I was saddened to learn of the verdict today in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man who traveled to Kenosha, WI last year and fatally shot two people, seriously injuring a third. The incident brought to the surface many of the issues that our country wrestles with - and all-too-often attempts to ignore - around racial justice, white vigilantism, and gun violence. Rittenhouse came to Kenosha, heavily armed, as part of a mob of white men to stop the protests for racial justice and took two lives. Under the auspices of protecting property, he came prepared to commit violent acts and did just that. As the prosecutor stated, there is a difference in defending yourself from violence perpetrated against you, and you creating the situation in order for you to do it - or more specifically, “You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people.”
As the verdict came in today, it has been widely observed that we have two legal systems in this country - one for white men, and one for everyone else. Many have suggested that if Rittenhouse had been Black, the verdict would have been drastically different. I would go further - when you watch the videos of that night, I would say if Rittenhouse had been Black, he most likely would not have come out of that night alive. A young white man brazenly carrying an automatic weapon through city streets was virtually ignored by law enforcement. Had it been a Black man, I do believe the result would be drastically different.
In these same days we are witnessing the trial of the ambush of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, in Brunswick, Georgia. And even with all the accused admitting that Arbery was unarmed and ultimately not threatening them, and all evidence pointing to Arbery trying to flee the scene unarmed, this case hangs in this unjust balance as well. In both cases, we see self-appointed vigilante’s taking justice into their own hands. And folks, if it can happen to these folks, it can just as easily happen to any of us.
But, the point is, mostly, it doesn’t. Especially if we are white, if we are privileged, if we have enough money to defend ourselves. We simply must do better, and we must be better.
This comes only one day after a judge in New York “prayed” about the sentencing of a young white man who had pleaded guilty to charges rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment and only gave the man probation because he said that prison time "wasn’t appropriate" (https://lawandcrime.com/crime/judge-prayed-about-it-and-decided-that-prison-time-for-admitted-rapist-of-teen-girls-isnt-appropriate/).
We know that incarceration rates for Black Americans is five times the rate of white Americans, and for Latin Americans it is 1.3 times higher (https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/). According to the ACLU, women who kill their abusers will spend an average of 15 years in prison, while men who kill their spouses spend two to six years in prison (https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/in-the-news/women-serve-longer-prison-sentences-after-killing-abusers). Men from Indigenous communities are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, while Indigenous women are six time more likely (https://www.jailedformelanin.org/native-commuities).
Justice is supposed to be blind, but time and time again, our justice system has been proven to favor white men. It is severely out of balance.
I pray for all involved in this case, including Kyle Rittenhouse. I pray for all the victims of gun violence. I pray for our country and for our justice system. There is so much that needs to change. Let’s engage and act so that we may see a more just system going forward. To get involved in making our criminal justice system equitable, you can see what steps The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations recommends here: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ogr/get-involved-with-criminal-justice-reform/
By Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, Member of the Muscogee Nation, from her book, “An American Sunrise”
A CALL AND RESPONSE
A country is a person.
A country is a noun, to be bought and sold. I have a deed.
The ruler’s disposition and rules determine the state of being for all constituents.
Each state governs itself without respect for individuals. It’s everyone for themselves.
Power is dangerous when wielded in the hands of one. It is meant to be shared.
I was given this position by cunning, by money, by sex, by family, by God. It belongs to me and no one else.
We cannot own anyone else, people, the lands, or resources. We are here to care for each other.
We are right. We build walls to keep anyone else who is not like us out of here. God gave us these lands. We separate children and cage them because they are breaking our God’s law.
Every increment of any thought, action, or deed matters, has consequences in all directions.
Not if you can make a law: Not if it passes the Supreme Court. Not if we pay for it.
There will be no balance without all voices present in the power circle.
You will never earn your way here. You are the wrong sex, wrong color of skin, wrong sexual orientation, not my religion, not my language.
We are making our grandchildren’s world with our words. We perceive a world in which everyone sits at the table together, with enough for everyone.
We will make this country great again.
