Sexual Assault: A Violation of God’s Body, a Necessary Editorial – by the Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas

This has been a difficult week for me. I noticed a distinct change in my mood after the Presidential debate on Sunday night. I knew that something was very wrong with what I witnessed. I knew it intellectually and the clearest signal that something was extraordinarily out of alignment was when my body began to “speak.” Memories flooded my mind.

From “Eminence” – a photographic project at Brown University (HBCU).

I have been ordained for thirty-five years and in that time, whether it was during the time I worked with youth, single young adults, or married women, the fact is that assault – sexual, verbal, physical, emotional – was a significant part of a narrative I heard and responded to pastorally.

It was also a narrative to which I could speak personally.

So, when I heard my friend Michelle Obama say, “(This has) shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” during her impassioned speech, I felt a congruence with that statement. Michelle said what I knew but did not yet have words for. Something within me asked, “Who will speak to what has happened from a perspective of faith?”

When it comes to asking that sort of question, we are all shaped by a number of factors. On the Meyers-Briggs Inventory, I am an Introvert (close to an E because my role as professor/pastor/prophet calls me to act like an Extrovert); and also N/S, that is, I am Intuitive when I feel safe, and Sensate when I believe I have to be guarded (usually around issues of safety in my immediate environment). I am solidly a T-Thinking and J-Judging, meaning that I am inclined towards assessing situations, doing analysis and evaluation. I give this background because, like Moses, I did not and do not want to speak to “this” issue of sexual assault but I feel called to say a FEW words, as much as my introvert self would like to eschew that responsibility. Pain compels me to speak.

Lady Gaga, surrounded by survivors of sexual assault, after performing her song about her experiences recovering from her own sexual assault from 2006, “Till it Happens to You.”

First, people of faith – whether rostered or lay – need to be culturally competent around issues of sexual assault.  Sexual assault breeds a culture that normalizes women being objectified, demeaned, and unsafe at the pleasure of men. It is a violation beyond imagination that ruptures if not shatters a woman’s body and spirit.

Depending on the person’s constitution and the power dynamics between the victim and the abuser, one may be forced to cut off a part of herself or himself in order to function. This is much more then splitting oneself. It is a survival mechanism that numbs one’s spirit and may interfere and/or block one’s potential. In sum, sexual assault as well as other assaults is similar to cutting off a part of one’s being while that person still has to function, but with a sense of loss that deadens emotional nerves. Needless to say, it can also dramatically inhibit or damage someone’s ability to enjoy the good gifts of sexuality as God’s good creation.

Because “good people often minimize these experiences” one learns to suppress feelings which, in turn, often causes an ongoing disorienting trauma; yet, the victim must press on with day-to-day living. So, when Trump’s words from the Howard Stern tape as well as the “Access Hollywood” video were played repeatedly for many women, children, and men [or people who may or may not identify with these identities], may have felt something that had been dormant begin to stir within. I wrote elsewhere, “What the mind forgets, the body remembers,”[1] and for many those memories stored in the deep freezer of our bodies began to thaw.


That’s what happened to me, and it became worse as the week progressed. I was a wreck—not being able to focus or process clearly, having my sleep interrupted. Sometimes I would just contemplate in utter disbelief of what Donald Trump’s words unleashed in our public discourse. It was evil and vile. I wanted to close my daughter’s ears as well as my own.  I was angry, absolutely livid–the one emotion that my superego keeps “under control” lest people experience me as an “angry black woman” and call the police, which as we all know can result in my being put in jail, or shot.

Intersectionality creeps in and I don’t know which one to process. All I know is that I cannot get angry, but God damn it (and I mean that quite literally and in full awareness of the theological implications) I am outraged, because sexual assault is violating God’s body and that’s what Donald Trump did and boasted about. God help this man, yes, this child of God who in my mind has no functioning superego and is mostly id gone wild. Even with all of this craziness, I return to the promises of my faith, “God cannot be trumped.”[2] I, along with others, may flourish given time and safe space.

What are ministerial leaders called to do in such a time as this? We can use the methods employed in the Public Church curriculum at LSTC.

First, we need to listen to Narratives, understanding the macro-narratives that are dominant in our culture and society because of power. Be mindful to listen for what people whose personal agency is unrealized and therefore may not express themselves with words but rather with body movement, facial expressions, and mood swings are speaking in the depths of these actions and signs. Check in with yourself—what is your narrative? Do you hold a story that someone told you about being sexually or otherwise assaulted? Did you witness the violation of a loved one as a child? (I did).


Second, do some simple ethnography—notice what’s going on around you. Most importantly, read the emotional landscape. That is, read the culture to which you are most closely connected at home, at church, at work, in your daily comings and goings. Third, consider being involved in Congregationally Based Community Organizing that deals with deeply embedded with layers that support racism, sexism, classism and are lodged in institutions that are patriarchal and often fully misogynistic. We witnessed the institution of a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America on a public stage attempt to humiliate the first woman nominated for the presidency of the US, and we also witnessed this woman have to answer for her husband’s behavior, be called “the devil,” be threatened to be imprisoned, and be told that she should be ashamed of herself for her actions towards three women who committed adultery with her husband.

