State of the Country: 2021
To Bishop James Levert Davis, the presiding prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, to Arelis Beevers Davis, our beloved Episcopal Supervisor, Co-Host Presiding Elders Chester W. Morris and Samuel E. Hayward III, to all the clergy and laypersons assembled, your Committee on the State of the Country presents the following report in six parts:
No other concern of the past year excelled the devastation of the coronavirus as it swept over country after country, leaving broken businesses, heart-stricken families and an ever-mounting death rate in its wake. It astonished Americans to see how quickly some other nations had prepared for the worst so that their numbers had been largely mitigated. We were even more shocked when we noticed the lack of preparation our own government had made to deal with the most virulent effects of the disease once it had reached our shores. Indeed, though the alarms had been sounded by our medical professionals and our most able scientists well before that time, the Trump administration demurred with shameless negligence and a pitched incompetence so nakedly exposed in the aftermath that it was nothing short of criminal. Nearly a year after the scourge had penetrated our borders the number of our dead outnumbered every other country in the world at more the 500,000.
In State after State, governors sought to keep pace with the disease in its all too rapid spread. They mandated masking, social distancing, the closing of businesses and churches where large numbers of people could be expected to gather and reduced discretionary travels for all citizens. The effort fell short again and again and led to over stretched and overwhelmed hospitals and exhausted professional health care workers. The country reeled and yet the nation’s leader preened and posed and pouted about how unfair the press treated him. He heaped scorn upon the heads of Democrats and anyone else who dared criticize his dismissal of the virus as something akin to the flu that would magically vanish, like a miracle, when warm weather came. Foolishly, too many believed him and even now too many have sworn to eschew the use of the vaccines that our doctors have prescribed as effective countermeasures to the accursed virus.
Nonetheless, our pharmaceutical companies, in league with the Center for Disease Control and national laboratories have developed effective vaccines in a program designated “warp speed.” Their herculean efforts have turned out at least three approved drugs. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson have powerful vaccines that States administer in ever increasing numbers to their populations. At the time of this writing more than 44,000,000 persons have now received a complete dosage with 2,600,000 doses administered each day. Staying the course will eventually see a return to a form of life that most Americans will be able to recognize as one in which they might thrive once more.
II. THE NATIONAL ELECTION
This past year called for citizen engagement in a most particularly concerted effort to determine what our leadership should look like, sound like and act like for the next four years. Donald Trump’s presidency by any honest scale or measure exceeded all in memory for depravity, cruelty, stupidity and incompetence. It was not surprising that Congress found it necessary to impeach him, not only once, but twice within two years. His administration’s assault on children, on women, on African Americans, on Asian Americans, on Latina Americans, on Jewish Americans, on gay and transgendered Americans and more besides left many Americans appalled and horrified to see the curdling venom that Trump, himself, had unleashed upon the land. His most ardent supporters subscribed to dangerous and fantastical conspiracy theories with which they radicalized each other into convulsive acts of violence, the worst of which ended in an insurrection in the nation’s capital on the very day, January 6th, the Congress was duty bound to verify the electoral count that would make Joseph Biden our next President. When the dust had cleared at least five people had died and more that 140 had been injured. Each death was directly attributable to the violence of a mob incited to broach the sacred building of democracy when the deposed President, Donald Trump, aimed them and threw them like a hand grenade toward our Congressional leaders. Even now the police and the FBI have taken into custody many of the perpetrators from that fateful and ignominious day with more arrests yet to come.
Happily, the attempted insurrection was but a last gasp of Trump supporters to keep him in office though he had been soundly thrashed during the election. Joseph Biden, along with his history making Vice Presidential running mate, Kamala Harris, had managed to win by a margin so convincing (more than 7,000,000 votes) that people erupted with ecstatic glee that Trump’s departure from office was assured. The AME Church played a pivotal role in this effort, organizing at the grassroots level, through our churches and in cooperation with likeminded partners. Voting was never more imperative for all of our eligible citizens and we developed tactics, strategies and means to secure that vote in numbers beyond what normally have been expected in any other election year.
The criminal justice system in the United States verily screams for a complete overhaul. Policing kills rather than saves when dealing with Black men and women, boys and girls. Assessment of penalties and sentencing guidelines are corrupted by biases that leverage the whole court apparatus against black and brown people while coddling white offenders. Blatant acts of egregious brutality employed when police confront our people are too easily excused leaving black and brown people distressed and angry, especially in instances when those of our children who have been killed in encounters with the police were later found to have been innocent of any crime. There is no doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement has been a worthy catalyst for nonviolent confrontation with these inarguable injustices. It is also notable that those mothers who lost their sons and daughters to police violence have in some instances successfully pursued election to high office in Congress where they might make the most of their effort to stare down the naysayers about criminal justice reform.