Sad ruling today in my mind and heart, and our Presiding Bishop says it best.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issues statement on Fulton v. Philadelphia
[June 17, 2021]
My heart is with my LGBTQ siblings in light of today's ruling by the Supreme Court in Fulton v. Philadelphia.
For us, the affirmation of equal rights for all people is a moral and religious conviction; it is grounded in the Bible, which declares that all people have been created equally in the image of God.
LGBTQ siblings, we stand with you in this moment, and we continue to affirm that you are — and have always been — a blessing to our church. But above all, you are children of God with the entire human family. The struggle does not end here; the work goes on, and we are committed to the fullness of human equality and to building a just future that is free from discrimination against LGBTQ people.
We are also concerned for the impact of this ruling on the foster care system, in which so many Episcopalians offer shelter and care to vulnerable children, many of whom are LGBTQ themselves. It is important to remember that the New Testament teaches that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress. . .” (James 1:27).
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
More information on the brief The Episcopal Church submitted to the Supreme Court can be found here.
On the web:
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issues statement on Fulton v. Philadelphia
As you may have seen, the Episcopal Church recently released a racial justice audit of Episcopal leadership. While in no way a panacea, it is a long overdue start at data collection on this topic which should inform our mission and vision. The report shows, unsurprisingly, how far we have to go. I hope you will share it widely, and engage it personally. I am centering on it for many of my decisions, personal, and collective going forward. You can view it and share it at the link below.
This is a watershed study that will likely impact how the Church sets priorities as we continue to dismantle racism and pursue justice and healing. I encourage you to become familiar with the findings which will also help congregations and the Church look at ourselves and set priorities for action. There is a series of informational webinars being offered by The Episcopal Church, the first one being this evening and then two more in the month of June. Feel free to share this more widely.
Dear People of the Diocese of Olympia and beyond,
At our Diocesan Convention last October you overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting the Anti-Racism Covenant put forth initially by the Rt. Rev. Deon Johnson, Bishop of Missouri, and co-sponsored by many other bishops. My name has been on this covenant since just after its posting, however, I have now, on your behalf, added not just my name and office but the entire Diocese of Olympia. I provide a link below which will take you to the official website for the Covenant where you can view those who have signed, and sign yourself. More importantly, is to read it regularly, to use it as a rule of life right now, to study it in your congregations, and to hold it up as the ideal we are striving for. My plan is to post this quarterly on this blog, and our diocesan website, to remind us as a community to continue to use it. As I said at our convention, signing such documents, passing such resolutions, really is the easy part. The difficult part, the part that will change this Church, this country, this world, is our following it, acting on it, living into it. I offer it here as I vow to do just that personally.
You can read more about this Covenant, see the list of signers, and sign yourself here
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
1 John 4:20
The sin of racism disrupts the harmony and oneness that God intends for humanity. Racism is dangerous, divisive, and damaging. Racism purports that some are deserving of dignity over others and disregards the image and likeness of God found in every human being. We are created in the image of God; therefore, to engage in racism of any form is to refuse to acknowledge the image of God in the other and the stranger. The fact that we were created in the image of God should remind us that each person is a living expression of God that must be respected, preserved, and never dishonored.
Throughout our history, courageous people of God have taken the risk of standing up and speaking out for the least and the lowest. God now challenges us to become courageous people who seek to create sacred communities of hope by dismantling the sin of racism. This work involves risking ourselves for the sake of God’s love, moving beyond ourselves in order to seek and serve Christ and one another.
We invite you to add your name to this covenant and join us as we work to root out racism. Individuals, parishes, groups, dioceses as well as community leaders and businesses are all welcome to be a part of this project.
We lament…As people of faith, we acknowledge our sins and our failure to respect the dignity of every human being. We have, individually and corporately, fallen short of the glory of God, and now call to mind and name the aspects of our lament.
Before I begin I want to start with some givens, at least to me, and for which I would not want readers to think I am somehow not conscious of. First, the US population is amongst the most fortunate in the world right now in the number of vaccines available, and the speed at which, if it goes as planned, we will be vaccinated. I know this. Second, there are so many people and countries that have no prospect anytime soon to get a vaccine, and that is something we have to pay very close attention to as well, advocate for, and get active about. I know that too. These are my givens before I address where I believe we are now in this COVID pandemic.
