[Episcopal News Service] At a virtual event sponsored by Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries on March 27, Episcopalians denounced the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, shared their own experiences with racism and affirmed The Episcopal Church’s role as an antiracist community.
The event – “Stop Asian Hate: A National Gathering of Asian Episcopalians & Allies” – was held on Zoom and livestreamed on social media. Over 600 people registered via Zoom, and the video of the service has been viewed over 14,000 times on Facebook as of March 29, reflecting broad churchwide support for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the aftermath of the March 16 shootings in Georgia and the reckoning on anti-Asian racism that has followed.
“We gather as a virtual community to lament and to listen, to share our pains and our sorrows, even our anger, at the way in which Asians and Pacific Islanders are being marginalized, abused, mocked and killed,” said the Rev. Winfred Vergara, The Episcopal Church’s missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, who helped organize the event. “But we are here also to receive healing and place, and to see a vision of hope, for even in the midst of this chaotic world we live in, the Holy Spirit is moving.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered an impassioned address on the theme of the church as witness – a presence that recognizes the suffering caused by racism, affirms its reality and acts to stop it.
“We stand with the Asian-Pacific Islander communities that are part of our church, part of this country, and more importantly, part of the beloved community of God,” Curry said. “We stand together not simply today but for the days ahead and for the work that lies before us all.”
Referencing Luke 24, an African American spiritual and Holocaust chronicler and survivor Elie Wiesel, Curry called the church to be a witness to the pain that has been inflicted and the justice that can counter it. He also noted the connection between the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and the racist rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters, blaming the COVID-19 pandemic on Chinese people.
“You have been a witness like Jesus, with the wounds of injustice, wounds of bigotry, wounds of hatred, wounds of indifference. The wound of being afraid just to go out in public in the United States of America in 2021, the wounds of a society where leaders in high places spoke lies about the origins of pandemics.”
Curry urged all in attendance to listen carefully to the testimonies that followed – personal accounts of the effects of anti-Asian racism – and “listen that we may join with them and witness to this world, that there is another way.”
Four Episcopalians testified about their encounters with racism, giving specific examples of the alarming trend of verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans. Reported hate crime incidents against Asian Americans increased nearly 150% in the largest U.S. cities in 2020, according to a California State University study.
“Asians have been treated like foreign objects on this land too long. I am tired of it,” said the Rt. Rev. Allen Shin, suffragan bishop of New York. “We are America. And we belong on this land. We deserve the dignity and the freedom of living without fear on this land.”
Shin said he and his wife were accosted in a New York City park last spring by a bicyclist who shouted racial slurs at them and tried to hit them with his bike. It wasn’t the first time he has heard racial epithets directed at him – it even happened at his election as bishop, he said – “but never have I felt fearful for my life, as I have felt during this pandemic of anti-Asian violence this past year.”
The Rev. Prisca JuYoung Lee-Pae, a deacon in the Diocese of Long Island, echoed the sense of tangible danger many Asian Americans now feel – especially Asian American women.
“I’m afraid of going grocery shopping. I’m afraid of using public transportation. I’m afraid of my kids going to school. And I’m afraid of my mother-in-law going for a walk by herself in my backyard,” she said. “The fear I felt from the virus did not break my heart. But the fear of someone’s violence does.”
Organizers directed attendees to virtual breakout rooms where they reflected on the testimonies using the prompts from The Episcopal Church’s “From Many, One” campaign, and prayed a litany of lament for the victims of the Georgia shootings and the silencing of Asian American voices.
“The sins of systemic oppression and our past have revisited us,” attendees prayed. “Can God’s gifts of curiosity and radical hospitality replace fears and hate?”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.