May 13, 2014

ERD Network Meeting

I returned home Sunday from the Episcopal Relief & Development 2014 Network Meeting, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia. This annual meeting brings together diocesan and provincial coördinators for ERD, who are briefed on the work of the church agency and discuss methods of increasing the visibility of ERD and gathering support for its work.

ERD logo
I attended the meeting primarily to support Diane Duntley, the diocesan coördinator for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, who has mobility issues. I participated fully in the event, however, and was impressed by the work ERD is doing. I enjoyed meeting the participants and even met a Facebook friend I had never encountered in person.

I won’t try to give a full accounting of the three-day event, but I do want to mention a few things that struck me as interesting:
  • Episcopal Relief & Development is not well known throughout The Episcopal Church. Many parishes are largely unaware of ERD and provide no support for it. Not all bishops are enthusiastic about ERD, apparently because they are more interested in other fund-raising  efforts.
  • ERD will soon be 75 years old. It was started in 1940 as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief. It has continued under its current name for nearly 15 years.
  • The mission of ERD has changed over the years. It began as a refugee settlement effort. It is now involved in improving the food supply, economic improvement, improving health and fighting disease, and responding to disasters. It is best known for disaster relief and the NetsForLife® program.
  • Approximately 90% of contributions to ERD go directly to program. This is the result of low administrative and fund-raising costs and the availability of earnings from endowment.
While listening to a presentation about the work of Episcopal Relief & Development, I was struck that my hymn “O Lord the Invisible” is an appropriate one for ERD. I mentioned this and was asked to read or sing the hymn for the final Morning Prayer service. I chose not to sing. (The service was in the hotel, and no instrument was available for accompaniment.) Instead, I read the hymn and played the tune in the background from my tablet. Since the hymn has a refrain, I wrote it on a flip chart, and we read it together at the end of each verse as an antiphon. This worked well.

May 4, 2014

A Challenge to Justin Welby

It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far, far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed.

—Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby,  4/4/2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury made this rather elliptical remark on a radio talk show a month ago. (See “Whither Welby?”) He has done little to clarify his assertion, which has been taken to mean that the Church of England cannot perform same-sex weddings because it will lead to the murder of Christians in Africa, as has happened before as a result of The Episcopal Church’s consecration of  a gay bishop.

Justin Welby on LBC
What I do not want to do here is discuss the morality of the archbishop’s putting the brakes on church blessings of same-sex unions in England with the intention of protecting the lives of Christians elsewhere. That topic has been adequately explored elsewhere, including in my own post cited above. Instead, I want to discuss Welby’s premise.

If Justin Welby is to be taken seriously, he needs to document his contention that Africans have been slaughtered because of actions of The Episcopal Church. I have been unable to find any news reports making such a connection, and I think it exceedingly unlikely that such a connection exists.

As I admitted earlier, I do not doubt that the archbishop was told of the connection by his informants, but that is only hearsay, and hearsay from people who likely concocted their story for their own purposes. Perhaps they even believe their own story. That, however, does not make the story true.

Violence in Africa usually has more proximate causes, however—tribal rivalries, political struggles, contention for resources, or abstract Muslim-Christian antipathies. The people who know why the Christians Welby talked about were killed are not the witnesses of the atrocity, but the perpetrators. Did anyone ask them what their real motives were? Would you expect a truthful answer even if you did? Probably not.

The challenge to the archbishop, then, is to present independent evidence that actions of The Episcopal Church have been a proximate cause of atrocities in Africa. If he can offer no such evidence, he should admit it. Otherwise, it will be reasonable to conclude that Justin Welby believed what he was told because of his own prejudices, and his credibility, or even his veracity, will be in grave doubt.

Well, archbishop, what about it? Is there anyone else out there who can verify Justin Welby’s “facts”?

May 2, 2014


I got into a discussion of race on Facebook the other day. Well, the discussion was not really about race per se; it was about how one should refer to what used to be called Negroes.

I don’t intend to discuss race here, and I won’t even concede that race is a useful scientific concept. Most Americans, however, do classify people by “race,” based primarily on their appearance. And America’s legacy of slavery still casts a long shadow over our nation.

The matter at issue then—it was not originally framed this way—was what dark-skinned Americans of sub-Saharan ancestry should be called.

This question immediately calls to mind, for me, at least, a cartoon I once saw (in the late 60s, I believe). A white man was speaking to a black man. The caption was “What are you people calling yourselves these days?” Even today, white people can sympathize with that question. So can black people.

My correspondent was a black man who averred that he did not liked to be called African-American; he just wanted to be called an American. I could appreciate the sentiment, but, if one actually wanted to name his race, however understood, “American” is not really helpful.

In fact, “African-American” is both curious and problematic. To begin with, it is a poor proxy for race. I have some friends who are whites from South Africa. They are surely African-American, but they are certainly not black. If one gets into the habit of calling black people African-Americans, what is a black woman from Africa who happens to live in London? Is she an English African-American?  The term really refers to geographic ancestry, not racial ancestry.

But it is odd that we call someone African-American whose ancestors may have been in the United States even before there was a United States. We don’t call a white person who has been on our shores for so long an English-American or Dutch-American or German-American. For anyone but a black person, the hyphenated American designation seldom extends to more than two generations.

I’m not sure when or why the term “African-American” became politically correct in the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of “Negroes.” “Colored” was current at the same time, though it was tainted with an air of condescension.  In a time of rising consciousness, “Negro” was uncomfortably similar to a less respectful designation. “Black” became popular, along with the phrases “black is beautiful” and “black power.”

Perhaps the concepts of black pride and black power caused the white establishment to prefer a term that de-emphisizes “black,” and maybe even race itself. “African-American,” however, also subtly diminishes American-ness. A black man is an African-American, not quite a fully American American.

Race still matters in America. We have not yet achieved the color-blind society or the society with equal opportunity for all. It’s time to dump “African-American” and talk honestly about Americans who are black.