[Episcopal News Service] Three Black members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew resigned this month from the national board of the 137-year-old Episcopal men’s organization in protest of what they criticized as top leaders’ fumbled reaction to the police killing of George Floyd.
The sudden board upheaval followed internal disagreements over the wording of an official Brotherhood statement, specifically how far that statement should go in blaming systemic racism for Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The organization has yet to issue any statement publicly, and that delay further fueled dissatisfaction among some board members. But Episcopal News Service’s interviews with the three board members who resigned and with four of those who remain point to deeper discontent with the Brotherhood’s slow pace in recent years in following The Episcopal Church’s call to racial reconciliation work.
Some of the strongest criticisms were leveled by Joe McDaniel. His resignation comes three years after he was chosen to fill the Brotherhood’s newly created role of national vice president for racial reconciliation. McDaniel has been a prominent lay leader in efforts churchwide and in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast to confront The Episcopal Church’s historic complicity in racist systems.
“The fact that the BOSTA [Brotherhood of St. Andrew] cannot even acknowledge that the death of George Floyd, and countless others, stems from systemic racism and white supremacy indicates that the BOSTA is not ready to engage in the courageous conversations necessary to [begin] an internal examination of its own complicity in America’s original sin of racism,” McDaniel said July 10 in his resignation letter to Brotherhood President Jeff Butcher.
Karl Colder, national vice president of the Brotherhood’s addiction recovery committee, resigned from the national board on July 14, as did John Robinson, the Brotherhood’s Province I president. The former roles of all three now are listed as “vacant” on the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s website.
Butcher defended the Brotherhood’s track record in an interview with ENS, saying he took the blame for the “misunderstanding and miscommunication” that led to the three resignations. He denied allegations that he was blocking a full board vote on a forceful condemnation of the deadly violence suffered by Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality. And at a follow-up meeting on July 28, Butcher said, the board decided to invite people of color who are Brotherhood members to join the committee that continues to work on “a racial reconciliation policy statement.”
“We are a solid organization dedicated to disciplining men and youth in Christ with prayer, study and service,” Butcher said. “I love what this Brotherhood has done, and we’re going to continue to work and strive for the dismantling of racism. It’s against God’s word.”
He also said he and other national leaders “bear no animosity” toward McDaniel, Colder and Robinson and would gladly welcome them back on the board.
None of the three so far appeared likely to reconsider their resignations.
“My suggestion is that the organization be disbanded and that the entire executive board be disbanded and replaced and that the organization be reconstituted with an active focus on racial reconciliation,” McDaniel told ENS.
The Brotherhood of St. Andrew touts itself as The Episcopal Church’s oldest men’s ministry, with more than 5,000 members and more than 350 chapters in the United States. It was founded in 1883 at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Chicago to help men who were homeless in the city’s downtown. Today, a majority of its chapters are based at congregations across the South, especially Florida and Texas, though other Brotherhood chapters are scattered nationwide, with ample representation in New York.
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2015 passed a resolution thanking the Brotherhood of St. Andrew for its work. That year, the Brotherhood elected Butcher as president at its meeting, with a mandate to restructure the national operation so it could respond more effectively to the needs of local chapters. Butcher, 73, is a retired financial planner and Air Force veteran.
At the time, the Brotherhood was based in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. In 2017, Tom Welch was named the organization’s first executive director in 12 years. Its home base was relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. Butcher lives in the Louisville area.
While maintaining its general focus on prayer, study and service, the Brotherhood under Butcher and Welch has pledged to strengthen efforts in seven core ministry areas, from human trafficking to veterans outreach. Racial reconciliation was included as one of those ministry areas after Butcher had what he describes as a personal epiphany while attending the 2017 consecration of the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright as bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries.
During the consecration ceremony at Washington National Cathedral, Butcher said he was moved particularly by the Rev. Harold Lewis’ forceful sermon and its historic references to the church’s treatment of African Americans.
Butcher said he “felt God was directing us in that direction,” to take up racial reconciliation as a priority of the Brotherhood. The Episcopal Church already had identified racial reconciliation as one of its top priorities at the 78th General Convention in 2015, after spending several decades deliberating over the church’s response to racism and racial injustice.
