This summer challenged us in many ways. Aside from the ongoing worry and adjustments due to a global pandemic, every corner of our nation echoed with protests, calls for justice and confused sorrow in response to George Floyd’s murder. The subsequent media coverage of other black and brown Americans like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery who were killed in the weeks and months following illuminated deeply personal racial issues in our country’s history and present. Additionally, we struggled watching live on WRAL the transgression of the line between exercising First Amendment rights and riots and looting, mere blocks away from our church home.
On May 29th, our Bishop, alongside several other Bishops in the Anglican Church of North America, wrote a letter hoping “that our churches become places where the power of the gospel to bring together the nations of the earth (Rev 7:9) is seen in our life together as disciples…[and therefore] we commit to educating ourselves and the churches under our charge within a biblical and theological frame to face the problems of our day.” This exhortation and the constant comfort of the church’s penchant to think and learn in community led a small group of intergenerational, racially diverse members of Holy Trinity to begin an eight-week reading group. Our syllabus can be viewed online.
Our shared goal was simple and overwhelmingly complex. In response to our biblical call to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8), we felt a need to read, pray, learn and discuss with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Guided and facilitated by Crystal and Daniel Lee, Kiefer Wynn and Katherine Jo, we explored themes of institutional racism and poverty, biblical as well as social justice, mass incarceration, compassion and mercy. We read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, watched Ava DuVernay’s film, 13th, and more. We asked, in response to Brian Stevenson’s discussion with Tim Keller, how we can be proximate to our neighbors of color and mourn when they mourn (Rom. 12:15). We shared personal stories, asked a lot of uncomfortable questions and often disagreed.
In late July, John Yates shared his own thoughts on the social and cultural upheaval, giving voice to a yearning we expressed in the reading group. He wrote, “I believe God is inviting his Church into a new season of reflection and action on matters of race,” and asked us to listen with him humbly and fearlessly “to God’s word while at the same time listening to God’s world.” In the spirit of listening and reflection, several members of the reading group wrote a few sentences about their experience and ideas spawned from our discussions.
Through our study of Stevenson’s book, I was reminded how proximity to those who are oppressed and suffering is necessary for birthing empathy and action. And proximity to the oppressed is central to our faith in that we worship a Savior who “emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant” (Phil. 2) in order to be intimately proximate to us. Coming out of this study, it is my prayer that I can find ways to model my life on Christ’s by walking alongside, listening to and fighting for those who are oppressed.
I’ve known about individual and institutional racism–mostly as historical topics–for a long time. What our study, and recent events, have shown me is how pervasive these sins are. I can’t unsee what I now see nearly everywhere. I have yet to figure out how to respond.
This study helped me realize how much more effective and restorative a gospel-based understanding of racial justice (married with organized effort) might be, compared to the worldly strategies pursued by strictly secular groups, such as Black Lives Matter. I’ve also learned that despite the well-documented, extensive history of racial injustice in this country and its legacy today, I can’t expect to become part of the solution by first demanding to be convinced – I must first care. For me, that reordering of priorities happens most easily when I consider the love with which Christ first treated me.
We hope to continue to learn, share and work together to recognize Jesus on the margins of society, and particularly in our city and region. We invite you to explore the justice-focused resources on Holy Trinity’s website and also to connect with us with any questions.
This post was compiled by members of the group on behalf of our small community. Those of us listed below welcome further questions and discussion: