Preaching in The Time of Pandemic and Protest
I am a White pastor to a Black congregation. For the past eight years I have prayed with and loved the members of the Haitian Congregation of the Good Samaritan. I have preached about White privilege, racism and economic inequality regularly over the years, and the congregation has always been receptive.
The Bible has a lot to say to people who are oppressed, and suffering. The Exodus story is particularly compelling. Over the past 48 years our congregation has moved nine times. Today we are privileged to worship at St. Luke’s in the Bronx. By God’s grace, our next move will be to the promised land of a permanent home.
For marginalized people, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are full of hope: God casts down the mighty from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly. God fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he sends away empty (Luke 1:52-53). The members of Good Samaritan, who are Haitian immigrants and children of immigrants, “are no longer strangers and aliens, but are citizens with the saints… and members of the household of God, built on Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:19-20). We live by these words.
After hearing sermons on racism and inequality, the congregation’s chorus of Amen! has always been followed by deep sighs of resignation, knowing that the system is so broken that nothing will ever change. Yes, we have hope, and our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. But change has been distant, elusive. It’s always been that way, it’ll always be that way. Things will never change.
Things are changing. Since the death of George Floyd, the mortar that holds the bricks of our society together has loosened. Racial justice and economic equality now seem more possible than ever. Perhaps we as a society are ready to confront our racist roots. Nothing has eliminated racism, not the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Civil Rights Act or the election of a Black president. Our country has made some real progress in the last century and a half, but we have not tended to the wounds of racism that run deeper than legislation and politics.
The literal chains of slavery no longer exist for Haitians and other Black people, but the vestiges of those chains continue. Black people today have a fraction of the wealth of White people, and their opportunity for future wealth creation is unfairly limited. Job opportunities are limited. For example, our diocese has no Black rectors in any of our cardinal parishes in Manhattan. The temporary exception is Trinity Wall Street, which has a Black interim priest in charge. Health and wellness for Black and Brown people is abysmally low. The majority of deaths from Covid-19 in our diocese happened in predominately Black and Brown congregations. Our own congregation lost three beloved members to Covid-9. They and their family members had to make the heartbreaking choice between keeping their families safe by staying home, or going to work to pay the rent and buy groceries. The pandemic has shined a light of truth; we can longer look away. As a society, and particularly as people of faith, we can do better.
For years I have preached a message of comfort and hope to a congregation that has been deeply wounded by racism. The message today, in addition to comfort and hope, is one of action. We can no longer tolerate racist policies. It’s always been that way, and it’ll always be that way is no longer acceptable. As citizens of democratic nation, we have more power to effect change than we have been willing to admit. We can vote, and we can march. We can speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
All of us are affected by racism and the legacy of slavery. All of us must participate in eliminating them. Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to be an Antiracist is helping us see that. We all have a role to play in dismantling racism. We can’t be resigned.
Our congregation is participating in the diocesan-wide reading of Kendi’s book this fall. We are eager to be in conversation with other Christians who share our dream of a more just society. We believe that the only hope for healing and redemption is through Jesus Christ, who has already redeemed us. We also believe that the Episcopal Diocese of New York has the capacity to be on the leading edge of change for New York, and for the nation. It’s an exciting time to be alive. Racial justice and economic equality is the work that God is calling us to do. Through God’s grace we will eliminate the classification of people based on the hue of their skin. It may take a hundred months or a hundred years, but it will happen. God will make all things new; God will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21: 4-5). If you share this hope with us, I invite you to join us in prayer, asking God to show us each of us what we can do to contribute to racial justice and economic equality.