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Statement on the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha

We lament yet another shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, by law enforcement. One such shooting is one too many, and yet in our nation the numbers of such shootings continue. We join those who call for a complete and impartial investigation of this travesty.

We share in the outrage caused by this shooting and many like it. We pray that our righteous anger will strengthen our common effort to combat the unholy Trinity of racism, poverty and violence, and that the destruction of property in our communities will cease.

Please join me in praying for the healing and full recovery of Mr. Blake and for the healing of his three sons who witnessed this horrific event. Pray, too, for the City of Kenosha, its leaders, and all its people.

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and a founding member and co-convener of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

Message from the Bishop: Dismantling Systemic Racism

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Dear Friends in Christ,

The great theologian Karl Barth is said to have admonished preachers to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other — a call to view the world around us through the lens of faith. As I prepared to write to you this week, the headline of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel was, "Will protest lead to lasting change in Milwaukee," and the verse of Scripture that came to me were these words of the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, "one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13).

In some ways, this is a dangerous passage to quote. The truth is that forgetting the past is part of our problem. As Americans we need to not only remember our past - namely, that our nation was founded on the backs of enslaved persons and the genocide of native peoples — but also to repent of it and bear fruit that befits repentance. That fruit is the dismantled racism and the end of white privilege — the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream that a person is judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

The other verse of Scripture that comes to me is this, "No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). This passage from Luke's Gospel is one of my favorite verses of Scripture. It is a verse I believe we need to hear in so many ways today. This verse was the basis of the spiritual that later become the song, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," a song which also alludes to the passage from Philippians quoted earlier.

Will protest lead to change in Milwaukee? And in Madison, Racine, Kenosha, Fort Atkinson, Waukesha, Delafield, Mequon, Wisconsin Dells, Prairie du Chien, Richland Center and Platteville? Only if we keep our hand to the plow and keep working at it. Protesting and the naming of ills is easy. Working to dismantle the structures and systems that brought about the need to protest is the hard part.

And for those of us who have been privileged, the first step is humility. Last Sunday in our worship, we heard a beautiful rendition of the hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine." I still weep just thinking of it. Unfortunately, American hymnals have always omitted the third verse of the original hymn text. It reads,

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be
and lowliness become mine inner clothing
True lowliness of heart which takes the humbler part
and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

I mention this because the work of being an ally in this quest has to begin with listening to and following the lead of those who have been its victims. It means being willing to hear the hard truths that our sisters and brothers whose skin color is different from ours have to tell us and believing and accepting their experience. The task for us is to let persons of color lead and pledge our help and support. I have made a commitment to sit down with African American pastors in Madison and am willing to do the same everywhere in our diocese and follow their lead in the work of dismantling racism. I support and encourage all members of our diocese, especially the ordained, to do the same.

Will protest lead to change? I pray it will, just I pray that each mass shooting or senseless act of gun violence will be the last. But remember, we need to keep our hand on the plow. "No one who puts their hand on the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop of Milwaukee

Response to Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling from Bishop Miller

May 14, 2020

Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior. (Philippians 3:20)
 
Dear Friends in Christ,
 
The verse quoted above came to me when I learned yesterday afternoon that the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” order issued by the Governor and the Department of Health Services. Watching the news this morning, my television screen was filled with pictures of people gathered in Wisconsin bars at anything but a safe social distance. In fact, our state now has a F rating for Social Distancing according to local news reports.

This particularly saddens me because over the last two weeks I have been working with our Way Forward Task Force* to produce a plan with appropriate protocols to reopen our churches once Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back plan is initiated. The Way Forward Task Force is a group of people I’ve assembled made up of medical professionals and diocesan clergy to examine data and advice from public health officials as well as other dioceses and judicatories. It is my hope that the task force will complete its work shortly so that congregations will have ample opportunity to prepare to resume public worship in accordance with these guidelines. My fear is that behaviors in the aftermath of this early opening in parts of our State will make it necessary to delay resuming public worship because of a renewed outbreak of COVID-19 cases at numbers that exhaust our health care resources.

I know some of you are very anxious to return to in person worship. I would remind you of those much cherished words of the Apostle Paul found in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-8). In this situation, our love of our neighbor requires that all of us display these attributes of love now and as we move forward.

Because our citizenship is in heaven, the pastoral direction I issued on April 17 remains in force. Through May 31, churches in the diocese are not authorized to offer public worship. This court decision, and the subsequent response of many, may make it necessary for the safety of the members of the diocese to extend the pastoral direction for an even longer period of time.

My expectation, based on the advice of the task force, is that we will begin a phased re-opening for public worship 14 days after the initiation of Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back plan. I pray that day comes sooner rather than later.
 
Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop of Milwaukee
 

*Members of the Way Forward Task Force:
Amy Dunlop, MSN, PPCNP-BC, APNP; the Rev. Dave Mowers; the Rev. Geoff Ward; James Mahoney, MD; the Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller; William Berger, MD; the Rev. Bill Dunlop; Bishop Steven A. Miller

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