This was shameless and, yes, it was the assault of a woman on a global stage. I just want to weep as Jesus did as he entered Jerusalem.

Things will change when we organize. Don’t think that Donald Trumps’ behavior is normative – call it out for what it is. But recognize too that, while it might not be normal, it does reflect deeply embedded patterns of patriarchy and systems in our country. As Lutheran theologian Robert Saler puts it, “He is the lump that signals the cancer in the body politic that the collective mind of that body would prefer to deny.”[3] Support women who are telling their stories from 35 years ago. Offer them the gift of listening and think of ways you can join others to serve the interests of the vulnerable.


Finally, know that forgiveness is the last step.[4]

Yes, that is what I said.

Premature forgiveness is like cheap grace—it is harmful and oversteps the process of restorative justice. Let yourself and help others to work through feelings. Give yourself and others the space to get through actions that occurred decades ago. And know that intersectionality complexifies things for women of color who are the descendants of enslaved people, or historically dominated people as well as marginalized folks who do not identity with their birth-gender. These children of God are violated often and brutally. Support people in getting help for themselves and, most importantly, be loving toward yourself and those with rekindled painful memories. Presence is sometimes more important than offering words that may be more harmful then helpful.

Thank you for listening to my narrative.  May your life and those you love flourish!

ThomasLinda sittingDr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for thirty-one years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. An ordained Methodist pastor for 35 years with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.


Donald Trump tells Billy Bush about trying to have sex with a married woman in a video obtained by the Washington Post. Trump said it was ‘locker room’ banter.

Saturday Night Live gives a comedic spoof of the Bobby Bush/Trump video.

BuzzFeed has rounded up audio of Trump speaking out about various women through the years – and he doesn’t hold back.

Within days of the video, other women have come forward sharing their stories of being harassed by Trump.

And still more women come forward.

Donald Trump calls these newer allegations against him “False smears” – from the NY Times.

A New York Times article about how deflecting and gaslighting cause problems for women seeking acknowledgment of having been sexually assaulted.

[1] Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm,” Cross Currents, Summer 1998, Vol. 48 Issue 4.

[2] Otis Moss III sermon, “stay woke,” September 4, 2016.

[3] Robert Saler, personal communication, 14 October 2016.

[4] Forgiveness: The Last Step by Marie M. Fortune in Carol J. Adams & Marie M. Fortune, Eds. Violence against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook (Continuum 1995) pp. 201-206


#decolonizeCoffeeHour – Elle Dowd, M. Div. Candidate, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Picture 002For all its richness, the life of a woman is always strewn with negotiations and escapes. The current climate of today’s presidential election has all-too-clearly unleashed a rampant and open sexism unprecedented in recent years, the repercussions of which will likely continue well into the weeks and years after the election. It is in this climate, then, that seminarian Elle Dowd shares her thoughts (first published here) on a simple and effective way that the church can make sure that women’s lives and bodies (as well as the bodies of children, men, trans folk, people of color etc…) are respected and supported, and never degraded: consent. Read, comment, and share.

This is not another #decolonizeLutheranism post about food.

This is a #decolonizeLutheranism post about consent.

This is a post about the way that the patriarchy colonizes bodies as they colonize land, and the way the Church is complicit.


Sunday mornings are the mornings I love. I love coming together to sing, to pray, to eat, to learn. I love hearing scripture. I love hearing preaching or getting to preach.

But there are two parts of the morning that fill me with dread: the passing of the Peace and coffee hour. The times most ripe for socializing. The times when I know I’m going to be touched.

How truly, tragically ironic is it, that when it’s time to pass the peace I feel so much anxiety? This is a time when we have just been reminded that we are forgiven. We have been absolved. And so we are invited to pass the peace of God around to our neighbors. It should be a time of easing nerves, not a time of fear.

And yet every time I reach out my hand for a handshake and I am pulled in for a too long, too tight hug (or sometimes even a kiss), I am reminded that to the church, my body is not my own. Every time I put out my hand and I’m told, dismissively, “We hug here!” as I’m pulled in against my will, I’m reminded that to the Church, their own norms matter more than my bodily autonomy.

To some people, this might seem like a leap or exaggeration. But as a survivor of sexual abuse and sexual assault, I am very aware of the times that my body is not my own. Moments like these are microaggressions, actions that might not seem like a big deal on their own, but when they happen over and over and over and over and are happening in front of the backdrop of a society entrenched in patriarchy, these seemingly little instances have large implications and deeper impact. Because these incidents are not isolated but are instead part of a patriarchal system, they serve to reinforce that system.

Groundbreaking text on microagressions and the chruch.

The Church throughout the ages has benefited from and been complicit in patriarchy, of centering cis-men and their seemingly unquenchable need to dominate and control, to colonize. Colonization in the traditional sense involves land. In the broader sense, it involves taking over something that is not yours and declaring yourself in charge of it.

Colonization also involves bodies.

White men throughout history have stolen land through imperialism, and stolen bodies through slavery, and subjugated bodies still, today, through religiously based laws and theologies about sexuality and morality that disproportionately affect women and gender non conforming persons. And because colonization deals in the currency of conquered and commodified bodies, colonization has a real body count. In and out of our churches, women and gender nonconforming persons are being abused and the church is not only silent, we are complicit.

