Thursday, May 6, 2021

Episcopalians, How Racist are We?


Recently, the Episcopal News Service released a story on racial diversity in our Church.  It was based on an independent study and report done for the Episcopal Church. The major lead was that we remain a Church that is 90% white and that the report confirms that we have implicit and explicit systemic racism. There were no details given and unlike their typical articles, it has not been repeated on the regular news releases.

They did quote a few of our leaders including our Presiding Bishop who said the results were disappointing and showed that we still have a long way to go in our efforts at diversity and inclusion. I would like to read the whole report, but I have yet to find it. 

A particularly insightful observation by some of our black leaders helps us understand what it is like to be a minority in our community. Often, they feel their presence is “simple ignored.” On the other hand, they are at times left to feel as though their presence becomes merely a token of diversity.  Both situations seem to me something that the rest of us should hear and take very seriously. 

The article did not give many details of the report, but perhaps its release will be more helpful when it is fully available. My initial reaction was “so a denomination that remains 90% white has racism issues? Thanks Captain obvious!” We are also older than the population and the average age of ordination continues to climb even with several intentional actions by some of our Bishops to recruit younger leadership. These too are issues badly needing to be understood.

My most direct encounter with racism in our church and its systemic nature came in my work with Hispanic members first in the Diocese of Texas working with Bishop Leo Alard, and more directly when I became Dean of the Cathedral in Dallas where 60% of our worshipping community attended our Spanish language service. My dear friend and colleague, Fr. Tony Munoz, Canon Pastor of the Cathedral for Hispanic work, helped me understand many of the issues our Hispanic members faced both in the Church and in the wider community.

Around 2000, when we were still having conversations about doubling our size by 2020, I wrote an article based on my experience with Hispanic ministry in Texas. I contended that the best way for us to accomplish this goal would be to focus strongly on reaching new Hispanic members.  I pointed out five proven missionary and evangelistic strategies that other denominations had used and how we could adapt them. I also pointed out how this would enrich our common life and put the Episcopal Church on the front line of racial reconciliation with the ever-growing Hispanic portion of our population.  I was not prepared for the reaction.

I got support from many Hispanic leaders, but almost none from others. The response that shocked me the most was when one national leader wrote me to object to my suggestions. In his letter, he said this, “Yes Kevin, we could do what you wrote about but if we succeeded, we would no longer by a diverse Church. We would have too many Hispanics to have true diversity.” I have kept the letter to remind me of another of our failed opportunities to live out both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

In this first blog on the issues raised by this article, I want to make two observations:

My first observation is this: We are not 90% white. We have a richer diversity than this found in our Hispanic membership and among some of our outstanding Asian and native American members. I know firsthand that many of our Hispanic people are simply not counted and I suspect this is true of other ethnic groups. For Hispanics attending our Church, there are some external and legal reasons for this, but mostly they are not seen and certainly not taken seriously enough.

My second observation and one I will explore more fully in further blogs is this: even if the 90% label is right, this is one of the least helpful things to know about the Episcopal Church today.

I will end with this further observation. Hispanic ministry remains one of the Episcopal Church’s greatest potential mission fields and one of the most fruitful ways we could extend our inclusiveness and diversity.  Sadly, it remains clear that racial inclusiveness and diversity remain values that many of our leaders hold dearly but have little idea how to obtain it even when even, as with Hispanic ministry, it continues to stare us in the face every day!

If we had taken the initiates that I outlined or the actions recommended by the Evangelism Commission of General Convention in 2003, we may not have doubled the size of the Church from where it was in 2000, but we would be double the size we are now! 

 

  

3 comments:

  1. “. . . merely a token of diversity.” My wife has commented along these lines throughout our marriage. Often first to be asked to play a visible role in diocesan or clergy conference liturgies. She has called herself the token black.

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  2. The ENS article contained a link to the full report -

    https://www.episcopalchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/04/RR-Racial-Justice-Audit-Report_ENG.pdf

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