This episode is in response to the recent hate crime and killing of ten black people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York that took place on May 14, 2022.
In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright reflect on a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Cornell College in Iowa on October 15, 1962. A lecture in which Dr. King addresses the hate we have for one another. A hate because of fear. A fear because we don’t know one another. Not knowing one another because we fail to communicate. Failing to communicate because we are separated. These are tough conversations, and we invite you to both listen, share, and be in conversation with people about these very things. Because these are hard but holy conversations.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m Melissa Rau. And Bishop Wright and I are having a conversation based on For Faith a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and the link to subscribe in the episode’s description.
Good morning, Bishop.
Rob: Good morning, Melissa.
Melissa: There’s a lot going on in the world today.
Rob: A lot, a lot.
Melissa: This week’s devotion is an excerpt from one of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1962 address at King’s Chapel in Mount Vernon, Iowa. You named it, Because, and it’s Dr. King’s explanation for why men hate each other. So, I’m wondering if you can explain why this passage and why now?
Rob: Yeah. Well, I mean, we’re recording this just days after, you know, an 18-year-old boy walked into a grocery store and shot to death, largely senior citizens who are unarmed. He was armed to the teeth, dressed in tactical gear. And as far as we can tell right now, he drove 200-miles to accomplish this terrible act. And also, had put a lot of planning in it. And also, streamed it live as he was doing it. There was a white man in the grocery store who was cowering and thought that he would die, but the gunman apologized to him once he recognized that he was white. And continued to shoot black people.
And so, you know, as a Bishop, and as a public figure, so often people are looking for statements from people like me. And they’re right to look for some statements to help people make some sense out of things. On the matter of hate, because they’re labeling it a hate crime, on the matter of white supremacy and all of that. I wanted to invite Dr. King into dialogue with us.
And he’s been talking, I mean– You know, this little known lecture that he offered in 1962 in Iowa. I wanted to bring that forward to people so that they could have a real resource as they think about it. About how this is not a new thing, about how this is an old and insidious thing, about how it is enjoying, sadly, new attention and new sport, this idea of race hatred. And so yeah, just want to always try to give people the best I can.
And so, Dr. King, I think, is one of the best in trying to help us see, you know, how we are not the beloved community, and what the work is that is necessary to do so that we can become the beloved community, which of course, is God’s dream for us.
Melissa: Right. And tribalism is certainly not a thing that’s going to help us lead, you know, to becoming beloved community. And that is what we have a lot of right now.
Rob: No, no. Well, tribalism is a response to fear. And I think that that’s one of the things we have to talk about. It appears all this is preliminary. But it appears this youngster was fed, you know, a diet of fear that he was somehow smitten with this notion of replacement theory, where black and brown people or were sort of replacing white people in America, taking their country, and so that mobilized him to wage a war against, you know, black elderly people in a grocery store.
Let me just say something also here, it’s interesting to me at least, the cowardly nature of this. You know, you are armed with war grade weapons, you are armed in a war grade outfit, you’re waging war against 80-year-olds, octogenarians, in a grocery store who are unarmed and unaware, non-combatants. Being ex-military, this is a violation of honor. And so, it further proves, at least to me, how hatred, you know, grotesquely, mal develops us to where we think that grandmas, and great grandmas are the same thing as combatants. So, there is no honor here. There is cowardice here. There’s a grotesque sort of maladjustment here. And so, this youngster while he is responsible, who else is responsible? The rhetoric, you know, the doubling down on fearfulness. So, you know, it is individual actors. Yes. But there’s a community component to this as well.
Melissa: That’s right. I don’t know if we’ve talked about the book, Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. But that And it’s sad to me, because I read that book, and it was so disturbing. But I’m sure Miss Wilkerson has predicted much of what’s happening right now because of that replacement theory.
Rob: Dr. Wilkerson, we share our undergraduate college. So, I’m awfully proud of her work. She and others are working on this idea, you know, looking back and also looking forward at what is our American future? Are we going to become seething, you know, sort of armed tribal camps? Or are we going to be the Republic that is interdependent on one another, celebrating one another’s gifts? Are we going to continue to be, you know, an imperfect American experiment, but nevertheless an American democratic experiment? Or are we going to descend into something which is going to be beneath our framers, the best of our framers hopes, and beneath God’s call to us?
And so, what is scary to think about when we think forward is that as America browns, as the color of America browns, we become increasingly black and brown. And we become more of a nation of minorities. You know, how will we be America?
You know, fiction writers, and, and people who make fiction movies have imagined one way forward, that is always apocalyptic. It is always gray and dark, and there’s lack, and there is suspicion. And we’re all armed to the teeth. And it’s an interesting thing, that God imagined something altogether different for us, that we find a way to be siblings, that we find a way to share, that we find a way to better care for creation. And so, what we have, every time we have one of these tragic events, not only in Buffalo. But in California, a man walks into a church because he hates Taiwanese people. He himself is Asian. But he hates Taiwanese people. So, he kills one doctor who bravely rushes to try to sort of save everyone else. And the congregation sort of acts heroically together. And they subdue him until law enforcement come.
