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"Truth and Reconciliation" is not the Remedy for what Ails The Episcopal Church

"Truth and Reconciliation" is not the Remedy for what Ails The Episcopal Church


By David W. Virtue, DD
July 1, 2021

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has called for a "Truth and Reconciliation" commission to address how racism is being confronted within and beyond the church. The commission will include the creation of a new working group that will be tasked with expanding the church's ongoing anti-racism and reconciliation efforts.

The proposal will include ways to "tell the truth about our collective racial and ethnic history and present realities, to reckon with our church's historic and current complicity with racial injustice, make commitments to right old wrongs and repair breaches and discern a vision for healing and reconciliation," Curry said. To do that, the group will conduct a review of past and present truth and reconciliation processes within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion and in the countries where those churches are present, such as South Africa, Rwanda and New Zealand.

His model, of course is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in South Africa following the end of apartheid in 1995 to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims. Of course, it was mainly a Black and White issue. Whites were forced to confront their racism and in doing so let healing begin.

The question is, is that the same situation in The Episcopal Church? Who needs to be reconciled to whom exactly and what truth needs to emerge that we don't already know about?

Over the past 145 years (since 1874) there have been 44 Black Bishops consecrated in The Episcopal Church. These Bishops hail from the African Diaspora, as well as Africa. The African Diaspora includes those people of African descent living throughout the world in the United States, the Caribbean, Central America and other countries.

All Bishops are assigned a number by the Secretary of the House of Bishops according to their date of consecration. Bishop James Theodore Holly was the first Black Episcopal Bishop consecrated November 8, 1874, first Bishop of Haiti, number 106a. Currently, there is Paula Clark the black bishop-elect in the Diocese of Chicago and Ketlin Solak, the black bishop-elect in the TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh. They were duly elected by mostly white Episcopalians!

The truth is people of African descent have a long proud heritage in The Episcopal Church. While they comprise only 4% of all Episcopalians, black bishops are disproportionately higher. Most Episcopalians are well into the 60s and whatever racism they may harbor is unspoken and never emerges. The one openly racist bishop was John Shelby Spong who made disparaging remarks about African bishops at Lambeth '98 and was called on the carpet by then PB Frank Griswold. To my knowledge there have been no public racist outbursts by your average Episcopalian about blacks in the Episcopal Church. If they have, they have never been reported on. There is no list of articles on racist bishops, clergy or even lay people. Unlike Bishop Bill Love of Albany who was drummed out of the Church for not obeying Resolution B012 approving homosexual marriage, there is no record of a bishop being drummed out of the Church for being overtly racist. The Episcopal Church does not face systemic racism in its midst.

Which might lead one to believe that this whole thing is a vast guilt trip designed to extract money from whites for reparations for things they neither participated in nor should now be obligated to pay for, hundreds of years later. For the record over 600,000 white soldiers died during the Civil War. Reparations were paid for in blood.

The Union of Black Episcopalians has 200 years of black leadership in the Episcopal Church. Have there been cries of racism from these brethren? Not that I could find.

There are at least two black bishops who hold seats in historic dioceses. Bishop Rob Wright was elected Bishop of Atlanta in 2012 and Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton was chosen to lead the Diocese of Maryland in 2008.

As recently as June 2020, the Rt. Rev. Deon Kevin Johnson became the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, making him the first openly homosexual Black man to hold the post in the diocese's 179-year history. If TEC is as racist as Bishop Curry suggests, why was Johnson overwhelmingly elected by mostly white Episcopalians?

Episcopal church closures have not been exclusively white. Some have been black.

In the South, closures have been many and varied. 100 years and one week after its sanctuary opened, All Saints' Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation in Warrenton, NC with a proud history, was formally closed.

All Saints is hardly alone among mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations. Faced with dwindling members, crumbling infrastructure and costly maintenance, some 6,000 to 10,000 churches shutter each year, according to one estimate. More closures may be in the offing as surveys point to a decline in church attendance across the country.

But All Saints is an example of an even sharper decline, said a report in ENS.

"Historically African-American churches across the South are fast disappearing. Some were created after the Civil War when slavery was abolished; others in the crucible of Jim Crow, when whites who had long relegated blacks to the church balcony no longer tolerated them at all."

"The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina once boasted 60 such churches. Today, a mere dozen are left and, of those, only three have full-time clergy. Epiphany Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., closed two years ago; at least one other is in danger of shuttering next year."

Of course, African-Americans have been welcome in all Episcopal churches for years -- and the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who served as bishop of the North Carolina diocese before leading the 1.7 million-member denomination, is black.

So why are they closing? Probably for the same reason white Episcopal churches are closing. Partly demographics, partly age-related, but primarily because black Episcopal churches have followed white churches in preaching up woke social justice issues while failing to preach a clear apostolic gospel.

Black gospel churches abound across America, mostly in poorer neighborhoods, but they are open and if you drive by them, you can hear gospel hymns and a black preacher belting out the gospel in clear, unalloyed biblical terms. Occasionally when I am out driving, I tune into a black gospel radio station to hear Kirk Franklin's praise show. It is pure black gospel. I am called to repent; I am called to trust that Jesus will see me though the day; I am told to cast my cares on Jesus, I am told that when men revile you, revile them not in return; I am told to bless those who persecute you (I'm not good at that), but I am told to do it anyway.

So, is the ruling class in TEC keeping racial and other forms of division stirred so that they won't have to talk about the gospel that has the potential to change hearts and racial attitudes?

The Episcopal Church is stuck in a drain-circling, dishonest public conversation about race that has no basis in reality. If there really is an issue with race in The Episcopal Church, then one way to deal with it is to preach a gospel that calls people to repent of their racism and join with Christ who offers a heart-changing reality. Jesus will help people see beyond black and white.


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