I write as we seem to think, feel, and hope that this long pandemic nightmare, in regard to the COVID virus, will soon come to an end. But, I also write with some concerns. Some of you have expressed the same, or asked questions insinuating the same, which has compelled me to write this letter to you. I have to be honest, for the first time during this pandemic, I feel a bit betrayed, or at least at odds with the Governor’s decisions in the past few days. I want to say clearly he, and many other politicians, have the economy as their ultimate concern, or at least a major one, and I get that. Their balance of concern is different than ours, certainly than mine. I am far more concerned about your safety, both clergy and lay.
I know many of our congregations have decided to reopen at limited capacity and I am as glad to see that as you are, and concerned a bit too. I am going to say flatly, I believe the reopening plan the Governor has just rolled out which increases dining and large indoor gatherings is premature, and a bit of a slight to all the good work and sacrifice we have made to heed his guidelines and orders over this past year. I truly do hope I am all wrong.
I say this due to several considerations. All research seems to indicate that the vast majority of infections occur in indoor, enclosed spaces. We have now detected all variants in our state. They, appear to be more highly infectious, and at least one, more deadly. I know not everyone agrees but I found it shocking that our politicians were insisting that teachers go back to the classroom and yet did not have getting them vaccinated as a priority until just recently. Perhaps it is easier once you and your family are vaccinated, to throw caution to the wind for others but I do not want us to do that.
I have this fear because we, this country, have done this now almost three times, waves of infections that is, and I am sincerely hoping I am wrong that we are taking actions now to take us to the fourth wave, but I am concerned about that and not afraid to admit it. We seem to get right there, and then cannot resist opening up. So, I feel the need to express a few things regarding the next few months.
At this moment the reality is that we have only fully vaccinated just at 10% of our state. You do not have to be a mathematician to note this means 90% of us are still not vaccinated. Which also translates to not much being different today than it was three weeks ago. While there are studies that show that fully vaccinated people do not spread the virus, there are just as many beginning to come out of real life experience that show that it is possible. Several people in a study in Hawaii, a month out of full vaccination, have tested positive for the virus. The good news is these folks did not develop serious symptoms, or in other words, vaccines work, GET ONE whenever you are finally allowed. What remains unknown is whether such person can still spread it to others. I am leaning toward the belief that they can. Whatever is true, this inconclusive reality plays into my thoughts below.
First, I am going to urge us all not to fall into the trap and, I would even call it the curse, of the North American, or maybe it is even more specifically, the person from the United States. While antidotal, I will share anyway an encounter I had with an 80 year old woman in Lincoln Park a few weeks ago, who, without a mask, came right up to me and began asking questions about 6 inches from my face. I politely asked her to back up and then I would talk to her. She looked at me and said, “Oh, I’m good, I am vaccinated”. Which is my point.
So much of what has helped the US become the 9th worst per capita death rate in the world, out of 201 countries, is, what I like to call, the “pull up the gangplank, I’m on board” syndrome. Or “I got mine, you get yours if you can, I’m good!” We will live, in the next few months, in a real liminal space, an “in-between space” with those vaccinated, and those not. Please be careful with the syndrome I lay out above. It is inconsiderate, and it does not match the faith we follow. Vaccinated or not, we are compelled by that faith to care for everyone, and to do all that is necessary to protect others no matter how “good” we are. This is why I do not intend to change any of our requirements right now, even if the Governor continues to do so. We will still wear masks, social distance, and will not exceed the Governors guidelines for whatever phase your county is in. I reserve the right to be more conservative than the Governor on this if he exceeds what I believe to be safe.
I have written the Governor about my concerns but I have never gotten a response before and I do not expect one now. He has much more important things to do. Up till now I have put my energy toward more vaccine equity for underserved populations. Recently I did add to the pleas of other denominational leaders, and a letter of my own, asking for clergy to be moved up earlier in the plan, especially as we head toward Holy Week. Pleas to consider clergy essential, or to allow them to be vaccinated in an even one step earlier phase, have fallen on deaf ears. My main concerns here are the safety of clergy and people and access to spiritual care and services, many of which have been denied our people for nearly a year. I also have the concern of unvaccinated clergy and lay leaders in indoor venues as we begin to open and also increase the numbers present in those spaces during this liminal time.
