“Preaching in a Time of White Supremacy.” This was the title of a panel event hosted by a local Episcopal seminary a few years ago. I wish I had gone. For in this moment, when we all remain shocked and saddened over the Buffalo shooting and the toxic ideology behind it, I feel at a loss for words. We’ve been here before, and it’s utterly devastating to be here again. So maybe a good place to start is with the words of our Presiding Bishop:
“As baptized followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are called to uphold and protect the dignity of every human child of God, and to actively uproot the white supremacy and racism deep in the heart of our shared life.” (Pastoral statement on mass shooting in Buffalo from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, May 16, 2022).
The Bishop’s statement recognizes that the shooter wasn’t acting alone, not really. Yes, he’s the only one who pulled the trigger and the only one to be prosecuted. But any sort of identity-based violence, whether racially motivated or otherwise, doesn’t spring up out of nowhere. It starts with “othering” – not accepting someone else’s full humanity and equality – which is something our country was built upon.
The othering that persists through history, particularly in the form of white supremacy, seems exacerbated in this digital age – with hate speech, at worst, and careless rhetoric, at best, overflowing on social media so that ideas like replacement theory come to legitimate extremists.
And yet, the Bishop’s words ring true for us all. We must all uproot the sin of supremacy from our hearts and from our midst. Not only white supremacy, but all forms of supremacy, as made evident once again by the Laguna Woods shooting. We must work really hard not to “other.”
Fortunately for us, the flipside of othering is belonging, which is what the church is all about. We belong together. Belong before you believe. You belong here.
In Christ, we can find true belonging, for true belonging is being simultaneously fully known and fully loved. And then, when we can take the focus off our own need for belonging, and create space for others to belong, we realize that to belong to God is to belong to God’s people.
It turns out I have more words on this matter than I initially thought. That’s what putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, will do. Of all these words, “belong” sums it up. May our church be a community of belonging, where we uphold, cherish and promote the dignity of every human being.