Rector's Chronicle

A Message from the Rector
Saturday, May 30, 2020

My dear friends,

When we came to America three and a half years ago, people often asked me what I found different or surprising about being here. In truth, people seem to me to be very much the same the world over. There are cultural quirks and nuances for sure, but they are not necessarily that obvious – at least not in the way that language or accents are.

The one really significant thing I did not calculate on, though, was the extent to which race and racial division continue to be such a factor in American life. From across the other side of the Atlantic, the success of the civil rights movement and the legislation passed as a result of it seemed to be a resolution of the injustices of the past. From a distance, America seemed to be an amazing success story: People of many cultures and backgrounds coming from the world over, all glad to become American. The great “melting pot” was, in theory at least, the envy of the world. What I had not realized in coming here was the fact that many of the people I would meet and minister to lived through the civil rights movement and, for them, it remains a vivid and, in some cases, an overwhelming and defining reality.

The despicable deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and the response to them are witness to the fact that my transatlantic vision of America missed a very great deal. This is not to say that race is not a significant factor in Great Britain and other parts of the world, but there is no question it is much more so in the minds of a large section of American society.

There are various things that hold societies together, but none more important than the compassionate rule of law applied equally and impartially to all – where the innocent and oppressed are protected, not victimized. If George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and those responsible for their deaths are not treated exactly the same way as anyone else, then society can not cohere. The videos are horrendous. If the reality is as it appears in them, then justice has some serving to do for sure.

For us as Christians, we are held accountable to the promises we made or that were made on our behalf at Baptism:

Q. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
A. I will, with God's help.

Fundamentally, justice is not only a secular value. It is also a spiritual one. Justice for all: For those like us and those unlike us, for those who agree with us and for those who don’t, for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and yes, for those who killed them – justice based not on bias or partisan emotion, but on reason, scripture, faith, and the rule of law.

When I was serving as a chaplain in the British Army, a terrible thing happened in Cyprus in 1994 near one of our bases there. Three soldiers from the First Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets brutally assaulted and killed a tour guide. The soldiers were tried and sentenced to life in prison, but to the Cypriot population, the Royal Green Jackets and all who wore that cap badge were guilty. Indeed, all British soldiers were. We could not go into the Cypriot towns for several years. The battalion could never serve in Cyprus again.

That is the way. Those who wear uniform represent more than themselves and, if they disgrace themselves, they disgrace all those who wear their cap badge. We perhaps should not attribute the appalling actions of a policeman or a person of one color or another to the rest, but it is hard for us not to. Whether one wears a uniform or not, as Christians, God calls us to work earnestly to ensure that the degenerate acts of a few – acts that deny others of the aforementioned “justice and peace” – not only are not tolerated or excused, but condemned and expunged. If one does not, then one’s Baptismal Covenant is not only hollow, but also disingenuous.

I pray that the fresh and glorious vision of what America could be, declared by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, will one day come to truly be. A place where superficial differences of appearance and deeper differences of culture and belief do not prevent individuals from being treated equally under the law and with kindness and courtesy by all. Every day, each of us has a duty, before God and in their own way, to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and to respect the dignity of every human being” – and to accept the Lord’s help in so doing.

Every blessing,

Father Tim

The Reverend Timothy A. R. Cole, Rector