To lead the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s efforts, McDaniel was recommended by Dick Hooper, a national board member who leads planning of the Brotherhood’s national meetings. Hooper and McDaniel both live in Pensacola, Florida, where they attend Christ Church and are fellow members of the congregation’s chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.
Hooper, a retired physician and self-described “old white guy,” told ENS he respected McDaniel’s work leading the Central Gulf Coast diocese’s Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation. McDaniel, 59, is a retired attorney who also has served on the House of Deputies’ Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee. In 2018, he proposed the resolution approved by General Convention that created a grant program to support local ministries engaged in racial reconciliation work.
Butcher welcomed the addition of McDaniel to the Brotherhood’s leadership team in an August 2017 news release. “The creation of this Committee on Racial Reconciliation is a statement that tells the church and our members we are very serious concerning the challenges that racism presents us in bringing men and youth closer to Christ,” Butcher said. “We are stepping up to the plate to address this serious issue.”
Elevating McDaniel’s role in the Brotherhood of St. Andrew helped address another concern: The organization’s national leadership team didn’t have many Black members, Hooper said.
In September 2019, the Brotherhood touted its restructuring in a four-minute video for the House of Bishops, which was meeting in Minneapolis. Butcher and Welch both spoke in the video, and Welch also traveled to Minneapolis to talk with bishops in person.
“We have come a long way since our founding in the late 19th century,” Welch said in the video. “We can assure you that we are both fully diverse and fully inclusive in the 21st-century model of evangelism.”
But McDaniel told ENS that, during his tenure as a ministry vice president, he grew to doubt the organization was serious about racial reconciliation. In late 2017, McDaniel led a workshop on the topic for Brotherhood members in Atlanta, Georgia. “My aim was to have workshops across the country, starting out in each province,” he said, but he received little financial support or encouragement to expand those efforts.
That assessment was echoed by Colder, one of the other two board members who resigned.
“On Joe’s behalf, to use his position as a token to say that you have this program … you’re just displaying it,” Colder told ENS. “The leadership needs to take ownership for the flaws here and not try to pawn that off on the three individuals who stood up and questioned it.”
Butcher told ENS that the Brotherhood has been moving in the right direction, just not as fast as some would have liked. Given its predominantly white leadership and membership, the organization has sought “more meaningful discussion” on race and racism by connecting with the Union of Black Episcopalians, as well as historically Black Christian denominations, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The hope, Butcher said, is that creating opportunities for racially mixed gatherings will promote deeper understanding of the problem of racism.
“We’re fully engaged in this, but you have to have the right setting for these things to evolve,” he said.
Criticisms of the leadership, however, began to escalate in late June when Butcher, before seeking McDaniel’s input, drafted a statement on his own for the board’s review reacting to Floyd’s killing. Minneapolis police had been filmed a month earlier pinning Floyd to the ground for nearly nine minutes, with one officer’s knee pressed into Floyd’s neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” The killing sparked nationwide protests, including in the Brotherhood’s home city of Louisville.
Butcher’s draft spoke in general terms about the historic suffering of Native Americans, African Americans and other people of color. It called on Brotherhood members to “put aside identity politics that divide us” while confronting racism. It did not mention Floyd by name.
Hooper called it a “firm neutral position” – at a time when he and some others thought a more forceful statement was warranted. At the national board’s June 30 meeting, Hooper suggested forming an ad hoc committee to draft an official statement, and McDaniel was chosen to lead that committee. Other members included Hooper and Colder, as well as Conrad Jones, the Brotherhood’s Province III president.
“Once this committee has reached its conclusion we will have a consensus up and down vote,” Butcher said in his follow-up email to the committee that included suggestions for how to approach drafting the statement.
ENS obtained the text of Butcher’s suggestions. He calls Floyd’s killing “abhorrent” but also advises the committee not to reference political parties and to “avoid the blame game.” He seeks to cast the Brotherhood as a “unifying force” and emphasizes love of God over “pride, fear, guilt and shame.”
