a conversation with Larry James
1. Can you give us a little background information on how Becoming Beloved Community began in the Episcopal Church?
Chronologically, this movement began in February of 2017, when The Episcopal Church officers approved a comprehensive strategic vision entitled “Becoming Beloved Community: The Episcopal Church’s Long-term Commitment to Racial Healing, Reconciliation and Justice.”
Its introduction was the culmination of a year of listening, learning and discerning following the passage of Resolution C019 (Work for racial justice & Reconciliation).
The resolution has 4 clearly articulated sections in it, that I will try to paraphrase for you but, there are some passages I think you should hear verbatim (in red):
In the 1st section, the resolution acknowledges that despite numerous efforts to address and dismantle racism over the last 65 years, “the abomination and sin of racism continue to plague our society and our Church at great cost to human life and human dignity; therefore we (the Church) “formally acknowledge our historic and contemporary participation in this evil and repent of it”.
The 2nd section goes on to cite some of the most brutal atrocities we have witnessed in our nation over the last few years. And, based on those atrocities, (i.e. “the overtly racist murders of 9 of our Christian brothers and sisters of Emanuel AME Church in 2015, the numerous inexcusable deaths of unarmed Black men and youth at the hands of law enforcement and, the moral atrocity of mass incarceration in which a hugely disproportionate number of people of color have been unfairly caught in the net of an unjust criminal justice system, the 78th General Convention affirms as a top priority of The Episcopal Church in the upcoming triennium, the challenging and difficult work of racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action.”
Section 3 next states that “The Church understands and affirms that this call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant.”
Finally, section 4 calls on all Church officers to “lead, direct and be present to assure and account for the Church’s work of racial justice and reconciliation”.
These exact words should make it clear to the entire Church, exactly what we are to be about, as we move forward together. The question that remains, however, is the one that asks exactly what will we do as a Parish and how will we do it in support of this newly expressed strategic imperative?
2. What does it mean to be on the Becoming Beloved Community Task Force for the Diocese of Southern Ohio? What specifically is the work you do as a member?
First, it has been an honor to be chosen by the Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio to serve in this capacity. The Becoming Beloved Community Task Force is a small group of very talented and committed clergy and parishioners, recruited from congregations across the diocese and who have specific areas of knowledge and expertise, to be temporarily brought together in order to accomplish two very specific objectives, which are 1) to oversee all efforts by our Diocese to comply with the 78th General Convention resolution and 2) report to our Council at each of its meetings until the 145th Diocesan Convention.
The specific skill sets that I have been asked to bring to this table come from my 40+ years of corporate executive experience in two fields; one being strategic Marketing & Communications and, the other being Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competence. My focus within the task force has been to help design and then implement the most effective communications plans possible to generate optimal Becoming Beloved Community awareness, interest and action toward our three objectives; racial justice, healing and reconciliation, better care for God’s creation and the building and realization of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Secondarily, I hope to apply my diversity, inclusion and cultural competence skills to help design an operating infrastructure for the Diocese that will not only allow us to successfully realize our Becoming Beloved Community vision but, accurately measure and respond to our results for even greater success long term.
Finally, I am confident that I speak for our entire task force when I say that we want every parishioner and congregation to know that we are available to help them develop their ideas for realizing Becoming Beloved Community in their churches and communities.
3. As you and I have introduced Becoming Beloved Community to the leadership of St. Barnabas, you have emphasized that Becoming Beloved Community is not a program. What do you mean by that?
Simply this, racism is not something that dropped out of the sky and we just decided to try it out for a while. It is a way of life that we as a nation gave birth to and then allowed it to grow such that it now permeates our culture in so many ways; many of which we can’t recognize even when we see, feel, hear, smell or taste evidence of its existence. Its systemic; baked into our operating and governing laws, policies, processes and procedures that were consciously or unconsciously designed (long ago and yesterday) to isolate, suppress and oppress people and groups of people that are judged to be less than us and, as a result, deserve less than us (that is if we are in the majority, which I currently am not).
Racism has also taken years, decades; even centuries, to reach its current level enculturation. So, something that long standing and insidious cannot possibly be defeated by a program or initiative; not even a series of programs or initiatives. The Church has tried that route over the last 65 years via the introduction of over 30 different resolutions calling for the end of racism; all of which failed to make as much as a dent in this sin’s armor.
It will take a perpetual commitment and effort to bring racism to its knees and keep it there. Every day, month and year we will be required to come up with renewed energy, thinking and effort to hold onto the success we have achieved and move on toward even greater success in this fight. It’s like constant quality improvement in the corporate sector. We will never reach the end of that quest. Such is the case with our quest to end racism, our quest for a healthier and safer planet and our quest to realize God’s Kingdom, here on earth.
So, our vision, mission and subsequent work toward Becoming Beloved Community must always be a strategic imperative; something that will never end but, will always keep us at a point where we can see the horizon. And, we will always need to be vigilant, not to lose sight of that horizon and its potential for benefitting all of humanity and all of creation, with God’s help.
So, all of this is one person’s perspective on the subject. I am more excited about the thinking, conclusions and recommendations that a committee of our peers here will produce. And, I am praying that demand here will be high among us to, join this new group of learners and discerners and participate in the process of Becoming Beloved Community.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time but, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then, let us work together.”