A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Hirschfeld: The Call of the Beloved Community in the Present Crisis

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Evil.

As Episcopalians, we are noted for demonstrating a noble humility in using this word.  We have been known to hesitate and exercise caution when we feel tempted to ascribe it to a person or group of persons, or even their actions. The via media, the Middle Way, is frequently held up as our approach to opposing opinions. The Middle Way is how our denomination’s founding theologian imaged how we could not merely find a compromise, but a full embrace or comprehension of Catholic heritage and the Protestant movement. We are known for being able to tolerate ambiguity and to see ambivalence as a virtue. Life is complicated. Humility and modesty are powerful attitudes in an age of demagoguery and ferocious rhetoric. 

All well and good. But the darkness to which our nation has awakened in the wake of Charlottesville is not a moment to be ambivalent, or reticent. The sentiments expressed by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists threatening the rightful, full and robust inclusion of our Black, Jewish, Immigrant, Muslim, LBGTQ brothers and sisters were nothing short of evil. We will find no compromise with those views. Plain and simple.

Jesus, who prayed for those who maliciously crucified him and whose arms of love were extended on the hard wood of the Cross, shows us that the way of non-violence is the way toward Resurrection. I will pray and work for a spirit of repentance and amendment of life for those who felt compelled by racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and homophobic hatred. And, I will pray that our federal systems of justice and law enforcement will protect and defend all vulnerable persons targeted by the emboldened movements in our land, who are fueled by twisted ideas about what it means to be a citizen of this country.

The Bible tells that we should not be surprised by these movements.  And we should not be naïve to believe that racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred are confined to other states in the nation or are anything new. Black members of our churches and communities have been targets of racist slurs from North Country to the Seacoast. Racist symbols and white supremacist views have been seen and broadcast from Keene, the hometown of Jonathan Daniels. Jesus predicted that one’s enemies will be members of one’s own household (Matthew 10:36). It could very well be that our current dark distress, and the overwhelming calls to face it directly and with courageous love in response, is a sign of God’s kingdom breaking through. The Bible assures us that the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). We are called to live and act in that Gospel light.

As members of the risen Body of the Crucified, we shine our light when we speak out, organize and attend vigils. Our light shines when we honor those among us who have gone into battle to fight Nazism and barbarity and those who have marched alongside champions for civil rights. The light of Christ shines when we acknowledge that there are neighbors who feel threatened by hatred. I invite and encourage our members, both clergy and lay, to make a point to reach out and visit the local synagogues, mosques, centers of refugee resettlement, to express your support and love.  Make a phone call to listen to the concerns and fears of your neighbor who may be targeted.  This is what Jesus would do, and it is what we do as members of this movement begun in the name of this dark-skinned Jewish rabbi. 

We are also called to examine our own hearts, to begin to transform the hatred, fear, and ignorance that are within each of us.  This fall (October 11-13), our clergy will be invited, and strongly encouraged, to participate in a “learning exchange” to reflect on our own racial identities and the forces that have shaped us; to deepen our understanding of systemic racism and individual bias; and to identify specific actions for change and opportunities to partner with each other. At our November Diocesan Convention, we will consider a Resolution to accept our Presiding Bishop’s invitation to “Become the Beloved Community.”  This Resolution will call on us to listen, to work, and to explore ways that we can dismantle racism in our own communities.

We are not to be afraid in these frightening times. We are marching in the light of God, the God whose Resurrection tells us to be bold for love. Let the light shine!

I offer this prayer from our own Rev. Teresa Gocha, whose family has experienced no small measure of racist hatred, and yet she invites us to pray:

            O God of love and justice, when you send your Holy Spirit to us in baptism, you invite us into deep communion with you and with one another.

In this moment, as we work together to Become Beloved Community, 

            Inspire us to tell the Truth about the Church and Race, that we may persevere in resisting evil, and come to you, and to one another, to repent and be forgiven.

            Strengthen us to engage with our words and actions, and our careful listening, the Dream of a Beloved Community, where God's Good News is proclaimed and fully lived.

            Flood us with your love, that we learn to love ourselves, and each other; and become reconcilers who seek the face of Jesus in our neighbors, and ourselves. 

            Teach us to practice your way of love, that we will strive for justice and peace in our Churches, our neighborhoods, our institutions and our systems.

            Bless us, that as followers of Jesus Christ, we may work together to realize your dream for us: your children united in thought, word and deed, in You.

            We ask these things in the name of Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who moves within us to sanctify us. Amen. 

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire