Statement from Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning on the Arizona Referendum

Episcopal News Service. November 29, 1990 [90314]

The Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church will go to Phoenix. The business of the church is to witness to the Gospel, and that is exactly what we will do in Arizona. As Dr. King himself said, "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state...." We are called to be that conscience, and we accept that call.

I am well aware that the National Football League has decided it will express its disapproval of the referendum by choosing not to go to Arizona. We do not have that choice. We are in this for the long haul. We cannot turn our backs on the injustice dealt to minorities, including our Native American brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Navajoland who have long looked upon our coming to Arizona as an opportunity to lift up their special concerns.

There are people of good faith in Arizona who are working and fighting to overcome prejudice. The fight has been a very bruising one, and they need our support. I have today talked to a number of African Americans in Arizona, who have assured me that our presence would strengthen their cause. We will therefore stand with them and together make a vigorous witness for the dignity of all God's people. We are now in the very early stages of planning a witness against racism that will permeate the entire fabric of our convention. Our convention theme, "Seek and Serve Christ in All Creation," is a reminder to us of why we need to be in Arizona. We are called to make this witness there because it is our General Convention site. However, we must not, in a spirit of self-righteousness, point fingers at any one part of our nation. Racism is sickness that afflicts our entire society.

Plans at this time call for our witness to begin on the King holiday in January when I will go to Phoenix and honor the memory of Dr. King and his vision of a nonracist society. The city of Phoenix has an active celebration of that day, and members of our church will take part in it.

I am beginning to consult with church leaders, particularly African-American Episcopalians, and African Americans from Arizona. Together we are planning how we can witness most effectively and make our presence felt as we live into the ideals of justice and empowerment so well articulated by Dr. King. Our plans will begin to take shape over the next weeks. Already confirmed is that our brother Desmond Tutu will stand with us when we go to Arizona. He has accepted my invitation to take part in a Rally Against Racism on July 10. The witness of Archbishop Tutu, known around the world for his struggles against racism, will be a powerful way to begin our General Convention.

When I visited with members of the Arizona legislature last winter to support the passage of the successful bill on the King holiday, I said that I was not issuing threats about not coming to Arizona. I went on to say that I believed that they were confronting a moral issue of deep significance. Dr. King had a dream of what this country could be if we were able to find racial equality. Observing a holiday in his name goes beyond honoring him and reminds us of his vision. It reminds us of who we are called to be as God's people.

We will go to Arizona and live the dream.