As we all are witnessing the painful events involving police departments and communities of color, we must once again, and urgently, face squarely the sin of white supremacy. This sin was central to our nation’s founding and is enshrined in — and is at the root of — so much of the rhetoric of the day. It lives itself out in the violence inflicted on communities of color, often at the hands and knees of the police.
It is also evident that white supremacy promotes a second set of standards on how the population is treated differently in so many instances by the police, at the direction of policy makers. A group of armed white men can surround a state capitol and threaten citizens with almost no negative consequences. But black and brown unarmed people protesting the murder of an unarmed black man by police are met with tear gas and the violence of police in riot gear.
White supremacy continues to break the soul of our nation. Hate has torn apart our better selves and we are witnessing the actions of arrogant bigotry in our streets, our parks, in supermarkets and everyday life.
The sin of white supremacy has stolen away any claim that we are a great nation. A great nation is built upon the character of great people—faithful, loving people. Echoing our sacred scripture, a great nation is one that liberates and unburdens the historical oppressed and protects us when we are most vulnerable.
The character of our nation is being stained by the hatred of white supremacy, which, because of a history of slavery and worker exploitation, is now baked into all of our systems.
Of course, we are not alone. This history of sin has created a spiritual illness in other nations. But we are responsible for this young nation, and its unique origins often make our work difficult.
Most Americans believe that some sort of law enforcement system, as well as an armed military, is necessary for an ordered society. So if we are going to have these systems, we need to ensure that the individuals in them are willing to free themselves from the bondage of sin.
That said, we cannot project all of our sins onto the police or the State. In one way or another, we all have ingested the poison of white supremacy. However, state-sanctioned violence is very different than individual violence. We cannot permit armed agents of the State to take advantage of their privilege and power and allow them to go unchecked within a racialized system that never really questions—or thinks to question—the choices that keep others oppressed and disadvantaged. That is not the basis for a democracy.
Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd all have paid the ultimate price of that system’s broken and sinful compliance with hate. And every person of color, every black man and woman lives on the edge of becoming a victim to our national crime, our willful ignorance of this sin that stains our nation and keeps us from being great. As a father of three adult children and a grandfather, it breaks my heart to imagine the fear experienced by black families every time a loved one leaves the house.
I believe, as a person of faith, that we can overcome this sin. I believe we can choose to live in a nation that corrects the past, redeems the past, and creates a world in which each person is honored and treated as a child of God. The power to initiate this change is present in every living person. We are endowed by our creator with a capacity to love. We are only later taught to hate, to discriminate, to segregate. We must put aside the lessons that divide and create enmity between people and nations, and we must work to unite people everywhere.
The capacity to change the world lives within each of us. I call upon you each to live in love, to act in peace, and to be inquisitive and curious of the other and not fearful and rejecting.
Embrace difference as a way to discover more about yourself and your neighbor.
Reject hate, and hateful, ignorant speech.
Reject the evil, hate-filled actions and motivations of those who seek to divide people.
And work—literally work—to build a better world. Begin by praying for the victims of hate, their families and loved ones. Put yourself in their place and repent of the hate, discrimination and bigotry we have been taught.
“Your love must be sincere. Detest what is evil, cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of brothers and sisters. Anticipate each other in showing respect. Look on the need of the saints as your own; be generous in offering hospitality. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” The Letter to the Romans 12: 9 – 10, 13 & 21
The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Bishop of Long Island
Press Release available here.