An Open Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, the Editor of the Magazine the Diolog; Carol Barnwell, The Bishop of Texas, and Publisher of the Diolog; the Right Reverend C. Andrew Doyle, the National Office of the Episcopal Church, and All Christians everywhere:
Today I come to you broken. I come to you hurting. I come to you in a state of sorrow. I come to you as a fellow Christian, a wife of a police officer, the mother of 4 children, 2 of whom are black children, and a lover of all of God’s people.
Recently Police Officer Darren Goforth was murdered less than a mile from my church. I learned of this murder on my way home from the grocery store, and returned home to find my husband getting his Police uniform ready for his shift. My mind was reeling. I wanted to scream. I did scream in my car when I saw the news. I wanted to grab a hold of my husband and never let him go. I wanted to breathe in the scent of him, because I knew the killer was still out there, and I feared my husband would be next. I wanted his very essence burned into my soul. As I walked in, I was crying, and I just wrapped my arms around him and continued to weep. No words were spoken between us. We held each other and cried. Then, as he does every night at that time, he put his uniform on. I watched him put his vest on, and I realized how heavy it is, but also how little of his body it covered. And as he put his uniform shirt and his gun belt on, the walls around me seemed to melt. It was like I was not even in this world. I had no words, no thoughts, and I could barely see. The pain on my husband’s face was some of the deepest sorrow I have ever seen on him. Sorrow in his face has been growing recently as cops are vilified in the news and on social media, but this- this was different. He was changed by this in that instant. He dressed and left for work. We embraced once more, but very few words were said. It was the quietest I’ve seen my husband in a long time.
The news of this shook me to the core, and shook many in our nation to the core. I wish I could say I was shocked that it happened, but the part I was shocked by was not THAT it happened, but WHERE. As the wife of a Peace Officer I’ve heard of a growing number of people who are specifically targeting police officers around the nation, but I didn’t think it would happen in my city. I didn’t think it would happen in my area of town. As my community tried to make sense of this we attended a prayer vigil at the gas station, and we joined with other churches and attended a prayer march from the corner our church sits on to the gas station and back, praying, and thanking the officers. Inside, as I marched, I had so many emotions. I was numb, I was heartbroken, I was scared, and I was joyful. Numb because I just could not make peace with this crime, heartbroken because a wife and children do not have their hero with them any longer, scared because my own husband has spent many a night in his patrol car in the parking lot of my church because it is a centrally located spot to the areas he patrols, and joyful because I saw so many people, and so many colors, coming out to join together in love and unity.
This same weekend, just hours after Deputy Goforth was taken from us members of the “Black Lives Matter” movement were also marching in Minnesota. There’s was a different message; “Pigs in a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon,” and other members of this movement took to twitter with comments about how “He Probably Deserved It”, and even video responses from members of this movement talking about how it is “Open Season on Whites and Police Officers”, and a local Radio Host affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement named “Sunshine” encouraged her listeners to “get them alone, and from the back” just days prior to Goforth’s murder. The worst part of this is that it isn’t new, these messages have been coming from this movement for a long time. This is so unfortunate, because the Black Lives Matter Movement was started by two women with intent to give voice and purpose for change that provides for all people to feel valued. The problem with a movement that singles out any race or people group is that you leave space for radicals to take over and deface the mission of the movement. I believe the tipping point has occurred now to the point that the Black Lives Matter Movement is no longer a voice for positive change.
I’m usually able to just shake it off, but this weekend was different. It felt like vile coming from multiple directions, and I was surrounded by the wounded. The law enforcement community was so wounded, and continuing to be wounded by even more officers lost over the weekend and at the beginning of the following week- at this writing 8 Police Officers in just 9 days.
And then, on Monday, I received my issue of the “Diolog” Magazine, a publication put out by the Diocese of Texas, and was immediately drawn to read it. The cover had a beautiful picture of a black Jesus, and the cover read, “Towards a beloved community: Facing Racism”. In my mind, the prayer march and vigil were just that, movement towards a “Beloved Community” and I hoped there would be more stories of events like this, and of ways we are uniting across racial lines in the face of our nation being ripped apart by the national rhetoric.
What I found inside was not what I hoped for.
On Page 4 Carol Barwell writes, “And I am certain that Sandra Bland should not be dead and buried after being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change”
Sandra Bland’s death is tragic, as all suicides are, but blaming her death on the arresting officer- especially when her death occurred 3 days later after multiple calls to her family and friends were left unanswered just doesn’t make sense to me. I think most people agree that the officer could have done a better job of deescalating the situation, but that’s all based on what we see on the video, and not the whole picture. And are the editors of this magazine and Bishop Doyle, who is the publisher of the magazine aware that protestors harassed the arresting officer in his home to the point that he and his family had to move out for fear of their safety? Why do you not speak out against this as well? If you’re going to speak out on one side, you should also speak to the opposing injustice. Or, perhaps some education on how the person being pulled over could also deescalate by respecting authority, and following directions. A lot of situations in life are made better by simply acting respectfully, and it often only takes one person to change the tone of the conversation.
