Advent Call for Police Reform and Racial Justice

Bret Barnum, Devonte HartAs a bishop in the Free Catholic Tradition, I endorse the statement below formulated and signed by some of the leading Roman Catholic moral theologians.  Every generation, indeed every Christian, must do whatever is possible to eradicate racism, hate, and violence in our society!  Our celebration of Christmas will only make sense if we let the image of Christ shine forth in our words and in our actions.  I urge all Christians, and all people of good will, to stand tall in support of racial justice.

Statement: Catholic Theologians for Police Reform and Racial Justice

The season of Advent is meant to be a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ, when God became human, born on the margins of society. To the poor shepherds, the angelic host proclaimed “peace, goodwill among people” (Luke 2:14), which refers to a shalom that is not merely the absence of conflict, but rather a just and lasting peace, wherein people are reconciled with one another, with God, and indeed with all creation.  But this Advent, hope for a just peace must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice.

​The killings of Black men, women and children – including but not limited to Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and 12 year-old Tamir Rice – by White policemen, and the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved, brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities, and even our churches.

As Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, “Peace be with you.”  His spirit-filled breath gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in fragmented and violent world.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” speaks searingly to our headline divisions today. The “cup of endurance runs over” again for African Americans and many others of good will. Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again “why we can’t wait.”

King challenged “white moderate” Christians for being “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice;” and for preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” This challenge to the White Christian community is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. Such a negative peace calls to mind the warning by the prophet Ezekiel, “They led my people astray, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there was no peace” (13:10).

Pope Francis’s warning of the explosive consequences of exclusion and fearful seeking of “security” based on such a negative peace are similarly prophetic:

“Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.” Evangelii Gaudium, 59

As Catholic theologians, we wish to go on the record in calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the US. The time demands that we leave some mark that US Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst – as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

● We pledge to examine within ourselves our complicity in the sin of racism and how it sustains false images of White superiority in relationship to Black inferiority. In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

● We pledge to fast and to refrain from meat on Fridays during this Advent season and through the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as during Lent, as a sign of our penitence and need of conversion from the pervasive sin of racism.

● We commit ourselves to placing our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity with movements of protest to address the deep-seated racism of our nation.

● We support our police, whose work is indeed dangerous at times, but we also call for a radical reconsideration of policing policy in our nation. We call for an end to the militarization of police departments in the US, and we support instead the proven, effective results of community policing. Rather than perpetuating an “us versus them” mentality, a community policing approach is more consonant with our Catholic convictions that we are all each other’s keepers and should work together for the common good of our communities.

● We call for a honing of the guidelines for police use of lethal force so that they are uniform in all states within the US and so that the use of lethal force, echoing Catholic teaching on “legitimate defense,” is justified only when an aggressor poses a grave and imminent threat to the officer’s and/or other persons’ lives.

● We support those calling for better recruiting, training, and education for our police so that they may truly and justly do what they have sworn, namely, to “serve and protect” their communities.

● We support new efforts to promote accountability and transparency, such as body cameras for police officers.

● Regarding the widespread dissatisfaction with recent grand jury decisions, and the perception that a conflict of interest exists between local prosecutors and police departments, we call for the establishment of publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian attorneys from within the jurisdiction and/or for the appointment of independent special prosecutors’ offices to investigate claims of police misconduct.

● Our nation’s pervasive yet too often denied systemic racial divisions compromise our structures of justice – in our view so much so that we support calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America. A precedent would be the 2004 Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in North Carolina.

● In view of the recent US Justice Department’s report on the pattern of excessive force found in the Cleveland Police Department, we call for similar investigations of the Ferguson Police Department, the New York Police Department, and other police forces involved in the killings of unarmed Black citizens.

● We call upon our bishops to proactively proclaim and witness to our faith’s stand against racism They have authored pastoral statements in the past, and these documents need to be revisited – in parishes, dioceses, and seminaries – and brought to the forefront of Catholic teaching and action in light of the present crisis.

● As Catholic theologians and scholars, we commit ourselves to further teaching and scholarship on racial justice. Our faith teaches us that all persons are created in the image of God and have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. In short, our faith proclaims that all lives matter, and therefore, Black lives – and Brown lives, the lives of all, regardless of color – must matter, too. As part of this commitment, we pledge to continue listening to, praying for, and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

We pray that all of these actions will move us closer toward the fulfillment of the hope of the Advent season, toward a time when “love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Psalm 85:10).

May God bless us in our efforts at love, peace, and justice!

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Easter Peace to All!

Easter_empty_tombIn Chicagoland this Easter morning is glorious!  We have had a most difficult winter, even for the most die-hard winter lovers.  Today as we celebrate the Risen Christ, the warmth of the sun and the new growth that is budding all around us remind us that life conquers all.  The death-like quiet and cold of the winter is gone and life is renewed.  In today’s post, the pictured view is from inside the tomb, looking out at the crosses of Good Friday.  Just as we must go through winter to come into springtime glory, so must we embrace our own crosses to come to new life.  The Paschal Mystery is the human experience of life, death, and life again reflected in the Holy Triduum of the Last Supper of Holy Thursday, the crucifixion of Good Friday, and the Resurrection of Easter!  Every experience of our life is a microcosm of the Paschal Mystery – life, death, and life.  We need Easter eyes to see this; we need Easter faith to believe this,  we need Easter hope to hang on to this through all of our crucifixions.