While our Governor is not willing to declare our clergy essential, I want you all to hear that I very much believe you to be. In keeping with us not developing a “second class citizen” status for those vaccinated and those not, I want to make it clear that no cleric, or employed lay person, and certainly not any parishioner should be forced, or feel forced, to work amongst others face to face unvaccinated if they are not willing themselves to take the risk. If you run into dilemmas on this, call our office and we will try everything we can to fulfill the need or request of those needing you. I am personally vowing not to receive the vaccine until at least 50% of our active clergy have had theirs, to keep me on my toes, and make me less likely to fall into the “pull up the gangplank, I’m on board syndrome”.
Hang in there, take care of yourself, and all those you come in contact with. I believe in you, and I believe we will get through this together, and I have had as my number one goal throughout this pandemic, bringing as many with us as we can. I have been continually inspired at how resilient and faithful you all have been through this time. I cannot thank you enough.
Once we do get to the other side here, we truly do need to turn our attention, our resources, and our care to getting the rest of the world the same. If we have learned anything in this last year it should be that the virus respects no borders, no nationalities, no race, no belief system. We are not there yet, but we will get there, and I pray we will do that with everyone “on board.”
These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.” Chaplain to the Senate, The Rev. Barry Black.
January 6th. The Feast of the Epiphany in our Christian calendar. Much of that was lost on most people in the United States on Wednesday. For me, the day started with prayer, our Christmas season finally coming to its end. It also ended in prayer, a prayer offered by the Chaplain of the Senate, the Rev. Barry Black, who was asked by the Vice President to pray immediately after the Congress finally, finished their work for our democracy, in the middle of the night hours of Thursday morning.
Between those two prayers, a lot happened.
We collectively watched scenes not many of us would ever have believed would be possible just a few years ago. I don’t know about you, but in these last years I know many have said something like, “Surely this time… surely this will be enough…” In all that time little changed. In all that time, many have said - many of you have said to me - “these are just words.” “He is just like that.” “He speaks in hyperbole.” “He is unusual and crude, but…” And on and on.
I tried to listen, as uneasy as that always made me, and I would step back and think, maybe this will be the last time. Far too many of us did. I confess to you, I did, for too long, and I regret it now. I will not be doing it again.
Some of you said to me, “You need to stay out of politics.” Like many of our flash point words, “politics” is a word that is actually neutral. Its impact comes from us, comes from all we project upon it, all we burden it with.
Here is where I stand.
My primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
My primary flag is the cross
It is, for me, not about politics, but instead about the Gospel.
I have been willing to tell many of you who have engaged me in this discussion that he lost me when I saw the “Access Hollywood” tape before his election. That was a bridge too far for me. And then there were simply more and more reasons as the years went by - children separated from their parents, put in cages, many of whom to this day have not been reunited with their parents. An attempt to ban refugees from other countries, especially Muslims. “Very fine people on both sides.” Tear gassing peaceful protestors for a photo op, holding a Bible, in front of a church. Lies. Gaslighting us all. And all along the way, instigation, inciting unrest, pitting people against one another while he hides behind all that protects him. Even with his Twitter account closed down, he has found a way to continue, even now, to insinuate bloodshed and violence, when as our leader he should be doing exactly the opposite. It is easy for him to do this, as he is so protected, so safe, so insulated.
White supremacy is real. This President has, wittingly and unwittingly, used it, played along with it, promoted it, fanned the flames of it every day. Wednesday, the Feast of the Epiphany, he did that, clearly, before us all. He didn’t just suggest it. He told his followers he had asked to come to our capital city, “I will walk with you.” He told his followers, he told us all, “you can’t save our country by being weak.” He told us, and all those he called to do his bidding, “you have to get your people to fight.” Those were his words.
