like these persist, despite the fact that most Episcopal Church historical scholarship for the past 40 years has not said this, is because repeating them has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with something else, mainly, the unwillingness and reluctance to address issues of systemic racism.  (A related issue, for another post, is the continued repeating of the whole "The Episcopal Church Constitution is based on the U.S. Constitution and was written in the same city by some of the same people."  This is utter nonsense, and persists because it reflects the lust for the Episcopal Church to be a quasi-established national church that was a fever dream of much of the 19th and 20th century.  But again, another post for another time, only reinforcing the notion that the real reasons for the persistence of patently un-historical folk wisdom has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with our own prejudices.)

It is far, far past time to abandon the lazy racism that allows whites to avoid addressing the systemic racism of our church.  It's past time because it NEVER should have had its time.  Faithful voices throughout the ages called these issues out when they were happening.  It is the Church that is complicit in constructing this apparatus that fails to challenge this systemic racism.

As part of my history classes, I also present the demographics of the Episcopal Church.  In 1960, the Episcopal Church was about 89% white.  In the 2010s, it was about 84% white.  Sometime students ask, "Why is that?" and my reply is, "Because for the overwhelming majority of our history, that's exactly how the church wanted it, because of systemic racism, segregation, and denial of opportunities for African Americans."

It is far, far past time to stop prizing unity at the expense of the marginalized.  The statement the Episcopal Church reunited quickly and seamlessly after the Civil War stands as a monument to prizing unity over justice.  It is far, far past time because we repeat that sin time and again: with the ordination of women and with full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons, when those who were marginalized were told to wait at the expense of preserving so-called "unity."  We will continue to repeat it.  I also do not want to think we should confine this solely to history, and we should also be asking ourselves how our theology, liturgy, polity/decision making, and other elements of the church have also been shaped by white supremacy and the erasure and marginalization of other voices.   

Unity cannot be built on the blood of the marginalized so as not to trouble those in power.  That is called oppression, not unity.

In this kairos time of broader conversations about race and racism, with the witness of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is time for the Church finally to answer this question: These are the legacies of our past; will they continue to be our future?