We are complicit in the ways that we perpetuate rape culture instead of a culture of consent even within our own spaces of worship. The way we do things sends a message:

Women’s bodies and bodies of GNC  (gender non-conforming) persons are public property.

This shows up in our worship and it shows up in our theology. When we spend so much energy controlling women’s bodies and controlling LGBTQ+ involvement and yet ignore the lack of consent culture in our churches that runs rampant during the passing of the peace and coffee hour, it’s clear that this theology is really about control and domination and not actually about sexual ethics and respect and safety.

It happens to me, as a white woman. It happens even more to women or GNC people with other intersecting identities that we exoticize, infantilize, or put on display. It also happens in different ways. While men kiss my cheek to “thank me” for my sermon (something I assure you my husband does not endure), a white person might pet a Black woman’s Afro during coffee hour. Or, I’ve seen many many times where an adult will pinch a child’s cheek. And all without first seeking consent.

I’ve experienced too much sexual harassment within the Church, too much slut shaming, too much queer bashing. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in this. And outside of the Church when I’ve experienced these things in public or in the community, the Church has been largely silent.

So what can the Church do, to detangle itself from rape culture, to relinquish its claim on our bodies, to decolonize? The duty is two-fold: root out this evil that manifests inside the church and then also lead and be a voice for change in the world.


Within the Church, we can teach our congregations about consent.

This means talking about sex, yes, and making sure our churches are SAFE church compliant. It means accountability for that guy in leadership that is handsy with the female parishioners. It means preaching and teaching on rape culture and thinking critically about the language we use to talk about God. It means calling out microaggressions. It means deconstructing horrific stories of rape throughout scripture. It means all of those things.

It also means granting people in our pews bodily autonomy and modeling it on every level. It means talking about times like coffee hour or the passing of the peace where touching often happens, and teaching and preaching that people must consent to your touch, even down to the handshake.

It means during rituals where there is touching or a laying of hands, we ask participants “Is this ok with you?” and we make it ok to say “no.”

When I lead youth events, part of our time of rules and expectations centers around keeping the space safe. The youth lead this session and demonstration. They speak out against heteronormativity, misogyny, racism, ableism. They also give a short training on consent. They model, through role playing, how to ask for a hug and how to tell from peoples body language if someone is uncomfortable. They affirm over and over to everyone present that their bodies are their own, and that no one deserves to feel uncomfortable because of the way someone else is treating them. Especially in church.

No one is entitled to another persons body. Not even the Church. And when we act as if we are, we are taking something that doesn’t belong to us. We are being colonizers.

And while there is much work to be done within the Church around dismantling rape culture and cultivating a culture of consent, there is also a call for the Church to be a light in the world. The Church must be present and public and loud around devastating examples in the news like #BrockTurner. The Church must support legislature that promotes bodily autonomy. The Church must show up for women and GNC people who are not in our pews and who are out in the world, especially in light of things like the Pulse massacre, and say, “I’m sorry for the ways the Church has failed. How can we make this right?” and then listen.

If we want to #decolonizeLutheranism, we must #decolonizecoffeehour and the peace and laying of hands and youth group lock-ins and ANY space that is vulnerable to falling prey to a lack of consent culture. Decolonizing means giving up our ownership over each others bodies. And we must do so.

For the sake of liberation, and for the sake of the Christ who came in a body to redeem our bodies and who sets us free.


ellefamElle Dowd is a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA and 1st year MDiv student at LSTC. She is a founding member of the movement to #decolonizelutheranism. She has background in youth ministry and global ministry, particularly in Sierra Leone, and has interests in queer and feminist/womanist theology and liberation theology.

On the Plus Side – Day Hefner

Linda Thomas at CTS eventFat-shaming is everywhere. In comedy routines, fashion magazines, even presidential campaigns, the United States is saturated with the idea – to quote this week’s author, Day Hefner – that “fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.” Day makes a painstakingly passionate case for raising awareness of and abolishing fat-shaming, decrying it as the soul-crushing tool of evil and capitalism that it is. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

During the first evening of a constructive theology class I’m taking this semester, our professor invited us into a discussion about “single narratives” – stories told from a single point of view that become the only story for a place or a people.  She then asked us to reflect on the single narratives that each of us has lived out in our own lives.


This is my story.

As a woman, according to the dominant culture, my primary value as a person is determined by what I look like.  As a fat woman, that means that I have no value.  I am worthless, lazy and undisciplined, uneducated, irresponsible, and unworthy of love.

There are noble, caring people in my life who do their best to reassure me that I’m not really that fat, that I’m still close to a ‘socially acceptable’ range.

Because it goes without question that fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.

There are well-meaning family members who take it upon themselves to ‘encourage’ me every time they see me. They also update me about all about the latest diet trends.  Consistently, they carefully walk me through how to use their favorite fitness app, because maybe the reason I’ve declined to use it the last dozen times they showed it to me was just that I didn’t understand it.  I have “such a pretty face,” they say.  But my fat body can’t be beautiful.  My family worries because fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.

My doctor prescribes diet and exercise for everything from my joint pain to the skin condition on my feet, because fat is the root of all malady.  She knows that the healthiest thing to tell me is that I take up too much space, that I need to shrink myself in order to be acceptable, no matter how positive other indicators of my health may be.  Because it goes without question that fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.