On Page 8 the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland writes, “In the past four years alone, there have been more than 30 documented cases of unarmed African American men and women who’ve been shot and killed by police officers or security guards. In each of those cases, why was the choice made to point a gun at, and shoot, an unarmed citizen?............ Each of those black lives mattered- if not to all of us, then at least to God- and all of them deserved to have the preservation of their life valued in our society”
“There is reason to be afraid of some of the neighbors in many of our communities. But when the police- the very people who are supposed to protect us from predators roaming our streets- are themselves the ones who are killing our folks- then that gives rise to rage”
As I read this, I’m taken aback by the blanketing statement that leads the readers to believe that police do not value the lives they serve. What I will say on this is that at NO TIME, EVER does a Police Officer WANT to use his firearm. EVER. Let me be clear: If ANYONE values life, it is the very men and women in Blue who are out there defending the preservation of lives every single day. The truth is that when a person calls 911 for help, they are not asked what color they are, or how much money they make etc. Regardless of race, social status, or even if they’ve called before, an officer comes. If there’s danger present, an officer comes. They don’t ask questions before coming to the aid of their citizens. Color is not a determining factor in their desire to serve their community.
Being the wife of a police officer I come in contact with many officers, officers of every race, color, creed etc. I have NEVER met a SINGLE officer who wanted to kill ANYONE. EVER. And, the ones who have had to use their firearm are forever changed as a result, often needing counseling and other services to cope with the fact that they had to harm or kill someone in order to preserve their life, or someone else’s. It’s a decision they all know can come, and they work through scenario after scenario after scenario in training, but when it really happens they are never glad about it. Making these blanket statements are harmful to our men and women who are fighting so hard to preserve our safety. Just because an assailant is unarmed, does NOT mean he or she is not dangerous, or able to kill or harm someone. And contrary to what you may think, those lives that were lost, at the hands of officers, mattered to the officer too.
Page 12 encourages our membership to join black lives matter and other groups like it, even giving twitter handles and hashtags to follow as if they were credible new sources.
It should be noted that twitter and other social media are filled with much rage and often lack credibility and the entire truth. And, while the Black Lives Matter Movement was begun with good intentions, radicals within and associated with the movement have given rise to a direction that not only was not the original desire, but perhaps even drives it in the opposite direction.
On Page 15 Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas implies that our police officers are killing Jesus- “As you did it to one of these black male bodies you did it to me”
What really concerns me the most here is that I see a root of bitterness in the hearts of the leaders in our church that leaves little space for love and unity. I believe we are all tasked with guarding our hearts against such bitterness wherever and whenever it tries to spring up.
On Page 19 Scott Bader-Saye writes, “On the other Hand, if a candidate is not willing to say, without qualification that “Black Lives Matter,” how can we trust that she or he will, in fact, work to change the current patterns of policing that make black lives disposable?”
This word disposable is such an inflammatory word, I’m not sure how inflammatory statements bring unity and healing to our community? The Book of Common Prayer asks the question in the Catechism: What is the Mission of the Church? The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. There are many ways to care for our communities, prayer being one of the most important. We should never limit ourselves to one way of caring for our community so as not to limit God’s direction as we embrace each other’s needs.
Racism is defined as “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race; Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” When placing this definition with the statement above, “if a candidate is not willing to say, without qualification that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ how can we trust that she or he will, in fact, work to change the current patters of policing that make black lives disposable” I can see how this definition of racism actually applies to the written statement. Again, unity is so important, and singling out one race for any reason does not promote unity, and therefore drives away compassion and change.
There are reasons these articles and the Black Lives Matter movement upsets me so much that may surprise you, however.
I stated at the top of this letter that I am the wife of a police officer. Obviously, as his wife this rhetoric hurts me very much, but what hurts more, is seeing the pain in his eyes when he tells me night after night how he is taunted, called a racist pig, accused of “looking for a black man to kill” when there is no truth to it. It’s listening to him worry about how to connect with, and protect people who hate him based on their opinion that because he’s white police officer he’s inherently racist.
As the friend of many police officers, it grieves me to hear black officers speak about being on similar scenes where they too, are taunted for being in law enforcement, and called horrible names like Uncle Tom and others I will not write here. They too, lament over how they long to find a way to show their true desires to the community they work in and love.