His sycophant attorney stood before them and used these words, urging them to give those in that building a “a trial by combat.” How can anyone now say they were not insisting, inciting, hoping for just what happened, if not worse?
He did all of this while a pandemic that has taken entirely too many lives, far more than we had to lose, with it raging worse than it has in all the months we have fought it, totally ignored. Thousands a day, every day, die, and continue to, all across this country, due to our simply abysmal response to the virus. A response he single-handedly, with his words, derailed, confused, hijacked for these last months. In fact, in these very days, as we focus on his latest self-absorbed side-show, the new record of more than 4,000 a day has been reached. The US is now the 11th worst country in the world, out of 152 studied, in COVID deaths per capita in the world. He ignored the plight of the people, for his self-serving gain, not only on this day, but most especially on this day.
He incited those sad scenes we saw on the Feast of the Epiphany, and then sat, safely in the White House, as our nation’s capital was raided, desecrated, and ransacked. People died. People continue to. People lost their lives, that day in our capital, and that day in our packed hospitals, all over this country, while he sat and watched, and smiled, at how devoted those storming our Capitol were to him. Despite his reluctant “right” words afterward, he continues, behind the scenes, to foment violence and insurrection.
Now, his Cabinet is jumping ship. People that have held his hand and made every excuse for him along the way, are suddenly saying “I am out.” All of this about 48 hours and, perhaps years, too late.
I could blame him, and I do, but it is not only him. White supremacy and white privilege raided and looted our Capitol on Wednesday, the Feast of the Epiphany. White supremacy and white privilege were on full display on that day and have been the last four years and quite frankly for the entirety of the history of our country. This was true long before him, and it will be true after him, and it is only us that can change it.
I know many of you, if you have continued to read this, are so angry already I have probably lost you, but let me say clearly, which will not make it better for some of you, that I am part of this problem. I do not exempt myself. I have benefited from white supremacy and white privilege and continue to. I strive daily, and will continue to strive, not to play along. I agree with those who are saying, if those banging down the doors of our halls of government on the Feast of the Epiphany, had been Black and/or brown, or any people of color, the death toll would be far higher, and the narrative remarkably different.
Even he said to us, with protestors that are not “for him” that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” But these folks, on this Epiphany, were “his” folks, “great patriots” as his daughter proudly tweeted out as it was happening.
I believe white supremacy is real, and it worked just as it is designed to work on Wednesday. We cannot expect him to change it, but we have to.
It was a sad day. I shed tears during the day at the sight of all that was happening. I shed tears when those who we elected, rather bravely I think, went back to work and got the work of the day, even though it took nearly two, done. And then, as I breathed a sigh of relief, that the work had gotten done, that no more people died, that no more bloodshed occurred, that our government was working again, our Vice President called upon the Chaplain of the Senate to offer a prayer, a book end of the day. It was 1 a.m. Pacific Time, Thursday morning.
I had not expected it, but I was so glad it happened. There, at a podium, that just hours earlier had been overrun by vandals, terrorists, and insurrectionists, there the Chaplain stood to address our God. For me, it was the best moment of the long day. I didn’t see it covered or mentioned on any news program. The New York Times and a few others picked it up. I want to share it, while I also give great thanks to Chaplain Barry Black for writing it, for speaking the truth, for the gentle admonition it contains, for the way it convicts me personally. Chaplain Barry Black stepped up to that podium, in our just saved Capitol, and our just pulled from the brink democracy and prayed this prayer.
Lord of our Lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that external vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies domestic as well as foreign. Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world. Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty. Bless and keep us. Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to do your will and guide our feet on the path of peace. And God Bless America. We pray in your sovereign Name. Amen.
These are the words I intend to keep, and hopefully live, from this Feast of the Epiphany, 2021. We do have to remain vigilant. We will have to hold this next administration equally accountable. They are no more exempt from this culture that is part of our common life now than any of us. We will have to hold ourselves accountable too. The work of changing this society, for healing it, is work for each and every one of us. No one person, no one party, no one ideology, can change it.
Though it be far too late, may it not be in vain, and may the events of these days be a true Epiphany for us all.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.