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The Promise of Reconciliation

By Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

ESCRU Poster from the mid-20th Century. From The Archives of the Episcopal Church.

 

As part of my work to the wider church, I am a representative for the Episcopal Church in its official dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. This dialogue has been ongoing since the late 1960s and was one of the earliest ecumenical dialogues taken up by the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.

Our current round of dialogue focuses on the work of reconciliation. We have defined this as broadly as possible so we might see what kinds of reconciliation is needed between our churches and what sort of reconciliation we can jointly work for in the world. In the fall we met in the wake of the Charlottesville riot instigated by white nationalists and the ongoing reality of police violence and immigration raids endured by minority communities. It was clear to us that we needed to tackle the deep need for racial reconciliation in this country.

As part of that work, I volunteered to write a paper outlining the history of how the Episcopal Church has dealt with race, especially regarding African Americans. It is a disheartening story. Generally, Episcopalians have been complicit in some of the worst aspects of our racial history. The Episcopal Church refused to condemn human slavery. Southern dioceses sided with the Confederacy and created their own Confederate Episcopal Church. Their leading bishops vocally defended slavery as a God-given right. Northern bishops often equally defended slavery or actively avoided the abolitionist cause out of a spirit of compromise. The people who were actually compromised were blacks who were enslaved or faced the burdens of discrimination.

Even when the Episcopal Church took a stand against racism and discrimination, it has often faltered. White paternalism, the sense that leaders, often male, knew better than the lived experience of others, too long was the order of the day in the Episcopal Church. This has been true even up to our own times and in our own institutions. But we can also look to moments when the Episcopal Church did make progress. One example is the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, which in the 1950s and 1960s prodded the church to take a stand for civil rights.

At the end of my paper I wrote: “Racial reconciliation is a manifestation of catholicity.” By this I meant that it is not enough to be a desegregated church. To achieve racial reconciliation is to find ways to draw the fullness of the experiences and realities of all races and ethnicities into the life of the church throughout its life. This is hard work because it requires majority cultures to take a hard look at how it lifts up the ministries of diverse communities in ways that are attentive to the fullness of human experience.

In our way, Seminary of the Southwest is taking on this difficult work. As recently announced, Southwest has entered into a partnership with the Black Religious Scholars Group to bring a visiting professor to the seminary over the next five years. Our first visiting scholar, the Rev. Melanie Jones, will become part of our community this August. Prof. Stacey Floyd-Thomas, the director of the Black Religious Scholars Group and a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, counseled the faculty that “diversity is not a problem, it is a promise.” These are true words. The work of racial reconciliation includes the intentional work of creating racial diversity in the seminaries of our church. This is not simply because something is wrong but rather because a predominately white institution is missing out on the promise of being the fullness of the Body of Christ if the breadth of the diversity of the church universal is not present.

The promise of reconciliation is also the promise of being a truly catholic, a truly universal, church. It is my fervent hope that Seminary of the Southwest comes to know this at a deep and transformative level.

 

Where in the church have you seen the need for racial reconciliation?

What would a racially diverse church be like for you?


The Rev. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski is the Duncalf-Villavaso Professor of Church History. He joined the seminary faculty in 2014 following his tenure since 2005 on the faculty at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. Dan’s areas of interest include Anglican and Episcopal history, Jewish-Christian relations ancient and modern, Anglican ecclesiology, and contemporary interfaith dialogue. He is the author of Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs and is currently working on A Christian Commentary of Mishnah Avot. He has published in journals such as Anglican Theological Review and Anglican and Episcopal History. He teaches History of Christianity I and II, The Episcopal Church: Past and Present, English Reformations, and other electives in his areas of expertise. Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski was ordained in June, 2017, in the Diocese of California. Dan and his wife Jennifer have two children.

BA, Gordon College

MA and PhD, Boston College


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