Bishops confess sins of racism at dialogue

WHITE OAK, S.C. — The Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist (LARCUM) bishops in South Carolina issued a statement today confessing guilt and seeking forgiveness for the sins of racism following a two-day dialogue on race relations.

The bishops, whose memberships total 466,684 in the state, also announced that their annual service for Christian unity, scheduled for Jan. 18, 1998, will be a reconciliation service where they will make public confession and ask forgiveness.Seventy-three representatives from the four denominations met with their bishops May 12 and 13 for the seventh annual Bishops’ Ecumenical Dialogue at the White Oak Conference Center to discuss their successes and challenges to be faithful to the gospel in the area of race relations.

While many successes were shared during the dialogue, the bishops’ statement is a response to the incidents of institutional and personal racism experienced by participants. For example, one African-American presenter told of going into a predominately white church one Sunday and hearing someone say, “Here come the niggers.”

Another told of entering the seminary when the rector said to him, “leave your blackness at the door” and the disappointment he felt that no courses were offered on black culture and theology. In spite of these problems, this presenter also said, “My church is infested with the sin of institutional racism, but I love her.”

Examples of institutional racism brought to the bishops included the small number of black people in local and statewide leadership positions in the church and the past practice of designating rear pews and balconies for black worshipers. In the statement, the bishops declare, “Jointly we members of LARCUM are moving toward the millennium, the year 2000. We do this with firm and loving belief in our Savior Jesus Christ, thanking him for his coming, his saving, his promises. We dare to go to him with our failures, seeking his forgiveness and healing; we ask him now to help us in our struggles to over come the sin of racism, that powerful prejudice which pits one race against the other to the damage of all. We go to each other, confessing guilt and seeking forgiveness.”

While previous LARCUM dialogues often focused on the differences between the denominations, the bishops acknowledge their agreement on this issue. “No dogmas, no creeds, no Christian denominations divide us on these beliefs,” they say in the statement. “Arm in arm, heart with heart, calling upon the Lord to assist us, we must, if we deserve to be called Christians, have this love for one another, embrace each other totally and in the firm belief in one Lord, one baptism, one human family, with equal liberty and justice for all.”

Presenters at the two-day dialogue also focused on success stories in the area of race relations. Examples included successful cross-racial clergy appointments, thriving integrated congregations, appointments of blacks to leadership positions, establishment of bishops’ commissions on race relations, and programs to help congregations become more sensitive to racial differences.

The public reconciliation service announced by the bishops will be held at 4 p.m., Jan. 18, 1998, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greenville, S.C. The bishops who signed the statement are:

Rev. David A. Donges,Bishop, South Carolina Synod,Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;

The Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr.,Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina;

The Rt. Rev. J. Lawrence McCleskey,Bishop, South Carolina Conference,United Methodist Church.

The Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon, Jr.,Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina;

The Rt. Rev. William J. Skilton,Suffragan Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina;

The Most Rev. David B. Thompson,Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston;