Dear Friends in Christ,
This morning, clergy from Delaware-Maryland and Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synods gathered in prayer as protest at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington D.C. What began as a solemn, peaceful witness, was interrupted by self-identified Trump supporters who barged into the encircled sacred space held by those present. These individuals proceeded to re-enact the murder of George Floyd in our midst and took pictures in front of the Black Lives Matter sign and Martin Luther statue.
In the words of Bishop Bill Gohl of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, “This holy ground was desecrated by those who mocked our purpose and prayer, including a man dressed in a faux animal skin vest who made fun of ‘…that n*gger George Floyd.’ This is a surreal experience that our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) colleagues know all too well. Kyrie eleison.”
I am writing this as a Bishop who is Latina; as one who has experienced first-hand the sinful nature of racism and white supremacy throughout my entire life. As I stood with my colleagues and witnessed evil manifest right before my eyes, I was paralyzed. I was paralyzed by the audacity and the spirit of entitlement and pride. I was paralyzed by the utter inability to recognize the humanity in Black and Brown bodies to the point of mocking and re-enacting such a violent act.
Later, as we left the space and blessed Pastor Karen Brau, along with those who were staying in prayer locally throughout the night, we received word of protestors growing in number around the Capitol. I safely arrived home to the unfolding of utter chaos.
I am writing this as I watch the news and witness anarchy. Our democracy has never been perfect and what we are collectively experiencing is testing the resolve of our nation.
I honestly don’t have the words in this moment, so I turn to the prophets of our past. The words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been guiding me personally and professionally. In his sermon entitled, “Transformed Non-Conformist,” inspired by Romans 12:2, Dr. King states:
“In spite of [the] prevailing tendency to conform, we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists. The apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith, counseled, ‘Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability. We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty.”
The conviction and loyalty that we are called to as people of faith is to the Gospel. Dr. King continues, “If the church of Jesus Christ is to regain once more it’s power, message, and authentic reign, it must conform only to the demands of the Gospel.”
What we are witnessing today is a conviction of sorts and, some might argue that, the actions of the protestors in D.C. are an embodiment of their convictions. However, we must interrogate the convictions that inspire such actions, behaviors, and presence in the world.
As people of faith, we are called to conform only to the demands of the Gospel; demands that always bend towards justice. The demands of the Gospel never justify the killing of a community, of a body, of a spirit. The demands of the Gospel recognize humanity in each of God’s beloved human creation. The demands of the Gospel require dignity and respect, for stranger, for neighbor, and for creation. The demands of the Gospel speak to life, and life abundant.
As the church of Jesus Christ, in this moment, you and I are called to “…stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We are called to take up the whole armor of God so that we may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:11-13
I am in prayer with and for you, myself, and our nation and I ask that you join me. Look to hear from me and your church leaders in the coming days and weeks as we live into our call as the church of Jesus Christ, for such a time as this.
May God give us grace never to sell ourselves short;
Grace to conform only to the demands of the Gospel;
Grace to lean into life and life abundant;
And grace to stand firm in bold and boundless love.
In the name of the Triune God, the One who creates, liberates, and sustains us all. Amen.
Bishop Leila Ortiz