Haiti, among the largest of Episcopal Church Dioceses, ought to be a source of news and interest in the whole church. Instead there seems to be very little interest in either the Church of Haiti or the social context in which it finds itself. It comes into focus only when it is a proof-text for the inclusiveness and international character of The Episcopal Church (see, we are an international church, and our largest diocese is Haiti) or when we inadvertently (or perhaps on purpose) support the trope that Haiti, “the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” is incapable of self governance.That is, Haiti (the church in and the state of) arises by name in Church news only when bragging rights or prejudicial judgement is wanted.
This may sound harsh, but I can come to no other conclusion.
Some matters seem small:
• The committees and commissions of The Episcopal Church have very few members from Haiti.
• Translation at church-wide gatherings are much less often translated into French than into Spanish.
• Almost nothing in the Canons of the Church make allowances for the differences in political and legal structures in which a number of our dioceses are situated.
Some matters are great:
• There is little call for prayer for the people of Haiti when there is civil, economic or heath crises in Haiti, or when the church itself is in need of spiritual support.
• There is almost no church-wide call to remember the needs of the Haitian Church and peoples in their days of extreme need.
• Following the earthquake eleven years ago the initial rush to assist the Diocese and people of Haiti was followed by reserve, resistance and reluctance because of perceived internal problems of governance in the Diocese. As those problems have dragged on, there has been little effort to reengage. Haiti has become a pariah.
• There is almost nothing we seem to learn FROM Haiti or the Church in Haiti.
We have, on matters great and small, averted our gaze.
There have been great efforts by the Presiding Bishop and his staff to support the Diocese in its working through issues of governance and leadership. And the Church has continued to support the basic functioning of the Diocese. A number of diocese and parishes have continued to support mission in Haiti and specific programs and institutions. But the overwhelming reaction to Haiti and its work, concerns, issues and troubles, is … silence.
The form that averting our gaze takes is troublesome. It parallels and in some ways mimics our attention to issues of systemic racism. We will take the glory for the great heroes of faith in Haiti… Bishop James Theodore Holly. We will tout our international character by celebrating that Haiti is among our largest dioceses. But we do not learn from them, because they are black.
• No one seriously suggests that we might reimagined our sense of the episcopate along the self-giving ministry of Holly. Celebrate him, yes. Emulate him, no.
• No one asks why the church in Haiti grows, even in adverse circumstances, even as the Church in the US is shrinking. Apparently the Episcopal Church in the United States of America feels it has little to learn from the Episcopal Church of Haiti.
• No one seems to wonder if our attitude towards the Church in Haiti is prejudiced against that church such that every problem that happens there is seen as a problem of basic inadequacy of Haitians. We never seem to want to explore the possibility that we are echoing the trope long held against Haiti, which is that black people are incapable of self-government. That trope was a means of discounting the Haitian Revolution, a revolt against slavery and slave owners.
At this time there are remarkable parallels in the unfolding of events in Haiti and the US. And that is true for the church as well. And yet there seems to be no interest in learning from one another. There is little dialogue about shared concerns for faithful response to national calamities and internal divisions in the church. Worse, there is almost complete silence about church division happening in Haiti, except to hint that perhaps nothing better could be expected.
If we do not work harder and better concerning our engagement with the Church in Haiti we will loose that church not because it established its own life as a national church, but because we stood by and watched it burn. We need not only to continue supporting the work of the Episcopal Church of Haiti, we need to do so with great resolve… the resolve to engage with the people and church of Haiti so that we might learn with them how to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances with hope in God’s grace working among us. Otherwise, in our hard days to come we will have learned nothing and we will continue to shrink, and the Church in Haiti will know the abandonment that the whole of Haiti has known at the hands of those who always begin articles on Haiti by saying, “Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.”
We can do better than this. Prayer and accompaniment is the place to begin.