During her address on the Sunday designated as Children’s Sabbath at the Cathedral, in light of the gun violence that has taken far too many of our children’s lives, Marion Wright Edelman called our attention to words that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in response to the assassination of President Kennedy. King said, “Our nation should do a great deal of soul-searching...” These words continue to ring true fifty years later as news headlines are filled with stories of innocent, young, black bodies falling victim to a social climate that nurtures racialized fears and breeds racialized violence. If the deaths of Renisha McBride, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin tell us nothing else, they proclaim loud and clear that we are a people, indeed a church, in need of a “great deal of soul-searching.” For me, this time for soul-searching is nothing less than a kairos time.
Kairos time is the right or opportune time. It is a decisive moment in history that can potentially have far-reaching impact. It is often a chaotic period, a period of crisis. However, it is through the chaos and crisis that God is fully present, disrupting things as they are and providing an opening to a new future—to God’s future. Kairos time is a time bursting forth with God’s call to a new way of living in the world and being with one another. These times demand a response from those of us who claim to be a church. And so, what is the kairos call of God to us, and how are how are we to respond?
If nothing else, God’s is calling us to be who we say we are: God’s church in the world, a glimpse of God’s promised peace. It is a disruptive and unsettling peace as it seeks to overturn and uproot systems and structures that prevent any human being from living into the fullness of who God has created them to be.
The conversations which we engaged in on Friday mark only the first step in our response to God’s kairos call to us. For if indeed we are to seize this kairos moment and be the church that God is calling us to be, then we must move beyond conversations and enter into a solidarity of peace with each other and thus with God. Conversations do not necessarily compel us to confront the systemic and structural sins that nurture the various forms of racist violence which threaten the lives of our children. They do not disrupt the violent social-cultural fabric of racism that shapes our lives and interactions.
Solidarity of peace is about moral recognition, moral courage and moral praxis. Moral recognition means realizing, without being told by those who are victims, when something is wrong even when that wrong does not immediately impact us or our community.
Moral courage is that which is needed to act on our moral recognition. It takes moral courage to speak up even when it involves “controversial social issues,” such as race. Moral courage is especially needed to resist and to give up the personal, and even institutional, privileges we may enjoy because of violent systems and structures—this includes the privilege of remaining silent and doing nothing.
Moral courage propels us toward moral praxis, in other words, embodying the very peace of God. This means contesting narratives of violence through the ways in which we are present in the world, the ways in which we live and move, and have our being as church.
The time for false solidarity and conversation is over. Renisha, Jonathan, Jordan and Trayvon are the children of us all. If we are to seize this kairos time and respond to the call of God to us, then we must do the soul-searching needed for us to forge a solidarity of peace with God and thus to be who God is calling us to be—the church. Let’s us stop talking about it, let us just dig deep inside of ourselves as an Episcopal church community and find a way to do it. As Martin King Jr. said some fifty years ago, “Now is the time.” Fifty years later—now is the time.
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is the Elizabeth Conolly Todd Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and a leading voice in the development of womanist theology. Until recently she served as Associate Rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.