Deacon William Seibert stands in the gap along one of the nation’s most volatile fault lines.
A 30-year veteran of law-enforcement, he retired as assistant superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
As an African American, he has had to deal with overt and subtle racial bias at the individual and systemic levels.
He draws on both experiences in observing the response to an African American man’s violent death by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“What bothers me most when I see the conflict, the violent protestors, is that people want to focus on them instead of the peaceful protesters,” he said. “At the same time, people focus on the bad police and not the good police.”
As a Catholic and an ordained member of the clergy, he believes the best, first response to the escalating unrest is prayer.
“Now’s the time to drop down to our knees and pray,” he said. “The answers are always there. They’re in that book we call the Bible.”
He believes that if more people would pray and allow God to respond to them through Scripture, there would be a lot less conflict.
“Especially in really troubling times like these, if you’re going to take a stance, I don’t think you can take a better one than doing God’s will and doing your best to practice Jesus’s teachings,” he stated.
Deacon Seibert learned measured restraint through decades of volatile situations when he was a highway patrolman and also while staring down racism directed at him and his family.
“What has helped me the most — and I’ve had to learn it over time — is making a choice to live in the will of God,” he said.
“It starts with simply treating people better and loving your neighbor,” he stated. “I don’t know how you can go wrong with that.”
Change from within
Mr. Seibert was born in England and spent his childhood in southeastern Washington, D.C., where the residents were predominantly black and the police were predominantly white.
Some of the interactions he saw between police and his friends helped make him want to go into law-enforcement.
“My belief was, if you want to help make change, the best way is to get involved in a place that you have a voice,” he said.
His family moved to east-central Missouri around the time he started high school.
It was a culture shock, and young Bill learned some words he had never heard before.
He attended Columbia College and majored in interdisciplinary studies.
He and his wife Rachelle were married in Kansas City in 1976. He joined the State Highway Patrol a year later.
They now have three adult sons and a grandson.
While living in the St. Louis area, the Seiberts attended St. Alphonsus “Rock” Church, a mostly African American congregation.
What appealed most to him was the pastor’s eagerness to address contemporary issues and challenge the congregation to put Jesus’s teachings into practice.
It convinced him to complete his initiation into the Catholic Church there in 1995.
Deacon Seibert used to meet sleights and affronts against him and his family with anger.
“One day, I realized I can’t do that anymore,” he said. “I’ve spent enough time in my life being angry, and I’ve overcome that, and I’m not going to go back to it.”
When necessary, he prefers to talk to people in private, sparing their dignity.
The Seiberts moved to Jefferson City in 1997 and became members of Immaculate Conception parish.
Deacon and Mrs. Seibert went through diaconal discernment and formation together, beginning in 2014.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight ordained him and 12 other permanent deacons last May.
Deacon Seibert said that aside from being a husband and father, becoming a deacon is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.
“I just love being in service mode,” he said. “It brings a calm, a charity, a worth, a real spiritual purpose, a daily challenge never to become complacent in your walk with Jesus.”
It is enough
Deacon Seibert believes that if ever there was an appropriate time for properly channeled anger, it’s now.
“I think we’re finally to the point where people are saying, ‘enough is enough,’” he said.
He has noticed that the demonstrations seem to be younger and more diverse.
“There seems to be more people from all races that are saying it’s time to make some changes and that they’re willing to do the hard work of making that happen,” he said.
Hate remains a major stumbling block.
“The hate that’s displayed by some people in law enforcement and the hateful reactions to that are not going to solve anything,” he asserted.
“One thing people have to learn on all sides is you cannot paint with a broad brush and just lump all people into the same category,” he said.
Deacon Seibert believes the perfect Bible passage to preach on in times like these is Mark 12:28-34, in which Jesus reveals the greatest of all of God’s commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“If you believe that deep down and practice it, I don’t see how you can go wrong,” said Deacon Seibert. “When you don’t believe those things, that’s when you start to go astray.”
He said evil takes advantage of the opportunity whenever people turn away from God and His teachings.
Deacon Seibert said he recognizes God’s presence in the struggles that are taking place.
“I see Him on the side of love,” he stated. “I don’t see Him in any of the hate that’s been involved on either side.”
He can no longer watch the video footage of George Floyd gasping for air while a police officer kneels on his neck.
“To see that much hate and to see where a person is that powerless, it’s just too painful,” he said.
It also hurts him to think about retired St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn, who was killed during a riot.
“I didn’t know him well, but I knew him,” said Deacon Seibert. “And the way he died at the hands of looters was just awful.”
“There is no purpose or justification for any of that,” he said.
He believes it will be impossible to improve relations among racial groups and between police and the people they are sworn to serve and protect, without help from God.
“We’re just not strong or wise enough,” said Deacon Seibert. “We can’t handle it without Him. What we need to be are obedient soldiers and follow the instructions He has given us.”
He believes the COVID-19 pandemic and the current civil unrest are reminding people of their total dependence on their Creator.
“Personally, I’m not strong enough to handle any of this by myself,” he said. “All my strength comes from God. Any time I try to take on things myself without letting God be in total control, that’s when I get in trouble.”
Each day, Deacon Seibert asks God for the wisdom to know when to stand up and speak, and when just to listen.
“It’s not about being in the middle,” he said. “It’s about being with God.”
He sees messages about respect and dignity woven through Scripture, and he takes them to heart.
“Respect begets respect,” he said. “On both sides.”
He talked about the overwhelming power of a sincere apology.
“You have to look into your own heart first and see what’s there, because you’re the only one who can do that,” he said.
“We all have our failings But rise up! Get back on track and go on living in the light of your Savior.”