In a statement of commitment and action, the Seattle parish has declared it will protect marginalized groups from hate speech and attacks. We need this now.
It’s good that Americans are celebrating the civil-rights movement of the 1950s-’60s on MLK Day, but it is even better to continue the struggle for a more just world. It’s vital at a time when the gains of that and other movements to expand human rights are at risk.
A document from Saint Mark’s Cathedral Parish in Seattle struck a chord with me because it takes up that challenge and does so forcefully and in specifics that address today’s conditions.
In 12 statements, the parish commits to fighting fear with facts, rejecting white nationalism, protecting marginalized groups from hate speech and attacks, and much more.
It’s called a statement of commitment and action, and The Very Rev. Steven L. Thomason, dean and rector of Saint Mark’s, said it is a renewal of longstanding values tailored for this moment.
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The parish leadership adopted the statement in late December and has been sharing it widely since. (It’s available on the parish’s website, www.saintmarks.org.)
He said the seeds of the statement reach back to summer, “when the election-cycle rhetoric really seemed to get uglier and uglier and folks here in this community and elsewhere seemed to be more and more shocked, turning to fear, even disillusion — is this even happening? — and even to despair.”
The statement, he said, is political, but not partisan. The document borrows from a piece written by the Christian writer and activist Jim Wallis, but without the mention of any particular politician.
Thomason is a native of Arkansas, where civil-rights issues were hotly contested. The Army had to be called in to escort black students into Little Rock Central High School 60 years ago this September.
When it was time for him to go to high school, he said his parents chose a “white-flight school.” Over time his own views changed to the point where he counts among his heroes people who fought for civil rights, even to the point of sacrificing their lives.
That was a time of great conflict and change, and so is this.
“We live in a particular place in a particular time,” Thomason said, “and this is the world in which we are called to be active agents for justice and peace.”
He said Saint Mark’s has this kind of role in its DNA. The church invited back Bishop Cabell Tennis, a former dean at the cathedral, to deliver an MLK weekend sermon. In 1972, from the same pulpit, Cabell denounced U.S. bombing of North Vietnam.
Taking sides is a part of living out religious values. Thomason said, “Jesus was always siding with those who were oppressed and marginalized, hungry, hurting.”
Saint Mark’s is partnering with St. James Cathedral, Temple De Hirsch Sinai and other faith organizations to hold an interfaith prayer service at the temple, 1441 16th Ave., in Seattle on Friday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m.
“I think we’re in one of those crucible moments of history, and we’re all being invited to take stock of what do we believe, what do we stand for and who are we,” Thomason said.
Last week, Saint Mark’s held a parish forum to begin translating the words into action. Thomason said, “People are energized, and I had many tell me how important it is that they have a positive and proactive something to do in the midst of really scary times.”
He hopes the document will help people focus and motivate them to act on their values.
“If political leaders are not going to set an example,” he said, “someone has to, and we’re stepping forward to say we want to be in that role.”
The parish has gotten responses from across the country, Europe and the Caribbean from others who support and often want to adopt the statement, as well as some who find it politically unacceptable.
One of the 12 statements says, “We will listen to those with whom we may disagree as we seek safe and sacred spaces for hearing each other’s stories, pains, fears, and hopes.”
We need that now.