Those of us who celebrate Eucharist on a regular basis are reminded of this pattern of life.  We celebrate the death of our Lord Jesus until he comes again in glory.  Today, and farther in this Easter season, as we celebrate our own family rituals, may we remember this Paschal Mystery as a pattern in our own lives as well as in the life of our Lord.  May we also stay awake with others as they agonize over their own destiny, may we help carry the cross of others as they stumble, and may we clean the wounds of those who are broken.  May we always witness to the reality of new life, to Resurrection in our world, because the Paschal Mystery in which we share is everyone’s mystery, everyone’s experience, everyone’s destiny.

May Easter joy, hope, and peace be your today and always!!!  He is risen, indeed he is risen!!!

 

Inspired by the Past

St-Gregory-the-Great-icon-with-dove-200x300As we face the promise of military action to counteract military action in Syria … As we hear the cries of the shrinking Christian population in the Middle East, where Christianity was born … As we hear the drum beats of other nations criticising each other with increasing vehemence, perhaps it is time to sit and read of the dilemmas and struggles of a leader from the distant past.

Gregory (540 – 604) was born in Rome and was a civil servant, the usual path for a man of an aristocratic family; he became Rome’s Prefect.

In time, Gregory became a monk and then he founded a monasteries in Rome and in Sicily. As a deacon he was sent as an envoy to Constantinople.

History tells us that Gregory was the first monk –likely to be living the Rule of Benedict– to be elected Pope. His papacy was reform-minded when it came to property, service, concern for the poor and marginalized, the Church’s liturgical life, including sacred music. You can say that Gregory had a working relationship with people in tension with the Church, especially the Barbarians threatening the peace of peoples.

Gregory lived at the crossroads of history.  Ancient Rome was breathing its last and the idea of Christendom was just beginning to take hold.  Literally, there were barbarians at the gates.  Much was entrusted to him; just as much is entrusted to us.  Read his words:

I am forced to consider questions affecting churches and monasteries and often I must judge the lives and actions of individuals; at one moment I am forced to take part in certain civil affairs, next I must worry over the incursions of barbarians and fear the wolves who menace the flock entrusted to my care; now I must accept political responsibility in order to give support to those who preserve the rule of law; now I must bear patiently the villainies of brigands, and then I must confront them, yet in all charity.

My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about. When I try to concentrate and gather all my intellectual resources for preaching, how can I do justice to the sacred ministry of the word? I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world and sometimes I relax the discipline of my speech. If I preserved the rigorously inflexible mode of utterance that my conscience dictates, I know that the weaker sort of men would recoil from me and that I could never attract them to the goal I desire for them. So I must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter. Because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle talk and I find myself saying the kind of thing that I didn’t even care to listen to before.

As I read the bold statements by my friends and allies, my fellow Christians, and the politically savy, I am unconvinced of the absoluteness of their positions.  I see more gray than black and white.  I hear the lessons of history whispering in the winds of war.  I feel the tug of “justice, right, and the American way.”  I feel the angst of Gregory.  I smell the fear of the helpless poor, damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Christian faith preaches hope in the face of despair.  I want to shout my resounding vote on action, but the conviction is not there.  Prayer seems an escape.  “I am weak myself.”  Gregory, we turn to you to intercede for us as we face our own crossroads of history.  God of love, show us the way to peace, justice, and salvation.  Help us to be strengthened by the little gifts of love we experience all along the way.  Fortify our faith and trust by witnessing the promise of fidelity between young spouses.  May we value each moment, each life, each miracle and renew our better nature by Your grace.

The Truth?

in-search-truth-titleBe careful of anyone who is absolutely certain of what is the “Truth.”  There are so many people who claim to know the truth and yet when one listens to them, their truth is nothing more than a weapon with which they beat upon others who are different from themselves.

If one is to believe the Gospel message of Jesus Christ as reiterated by the saints throughout the ages, then the truth cannot be separated from love and beauty.  Truth is not a weapon of destruction, but a building block of creation.

There are a lot of clergy and other “religious types” that wield their certainty like a scythe, trying to cut down those who would extend Jesus’ message of love to areas of our culture not yet touched by the building, healing love of Christ.  Each of us needs to be careful of shutting out those who are different from ourselves.  We are most comfortable with what is near, what is like us, and what is familiar.  However, the truth does not have to be any of those things.  The truth can be different, foreign, and strange.  We need to be open to the loving embrace of our God.  That is truth; that God is love and God embraces all love.

We celebrate love at Epiphany. We celebrate truth.  We celebrate you.  Won’t you join us?

Why Another Way?

magifollowthestarWhy do we need another way to be Catholic? Here in the Diocese of the Epiphany we look to the first Epiphany for the answer to that question. Just as the Magi “returned home by another way” after realizing the threat posed to them by Herod (Mt. 2:12), so too many of us have found the traditional way to be Catholic to be hostile and menacing against us. There are many reasons for this. Whatever your reason is for looking for another way to be Catholic, you have come to the right place to seek the light of Christ.

We come from the East (West, North, and South, too!) sincerely seeking to worship and serve Christ in this complex world of ours. We know that there are many reasons why people feel that the traditional Church does not work for them; we welcome all to come and speak to us. Share your story and pray with us. Together we can share the light of Christ that so many seek and travel far to find. Together we can bring our gifts to a world yearning for another way.

Wise people still seek Him!

New Beginnings

stairsThis site is dedicated to promoting the Diocese of the Epiphany.  As we are a small Christian Catholic community, we are constantly reaching out to others who want to be with others who want to celebrate the sacraments in a Catholic way without the rules and barriers established by the Roman church.  We are all climbing the path to holiness and appreciate the support of like-minded seekers.  If you find your way to this site and would like to explore “another way to be Catholic,” please contact us.  We are a member diocese of Christ’s Catholic Church (http://free-catholic.org/).