By now, you have probably heard that from Sept. 14-28, ChurchNext is offering a free class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. But you might not know much about these two bishops or what they have to offer to a conversation about gun violence. Today, we would like to introduce you to The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton. (Look for a similar blog post about Bishop Ian Douglas in the coming week.)
Eugene Sutton was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and grew up attending Baptist churches. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and earned his M.Div at Western Theological Seminary, after which he was ordained in the Reformed Church in America. He was a pastor at an RCA church in Michigan for five years, after which he returned to academic life as both a student and an instructor. He became an Episcopalian in 1992 and completed his Anglican Studies work at Sewanee in 1993. In the following years, he led four congregations in Trenton, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. He then served as canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral and director of its Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage.
Throughout his career, Bishop Sutton has focused special attention on contemplative Christianity and the discipline of centering prayer. In addition to leading conferences on this subject, in 1997, he founded Contemplative Outreach of Metropolitan Washington, which focuses on bringing centering prayer and a commitment to contemplative Christianity to churches in that area. He has published articles on contemplative prayer, and his contributions appear in The Diversity of Centering Prayer, a book published in 1999 containing ecumenical contributions on the method and history of centering prayer.
In 2008, Eugene Sutton was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland. He is the first African American bishop in a state with a large African American population, especially in Baltimore, its diocesan seat. The symbolic as well as literal importance of his election was not lost on Bishop Sutton, who noted at the time that the first Bishop of Maryland had been a slave owner, while Bishop Sutton himself is the descendant of slaves. In his role as Bishop, Eugene Sutton has been an outspoken advocate for oppressed people, speaking out out on controversial topics. He has made speeches and statements, for example, unequivocally supporting marriage equality and supporting the Maryland Dream Act (which offers undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at Maryland colleges.)
Bishop Sutton’s career choices have emphasized a deep, consistent commitment to reconciliation and to fighting social injustice. He spent much of his career at parishes in Washington, D.C. and Trenton, N.J., cities facing serious problems related to racial and economic injustice. As Bishop of Maryland, he has seen Baltimore through particularly violent and difficult times. With Bishop Ian Douglas and Bishop Mark Beckwith, he convened the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which explores options for reducing the rate of gun violence in the U.S. During the Baltimore riots in response to the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured in police custody and later died in April of 2015, Bishop Sutton wrote Weep and Pray for Baltimore, in which he mourns the violence that was occurring in Baltimore during that time and in which he examines and condemns the consistent racial and economic injustice that led to the riots.
Bishop Sutton has been a consistent voice in favor of social, racial, and economic justice and against the use of violence, particularly gun violence as a method of resolving conflicts. He is firm in his belief that “violence never works. Ever.” Later this month, we look forward to sharing with you his guidance on the Christian role in resisting gun violence in the United States.