But instance after instance after instance, people are being seduced by this idea that we’ve got to wage war against each other. And, you know, this is all in response to the American I think that is coming. Where white folks are, some white folks are feeling like the nation that they have built is being taken away now by some inferior species of people, black and brown. And this is the narrative that is sadly mobilizing some young people.
I think about Dylann Roof who walks into a church. Again, a cowardly act. Grandmothers praying on their knees. And this is the war fear that he thinks that is going to save America, etc. And so, we’ve got to acknowledge that people are sick, that there’s a sickness. And at the core of the sickness is a pervasive fear. It’s all fear. It’s fearfulness. This is why, you know, I chose this lecture from Dr. King, where he gives the reasoning for this. Because we don’t know each other. Because we are afraid of each other. Because we’d rather be intellectually lazy and reduce one another to stereotypes. Because, because, because, therefore we take up these actions. And we continue to injure one another.
Melissa: So, you know, he talks all about those because, but that he ties all of that to leadership. And you study leadership. And I’m wondering what resonates most with you regarding that theme?
Rob: Well, you know, for the people that know me, they know how happy I am that you are asking this question because as far as I can tell, it’s all about leadership. I think that leadership is a spiritual discipline. And leadership is driven by hope. And hope is energy. And energy comes from inspiration. And we are inspired because of Jesus’s example and teaching to do hard things. Leadership is among the most difficult things that you and I can do. Because it means that we’re going to mobilize people to address tough problems. Particularly and especially the problems they’d rather avoid. And so, one of the things we would rather avoid as Americans is the fact that we have this pervasive, systemic, multi-tentacled monster living in our midst called white supremacy and race hatred. And it’s been with us since 1619. The pilgrims come and 1620. But the first Africans come as chattel slavery, as chattel slaves and slave people, in 1619. So, it’s been part and parcel of who we are. And so, we need men and women of every color, of every ethnic background, of every class, of every learning discipline, to take up leadership. That is to say to the status quo, this is wrong. And what we know when things are the status quo, they are the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s all in us.
But we in America, as James Baldwin has said, are addicted to this notion of innocence. And so, to say that white supremacy lives next door to us, and perhaps lives in our upstairs apartments, and you know, is very close to us, is not to condemn the nation. But it is to have the courage to critique the nation on the way to transformation and renewal. And so, when we see people stopping conversations about our complicated American history, they’re not doing the nation any favor. What they are demonstrating is their own fragility about facing the truth. And this is where the church can help. This is where the mosque can help. This is where the synagogue can help.
You and I, s we try to follow God and try to make God’s values our own values, what we are increasing in ourselves is an ability to look at the truth, the world as it is. And to bring real sensitivity to those narratives, to acknowledge when we’ve missed the mark, or our group has missed the mark, our people, our nation, our country, our county, our cities, have missed the mark. And not to be sort of condemned in that moment. But to understand that we all of us fall short and now the call is, what can we do about it? So, every time, you know, we have one of these heinous acts, and we ought to just say and tell the truth and love. Why so often are they often young white males? What is going on in our white families? What is going on with our white youngsters? What is going on there? Why are they mobilized in this way?
Now, people will say, well, these are just a precious few. But, you know, if you just do a quick search on Google, you will see any number of these kinds of horrific acts, and you will see each and every time that they are white males. And so, what’s going on? I want to know. I just want to be curious. What’s going on with these folks that they are being seduced by these ideas to be soldiers, you know, in a war that’s been concocted in the heads and the hearts of people who have prominent office? Who have, you know, positions in law enforcement, who have the microphone over various internet platforms, who think they are patriots. But they are really just pulling the fabric of this nation apart. So, I want to know about that. So, for us to engage this in any way, to address this, the scope of this, the scale of this, and the depth of this, people are going to have to exert leadership.
Melissa: We have to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
[Message from the Producer]
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, I heard a sermon not too long ago, where the preacher unpacked the nuances between discipleship and apostleship. Both of those are big fancy words. But the crudely summarize, disciples are followers, whereas apostles moved from student to teacher. And teachers are leaders. So, I used to think we have a discipleship crisis in our church, yet I’ve come to wonder if it’s really an apostleship crisis. I mean, we’ve got lots of students, but few who stepped out and up to lead. What are your thoughts on that?
Rob: Well, Jesus, you know, there’s nothing new under the sun. And so all of us fancy preachers with all of our sort of linguistic fancy footwork is always interesting to watch. But Jesus said a long time ago, “that the laborers are few”. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” If we want to subdivide the leadership into disciples and apostles, that’s fine. I like the notion of an apostle being someone who was a learner and because of accumulated experience and wisdom becomes the teacher. I liked that idea.
