Standing here in St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia — an Episcopal church, which played an such an important role in the shaping and founding of our country — we really must, as Episcopalians not simply say, “Isn’t this a nice historic building? And, isn’t it lovely that we were so integral to the country in its early stages?” But: “How are we complicit?” and “What does that complicity mean?” and “What is the initiation?”
I think unawareness, as somebody once said, is the root of all evil. And I think so much of what’s still with us, in terms of racism today, requires us to go back and painfully explore and own our own history. And, I think out of that kind of exercise, we will see what shape repentance should take because it’s not simply a question of saying, “Well, this happened and it’s okay.” There is a residue, there are consequences. There are justifiable patterns of anger and irresolution, [and] there are patterns of denial — all of which keep us from genuine freedom of spirit. And so, I think this is a journey that collectively we need to make as the Episcopal Church, as the United States and probably — I’m thinking of my own family; I grew up in Philadelphia and, I must confess, this history is all new to me. I think I lived with a very Northern view: We were pure, we were free of all this [and] this was a Southern phenomenon. So, this is really a new learning for me.
Awareness is at the heart of it all and out of that awareness will come appropriate action that I hope will be healing. The classical patterns of forgiveness begin with acknowledgement. What are the patterns of sinfulness? Repentance is a desire for a change of heart and a change of direction. And then what is known as satisfaction. That is, what are the practical historical consequences of having acknowledged one’s sin, repented and sought forgiveness? Forgiveness isn’t an abstraction, forgiveness has to be lived and expressed in actual deeds.
So, I think as we explore this history, the question we’re going to have to ask is as the Episcopal Church is: “What form does repentance and satisfaction then take?” My own concern is, first of all, to acknowledge this reality and to look at our own history and say, “I’m sorry.” I think for me, this is not abstraction; it’s so much about people and how they’ve been hurt, and how they continue in a variety of ways to be hurt.
I was once told in dealing with people of color and what they’ve lived that I had to begin by receiving their anger — that that’s where it had to start. It couldn’t start with, “Oh, what could we do to make things better?” It had to begin with the pain. This is what I or my forbearers have lived through. That’s not easy to receive, and yet it’s absolutely essential. It’s all about Christ’s presence in all of us and how we can’t be the Body of Christ with any integrity or fullness unless everyone is acknowledged as a beloved son or daughter of God. So, the whole question of facing racing racism isn’t simply about fixing things or some abstraction of justice, it’s about people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ in a very deep way, and how can that be lived and celebrated?