The up-coming New Yorker cover, featuring Donald Trump as a beauty queen.

The places I shop for my clothes – all online, of course, because nobody wants fat people or fat people clothes in their stores – promise to provide me with clothing that is “slimming,” that will “control” my “tummy” and hide my body, so that no one else has to see it.  Because everyone knows that fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.

The dating websites I frequent now after the recent end of a two year relationship have thoughtful and discreet euphemisms for bodies that look like mine, ranging from “curvy” to “full-figured.”  And many of the people looking to get matched up on these sites have found a number of creative and socially acceptable ways to signal their one cardinal rule: No fat chicks.  Because, when selecting a partner, being fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.

On the rare occasion I see bodies like mine represented in the media, our size and body shapes are often referred to as an “epidemic,” a disgusting plague that is sweeping the nation.  In street footage, our soft, overflowing bodies are displayed from the neck down like attractions at a carnival sideshow.  In romantic comedies, we fat women are the zany punishment for men who lose bets.  On TV, only “good fatties” are even allowed to show their faces – those who exercise religiously and eat only salads and show appropriately remorseful self-loathing for the size and shape of their body.

We are never allowed to forget that being fat is the worst thing you could possibly be.


This is the narrative that I have steadily absorbed over my 3+ decades of living on this planet, in this country.  Over the course of my life, from being relentlessly bullied as a child to being “fatcalled” on the street as a thirty-something adult, each act of aggression, however minor, has sought to erase my identity apart from my fatness, erode my sense of self worth, and literally make me smaller and smaller until I virtually disappear.  NONE of those aggressions ever made me better or healthier; instead, this lifelong assault has left me with deep scars that have permanently shaped who I am as a human being.

It’s time for this narrative to stop.

The fact is, being fat is NOT the worst thing you could possibly be. 

Fat is not the problem. 

Gabi Fresh and friends.

The problem is the IDEA that fat is the worst thing that you could possibly be.  This idea is called fatphobia, and it is a pathology of our culture.  It often hides behind the guise of concern for one’s health – though I’ve yet to see a similar stigma crop up around anyone with broken bones or cancer or diabetes – and it manifests itself as straight up body shaming.

Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing: NO ONE deserves to be shamed for what her or his their body looks like.  Full stop.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  Each and every body is a miracle, knit together with atoms and elements forged in the hearts of stars and filled with the spark of life.  All bodies are good bodies, fashioned lovingly by a Creator who deemed their creation very good.  And all bodies are expressions of who we are – the scars, the fat rolls, the wrinkles, the tattoos, the stretch marks, the achy joints – all these bear witness to the lives we have lived and the people we have become.  The stories of our lives have been written on our bodies; every inch of them is rich with meaning.  Every inch is a testament to our bodies’ incredible capacity to heal, to move, to create, to endure, to love.

From the “All Bodies are Good Bodies” campaign.

But fat bodies, much like bodies of color and disabled bodies, are all too often treated like public property to be evaluated, commented upon, and even targeted for violence.  The rich stories they tell are ignored or reduced to a single word.  Some of this may be done with good intentions.  But regardless of whether someone genuinely thinks they are trying to “help” – by offering unsolicited dieting advice or criticism, or whatever – by singling out and assigning judgment to one particular physical attribute of a person’s body, they are actively contributing to the harm perpetuated upon bodies perceived as “nonconforming.”

At heart, fatphobia is not a medical issue – nor even really a social one – it is an economic issue.  The $60 billion dollar a year diet industry is capitalism at its finest, part of an entire complex of industries aimed particularly at women, to undermine our self-value and turn a profit on propping up our deliberately eroded self-confidence.  It broke my heart recently when an “average” sized friend of mine confessed that gaining a mere ten pounds had unexpectedly set off fears that her husband would leave her because she was now so “unlovable.”  This is precisely the vulnerability that such a system is designed to create and perpetuate.

However, dear readers, we can stop this.  We can literally stop buying into the idea that fat is inherently bad, and start telling a different story about fat bodies.  I know it will probably take a lot more than a single article to unlearn such a deeply internalized narrative, and in that interest, I strongly urge you to check out the work of body positivity activists like Virgie Tovar, Jes Baker, Gabi Fresh, Your Fat Friend, Allison Epstein, and many others.  We can take action to change the economic systems that perpetuate fatphobia and we can also begin to make life-altering changes for ourselves and for our fat friends in our own lives right now.  We can counteract the never-ending onslaught of negativity toward fatness by emphasizing the whole, beautiful personhood of fat people, just as they are.  We can support and love those who have been most directly harmed by fatphobia, and work to educate those who perpetuate it.

#DropTheTowel – a campaign for body positivity that covers women and trans bodies.


Above all, we can learn to love ourselves – RIGHT. NOW. – no matter what we weigh or what we look like, where we come from, what color our skin is, or what our bodies can do.  In the face of everything that conspires to teach us what to hate about ourselves – our culture, our media, the diet/pharmaceutical/beauty/fitness industry – it is a profoundly radical act of resistance simply to love ourselves, exactly as we are.


Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant Ted Talk,“Danger of a Single Story,” on the process of subverting enforced identities – also the inspiration for this post.

Day Hefner’s own blog, “This Is the Day,” a collection of reflections, sermons, and poetry.

The personal website of body image activists Virgie Tovar and Jes Baker.

Fat Fashionista and blogger, Gabi Fresh

A wonderful Facebook group called Your Fat Friend

The wonderful webpage of Allison Epstein, commentarian and managing editor of Adios Barbie, a website that discusses issues around body image, identity, and resistance.

day-hefnerDay Hefner is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, studying for ordination as a pastor in the ELCA. She is a Nebraska native and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer with a particular interest in ministry with Latinx and immigrant communities. She is fluent in Spanish, loves cats, and is an avid crafter.

On Caves and Histories – Joel Morales Cruz, Ph.D.


Finding what is lost and reclaiming what has been stolen are common themes in Scripture. So imagine if the power and peace and justice when the “things” found or reclaimed are your history, your songs, your memories and songs. LSTC alumnus Joel Cruz, Ph.D. writes about a recent trip he took Puerto Rico, both for the sake of reconnecting with his family’s roots, but also to reclaim history stolen from the people of island – whether by Spanish colonialism or United States imperialism. Read, comment, and share, friends.

Over the Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of touring the famous Window Caves in Puerto Rico, a four million year old cave system replete with bats and swallows that eventually opens up over a majestic view of the countryside seven hundred feet below.


Parts of the allure of the caves are the petroglyphs – rock carvings– left by my Taíno ancestors centuries ago. I took a moment to talk to the guide about the indigenous mythology of the earth, and specifically caves, serving as wombs of creation from which the people emerged from darkness into light. It is a worldview found throughout the Americas. From there the conversation took an interesting turn as we spoke of the myth of Taíno extinction and how research into mitochondrial DNA has revealed the survival of the Taíno into modern times. We continued, touching upon the control over history-telling by the colonial powers, first the Spanish and then the United States.

Generations of Puerto Rican children, including those in my family, were taught that the island had no natural resources (despite the fact that agricultural and mining companies were harvesting said resources out in the countryside!) and that Puerto Ricans had no history of their own; that US citizenship was a gift conferred upon the population in 1917 despite not having been “worthy” of it. They were told that Puerto Ricans, unlike the Cubans, never rebelled against the Spanish — the well-known Grito de Lares of 1868 and other smaller revolts notwithstanding. However, in the last several decades those long-taught assumptions have been challenged and Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland have sought to reclaim their history and their contributions to culture, sports, music, art, literature, and religion.

Museum of the Americas – San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I found an example of this a few days later in the Museum of the Americas, located in the former barracks of the Spanish and US occupying forces in Old San Juan. Its mission is to simply focus on the indigenous and African roots of American history (the continent, not just the US)  in order to make the invisible visible again. Though small, it is nonetheless powerful as it recounts the stories of native resistance and survival to conquest, of the African heartbeat that pulses through our food, music, and arts, of the social and political movements in Puerto Rico that sought dignity and liberation throughout the centuries of colonization – one the museum notes continues into the present day.

The process of reclaiming one’s history is integral both to the sense of identity and to the future survival of any community, especially during times of social, political, and demographic upheaval. This act is so important that the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves likened it to a sacrament:

“The historian is someone who recovers forgotten memories and disseminates them as a sacrament to those who have lost the memory. Indeed, what finer community sacrament is there than the memories of a common past, punctuated by the existence of pain, of sacrifice, and of hope? – to recover in order to disseminate. The historian is not an archaeologist of memories. He (sic) is a sower of visions and hope.”

In our efforts to decolonize our own Lutheran backyard it is imperative that we not forget the task of decolonizing our historical memory. As the center of world Christianity continues its southward trek and as the demographics of this country changes, our own tradition should become aware of the role Lutherans have played on the larger global stage as well as the voices and contributions of those who do not reflect an assumed German-Scandinavian background — both as a matter of historical perspective and humility and a recognition of the work God has been doing among communities of color.


One of the most tangible ways in which congregations are aware of our larger heritage is in our calendar of festivals and commemorations that are printed in our bulletins and websites weekly, marking the women and men who have impacted our tradition and the greater Church. Recovering the sacrament of memory might include an update to our calendar that gives larger place to those from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the ethnic traditions in our country beyond the litany of early church, reformation, and more obscure European names we are accustomed to hearing.

Let us decolonize the calendar.

Additionally, the prayers composed throughout time by other communities as they wrestle with God’s Spirit in the world can help enrich our worship through new words, metaphors, and perspectives. These can, at the same time, bring us closer to the lives and struggles of our brothers and sisters elsewhere.

Let us decolonize the liturgy.

The teaching of church histories in our universities and seminaries can no longer be limited to the long-discredited tale of early Christianity brought into Europe and later into North America some unspoken culmination. Nor can our own Lutheran story be divorced from either the global histories of conquest and exploitation or the struggles of the people who experienced it around the world. Professors of color, women, and sexual minorities will be integral in this task.

Let us decolonize our schools.