The pandemic caused nearly irreparable damage to our economy because of business closures, factory shutdowns and stalls in manufacturing. People lost their jobs, banks foreclosed on houses, people could not pay their rent, and the poorest of our people even began to starve. The economy went into recession and needed a stimulus beyond the pitiful sum Republicans would permit. Once Biden was in office and after Georgia’s special election for two new senators sent Rev. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff to Washington for the slimmest of margins favoring the Democrats in the Senate, a very ambitious legislative project to stimulate the economy, to rescue faltering households and to lift nearly half of our children out of poverty, passed in both chambers of Congress. When Biden signed the act into law it constituted a singularly audacious and progressive achievement early on in his first term. That forceful act of government assistance, at the same time that an aggressive campaign of vaccinations is underway, augurs well for our country’s recovery from a lethal illness and from economic disaster.
The nation’s fever of racial hatred has long endured over the entire life of this republic. Never more evident was its noxious strain than in this past year when its pitched fury raped the capital. Its more deadly and consequential form, however, was in State legislatures all over the country enacting laws aimed at suppressing wider voter turnout. Invariably, this meant the imposition of rules and prohibitions that sharply delimited Black participation in the democratic process. Our country’s people of good will are increasingly aware of this ugly heritage of white racial resentment, its execrable will to power and its hollow claims of white pride. Its manifestation is nearly universally accompanied with violence, the destruction of property and the murder of anyone who is not white. Asian Americans lament the rising tide of white animus toward them and Native Americans harbor a well-earned mistrust of white promises after a long history of broken treaties and outright genocide.
This racial divide, deeply excavated and ever broadly expanding, even now has bedeviled our nation from the earliest days of slavery into the current moment. It has tasked the nation’s character and its will to do what is just and good. Too often both have been found wanting. Still, white privilege has come to be widely acknowledged as a spiritual ailment the soul of our nation can no longer sustain nor abide. The spiritual rescue of our country from this curse is our cross to bear and our cross to share with people who are compelled and persuaded, as we are, when they hear the call of love to care for all God’s people and for all God’s creatures.
In this all too brief survey we have lifted the most visible of our country’s misadventures. We have not included, for example, what we would necessarily have covered in any other year: the continual stresses of global warming to our world and the ever-widening chasm of achievement between black and brown students and their white counterparts. We do not mean to suggest that these issues do not require our attention. They most emphatically do! We have attempted here instead to provide in broad strokes the salient features of national life.
With that in mind, we beg the conference’s indulgence to offer the following recommendations:
- That each church seeks to provide ample education concerning the available vaccines to the people they serve. Let each one sponsor a clinic to hasten distribution easily and efficiently so that the effects of the virus will have been substantially reduced. In this way we may shorten the time that separates us from one another in fellowship and in the beauty of worship in our sanctuaries.
- That the AME Church provide a handbook detailing the efforts that afforded us such great success in “getting out the vote.” This was a proud moment in the life of our church that summoned all our energies and our faith to be an effective cause agent for truth and justice in national affairs. Beyond voting, let us continue to encourage our ablest people to run for elective office. We have seen what is possible now that we elected our very first HBCU graduate, a woman of Indian and African ancestry to the second highest office in the land. Celebration should include imitation.
- To educate our people concerning work, wealth and risk in an unstable period of economic insecurity. We must be armed with knowledge about how to save, how to invest and how to spend. We need to show our people the strength of acting concertedly and cooperatively to leverage our economic power to achieve our collective ends. Economics should not and cannot be allowed to master our people but it must become a source of wisdom we may wield for building security during times of scarcity.
- There can be no just movement in police reform, and in criminal justice without sustained agitation in the form of protest, high profile commentary in print and before cameras and a unified effort to curtail ongoing attempts to grow the accursed empire of incarceration. Criminal justice has been polluted with the insertion of private interests to expand “jails for profit.” Alert citizens must actively resist this vile form of exploitation. Benighted citizens must be awakened to the atrocity of jails being built beneath their very noses for the express purpose of locking up their own children.
- White supremacy is a white fantasy we must dispel. We cannot assert a black superiority in response, for that would undercut the moral power of any argument to dismantle racism of any kind. Rather, we must reaffirm our commitment, bred of our Christian faith, to the dignity of all peoples. We believe that all persons were created in the image of God and so we must assert that our walk is in the company of our neighbors and for the sake of our neighbors that they may flourish as God intended.
We are always inspired by Douglass’ words, those with which we began this report. His spirit is our just inheritance and our north star. His vision was always critical of a country drifting in an ungodly direction of license and folly. But that vision was always deployed for the sake of securing a real and genuine freedom for all. Douglass’ calling and his mission commanded all of his skill, intelligence, energies and appetites. His was the truest patriotism of all. We are his children and the promise of his dream that God has supplied us resource from a bounty divine to change the world as we see it into the world as it ought to be. We are encouraged that the spirit of Douglass is our prosperity, our protection and our prize, but beyond that, it is our faith, our fortune, and our felicity to see what we can make of freedom if we but hold to God’s unchanging hand.
Respectfully submitted by the members of the Committee on the State of the Country to the One Hundred Fifty-fifth Session of the Virginia Annual Conference in the year of our Lord, 2021.
Rev. Edward A. Scott, Chair of the Committee on The State of the Country