As a part of Presiding Bishop Browning’s message to Executive Council this past November, he addressed the subject of “institutional racism”. In this month’s article, I share his thoughts and corn-merits with you as a prelude to my article next month which will focus on “institutional racism” within South Dakota.
The Presiding Bishop’s remarks are informative and helpful for at least two reasons, First, “institutional racism” is a pervasive problem that confronts the entire Church. However, while everywhere within the Church and culture, it is always experienced within local communities and therefore must be addressed within the churches and communities that constitute the Diocese of South Dakota.
Second, Bp. Browning cites the role and responsibility of the Church to teach: “As much as I think we’re responsible for advocating public policy issues, our primary responsibility is to teach our own people. We haven’t done that.”
Given our Diocesan emphasis on teaching the faith in 1987, 1 am asking each parish, mission, committee, commission, institution and council of the Diocese to address the four agenda items that Bp. Browning refers to below, from the 67th General Convention in 1982. In addressing these issues, we will be forced to learn and teach the faith of the Church in a most elementary and essential way.
The Presiding Bishop’s Words:
No greater challenge faces the Church than that of racism. In my sermon at the recent meeting of the House of Bishops, I shared my growing awareness that we must not be tricked to think that the struggle of apartheid is limited to South Africa. The struggle is with the pernicious evil of institutional racism.
The greater question before us is not, necessarily, how we support the antiapartheid forces in South Africa, but how will we confront the racism that pervades all human society? Are we prepared to work for a United States and a world where all people of every color are enabled to play an equal part or will we continue to view non-whites as expendable at points of political and economic forces?
The struggle against racism is dramatically engaged in South Africa, but it is being fought around the world: in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, in Sri Lanka, Central America, may I suggest even in this country.
The issue of institutional racism keeps coming forward as I travel and as I meet with Church people in this country and representatives from abroad.
When I met with the leadership of the National Commission on Indian Work and other representatives of the Native American community, the issue of racism was one of their greatest concerns.
When I met with members of the representatives of the Hispanic community in the Southwest, the issue was racism.
When I met with the Union of Black Episcopalians, the issue was racism.
I am sure that when I meet with leadership of the Asian-American community the issue will be the same.
The issue is racism but the subject is quality education, medical care, employment, housing, social services.
In the Episcopal Church we must practice what we preach and teach. Indeed, there is no more effective way of preaching and teaching. We must find more effective ways for the Episcopal Church to influence public policy regarding institutional racism through the force of our own example and the credibility of the teaching process itself.
I was struck by a recent interview in The New York Times with the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn. Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan said: ‘The major problem the Church has is internal. How do we teach? As much as I think we’re responsible for advocating public policy issues, our primary responsibility is to teach our own people. We haven’t done that. We’re asking politicians to do what we haven’t done effectively ourselves.” I cannot agree more with this statement.
Recalls Convention’s Words:
In 1982 the 67th General Convention requested every diocese and local congregation to create a committee on racism, with assisting material to be provided by the staff of the Episcopal Church Center. Let me recall the agenda identified by the Convention:
1. To study, identify, and confront the root cause of racism in all people, systems and institutions; to produce educational programs and to advocate economic and political reforms, working with religious and other groups in the community;
2. To lend support for truly desegregated communities, schools and houses of worship;
3. To encourage, recruit, and deploy minority people in all professions on a non-discriminatory basis, particularly within the Church;
4. To apply a collective imagination for the creation of new jobs, including training programs in job skills and work discipline, that are characterized by equality of opportunity from top to bottom.
The action of the 1985 General Convention moved the intention of this resolution further in ResolutionAl40a by advocating affirmative action procedures throughout the Church. This resolution requested that the Dioceses report “annually their participation in such procedures to the Executive for Administration and to the Committee on the State of the Church”
As a mark of my intention to address the issue of institutional racism and to have the Episcopal Church set an example, I promise immediate implementation of these resolutions.
I am happy to report that according to our affirmative action report of Sept. 15 the overall Church Center staff of 211 is now 56% female and 44% male, a shift of slightly more than 2% toward the female side. Both exempt and non-exempt staffs now show this change. Of the exempt staff, 60% are now lay people. By the end of 1987, we will have completed an extensive training-educational program on institutional racism and its behavioral manifestation for all members of the Episcopal Church Center staff.
The Bishop’s Words:
With Bp. Browning, I concur that “it would be precipitous for me to establish unilaterally a program and agenda to address institutional racism.” However, I also stand with the Presiding Bishop in sharing that, ‘This is a priority for my ministry and administration and it Is my intention to be proactive.”
An active intentionality requires that we know and understand the complex problem of institutional racism”. If we are ignorant of the problem, we will not be able to address it in any meaningful or creative way. Discussions at the local level within the Diocese on the four agenda items identified above provide an opportunity for us to learn, share and act faithfully in confronting “institutional racism’.