“We need to be thinking about building trust and respect, not pointing fingers that breeds contempt through division,” the message says.
McDaniel called some of Butcher’s suggestions “absurd.”
“I read it as, you’ve got to be kidding,” McDaniel said. Instead, he drafted his own statement and presented it to the ad hoc committee, which met July 7 for about three hours on Zoom to discuss it. The committee voted to recommend it to the full board.
That proposed statement runs to two pages and includes references to Floyd and numerous other Black victims of deadly interactions with police. “We know that this loss of life, often at the hands of the police, stems from systemic racism and white supremacy and are but a small number of the black lives lost throughout our country’s founding and history,” the statement reads. It condemns “all the actions and procedures that resulted in the loss of life.” It does not mention any party affiliation.
Butcher wasn’t happy. His July 9 response, obtained by ENS, suggests the committee’s statement was too political, and he warned that “identity politics is an absolute killer and in no way follow the teaching from our Lord Jesus Christ.” Butcher asked the committee to revise the statement, adding that as president, he would “have to take the bullet” from the Brotherhood’s members, half of whom might be turned off by the language used. “Both sides” should feel welcomed to voice their opinions, Butcher said.
“We have way too much division in this country right now. We need not be part of pouring gasoline on the fire either,” Butcher said.
Jones, the Province III president, agreed that the statement wasn’t inclusive enough. “I did not initially endorse the statement that was forwarded up to the board because I thought it needed more work,” Jones, who is white, told ENS. “I thought we needed to be more on target with the message our presiding bishop has delivered of our following in the footsteps of Jesus’ love.”
Jones added that Jesus’ love was “for everyone, all colors, all races, all genders, all ages.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s May 30 statement, however, went beyond a call to love one another and specifically lamented Floyd’s killing and others like it. “Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident,” Curry said, while affirming the church’s “long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation.”
If the Brotherhood couldn’t muster support for a strong statement of its own, it simply could have referred its members to Curry’s statement, said Colder, 57, who is retired after more than three decades working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Robinson, the Province I president who also resigned, told ENS he now regrets paying $700 to become a life member of the Brotherhood. In addition to quitting the national board, he resigned from his chapter at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, Connecticut.
“I thought this organization was a little different,” he said. “To me, the fabric of racism is rooted in the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and I didn’t realize that. … They don’t know what racial reconciliation is.”
Butcher, Welch and Senior Vice President Jack Hanstein have responded to such criticisms by asserting the statement was progressing through board review – it hadn’t been rejected. Butcher, in a July 12 email to committee members, acknowledged making mistakes in his handling of the matter. He supported keeping a reference to the deep-rooted systemic racism that many say is built into American institutions and social interactions. He also said one of his goals was a more concise statement, about 400 words.
In response to an inquiry seeking comment, Welch referred ENS to Hanstein. Butcher “made a mistake” in how he reacted in his July 9 email, Hanstein told ENS. “He had no business sending that out, and he knows it. He was wrong. … He was too heavy handed.”
But Hanstein also suggested Butcher’s reaction was based partly in a legitimate concern that the national board and churchwide membership are not yet fully on board with the church’s racial healing work. “The board needs to be trained. The board needs to be involved in discussions of racial reconciliation,” he said. “You can’t expect the leadership of the Brotherhood to go from zero to 60 in three days.”
In a July 29 email to ENS, Butcher added that the Brotherhood has sought assistance from the Rev. Shaneequa Brokenleg, The Episcopal Church’s staff officer for racial reconciliation, “to help shepherd Brotherhood of St. Andrew leadership toward a greater understanding of the work we need to do.”
McDaniel remains active in his local chapter. He has been a member for 12 years because of its work in the community, particularly with children and in helping people repair homes. But top leaders’ equivocal reaction to Floyd’s killing “tells me that this organization isn’t committed to the ministry of racial reconciliation,” McDaniel told ENS.
“When you have a Black guy who’s had his breath squeezed out of him, the organization has an opportunity to stand up and do the right thing,” McDaniel said. “And they don’t do that.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.