My dear Siblings in Christ Jesus,
The continental United States has recently experienced a surge in anti-Asian rhetoric, bullying in schools, racist incidents, scapegoating and hate crimes impacting Asian and Asian American people. It has been reported that: “Anti-Asian hate crime in 16 of America’s largest cities increased 149% in 2020 according to an analysis of official preliminary police data by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, with the first spike occurring in March and April amidst a rise in COVID cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic.” While we often feel a disconnect from the harsh reality of the North American States, the inappropriate Anti-Asian remarks by the Police Chief on Kauaʻi brings the crisis home to the Islands.
We must be clear that the besetting sins of the United States are racism and nationalism. From the expansion of Europeans into Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania in the fifteenth century, there has been an enduring race-based bias woven into the fabric of the United States from its founding and that reality is even present in our Island home. I am convinced that the tap roots of racism in the United States are Euro-centric imperialism and expansionism (articulated in the Doctrine of Discovery and shown in Hawaiian history), colonialism (focused on land ownership and control of natural resources), and race based slavery. It is manifest – sadly, all too often unconsciously – in notions that skin pigmentation and the language a person speaks define levels of humanity, and that the “foreigner” is immediately suspect and a threat. It is human sin. It is, however, a personal sin as well as a corporate sin. It is my sin.
As Episcopalians – no, as responsible adults, we must be clear that there is no room for racism and such hate in our society. We must reject the political and public rhetoric of hate that is meant to inflame passions and demonize other human beings. It also means we must put away ordinary “jokes” and side comments that actually dehumanize another person. Even in Hawaiʻi, these are no longer acceptable. Our words shape our actions and reinforce our beliefs. My words matter. This is not about “political correctness,” but about basic morality and humanity. As Jesus taught us in the “Great Commandment”: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
While we must walk in solidarity with victims of the racist attacks, and reject hate and violence in thought, word and deed, we must also examine ourselves and our own deep-seated understanding and fears of other people. We must again ask ourselves this question from the Baptismal Covenant (BCP page 305): “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This question is for each of us and must be answered every day. It means that we are each called to monitor our own thoughts, speech and actions, and to challenge hurtful comments and actions from our own friends and family members – as well as public officials and those in authority.
The current anti-Asian rhetoric and violence speaks to the reality that our 245-year journey as citizens of the United States in becoming a truly just society has only begun. As Christians, we are reminded of our higher responsibility to live into Jesus’ teaching in the “Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3-16) and “The Judgment of the Nations” (Matt. 25:31-46). It is up to us – to you and me.
Yours faithfully in Christ Jesus,
The Right Reverend Robert L. Fitzpatrick, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’i
The Episcopal Church in Micronesia