‘Unholy Trinity’ serves as call to action on poverty, racism, gun violence

Episcopal conference attracted attendees from 37 dioceses, 25 bishops

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 25, 2017
Public procession for Unholy Trinity in Chicago

From left, Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee, Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith, Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde carry an “Unholy Trinity” conference banner as they lead a procession April 21 on the streets of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] Eager to work toward solutions to the problems of poverty, racism and gun violence, Episcopal bishops, clergy members and lay people gathered for three days last week for a conference in Chicago, the American city that recorded the most homicides in 2016.

The city’s recent surge in deadly violence provided a grim backdrop for Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s “Unholy Trinity” conference held April 20-22 at the Lutheran School of Theology in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. But speakers regularly emphasized that the problem is not isolated to one city, nor is the outlook as bleak as many news headlines suggest.

Michael Pfleger speaks

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and activist in Chicago, speaks from a podium at the midpoint of the Unholy Trinity procession April 21. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The conference drew about 150 attendees from 37 Episcopal dioceses, including 25 bishops and one bishop-elect. The attendees were predominantly Episcopalians, though other Christian denominations also were represented, including Lutheran and Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, preached at the halfway point of a public procession on April 21.

An underlying theme of the conference was how the Episcopal Church and Christians, in general, have a unique ability to be a force for change in the country despite daunting challenges. Among those challenges is the belief of some Christians that social justice causes should not be the church’s causes, a stance that the Rev. Julian DeShazier picked apart in the conference’s centerpiece “three-note” presentation on April 21.

“When did it become revolutionary for Christians to care about justice?” DeShazier posed rhetorically to the conference attendees in the School of Theology’s chapel.

DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church at the University of Chicago who also is a hip-hop musican known as J.Kwest, said too many Christian churches have become “think tanks” when they should be “action centers.” He drew on his congregation’s experience working with activists on Chicago’s South Side in pressing the university to open a trauma center. The surrounding neighborhoods, despite high rates of violence, have no trauma center close by.

The other two presenters were Natalie Moore, a WBEZ-FM reporter who covers the South Side, and the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, a professor of religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral.

Moore argued that racism is partly behind the national focus on Chicago’s violence, and she also suggested a political motive to criticisms of the city, former President Barack Obama’s hometown. She urged listeners to look beyond the stereotypes, such as the inner city as a war zone, as they work to end gun violence.

Douglas, in her presentation, detailed racism’s roots in Colonial-era America before outlining an indictment of white supremacy in the U.S. The higher rates of poverty and incarceration that blacks face today, she argued, are continuing effects of a “violent anti-black narrative that helps to define American identity.”

Given such historic and systemic oppression, why is it surprising that blacks face a greater threat of violence, Douglas asked.

“The system has been structured to lead to their death, not to their life,” she said.

If the words of the three speakers were meant to confront the conference attendees with the hard, historical realities of racism, poverty and gun violence, much of the rest of the conference was aimed at teaching ways to transcend that history and change the oppressive system that persists today.

Activism against gun violence has long the backing of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which has passed resolutions dating back to 1976 supporting various forms of gun control.

Workshops offered April 21 in the afternoon featured discussions of how to lobby legislators, how to engage with evangelical Christians on these issues and how to develop community organizing campaigns. In one session, the Rev. Carol Reese discussed her work as a chaplain in the trauma center of Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, while in another session a delegation from the Diocese of Massachusetts explained the diocese’s successes working with youth in a program called B-Peace for Jorge, named after a young man who was murdered in 2012.

Bishop Sutton

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads the crowd in chants and songs during the Unholy Trinity procession. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The bishops who convened and hosted the conference echoed the call to action on its final day, April 22. Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas of the and Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith divided the attendees into four groups to share ideas on key areas of emphasis: public liturgy, communication strategy, political advocacy and community organizing. And Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee followed up by speaking to the full conference about ways public liturgy can reach people beyond the walls of a church.

The conference demonstrated the power of public liturgy on the evening of the second day with a procession down the sidewalks of the streets that lead through the University of Chicago.

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny kicked off the procession with a speech atop the School of Theology’s steps. Lee, Douglas and Beckwith, as well as Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, then carried the conference’s banner as they led the crowd down 55th Street and Ellis Avenue to the Midway Plaisance Park, where Pfleger spoke.

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny addresses the crowd before the procession April 21. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Each of the three days began with a contextual Bible study led by Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango, an Old Testament professor at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina. Participants picked apart two unfamiliar Old Testament passages and the well-known gospel parable of the Good Samaritan, mining them for deeper biblical meaning while also discussing them in the context of the conference.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Comments (17)

  1. Disappointed that there is no news from the Episcopal Church or statement from the PB on the March for Science on Earth Day. This is something the “nones” hear as a spiritual message.

    1. Ronald Monterosso says:

      Yes someone needs to march for Science — because science clearly shows that the MAGICC climate model on which the Paris Accord predictions were based significantly understated the ability of the Earth to absorb CO2 and significantly overstated the alleged problem . This is because just before the Climate Convention discussions began, China admitted they had under-reported their CO2 emissions from coal alone by almost one billion (with a B) metric tons per year for the last 13 years. But since the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is measured — not based on figures submitted by dictators — the MAGICC model –which is based on the old Chinese numbers –grossly overstated the amount of CO2 that remains in the atmosphere and grossly underestimated the amount of CO2 which the Earth absorbs. This is an underestimation that is measured in Billions of tons. This means that the predictions of he MAGICC model for a 4 degree increase by 2100 on which the entire Paris Accord is based is grossly overstated because it relies on false figures submitted by Russia and China about their CO2 emissions

      1. The Rev. Lisa Hlass says:

        Thank you, and on the flip side of that, why do we see so many “science types” dissing spirituality and religion as if it has to be one or the other. Dualistic thinking is not very progressive in my view. We must all join together in this struggle for social and environmental justice.

  2. Doug Desper says:

    I cannot be the only one appalled at how presenters ran to affix blame through their worn out escape hatch of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism while giving a pass to the choices made by gangs and a hedonistic street culture. Gun violence in Chicago can’t be blamed on people who died nearly 200 years ago, or on racists somewhere in the shadows. The ones pulling the triggers are entirely to blame all by themselves. The values choices rest entirely on those doing the killing, on those having children by multiple fathers, on dead-beat parents who have children they don’t want to raise, on those who game the public assistance safety nets, and not on some “system” that overpowered their free will.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      Well said! Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country none of which have quelled the daily murders and violence. The idea that the nation ignores the plight in Chicago because it is Obama’s home town is ridiculous.

    2. The Rev. Lisa Hlass says:

      Doug, have you ever heard of the concept of projection? I challenge you to spend some time there.

  3. Terry Francis says:

    As in other issues, I totally agree with Doug Desper’s comments. I read this article in total disbelief. So Ms Moore thinks we should look beyond the “stereotypes” such as looking at the inner city as a war zone? EXCUSE ME?? There were 762 homicides in Chicago last year with the number of murders this year outpacing last year. My dear lady, it IS a war zone!! Are progressives, especially black progressives in this case, that incapable of comprehending reality? For intelligent people to blame this tragedy on white supremacy / systemic oppression/racism/ lack of gun control, etc with a straight face is a tragedy in and of itself. None of these things makes a gang banger take a semi-automatic hand gun and blow somebody away. It was his choice to kill that person and his alone with no outside influences. I’m sure everyone left this conference feeling good about themselves and what they accomplished. And what they accomplished, with all their intellectual discussions regarding gun violence, was nothing.

  4. Tod Roulette says:

    What is more troubling than the Blame Game discussed here is this church
    Had made No Concrete efforts to plant churches or raise up African American, Latino or Asian priests in T. E. C. For the future. This country will be non white majority and T.E.C. Is not prophesying how God will look in the very near Tomorrow, nor preparing its ministers to do so.

    There is an explicit obstruction to go out into the Higheaus and Bieays or to see your neighbors as yourselves by the white hierarchy of this church. Overwhelmingly brown and black people are Not these bishops neighbors and it is a rare Happening when they go traipsing into these places.
    They certainly aren’t ministering to them on a regular basis or attempting to do so. It’s disheartening and reeks of White Privilege and White Resistence.

