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Wheat Field

Diversity & Justice for All

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11


In my first year after graduating from college, I had the pleasure of spending a year in Tulsa, Oklahoma taking care of my grandmother and her brother.  I was their domestic caregiver, doing everything from the laundry to cleaning to cooking meals.  Occasionally after I had prepared an exceptionally well-rounded and healthy meal, my Nana would look at me and say, “Baby, I’ve got a spot.” 


A couple of questions later and I came to understand that despite how good the meal had been, my grandmother sensed that there was something missing.  I would ask, “What do you want, Nana?”  She would hem and haw until finally she would settle upon something sweet, a bowl of ice cream, a cookie, maybe not what the doctor ordered but absolutely what she needed to feel wholly satisfied and complete.


My Nana’s resounding refrain aptly describes how I see much of the Church today.  The Church has a spot. We know that something is missing but we may not have a clear sense of what that something is.  We speculate that more members or more money is all we need.  I believe differently. 


The Bible is replete with descriptions of the Church highlighting our vast differences that come together to comprise the Body of Christ (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).  Different functions, different gifts, different services, different activities, pagan and not, slave and free, all working together so that Christ’s Body (i.e., the Church), lacking nothing, would be wholly complete and satisfying. 


And yet, Sunday morning may just be the most homogeneous, segregated time of every week.  We choose familiarity and comfort, again and again, despite God’s promise of an ultimate existence where all nations, tribes, languages, and peoples will have place and voice in the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 7:9).  What do I believe the Church should be about in the meantime?  How about preparing?  How about practicing?  How about modeling what God promises by celebrating and welcoming everyone?


This explains why I have been and remain a strong advocate for diversity, and its inevitable companion, justice for all. I have always worked to level the playing field, favored the underdog, sided with the outsider, fought for the voiceless and insisted on equality and fairness when such attributes seem lacking.  The Lord loves justice (Isaiah 61:8) and consequently, so do I.  The Lord has ordained diversity (Revelation 7:9) and therefore, diversity is essential to who I am as a child of God.


In my Episcopal life, my passions for diversity and justice have meant participating in and leading anti-racism training like Seeing the Face of God in Each Other, Many Faces One Faith, and Meet Me in Galilee. I celebrate the 1991 General Convention Resolution labeling racism as a sin from which the Church needs to repent, as well as repeated affirmations of the necessity of antiracism work provided by subsequent General Convention extensions and resolutions.


Locally, I have teamed with parishioners to establish and nurture a five-year relationship with members of Nova Catholic Community. This Arlington Race Project (my name for the group) has enabled white and black Christians to come together to study and discuss books and movies devoted to portraying in fullness the continuing reality of racism and its impact upon all people, especially people of color.  It was in this group that I successfully undertook and co-facilitated a year-long study of the Episcopal Church’s Sacred Ground curriculum and found the motivation to see my intellectual commitment to justice for all transform into concrete actions.

I have learned that a growing awareness of the layers of policy, laws, and practices that constitute the system of exclusion and oppression we know as systemic racism can overwhelm and paralyze.  Suddenly we can see, but often do not know what to do to make a positive difference.  In this small group we were able to identify areas where our presence, our voice and our efforts would have meaningful impact.


For example, I stood in front of the Fairfax courthouse to protest the death of a mentally unstable woman at the hands of police. Later we were able to celebrate new policies that were implemented to improve police treatment of the mentally ill.  Some members worked with the League of Women Voters on voter registration and empowerment. Together the group hosted an open conversation with the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County to discuss policing and restorative justice in our community.  We even advocated on behalf of the Dreamers (Daca or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students) simply by showing up at various events.


Perhaps my most public and active role when it comes to inclusion, diversity and justice is the office I hold as President of the Union of Black Episcopalians, a national organization formed in 1968 (as the Union of Black Clergy and Laity) to promote the inclusion of black people, now people of color, at every level of Episcopal Church governance and life. 


This group holds the Church accountable for living into our baptismal promises as well as our motto: The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. I appreciate being able to remind the Church of the significant contributions black people have made to The Episcopal Church (as members, leaders, advocates, witnesses, and prophets) and how our continued participation changes conversations, broadens perspectives, and keeps us open to the different ways in which God is at work in our midst.


When it comes to working for justice, I encourage everyone to remember and embrace the motto of the Order of the Daughters of the King:

For His Sake…

I am but one, but I am one.

I cannot do everything, but I can do something.

What I can do, I ought to do.

What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.

Lord, what will you have me do?

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