For 400 years, Americans have wrestled with our original sin of racism and the false doctrine of white supremacy. The wages of that sin have been borne by generations of enslaved African Americans; by Emmet Till and Medgar Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King; by the martyrs of Mother Emanuel; by Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; and countless others known only to God.
That legacy haunts us still, as we confront yet another slaughter, this time at the hands of a white man in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y. Every time a life is lost to the murderous ideology of racism, we lose a bit of our soul, and such hate-fueled violence grieves the very heart of God.
Each of the 13 shooting victims is a beloved child of God and we grieve with the families of the 10 who died. Our hearts and our prayers are with those who are mourning in Buffalo.
The 18-year-old gunman in Buffalo did not come into this world harboring hatred in his heart toward Black people. Contempt needs to be taught, nourished and sustained. If we are honest, we must acknowledge that the soil that gives root to such hatred is still being tended in this nation.
This man found a sadistic echo chamber online, amplified by fringe extremist groups that have been granted a veneer of legitimacy by media personalities, politicians and, yes, some religious leaders. He came of age in a country where politicians genuflect to a gun lobby that has made easy access to weapons of war a near sacrament of our civil religion. Here in Washington, D.C., a dozen people have been killed just in the first two weeks of May, and half of all gun deaths are the result of desperate people taking their own lives.
Even as our streets are awash in guns, when the inevitable mass shooting occurs or when a young mother is gunned down while walking her baby, we ask ourselves how this could happen.
In Buffalo, easy access to military-style weapons combined with extremist ideology to produce an act of domestic terrorism. The gunman’s murderous manifesto grew out of a twisted belief that white people are being intentionally “replaced.” But let’s talk about what’s really being replaced in our nation.
Our safe spaces – our grocery stores, movie theaters, classrooms, and yes, even our sanctuaries – are being replaced with crime scenes where innocent blood is shed and families are forever shattered.
Our social contract – built on the idea of mutual respect and a common understanding of fact – is being replaced by dangerous and delusional ideas that are allowed to flourish without penalty or consequence.
As people of faith, we are called to replace hatred with love.
Nearly 60 years ago, after a heinous act of domestic terrorism at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Dr. King eulogized the four young Black girls who were killed in the bombing: “In their death, they say to all of us, Black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
The victims of Buffalo are speaking, too. May God grant us ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to act.
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral