Dean Thomason: Racial Violence and God’s Call to a “New Normal”

with 4 Comments

Dear friends,

Our hearts singe once more with the excruciating pain of seeing a police officer in Minnesota use an established torture technique to subdue a black man under suspicion of an alleged crime. Other police officers were complicit in their participation. George Floyd died at their hands.

There has been much talk in recent weeks of constitutional rights, but Mr. Floyd was not afforded his in this moment which has catalyzed outrage and terror. Yes, terror, for there are fellow citizens of this nation who must live in fear of such heinous and deadly acts being perpetrated on them, too, and their sons and brothers. They live in terror because this is not an isolated event. This nation’s deep roots of racism have given rise to more than four centuries of such terror. It is no wonder that terror intermingled with grief from a pandemic has stirred the masses into a riotous furor.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” So said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who used his prophetic voice to call this nation to repent of its sin of racism, in 1968. That quote has become a soundbite in recent days, as it did four years ago in Baltimore, and eight years ago in Ferguson, and… and… and…

But in that same speech Dr. King went on to ask America — which is to say, he went on to ask you and me: “What is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor [sic] has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

The prophet’s voice singes our ears and our hearts a half century later, and his words are sadly as true now as they were then. Dr. King rejected violence as a means for societal change, and yet he understood the violent protests of the oppressed in relation to the violence and terror that racism has inflicted on a people for centuries.

Let’s be honest: we all want justice… for ourselves at least, but maybe not so much when it disturbs the status quo to which we have become accustomed. That is human nature, I suppose, but it comes with a heavy price for some as we organize our common life by a deeper logic that insists on inequity: insider/outsider; rich/poor; powerful/oppressed. Barak Obama reflected this week in the wake of George Floyd’s death that “it's natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”

My friends, God is calling us to create a new normal in which justice will take a shape that extends well beyond a neighborhood in Minneapolis, and well beyond cries for retributive justice to be meted out. Yes, a police officer has been charged with murder; other police officers have been fired. We pray this day for the riots to revert to non-violent protest. And we pray that those voices may be heard, by us, by our leaders, and by all in this nation as we struggle to find a new way, a different way of being part of that “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

God’s relentless call to us is about working for a new creation in which the even deeper logic is abundant life for all. A “new normal,” if you will. As we renew our Baptismal Covenant tomorrow on the occasion of Pentecost, may we form the words on our lips and on our hearts: “I will, with God’s help.”

Your Brother in Christ,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason

Dean and Rector

4 Responses

  1. Patricia de la Fuente
    | Reply

    Once again, thank you Steve for your leadership is this time of a double pandemic- coronavirus and ever increasing racism and bigotry. Though destruction to property, physical attacks against others at any time, looting and threats can not be condoned, the fire of anger on a human level by all people most especially by African Americans, is all too understandable.
    Patricia

  2. Debby Detering
    | Reply

    Union of Black Episcopalians’ Prayer Vigil for Racial Justice and the Healing of our Nation: Disappointed that I couldn’t join this because it had reached the maximum number or participants, which was 300, probably way below what was needed.

    • saintmarks
      |

      Oh no!

  3. Libby Kelleher Carr
    | Reply

    Thank you Steve for this strong, loving message. And the same for both our Bishop and the Presiding Bishop’s messages today. Our leadership has a clear through-line that is consistent with God’s message. May we all find many ways to change it to a new reality.
    We will, with God’s help.
    Libby Kelleher Carr

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