The Diversity and Reconciliation Commission of The Diocese of West Missouri has successfully completed its first book study using “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. Thirty-six individuals and the entire Vestry of Calvary Church, Sedalia participated in this enlightening and powerful discussion over Zoom. Diversity and Reconciliation Commission chairperson, Shirley Bolden, facilitated the discussions related to race, justice, and mercy as described in Stevenson’s book. Participants were able to choose from several time slots when they would participate in the three consecutive sessions. Groups averaged eight people in attendance.
Participants had their own motivations for diving into this book study, but one group had a shared motivation. The Vestry of Calvary Church, Sedalia felt it was important for their ministry of leadership that they begin the work of addressing racial reconciliation as a leadership team. Mother Anne Kyle reports that “Calvary’s vestry felt that it was time to dip a toe into the waters of racial reconciliation and becoming an anti-racist congregation. Shirley Bolden gave us the perfect opportunity to begin!” Participants from Calvary included the priest, vestry, and several members of the congregation. They described the study in this way: “Shirley guided us in discussions that highlighted some of the history that led to the mass incarceration of black and brown persons and how long-standing systems and laws defeated the efforts at fair and reasonable treatment under the law.” Mother Anne and Calvary’s vestry “applaud the Commission on Diversity and Reconciliation for moving forward and not delaying this vital work.”
Calvary’s vestry felt that it was time to dip a toe into the waters of racial reconciliation and becoming an anti-racist congregation.
Each book study participant found a common experience with the group, but also found their own personal insights. Group member, Jeanne Goolsby, said “ I really enjoyed the “Just Mercy” book discussion. It was a nice way to connect with others and explore a complex topic, but do it in a safe way. The leadership made it interesting and the discussion was lively and compelling.” As facilitator, Ms. Bolden summarized the thoughts of many participants: “We had many positive responses to the study sessions. Through the many conversations, a lot of information was brought to the forth and the overall conclusion: Walter McMillian’s and other cases helped many understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent. Walter’s case taught us that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, or a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous.”
the real question of capital punishment in this country is, ‘Do we deserve to kill?’
There has never been a more relevant time to help our churches strengthen their understanding of issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Stevenson’s thoughts about the criminal justice system included, “Mass imprisonment has littered the national landscape with incarcerating monuments (prisons) of reckless and excessive punishment and ravaged communities with our hopeless willingness to condemn and discard the most vulnerable among us.” (The Epilogue-Bryan Stevenson shared at Walter’s Funeral) “the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, the real question of capital punishment in this country is, ‘Do we deserve to kill?'”
There has never been a more relevant time to help our churches strengthen their understanding of issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Diversity and Reconciliation Commission is committed to providing further book and movie studies that will inform our Christian understanding and commitment to racial reconciliation and God’s justice. I will leave you with this excerpt from the book:
Your Honor … It was far too easy to convict this wrongly accused man for murder and send him to death row for something he didn’t do and much too hard to win his freedom after proving his innocence. We have serious problems and important work that must be done …”Bryan Stevenson, in Walter McMillan’s case.