The process of recovering a community’s history is no more about erasing the rich memories of another than the freeing of slaves is about enslaving the former slave-owners.  It entails the liberation of those in power from the lies of domination and nationalism as much as it does the empowering of those on the margins of memory. In this journey together, the biblical motif joins with indigenous theology as we are born out of darkness to gaze upon a brilliant vista of possibility and hope beyond our imaginations.

Joel.jpgJoel Morales Cruz earned his Ph.D. in World Christianity and Mission from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor. Dr. Cruz is the author of The Histories of the Latin American Church: A Handbook and the condensed Histories of the Latin American Church: A Brief Introduction (both Fortress Press, 2014), as well as The Mexican Reformation: Catholic Pluralism, Enlightenment Religion, and the Iglesia de Jesús Movement in Benito Juárez’s Mexico (1859-72) (Wipf & Stock, 2011). He has contributed an essay on the 16th century figure, Bartolomé de Las Casas for Global Perspectives on the Reformation (Eerdmans, Fall 2016) and a chapter on Mainline Protestantism in Latin America for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Latin American Christianity. Dr. Cruz lives with his two dogs in and two cats in Chicago where he is contemplating the subject of his next publication.

I Long for the Dream that is America – Deacon Inez Torres Davis

Linda Thomas at CTS eventContinuing our series of Hispanic Heritage month, Deacon Inez Torres Davis – from the Women of the ELCA – gives us a candid reflection on the exhilaration and disappointment of working to dismantle systems of white supremacy in the church and broader society. Both lyrical and terse, her words are a fantastic point of departure for any discussion on race, patriotism, and justice. Read, comment, and share, friends. Keep the conversation going!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

I am a patriot.

I love this land, this nation—I long for the dream that is America.

Time cover from July 8, 1987, depicting “We The People,” commissioned to celebrate the bicentennial of the US Constitution.

I come from a military family. My uncles and my brothers served in one or another branch of the military. From WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom, family members have offered their lives and bear the scars of military combat. When the National Anthem plays, my eyes tear and my chest swells.

Twice when I have shared this in training retreats White women told me how my statement helped them, brought them joy. Or, was it a sense of relief? I do not know; their perspective is not mine to explore. But I asked each woman to explore the why of her joy.

Why does hearing me say that I am a patriot provide another joy?

What mechanization of internalized white privilege lies beneath such?

Can’t I love America in all of her imperfections? Is the ability to inventory our nation’s shortcomings and then live a life in pursuit of making things better more the road-map of a patriot than to blindly assent to power and refuse any idea that things need to be fixed, or returned to some illusion of the past?

Do we require the sleight of hand that buries what is true about America in order to love her?  Not only is it possible to love the incomplete; it is an imperative of the gospel for what makes another an “enemy” if not our ability to see their lack, their failure?

But, the chickens are coming home …

Smart phones have brought into the homes of America the racial profiling and targeting of people of color. Social media provides the average person access to alternative press news. Groups like Daily Kos, MoveOn, NowThis, Color of Change, Colorlines, The Root, and the like get out the stories that the corporate media do not cover or would not otherwise cover.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his sitting protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States.


Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem because he refuses to “stand to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” His refusal to stand was his protest against the police brutality visited upon his community. In response to his patriotic action, all kinds of baloney came out the conservative meat factory.

World Cup and Gold Medal winning soccer player Megan Rapinoe was the first white and the first woman to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. She did it to show solidarity with Kaepernick.  Then members of the West Virginia Tech Women’s Volleyball team kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem.

Opening day in the NFL had Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters raise a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. The protest was amplified later Sunday when four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts as “The Star Spangled Banner” played in Seattle. The movement is spreading.

I am a patriot.

I long for the dream that is America.  

And, there are chickens coming home to roost.

“Happi” American Horse gestures to supporters after locking himself to equipment in protest of the pipeline – August 31, 2016.

The Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by other tribes in their protest of the construction of the North Dakota Pipe Line that risks the water they drink as well as desecrate their holy land. The federal government’s temporary hold on the development of the North Dakota pipeline has only slightly shaken the world of entitlement and privilege. The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners had the military capabilities of this nation at their beck-and-call; the protesters have only moral authority. Most recently the possible use of drones has been added to the police force’s ability to “protect and serve” the rights of the corporation. The same is reflected by the state of North Dakota vs. Amy Goodman in which state power seeks to punish Democracy Now! for its video reporting of attack dogs being used on peaceful protestors on September 3.

Power refuses to release its privilege. It is that simple.

I don’t care how complicated people want to make it.


Extreme right wing activism has provided a candidate that the GOP struggles to handle, to make palatable. At the same time, the corporate media confuses providing fair coverage with making false equivalencies. And the nation teeters.

In my research the idea of curses being like birds who return to their place of origin (nest) is said to have first been offered in 1390 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in The Parson’s Tale: “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfuly retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a byrd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.” It speaks to the unwelcome dividends (the karma) of our wrong actions.

Jesus said it this way:

You reap what you sow.

My further research revealed how the 19th century when Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810), said, “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.”

Now, I realize I have the privilege of a quarter of a century of study in the racial history of this nation. It is this exposure to hidden as well as the collective racial truths of America that provides my perspective. When I say that the chickens are coming home to roost, I am speaking of how the racial injustices that have been practiced and continue to be practiced in this nation is delivering to us a tidal wave of issues and challenges that simply will not fly away or be hid from.

