Trinity’s by-laws state, “The Parish has been established as a parish of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), also known as The Episcopal Church (TEC), and of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. The religious corporation, its Rector, and Vestry shall at all times adhere to and observe the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the same, as set forth in its creeds, articles, liturgy, and its constitution and canons. The religious corporation shall at all times be subject to the spiritual jurisdiction and authority of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Long Island”.
The current Bishop of Long Island is The Right Reverend Lawrence Charles Provenzano. On the diocesan website, which can be accessed at http://www.dioceseli.org/ , he writes, “The Diocese of Long Island is a vastly diverse and holy community of people and ministries that strive to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ and each other and to serve the needs of all God’s people”.
August 24, 2017
It’s Not Iconoclasm, It Is Anti-Jim Crow Racism!
By the Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
On Wednesday, August 16th, I accompanied members of my staff to the property of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, to remove two memorial plaques on a tree (or at least the third incarnation of the tree) planted on the property by General Robert E. Lee in the mid-1840s.
It is a fact that General Lee was a founding member of St. John’s Episcopal Church while he was stationed at Fort Hamilton and served as a lay leader (warden) of the parish during that time.
The fact also is that he was a gifted engineer and a brilliant military strategist whose tactics are still studied and taught in military academies. Most historical accounts provide a picture of his integrity, honesty, leadership, and valor. And except for leading the army of the Confederacy against the United States in an effort to preserve slavery, and therefore committing treason, he was by most accounts an outstanding historical figure.
So why in heaven’s name would anyone seek to remove his image or a plaque in his memory on a tree he planted on church property in Brooklyn?
Let me state clearly, I have a serious problem with his treasonous act and his command of the Confederate Army against the United States in support of slavery-another historical fact. It is so important to realize and acknowledge in our present circumstance what the intention of placing such plaques and statues represented and represents, even today.
At St. John’s, Fort Hamilton, there was never a plaque announcing General Lee’s planting of a tree until the United Daughters of the Confederacy decided to place a plaque immortalizing his actions in the face of turbulent, sinful times in later American history.
That plaque, along with the numerous statues and the naming of edifices and streets, all became a way to promote, support, and defend, racist Jim Crow* laws and attitudes in the South and across the country under the veil of the “patriotic” recognition of historic figures whose lives and careers should not be defined merely by their treason. It was a shameful, sinful, and deliberate process and its dismantling should not be confused with iconoclasm.
Today, the removal of these statues, plaques and other memorials are a faithful and courageous attempt to finally drain Jim Crow and its present day defenders of any power to ever again harm God’s people.
Of course, the plaques, statues, and streets are not the real problem. The real problem is the motivation and intention of those who sought to erect them. In the face of equality, shared citizenship, and fair treatment of all people, some still today — as shockingly evidenced again in places like Charlottesville — revert in fear to promote a memory of a time and place in which bigotry, prejudice, and inhumanity were considered “honorable.”
Well not again, not in our time, and certainly not on the property of a church.
I have been called cowardly, ignorant, historically uninformed, and an iconoclast. I am none of these things. I am a bishop of the church. The church promotes the dignity of every human being. I am, by promises and vows, a defender of the faith which compels me to stand with the oppressed and those who are persecuted.
So it’s not iconoclasm, it is anti-Jim Crow racism! It’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ lived in real time in our day. Now that’s worth erecting a plaque or statue to celebrate. Or better yet, let’s work together in God’s name to make people’s lives better.
Once and for all let’s take the historically tragic moment in American history, and create peace and harmony by eliminating all forms of intimidation, prejudice, and bigotry.
No walls, no monuments, no plaques erected to intimidate and segregate. It is well past time for healing. And well past time for seriously thoughtful people to change the tone of the rhetoric in our country.
Shouting ignorance louder and louder does not make us great or a great nation, it hurts our souls and damages our integrity. Let’s be more faithful than that, more thoughtful and kind, more human and loving, more generous and welcoming. That is how America can be great in a way it has never been before.
*(Note) “Jim Crow” was a derisive slang term for a black man. It came to mean any state law passed in the South that established different rules for blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws were based on the concept of white supremacy.