  5. Doug Desper says:

    A further thought: Chicago has been led by liberal progressive Democrats for many decades. That philosophy has not brought substantive positive and durable change to the lot and life of Chicago’s vulnerable nor has it effectively challenged the predatory culture that rules many sections of that beleaguered city. The lament that there are no trauma centers in the middle of Chicago’s worst crime zones should be enough evidence of this ongoing failure. When caregivers do not have protection they cannot work. It is interesting that Mr. Obama has chosen to not return to Chicago in retirement to devote his full influence and energy to making any measurable difference. After all, he calls Chicago his home town, represented the citizens as their Senator, and refers to it in passing. Yet, he chose a base of operation centered in Washington DC, including a house with a security wall around his border (built for some reason). The presenters at this conference may believe that straw man arguments can distract us from the reality of failed Democrat progressive policies on full display in places like Chicago and Detroit and Flint, Michigan. It is easier to get off the hook for these systemic failures by finding a straw man to blame like the abstract concepts of locking up criminals “disproportionately” (even though they earned it), racism, white privilege, and dead colonials. While I’m sure that the conference attendees were gratified at their efforts it is entirely lost on most if not all that they didn’t address core issues which create a self-perpetuating failure. The Racism Road Trip goes where next?

  6. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    The usual intelligent and well-stated commentary by Doug Desper, Bill Louis and Terry Francis. Will normality ever return to the Episcopal Church? It doesn’t look that way. The only sadly comforting thought is that if the Church continues its decline in this manner it will eventually have insufficient membership to maintain itself and, however unhappily, will disappear entirely. At least it will then no longer be causing damage to our society if we still have a society worth saving.

  7. Susan Salisbury says:

    The leadership of the Episcopal Church increasingly becomes the Progressive Party at Prayer. There is no daylight between progressive policies and what they contend Christ requires of us. Christ apparently requires prayer that sounds like a speech at a leftist rally. For the record, many pew dwellers see the world differently. They see nothing kind, supportive or loving about leftwing policies that value platitudes over reality. The Dakota Access Pipeline opposition is a perfect example of this– nevermind the policy issues, how can you ask me to believe that people who left a 1.1 million dollar polluted mess requiring the immediate expenditure of dollars and energy to clean it up in order to prevent serious water pollution, actually care about the environment? This is virtue signalling at its worst. As for gun violence–do you think I really care whether it is a gun or knife that kills me???These people are not opposed to violent crime, they just want to take guns away from law abiding people. What is most appalling is the lack of actually doing something– like providing food or clothes or medical care. Rhetoric is offered as a substitute for actually caring for people and lots of money is being spent on this. I don’t see it as Christian or caring. I just see a bunch of hypocrites attempting to put God’s stamp of approval on leftwing statist anti-freedom policies.

  8. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    To Susan Salisbury: I thank you for your cogent commentary. I wish every Episcopalian would read it except that those who are engaged in destroying the Church won’t benefit from it and those who agree with you don’t need it.

  9. Sarah Rachel says:

    Thank you again Doug Despar for being the “voice of reason”. I feel the Church has made a decision to alienate those who are not liberal. I will still attend my local “white suburban” EC but I will be not be pledging financially anymore.

  10. Pjcabbiness says:

    Thanks to all of you for your excellent and accurate analysis.

  11. I thank you for this stunning article about the “Unholy Trinity” in Chicago! That goes to show you that “Christian Lives Matter” everyday!!!

  12. Ronald Monterosso says:

    It is shocking how the left wing of the Episcopal Church (which is increasingly becoming the entire church) has converted programs designed to address the causes of “gang violence ” into programs to address “gun violence”. So now instead of trying to help alleviate the forces that lead young people into a life of crime , the Epicopal Church has turned into nothing more than an anti-Second Amendment lobbying group. It is sad that our Bishops and leaders have betrayed their flock and abandoned their Godly mission in order to become a Progressive political action committee. Is it just a coincidence that the web sites of all of the Epicopal dioceses cannot be distinguished from the web sites for the local Democratic Party? Is it just coincidence that the Episcopal Church follows the Democratic Party’s beliefs and positions on EVERY issue?

  13. Douglas R Carrier says:

    It is heartening to see that fellow Episcopalians feel the same way I do especially about gun violence. I am in the process of writing Bishop Ian Douglas a letter to try and convince him of the errors in his/their (Bishops Against Gun Violence) ways. I am shattered every time I hear of any shootings. The real reasons/solutions are if front of their noses if they would only listen to the alternate side. I love my church but feel the same way Ronald states the condition today. I feel abandoned by the Church

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