by Doug Thorpe
June 21, 2021
In late May, an article in The New York Review of Books tells me that “a national poll showed that 28 percent of Republicans agreed that ‘things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” And what’s driving this fear and anger? According to political scientist Robert A. Pape, the answer is “fear of the Great Replacement”—meaning, of course, that “minorities are progressively replacing white populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates.”
In short, racial grievances.
I’m reading this the day after attending—in person!—the cathedral’s 9 a.m. service, officiated by our friend and former Saint Mark’s staff member Malcolm McLaurin, the first African American man in this diocese to be ordained to the priesthood.
Which is good news—and also, of course, sobering news, given that this cathedral has stood for almost a century.
Well, we are a majority white congregation, and a majority white denomination. Which just means that we have to work harder to forge relationships across racial and ethnic boundaries, which we can do in part by sharing in work that crosses over.
For example: Environmental Justice.
A small summertime example: Bill McKibben tells us in his weekly New Yorker eblast that a ten-degree-Fahrenheit jump in temperature during the warm season was associated with an increase in emergency-room visits for “mental-health disorders, self-injury/suicide, and intentional injury/homicide.” Both these effects show up more strongly in this country in Black and Hispanic patients—probably, as Dr. Rupa Basu explained (She’s the chief of air-and-climate epidemiology at California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment), because those groups disproportionately live in low-income neighborhoods. “They’re often in areas where there are more fossil-fuel emissions, fewer green spaces, and more blacktop and cement, which really absorbs and retains the heat,” she said. “And also living closer to freeways. That exacerbates air pollution. And, with the heat, that’s a synergistic effect. It’s environmental racism that leads to these differences in exposure.” Some people, she added, bristle at hearing that: “Someone said to me, ‘Oh, so now we’re breathing different air?’ And I said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly right. We can track it down to the Zip Code level.’” Call it critical race epidemiology.
There are things we can do, and Saint Mark's is actively seeking for these large and small solutions. And so it was a small pleasure that, on the same day that our parish celebrated the calling and ordination of Malcolm, we also joined together in the cathedral parking lot and blessed—yes, blessed—the new charging station for electric cars. In doing so we honored the legacy of Jim Mulligan, one of the founders of Earth Ministry and a long term supporter of Creation Care at the cathedral.
As Jim’s widow Ruth said in her comments, Jim would surely have found the humor in the situation: I mean, putting a plaque on a charging station is not exactly like having your face carved on Mount Rushmore. But, as Ruth also said, Jim liked to work behind the scenes, quietly, and yes, with a good sense of humor.
And so there we were, gathered together in the parking lot on a warm June morning. One small step, as one of our astronauts once said. But it was a step that put him on the moon. That’s where small steps can lead.
Longtime Saint Mark's parishioner and former vestry member Doug Thorpe is Professor Emeritus of English at Seattle Pacific University.