Yesterday, Bishop Michael B. Curry was elected the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is the first Black Presiding Bishop in the history of the Church of America (the church that was founded alongside the founding of America – 54.7% of the Founding Fathers of this Country were Episcopalian). And like President Obama’s election ushered in thoughts of a Post-racial America, there is a danger of seeing Bishop Curry’s election as an indication of a Post-racial Church.
Yet, Bishop Curry’s election came a day after the funeral for the Hon. Clementa Pinckney, who was one of the nine victims of racial terrorism at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre has sparked a debate over the Confederate Flag and Confederate Culture, and their place in Society.
Which brings us back to the Episcopal Church and the election of Bp. Michael Curry, for the Episcopal Church has it’s own issues with the Confederate Flag and Culture. There are churches that fly the flag. The Dean of the Cathedral in the Diocese of Central Florida recently ordered the flag removed from the sanctuary. Other churches have Confederate Flags in their stained-glass windows. The Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington DC has recently issued a statement that the stained-glass windows in that sanctuary need to be removed. There are Episcopal schools with buildings named for Confederate leaders. The University of the South has several dorms named for Confederate leadership.
How does this all reconcile with oneness of God’s people? How welcome should the Church’s first Black Presiding Bishop feel in sanctuaries and other Episcopal institutions where signs protesting his humanity are present?
I asked other Episcopal priests for their thoughts on this question: How can/should the General Convention of the Episcopal Church address our own issues with the Confederate Flag?
Here are their responses:
The Rev. Charles L. Fischer is Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, GA
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Often I have heard this question being used as a prompt for conversations regarding many human rights issues. Rarely, if ever, have I heard groups or individuals begin their conversation regarding RACE with this question. I am not sure if it is an oversight or if the question has been re-appropriated for other discussions?
This morning the board of trustees at the Citadel in South Carolina made the decision to move the Confederate Naval Jack from Summerall Chapel and it will be moved to an “appropriate location on campus”. An admirable move. Nevertheless, I still do not believe that it is enough if this one South Carolinian school of higher education, who “dares to lead” is to work towards eradicating the ugly stench of racism on its campus, in the city of Charleston, in the state of South Carolina or the nation. Where is a similar statement from our diocesan bishops, cathedral deans, parish priests, seminary boards of trustees, school headmasters, etc. from within the Episcopal Church? Is the banner of the Confederacy to remain as a reminder of the glory days of yesteryear?
The Confederate Flag is a banner of oppression. Sadly it is present in many of our beloved Episcopal institutions. Is the Episcopal Church prepared to take a bold step? Will we demand that the flag be removed? This remnant of an ugly past (and unfortunately present) hangings inside halls, chapels, and sanctuaries that also have a sign on the front lawn that says “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” I speak now because I have been silent in the past. I have “tolerated” images of oppression in the past within the Episcopal Church, some as subtle as cotton stalks in the vase of a desk of a seminary administrator. Were these stalks just a “beautiful” reminder of one’s heritage or were they another reminder of control and not liberation?
Will YOU or will WE strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being on THIS ISSUE?
Are we bold enough to demand that the Confederate flag will be removed from our institutions and placed in museums? That would be a start. Or will things return to business as usual after the 9 Christian Martyrs of Charleston are committed to the ground, the gavel marks the end of the 78th General Convention, a few flags have been removed from statehouses and some offices, and another human rights issue garners our attention?
Lets make sure that the bold message of Welcome is not negated by the “silent” hanging of the Confederate flag.
Many passages, from creation to the prophets, from the incarnation to the crucifixion to the great commission – the entire biblical love story of God and God’s people implores us to love one another and so demands that we be reconciled with each other. So, my perspective is shaped by the shape of the entire canon in glorious redeeming dialogue with itself and with me, encouraging, enabling, and demanding we be reconciled one with another.
The church can lead the way in racial reconciliation by repenting. Far too many people in our society still want to jump to a color-blind, forgive-and-forget culture which they label as reconciliation. The Church can model repentance which reveals, admits, and deals honestly with the sins we have committed. Such repentance calls others to a similarly challenging recognition of sin and encourages them with an example of hope through the pain.
The Rev. B. Cayce Ramey is Rector at All Saints Episcopal – Sharon Chapel in Alexandria, VA.
The issue of Episcopal schools which fly the confederate flag speaks to our need to truly understand that we live as an interdependent body of faith. African Americans clearly see the Confederate flag as a symbol of degradation, oppression and violence towards our ancestors. On the other hand many people have suggested that the flag is a way to honor those loved ones who have died in the conflict of war. In either case, the pain of violence must be addressed – violence arising from military use of force, or racial hatred but nonetheless violence.
We must all recognize the pain, suffering and division that occurs when people suffered violence and even death whether the violence comes from a gun pointed in murder fueled by racial hatred, or if the violence arises from a gun held by one solider pointed at another. I feel that in either situation I can sense the tears of our creator when we use our intellect to inflict pain on each other, destroying the fabric of human relationship, which is the gift God has given to us.
Somehow the Confederate flag sits in the center of this bilateral violence. However, instead of being an instrument of reconciliation, it is driving us further apart as a nation. Therefore, the Episcopal Church should declare that the Confederate flag has no place in its affiliate institutions, and that it should be removed from any place that displays the Confederate flag. We must find a symbol that reconciles us to each, and also affirms the pain people have suffered at the spiritual forces of violence, warfare, racism, and all instruments of evil in our world. Can we not replace the confederate flag with a cross? The cross was an instrument of execution, but the violence that people tried to inflict on our Lord and Savior was transformed to hope and new life for use all.
Our country needs new life and renewal. Those who wish to remember those who have died at the hand of violence remember that through the cross they have eternal life, so that they no longer have to find comfort in a symbol such as the Confederate flag which brings pain to so many people when it is placed in their presence.
The Rev. Nita Byrd is Chaplin at the Historic Chapel of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, NC.
So, what do you say?
What should the Church do? Anything? Nothing?
As we’ve seen from the election of President Obama and his tenure, electing a Black man (or woman) isn’t enough to uproot the vestiges of racism within us. Are there lessons the Church should learn and should model to Society? I sure hope so…