As followers of Christ we are deeply grieved and appalled by the atrocious act of a noose being placed hanging from a tree at 18th and Lombard streets in Center City. The purpose of this was clear; to strike fear in the hearts of the African-American community here in Philadelphia. As our country struggles with terrorism from abroad, we also must recognize that domestic terrorism is no less malicious. Both seek to strike fear in their perceived enemies by targeting innocent citizens going about their daily lives.
As Christians we strongly condemn such hate crimes and declare them anathema to our faith. We pray that by the grace of God we will find a way forward together in love. Only through God’s love can we heal the wounds that divide us as a nation, as a city, and as people from different races and religions so that we can continue to move forward, building God’s Kingdom on Earth.
In years past, expression of racial animus was common and done publicly. The lynching of African-Americans was one way that racists in America terrorized those communities and the noose has become a symbol of that terror. In the years since the Civil Rights Movement, our nation has come to understand that there is no place in society for such expressions of racial hatred, intimidation, or threats of violence. Sadly, in recent months such overt and public statements of racial hatred are on the rise.
This runs counter to our values both as Christians and as a nation. We were all taught in elementary school that one of the foundational tenets of our country was that it was a “melting pot” where people from diverse backgrounds came together with the common goal of making better lives for ourselves and our families as a country. Philadelphia, in particular, was founded on the principle of tolerance and mutual respect. According to Ron Avery’s 1999 book, A Concise History of Philadelphia, “William Penn named the city Philadelphia, which is Greek for brotherly love. As a Quaker, Penn had experienced religious persecution and wanted his colony to be a place where anyone could worship freely.” Such diversity has always been a source of strength.
The message of Christ is clear: we are asked to love one another as God loves us and are exhorted to do justice, which, in our time, means always speaking out against hate and preaching the unconditional love of God. As members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we ask prayerfully for God’s strength in healing those who are the targets of these despicable acts while we also pray for healing of the perpetrators so that they may find their way into right relationship with their neighbor.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez
XVI Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania