By Neva Rae Fox
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland charged the church Sunday morning to take “great strides to tear down all walls of inequity and injustice and start building bridges across the divides in our communities, in our churches, in our dioceses, and across the Episcopal Church.”
In his 29-minute recorded sermon for General Convention’s second Holy Eucharist, Sutton named walls throughout history that were torn down. “There is something about a wall that God does not like,” he said.
Sutton quickly turned his focus to the Episcopal Church’s walls of reparations and racial reconciliation. “I believe God is telling us today, ‘Episcopal Church, tear down those walls! Tear down the walls of separation in your church, in your nations, in your cities, in your societies.’”
The bishop, serving as host of the 80th General Convention, defined reparation as “to repair the breach, to repair the brokenness that we see about us. It is a profound act of reconciliation: the act of putting back together the broken pieces that prevent wholeness — it’s a restoring of community and harmony.”
His diocese learned about itself and the church, and it wasn’t pretty. “The truth is, the Episcopal Church stole. We stole Black lives, and from Black livelihoods. We destroyed their families. We dehumanized them, degraded them, treated them like dirt, and legislated for hundreds of years that they were not fully ‘persons.’
“And then after 250 years of enslaving them — yes, we did, in the Episcopal Church and their clergy — we, for most of the years since slavery, profited from social and economic structures that made sure that Black people would be treated as inferior citizens to white people, making it much more difficult to own property, to vote (and that’s still going on now, people trying to suppress that vote), and tried our best to make sure that Black people would not get a good education, would not get good jobs, would not get good healthcare, would not make money — resulting in generations of communities that could not hand down wealth to its descendants.”
He identified the sins of the church. “The Episcopal Church in the South helped to shape Jim Crow segregation, and the whole church was largely silent for at least a century about racial segregation, lynchings, redlining, voter suppression, unfair employment practices, and other forms of racial injustice.”
Maryland initiated a $1 million seed fund “to invest in the impoverished Black community.” He defined the fund as “a reckoning for the racial sins of our nation and our church against persons with beautiful Black skin like mine.”
Sutton articulated what reparation is not, such as “white people writing checks to Black people. No, it’s about what this generation will do to correct an injustice that previous generations failed to do.” To that he asked, “Will this generation show enough courage and faith, and love to do the right thing after so many years of saying, ‘It just can’t be done,’ or ‘Reparations will never fly in this country’?”
The bishop stressed that these efforts, to be successful, must be undertaken together. “It’s going to take all of us to fix this. It doesn’t matter if your ancestors came over on these shores on the Mayflower or on a slave ship; it doesn’t matter if they owned slaves or were themselves enslaved; it doesn’t matter if you’re a Northern diocese or a Southern diocese, or if you’re in Europe or Asia or Central America; it doesn’t matter if you’re a recent immigrant or one whose family has been here for generations — we’re all in the same boat now.
“We didn’t cause it, but we have to fix it. Reparations is not about guilt; it’s about responsibility. We all have a responsibility to repair the damage of centuries of theft.”
COVID and health regulations prompted the House of Deputies and House of Bishops to worship separately, using the same readings and sharing the sermon video feed.
The House of Deputies, as it has since the first day, began the Eucharist with a land acknowledgment recognizing “the Indigenous peoples of the places we call home.”
The deputies’ Prayers of the People included naming women who were elected to serve or who served in the House of Deputies and were not memorialized. Women read the lengthy list, some clearly gripped with emotion.
Julia Ayala Harris, president-elect of the House of Deputies, will preach during Monday’s Morning Prayer. Louisa J. McKellaston, Diocese of Chicago, will officiate in the House of Deputies. Chaplains the Rev. Ricardo Bailey, Diocese of Atlanta, and the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, Episcopal Church in Connecticut, will officiate in the House of Bishops.