By Bishop Kevin Vann, Diocese of Orange, and Pastor Mark Whitlock, Christ our Redeemer AME Church     7/17/2016

We are writing to you as brothers and ministers in the Lord who have had the grace of friendship, prayer and worship together in our respective faith communities. Our hearts are heavy after the senseless loss of precious lives in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas. Every human life has inestimable value. We pray for the families of those who have lost their loved ones, whether those protecting and serving others at a nonviolent protest in Dallas or those caught up in the racial and structural injustice. This is a moment of personal concern for Bishop Vann, who was a neighbor and friend to many in Dallas for a number of years, and who is in regular communication with Bishop Kevin Farrell in Dallas.

As Christians we suffer with those who suffer, grieve with those who grieve, and also stand in solidarity with those most vulnerable. In an atmosphere of anger, mistrust, and hatred, we must recover the ability to weep with those who weep, to comfort those in pain, and to make space for those who need healing. It seems our society is often fractured by a negative view of diversity rather than celebrating the beauty of each member of the human family and recognizing that we are all one body and one heart. Bishop Farrell wrote after the Dallas shooting, “Our community has to be a stained glass window, where we all come together in peace and harmony.” Indeed, we must find a way to halt what Dr. King called the “descending spiral” of violence. He famously wrote:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

What is the love that can drive out violence? As Christians, we proclaim that love came into the world in the Word made flesh: Jesus the Lord. There is a love that casts out fear. There is a love that is willing to make room for others. There is a love that does not insist on its own way. This love can freely assert that all of our lives together matter and are created in the image and likeness of God.   This declarative, inclusive statement, stands on its own and must be said, given that there was a time in our American history we declared that “all Men are created equal” while counting enslaved blacks as three-fifths of a person. Such an acknowledgement can be made – and must be made – while simultaneously valuing and mourning the loss of those persons working in law enforcement , whom we count on daily for our security and safety, as well as the loss of the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our society. There is a love that worked a miracle for the centurion as well as a man living in the tombs whose demons were legion.

We refuse to pit one community against another, to scapegoat individuals or whole communities, and we also refuse to abandon the preferential option for the poor, the defenseless, the outcast, and the downtrodden. There is a fear that these tragedies will lead to a chilling effect on nonviolent witness to the truth and a backtracking on so many of the good strides that police departments have made to train in and focus on community policing. May it not be so!

In California we are engaged in significant efforts to pursue criminal justice reform, to move more towards restorative justice and a system that better respects the dignity of the human person. We have a long way to go to protect all life at its beginning and end and every stage in between. In Orange County bridge building efforts are not just across black-white divides but Latino, Vietnamese, and many other communities. We are beautifully diverse and we are better together. We hope our efforts in recent years to pray and worship together in one another’s communities have helped to build some of these bridges and we look forward to building many more.

Dorothy Day once said: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” There is no room for prejudice among the people of God but there is all the space in the world for one another. So let’s redouble our efforts to walk in the path of Dr. King, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa, who summed up so many of the great saints in saying: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” There is a love that walks the way of the cross in hope of the resurrection.

Please know of our prayer, love and our commitment together to the Lord’s ministry for our brothers and sisters in our communities.