When Malcolm X referred to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the “chickens coming home to roost”, what happened to him is what often happens to those who speak truth to power, his words were twisted. But, if we listen to Malcolm X, he spoke deep truth.


Further, when given the opportunity to speak about progress toward racial justice, Malcolm X clearly stated he was unable to say there was progress being made because “if you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and you pull it out 6 inches, there is no progress. You pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And, they haven’t begun to pull the knife out.”

And here we are. We can count chickens. The evils of our society ruffle in their roost. There are many faces of oppression but there is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is full-winged. Racism.  Sexism. Heterosexism. Classism. Age-ism. Able-ism. I list these few coming home to roost.

We must tend to the chickens.

It is the patriotic thing to do.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)


A controversial commercial from Coca-Cola featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages.

#WeAre America ft. John Cena – “Love Has No Labels” | by the Ad Council


inez.jpgInez Torres Davis is an Indigenous Latina working within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Women of the ELCA’s core racial justice/anti-racism trainer – having worked in this capacity since January of 1997. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, as well as a Reiki master and creator of sacred spaces.





Embracing My Unique Identity – Sofia Garfias-Yi

Picture 002Sofia Garfias-Yi, our repeat feature, was asked by a friend to write the following reflection on her life for the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you might guess by her name, Sofia is both Chinese and Mexican – and in this reflection she shares what this means to her as well as how she has dealt with racial stereo-typing.  So as we both begin the new school year, as well as begin reflecting a bit on the complexity of Latinx identity as part of Hispanic History Month, Sofia’s piece is an excellent way to begin. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas
– Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

“Oh, you’re Mexican? Why don’t you just get back over the border? Or are you too busy mowing lawns?”


It was an unexpected statement for two reasons. One, it was the first time any sort of racially offensive comment had been directed towards me. And two, the statement came from someone I’d considered a friend. Whereas I usually shot down any sassy jokes with a witty remark, I didn’t know what to say that day. My other friends were chuckling along, and eventually I gave in because… well, I didn’t want to seem up tight.

They were probably all thinking the same thing: it’s Sofia, she’s laid back, and she probably won’t care.

But over the next few years, these little instances would come up again and again. What people found absolutely fascinating was that not only was I Mexican, but I was also Chinese. Friends compassionately dubbed me as a ‘Chexican,’ which I thought was pretty clever. But along with this playfulness came other small remarks along the lines of, ‘Of course you’re good at that, you’re Asian!’ to fulfill any Asian stereotypes people had. And every single time, it never crossed my mind to say anything.

The fact was that I felt like I was in some sort of gray area with embracing my identity. As someone with a bi-racial identity, I didn’t really feel like I fit into any specific group. I never fully adopted into some of the American customs and traditions, so I was out of the loop on some aspects of the culture. When I was surrounded by Asian people, I never felt fully a part of them, though we shared a lot of similarities. And quite frankly, I never had too many friends from a Latino background. I was stuck in some sort of identity limbo.

My family (from left to right): my dad, Hector Garfias-Toledo; my dad’s dad, Nelson Garfias; my dad’s mom, Guadalupe Toledo (front) and me; Snow Huang, my mom’s mom, and my mom Jade Yi.

Though I still struggle with this, I would say that coming to University of Illinois has opened my eyes and helped me embrace myself. Experiences from meeting people in similar situations as mine to taking classes like Gender & Women Studies has made me realize that our identities are unique and should be taken seriously. Offensive and demeaning comments don’t always come from a faceless Facebook user or someone on the street. They can also come from people you consider your friends or acquaintances. It can simply be because they haven’t taken the time to learn what your identity really means, and other times they may simply think they can get away with it because they’re your friend.

However, as I learned, brushing it off and laughing along with my friends didn’t solve anything. I was afraid of seeming uptight or killing the mood, but the very real fact is that the stereotyping and generalization of people of any culture is destructive. Sometimes what it takes isn’t some sort of witty remark or equally offensive comment, but a simple statement that the people of a culture are so much more than their stereotypes. They are each equally unique and have so much to offer to this world.

So go ahead. Next time someone makes a comment, don’t start a fight or brush it off. Start a conversation. You’d be surprised.

My friend Tina, who inspired me to share my story.

My name is Sofia Garfias-Yi, and I am currently a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology and Communication. Though I was born in Austin, Texas, I spent most of my childhood in three different places: Taiwan, Mexico, and the Chicago suburbs. It was only by fourth grade that I settled down in the suburbs, where I currently live now with my parents. As a double PK (pastor’s kid), I’ve had a lot of interesting and wonderful experiences in many different churches, and this has certainly shaped who I’ve become today. My passions include exploring the city of Chicago, making art, and discovering new music.

Reflecting on Where We’ve Come From, Thinking Where to Go* – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas, Blog Editor

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWe have only just begun our work at “We Talk. We Listen.” and there is no better time to talk about the work of inclusion than the first week of classes at my seminary – The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In the last year we heard a wonderful symphony of voices – white pastors and bishops talking about white privilege and anti-racism, three transfolx explaining and exploring the issues of gender and what they mean to the church, and many posts about what it means to be a woman in ministry. So as we re-publish last week’s post, see this as a forum for conversation. Add some comments about what you think this blog can do, what we should do, how we’ve done. Anytime is the perfect time to start asking, as the work of the Gospel never rests, and neither do the forces of evil against whom we so often struggle and strain and sing! So keep reading and keep praying and keep commenting and keep on going!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor –“We Talk. We Listen.”