I stated at the top of this letter that I am the mother of 2 black children. As the mother of black children this movement grieves me because I want so much for my children. As abused children, they have suffered greatly already in their short lives, and as their adoptive parents my husband and I want so much to heal them in every way possible. We do not want them to be looked down upon, or feel like they have any value less than anyone else around them. I do believe that a large majority of people involved with the black lives matter movement want this too. I believe the bulk of people desire for people to feel they are as God sees them- equal. The problem is, when you single out any race, or people group, or profession, you automatically exclude someone else. The end result of this tactic is division, and not unity. Division gives birth to desperation, desperation, fear, and when people are fearful and desperate they do not respond in love. A house divided will fall. Additionally, when you follow movements that get their momentum from lies and exaggerations, you’re not following the truth. While this was not the original intent, “Black Lives Matter” got most of it’s initial burst of energy from the lie that Michael Brown’s hands were up, and Darren Wilson was a racist. Neither of these are true at all. As the criminal behavior is glorified and the cops are vilified society loses it’s moral compass. As we travel further and further down the path without our compass instead of giving equal value to all, we have found ourselves more divided than ever. I don’t want my children to be stained by society’s idea that we are anything but all God’s people. I don’t want them to believe that, because of their color, they are somehow of less value to anyone, or that because of my color, I am somehow of less value. I don’t want to believe ANYTHING about ANYONE based SOLELY on their color or profession.
I mentioned at the top of the letter that I am a Christian, and a lover of all of God’s people. As a lover of all of God’s people this divide in our society is very painful to watch. We are turning on each other in vile ways more and more, and this is not what Christ would have us do. We are segregating ourselves from each other, each color (not just blacks and whites, but others as well) fearful of saying the wrong thing to the other, and retreating in what seems like safety in silence, but silence can often be deafening. In our attempt to not harm another by saying something that isn’t politically correct, we actually harm each other by not speaking to each other at all. And when polarizing movements take hold, the very unity we all long for is tossed to the side, because if that person is not yelling the same statement I am, they must be against me.
Here’s what I know. As a Christian, I’m called to love. I’m called to love the world as Jesus does. I believe with every single ounce of my being that God created each of us unique on purpose. And I believe that if God created us each unique beautiful individuals, then, as a follower of Christ, I am to find the beauty in each person I meet. I’m to believe, as Christ does, that they hold the same value as I do, and to seek to find the places where we are the same as well.
The other thing I know is this: The times in my life when I have been changed the most, have been the times when I was loved the most.
Are there bad police officers out there? I’m sure there are. But, there are systems in place, and the bulk of the officers out there are good men and women, who do the job they do because they care about the community around them. There are teachers who abuse children, there are pastors who abuse children, there are doctors who abuse people, there are bad people in every single profession out there. To vilify all for the bad that one does is not only unfair, but leaves those who are good wondering what they are fighting for.
I believe the content of this magazine was intended to reinforce that black lives really do matter, however it feels like a direct attack on our law enforcement community.
I also believe the content of this magazine does not provide the vision of unity or healing that the Book of Common Prayer calls us to, and that our communities need so deeply.
The divisive language used throughout does not produce hope, it does not produce compassion.
As Christians, we are called to love each other. We are called to unity. As a member of the Episcopal Church I am deeply grieved that my Diocese, and the national church have not taken the time needed to educate themselves on the whole picture, and as a result have failed at guiding our community towards full unity and wholeness.
I do believe the intent to be honorable. Perhaps more prayer on the subject would be good. Perhaps an interest in hearing the voices of the officers around the nation and an attempt to truly understand their hearts would be a good place to start. Peace officers do not desire to do harm to the communities they serve.
I don’t want to close without speaking to the fact that there have been atrocities to the black community in our nation’s history. It is in grief for these events and a desire for no person to feel oppressed that a passion burns in my heart to speak to what I believe will provide for the real change we all desire.
1 Peter 2:1 “therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of any kind.”
If the church wishes to do good for it’s community, which I believe it does, it should start by examining where the views furthered by the church are isolating another, and work to bridge the gap. It should be a champion for unity. It should not have such a deep desire to align with culture, instead work to rise culture up to it’s values. Sacrificing values to reach people rarely will result in a changed heart. We are in the business of changing hearts. We are in the business of loving.
As I close, I’d like to challenge you.
I’d like to challenge both the Bishop and the Editor of this magazine to take some time seeing what these officers deal with. Contact a local law enforcement agency and ask to do a ride along. Don’t ride in the day, ride at night. Ride in a high crime area. See what these officers see. And then, be part of the team that ministers to officers.
To the Christian lay person reading this I challenge you too. Get involved in a true solution. Speak to people who don’t look like you. Speak to officers as well. Listen to their stories. Listen to the stories of people who have been hurt as well. Listen to their hearts. Help the hurt around you- the Black community, Hispanic, Asian, - all communities, and the officers who are all hurting come to a place of forgiveness and grace towards each other. Join a chaplaincy group if you’re able. If you truly want change, know that true change, lasting change begins with love. Wherever your compass leads you, be sure that it is based in love for all. People change the most when they are loved.