But I think what we’re asking everybody to do is, you know, whatever you can do. You know, do all the good you can do, whenever you can do, wherever you can do is what we’re talking about. And leadership is not just a role. Just because I’m a Bishop doesn’t make me a leader. It’s just a role. Leadership is about action. And so, you know, my guess and my hope, is that in East Buffalo, men and women will rise up and exert leadership. You know, all kinds of folks, black folks, white folks, rich folks, poor folks. I hope they will exert leadership. I hope they will make action. I hope they will close the gap between what we say about ourselves and how we actually live.
I mean, you know, the thing is so deep and so wide. You know, why is that the only grocery store for 150,000-people in Buffalo? I mean, I live in a community in Marietta, Georgia that I can take a very short walk to two grocery stores and any number of other services. And so, what’s the history historic piece here where this guy could drive 200-miles and hunt, hunt for black people?
And so, you know, because there are no easy answers, that’s why leadership is required. Leadership is reserved for the most difficult things we face. And to face them, you got to begin to talk about them. And, you know, I think that there is a real reluctance to talk about things because I think that people are going to default to what I call the two cal-de-sacs. They are going to default to either just sort of blind rage, and I understand that. But nevertheless, you can get stuck there. Or you’re going to default to shame and guilt. And I understand that people can get stuck there. But neither one of them are going to move us forward. You know, just blind rage, a sad shame, is not going to move us forward. We are going to have to increase our capacity, all of us if we are going to move forward. So, this has everything to do with how we vote, this has everything to do with how we talk, this has everything to do with how we create climates and cultures in our businesses, in our schools, etc. So, this is a multi-faceted way to go.
Melissa: Well, really, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King’s, the whole excerpt. And he’s like, “Why do we hate? Well, we hate because we fear.” And my big question, Bishop, why do we fear? Is it because we don’t have relationship and so it’s other? And we are just unsure? So, where is that? Where is the rubber meeting the road in things that we can actually do to conquer our fear, to reach out, to bridge the gap, to do all the things to be in relationship with people who are different than us?
Rob: That’s right. You know, in America, especially around race, we walk around on eggshells with one another, black to white, Hispanic. You know, we have lots of things we say about other, and I find that when you talk to most folks, they haven’t actually spent a lot of time around the very person that they’re othering. So, I think there is a profound lack of knowledge of one another. I think in some cases, there is a track record with other that needs to be acknowledge and then therefore changed. I think about, you know, what are the people in East Buffalo now going to think about white males? You know, some 18-year-old white male is going to walk into a store and that’s going to cause somebody to think twice. You know, so I think, all of that stuff needs to be interrogated. We’ve all got to go the extra mile to reach across these divides.
Again, I think here’s an opportunity for churches to find ways to have conversations one to the other, the black church and the white church. I’m sure that makes God sad, that very statement, the white church and the black church. But nevertheless, to find ways to build connections that are not just on February, and not just in January, Dr. King’s birthday. But to figure out how we can continue to talk together. It is bigger than black and white. We also have to say too, we think about the synagogue where people were murdered in Pittsburgh, not too terribly long, you know, so there’s antisemitism. There are all kinds of, you know, gay and lesbian folks have been targeted. Asian folks. I’m in New York City right now recording this, and so the Asian people in our community have been given reason to pause because of this sort of monstrous hatred that is sort of stalking our streets and our hearts.
And so, you know, it’s multi-tiered work, but it comes from, I believe, a deep and abiding commitment to wanting to make sure that we understand that we are siblings, that we are neighbors, that is God’s dream for us. And everything else, that has us as warring, competing tribes is not of God. It is not of God. And so, we’re afraid and we have to deal with the fear.
Melissa: Well, I think it would be really appropriate Bishop if you close this out with a prayer. Would that be all right?
Rob: Yeah, of course. Let us pray. Gracious God, you’ve made us in your image, all of us, all of us. The young one and the old one, the black one, and the white one, and the Asian one, and the Jewish one, and the Muslim one, the gay one, and the straight one. You’ve made us all in your image God. And oh, how we have because of fear injured one another. We are terribly afraid. We demonstrate our fragility and our insecurity every day as we interact one with the other. And only you’re saving power, working through us and in us, can help to save us.
We pray for those who grieve right now who have lost family members. We pray for families who have been destroyed by hatred. We ask you, oh God, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to raise up in us a strength and a courage of fortitude that is for love, not the sentiment, but the sole force. Help us to face who we have been on the way to being who you want us to be, who you call us to be. Help us to find in Jesus an example of leadership, his teachings, and his availability to all kinds. Help us to deeply embrace that. Purge us of the sickness of hatred. We pray this in the wonderful name of Jesus who loves us all. Amen.
Melissa: Amen. Bishop, thank you. And listeners, thank you to listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. You can subscribe and leave a review. We look forward to be being back with you next week.
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