Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, countless people throughout the Country watched and mourned with the family and friends of George Floyd as his body was laid to rest two weeks after his brutal and senseless murder by an unjust policeman in Minneapolis. What happened to George Floyd NEVER should have happened, but tragically it did. It serves as a stark reminder to all of us of the fallen and broken world in which we live – a world in great need of healing and redemption.
From the very earliest of days, beginning with Cain and Abel, human beings have lashed out in anger, fear, jealousy, greed, and hatred toward one another, resulting in untold devastation and suffering (physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, financially, and many other ways). It seems as though humans never run out of excuses to try to justify their hatred or ill will and demeaning attitudes towards one another, whether it be race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social status, or some other excuse. Hatred only leads to more hatred, more violence, more injustice, more suffering, and more loss.
Our African American brothers and sisters have experienced the devasting consequences of these sinful attitudes and behaviors for centuries. They have been targets of oppression and discrimination in ways big and small simply because of the color of their skin, and these injustices continue today. We have come a long way from where we once were but, as we have been reminded in recent weeks, we still have a long way to go. The unrest we’ve seen in communities here and across the country is reflective of the anger, frustration, and deep hurt and pain that so many are still experiencing.
If our society is to be freed of the infliction of racism, it will be one person at a time, one relationship at a time, and one act of intentional, unconditional, self-sacrificial love at a time. Racism is a condition of the heart and mind and soul. There is only one antidote – LOVE. I am not talking about a superficial love that is based on our emotions or feelings (that is here one day and gone the next), but rather the love that enables us to “turn the other cheek,” to “love our enemies,” and to pray for “those who persecute [us].” It is the love that enables us to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others, giving of ourselves to help meet those needs. That is the love that Jesus calls us to, the love that He perfectly demonstrated on the Cross when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and died in order that we might live.
The love that will ultimately defeat racism and heal its victims of the hurts and fears they have experienced is a supernatural, life transforming love that comes from God. The Lord calls each of us to be a channel of His love and mercy and healing grace in the fight against racism and other ills of society. If we are to carry out that call, we must first be healed and transformed ourselves. We can’t give that which we don’t have.
It is vital that we ask God to help us identify and repent of our own areas of fallenness – the prejudices we have toward others, and the injustices we have committed regardless of how large or small. If we have failed to show dignity and respect to a fellow human being; if we have belittled someone, or done something to suggest they are somehow “less than” others; or if we have placed ourselves above others, we need to confess it, repent of it, and ask God’s forgiveness.
We must also ask the Lord to heal us of the wounds and fears in our lives that have led us to be prejudicial towards others. In healing us of those concerns, the Lord can transform our hearts and minds, enabling us to love those we have failed to love, regardless of skin color or any other barriers to relationship.
Governments can pass legislation outlawing particular acts and behaviors and reform unjust systems or practices, but that only goes so far. As stated earlier, racism is a condition of the heart and mind and soul. Governments can’t legislate love. That is a choice that only you and I can make, by God’s grace. We either choose to love or choose not to. Love requires action. It requires relationship.
We must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and engage in conversation in order to get to know one another and start building relationships and trust. Often that trust will not happen until we demonstrate that we can be counted upon, that we are in it for the long hall, and that we are willing to share in one another’s burdens and speak out against injustices.
God has made it possible for us to love others, because He first loved us. He set the example. Fortunately, God didn’t wait for us to love Him nor did He wait for us to get our act together before He loved us. In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we are told: “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Lord calls us to reach out in love, whether we are loved in return or not. True love takes work; it takes patience; it takes courage; it takes sacrifice. True love is needed if racism is to be defeated. It is going to take God working in and through us as a channel of His love and mercy and healing grace. Are we up for the challenge? If not, the current racial unrest and injustice will only get worse. The Lord is calling us to go forth in His Name.
In thinking about ways in which we might go forth in the Name of Christ to make a positive difference in breaking down racial divides and ministering to the needy, I want to briefly mention two ministries the Lord is blessing in the Albany/Troy area. These, along with many other similar ministries in parishes throughout the Diocese, are worthy of our prayers and support through the gifts of our time, talent, and finances. Saying we love someone is one thing, showing that we love them is something else.
The “Fish and Loaves Ministry” at St. Francis Mission on Clinton Ave. in Albany is one such ministry. I am so appreciative to Fr. Jacob Evans, Dick Malchow, and all the faithful volunteers who are helping with this ministry. It has been going on for several decades now. I pray by God’s grace and the hard work and generosity of many of you that it will continue as long as there are hungry people in need of a good meal, a friendly smile, and a safe Christ-filled place to come enjoy one another’s company and experience God’s love. Lives are being touched and transformed. In speaking of some of the friendships he has made in the black community through the “Fish and Loaves Ministry,” Fr. Jacob said, “They don’t see me as a white guy, and I don’t see them as black people. They are simply wonderful folks going through a difficult time.”
Kingdom Ministries headed by Lay Pastor Billy Carter (in North Central Troy) is another very worthy ministry the Diocese of Albany (through Oaks of Righteousness) has been blessed to be able to support and partner in. I am so thankful and appreciative of Billy and his faithful team who give of themselves sacrificially day in and day out ministering to some of the neediest folks in one of the most difficult and dangerous neighborhoods in the area. God is using Kingdom Ministries to be a channel of His love and mercy and healing grace.
I offer these two ministries (recognizing there are many others) as examples of what God can and will do when we unite to minister to those in need. If we are to help bring healing into the racial divide and its associated ills in our communities, we must all work together, recognizing that EVERY human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is loved by God. May God give each of us the grace to see His image and likeness in one another, and in so doing, love one another as He has loved us.
In closing, I pray the Lord will put on each of our hearts the prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to
understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning
that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Faithfully Your Brother in Christ,
Bishop of Albany