BELLEVILLE, Ill.—With the second anniversary of riots in Ferguson, Mo., this week, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville has noted the downfalls of racial division and spoke about the importance of moral leadership as the best way to combat the growing division among citizens in the United States.
“In a time of the breakdown of a sense of togetherness among people, there is an acute need for a new authenticity,” Bishop Braxton, whose diocese includes East St. Louis, wrote in a July 20 column for The Belleville Messenger.
“When individuals bring the openness, understanding, humility, and compassion to their positions of leadership, the potential for establishing or re-establishing community is significantly increased,” he continued.
On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.
The incident in Ferguson sprouted riots, looting, and general unrest in the city and led to hundreds of arrests. It also gave way to the popularization of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Over the past year, similar racially-fueled episodes have ranged from police brutality in Baton Rouge to a shooting rampage against police officers in Dallas.
“The heartbreaking images of blood stained scenes of death, grieving relatives, multiple funerals, overwhelmed civic leaders, and prayers for healing and reconciliation have become commonplace,” Bishop Braxton, who served as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis for five years, stated.
“It is a grief that cannot be spoken and a pain that does not end,” he continued.
In the heat of these events, the bishop highlighted the tension across the country, and said that 59 percent of Americans “believe the relationship between people of different races is becoming worse.”
However, Bishop Braxton believes that the “Black Lives Matter” and the “All Lives Matter” movements need not be incompatible.
“Must it be either one mantra or the other? Can it not be both?” he asked in his column.
“We all know that the work of police officers is very difficult and very dangerous. They leave their homes each day not knowing if they will return unharmed. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Their lives matter,” he said.
Although all human beings are created equally, Bishop Braxton also pointed out that the level of peril that certain groups face are more imminently dangerous than others, and thus, require additional protection against their marginalization.
“The point of Black Lives Matter is that many in the African-American community face existential threats that must not be ignored,” the bishop noted, saying “it is necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the particular concern for the lives of People of Color.”
“Ultimately, there must be at least a tacit recognition that there are other vulnerable, marginalized groups in the country whose lives also matter,” he continued.
In order to bridge the gap these violent episodes have imposed, the bishop believes “moral leadership in action” will offer healing in the divided communities across the United States. For Bishop Braxton, this means working towards genuine unity through service.
“The moral authority needed to bring fragmented factions together can only come about if those in diverse positions of leadership are open to an attitude of genuine service to individuals and groups holding divergent points of view,” Bishop Braxton stated.
“To provide moral leadership in action, we must all think, listen, learn, pray, and act,” he continued, saying that every citizen has a duty to unite their communities.
The Illinois bishop additionally placed a particular emphasis on the election year, noting that the president of the United States and other leaders in power will have significant sway in uniting the country.
He also called for authenticity, service, and compassion as ways to mend the brokenness that many people face in the United States, and urged that both citizens and leaders take their roles seriously.
“It may be that it is only by committing ourselves to praying, listening, learning, thinking, and acting in the presence of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to demonstrate moral leadership in action as servant leaders showing, without ambiguity, that all lives really do matter!”
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