I’m writing this post to my fellow progressive, white Episcopalians, but I also write it mindful of the many allies out there who are not Episcopalian. While some of what I write may not pertain to those outside of the Episcopal Church, I believe this post is relevant to many who are dealing with the implications of this election and are trying to find a way forward.
I want to be clear up front about where I am coming from. I love my church. I love my country. I write this post from my context as the son of an American father and a Korean mother, and as a person who is being trained to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. If the Episcopal Church is a pie, you can see where I live, in that little purple slice – ‘Multi-Racial 1.2%’ (This pie chart is dated from 2009, but the most recent date I could find from 2014 reflects almost the exact same numbers. You can find that information on the last link of this post). And it is from that little purple slice of pie that I’m writing to many of my white sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church and beyond.
I was sad when it became clear on Tuesday night that Donald Trump would be elected President. I was disappointed, too. And, as I read my Facebook feed it became clear that many of my white, progressive sisters and brothers were in utter shock. They simply could not believe that almost sixty million Americans could support a man whose campaign has traumatized persons with disabilities, persons of color, women, immigrants, LGBT persons, and Muslims. (I want to be clear at this point that I know there are many Republicans who disagreed strongly with his campaign and rhetoric, but still felt bound to their party in spite of him – but even with this caveat it is still incredibly painful.) It had to be a fluke. Some type of mistake. This was not the America many white progressives knew.
But there was a different reality that was being expressed by persons of color in our church. Were some of us sad and disappointed? Yes. Were we shocked? No.
As the night wore on, I scrolled through my facebook feed and came across helpful posts from two women of color who are priests in the Episcopal Church. I read this post from the Rev. Hershey Mallette Stephens: “I’m just wondering why folks are so shocked? Maybe I’ve been living in a different America…” Then I scrolled down and saw this post from the The Rev. Winnie Varghese: “This is who we are.”
It became clear to me late Tuesday night that there are two experiences of America in our church. There is the experience of many who are in the red slice – ‘Non-Hispanic White’ 86.7% who experience America as a place where it is unimaginable that public rhetoric targeted towards the people groups whom we fiercely love could be tolerated at any level. But then you have the experience of America from those of us who make up the remaining 13.3% of the pie, who experience the reality of that rhetoric in our everyday lived experience.
I want to share an incident that I have written about previously here on this blog.
I grew up in Alabama and a part of my education was learning Alabama history. I still remember the day my history teacher explained that interracial marriage was still illegal in Alabama. It was still in Alabama’s constitution. I cannot adequately explain the anger, disappointment, and shame I felt that day as the child of an interracial marriage. To realize that my existence was the result of an illegal marriage according to Alabama law left me feeling numb. This was Alabama history. This was Alabama present. This was a teenager with a white Dad and a Korean mom learning about his place in his society.
The teacher went on to explain that efforts had been made to change the constitution, but were met with resistance and the constitution was kept the same. But she reassured us that, even though the laws were backwards and still on the books, they were not enforced. Later on when I was in high school, in the year 2000, there was a vote in Alabama to overturn its ban on interracial marriage. Sadly, 40 percent (545, 993 to be exact) voted to keep the ban on interracial marriage. My teacher’s words weren’t very comforting because Alabama’s history of racism and white supremacy was still very alive. This is the history and heritage that has shaped me. This is the history and heritage that has caused me much pain. And it is this pain, within the context of living in the South, that has almost continually been diminished, ignored, or contradicted.
My sister and brother allies, I am so grateful for you. You are my colleagues. You are my friends. You are there for me and my family and my friends in ways for which I cannot give enough thanks. We are one in Christ. But this country didn’t suddenly become dangerous to specific bodies because of last Tuesday night. There are many in our church whose bodies have never felt safe in America. And our sisters and brothers of color, and people of all marginalized groups have been sharing themselves and their stories. They have been showing up, often painfully aware of how small of a space they are occupying in our church, and in our common life as Americans. They have been working for justice and equality. And I know many that have often felt alone and wonder if anyone else in this wonderful church of ours cares to help them in their work.
And the dangerous thing about our church is that we can lull ourselves to sleep with our own language and branding of ourselves. I have often encountered a smugness in our own perceived arrival at inclusion and diversity. But we have such a long way to go. We are making progress, but we need the humility to be honest where we are weak and ask for and seek God’s wholeness as we pursue the kingdom of God together.
I know so many of you are heartbroken about all the people who have been wounded and targeted by dangerous rhetoric. Now the rhetoric may turn to policy. You are worried about their safety. You are worried about their families. Please, engage with them. Show up. Ask how you can get involved in the work they are doing. Justice and equality is not something we support generally or theoretically. It’s something we pursue as we look into the faces of the people we love in the places where we live. Listen to those for whom you are afraid. Show up for them. And ask how you might be able to stand with them.
This is who we are. We are not surprised. Now let’s get to work.