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8)

As “We Talk. We Listen.” crosses the threshold of its one-year anniversary I am in a space of celebration for the coalition of voices that have participated in an amazingly constructive, cathartic and transformative process.


The past 12 months have been an intense journey. As editor, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the many talented and thoughtful authors, researchers and readers. Your support, involvement and enthusiasm have made this forum what it is today.

We Talk. We Listen.” was inspired by womanist public theologian and religion and media specialist the Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell.[1] It endeavors to present diverse voices from a rainbow of social locations and examines how their stories intersect with Christian theology and current events. For her creative contribution and vision to this forum, I am extremely grateful.

Additionally, my gratitude extends to LSTC’s Ph.D. student Francisco Herrera. From its inception Francisco approached the blog as an artist painting on a canvas. He matched graphic representations to each post so that images matched the expressions penned by the blogger. He also managed day-to-day operations for the blog.

Through “We Talk. We Listen.” we have weaved through some of the church and society’s most complex issues.   We’ve weighed in on topics like what it means to be human and be clothed in skin of color in our world; how it feels to experience cultural currents that run counter to biblical teaching; attitudes of entitlement by majority populations, and many other “hot button issues”.

We have examined the many faces of our humanity, our frailty, partiality and brutality. We’ve tried to frame these issues from a theological perspective—how does a public church centered faith drive us, make us different, and keep us hopeful that meaningful progress will be manifest in God’s work through our efforts.

I believe that a significant takeaway from this inaugural year is embracing the need for a more consistent effort among members and leaders of the faith community to speak up, become more active in the aforementioned areas, and redouble our efforts to strive toward the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this year of developing and discovering how to support crucial and dynamic discussions that need to occur.

As “We Talk. We Listen.” eagerly endeavors into its second year, I find that we are facing many familiar obstacles that recent posts have discussed and future posts will seek to examine.

In her August 22nd post, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin thoughtfully examines glaring racial disparities that have persisted since the inception of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After 28 years, the ELCA continues to under-perform on its self-imposed goal of diversity and inclusion at a rate of at least 10%.

Rev. Paris-Austin provides a magnificent examination of systems, why they’re in place and the checks and balances that need to exist in the way of racial, cultural and ethnic inclusion for the purpose of “justice and peacemaking of our national church”.

Pastors and activists Rev. Tuhina Rasche (L) and Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (R) standing with Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton.

As expressed in this piece, Rev. Paris-Austin seeks to remain fully engaged in the conversation with the ultimate goal of reversing the trend of virtually homogenous religious communities. She has demonstrated commendable responsiveness and obedience to the Holy Spirit through her address of the assembly accompanied by action. Continuing to be discerning and attentive to the Spirit’s leanings, Rev. Paris-Austin has stepped out on faith with the foundational guidance that only God’s word can provide.

That same week, then, her colleague, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, spoke about her side of the same issue – the flesh. When life doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. So she then wrote about her part in writing a constitutional resolution so that the ELCA would have accountability, solidarity, and resources to accomplish its announced goal of making the church more inclusive of ethnic differences.

Her experience and subsequent contribution to the blog demonstrates how essential this forum “We Talk. We Listen.” really is to the larger tasks at hand.

As a nation, we are on the precipice of electing our next President and Commander-in-Chief. This cycle, however, has brought to the fore a previously overlooked and very tiny segment of our population (about 1 percent of the total U.S. population[2]). The confluence of Muslim voices and the upcoming presidential election stands to be a showdown of epic proportions.

Amidst this polarized and heated 2016 election, there has also been an upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, leaving many in the Islamic community feeling in danger.

What to do when you see Islamophobia.

In her December 2015 post, Sara Trumm, the Program Coordinator for LSTC at the Center for Christian Muslim Engagement (CCME), penned “Responding to Anti-Muslim Rhetoric: How to Be a Muslim Ally.” Through the piece, Trumm goes far in linking valuable community resources and suggestions on how non-Muslims can and should access them. To be certain, “We Talk. We Listen.” will continue to be a voice for positive change in this area.

LSTC student authors have contributed foundational articles to the national conversation about gender diversity. Last fall, River Needham proved instrumental in helping us to better understand transgender identity and issues in “Trans/forming our World, our Words and our Selves”.

As a result of contributions by members of the community like Needham, our society is experiencing a growing level of discussion and exposure of many issues impacting the transgender community.

This past spring, “We Talk. We Listen.” also featured the personal account of a beloved graduate of LSTC’s experience as transgender. Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson provoked reflection on the topic he shared with us through “My Gender, So Far…” His piece was so well received; The Huffington Post ultimately picked it up.

Andrew’s recounting of his experience causes readers to pause and resolve to extend understanding and compassion to those facing questions or issues surrounding identification as transgender. The reader is left with a profound sense of necessity for inclusiveness of this community — emphasizing Christian love, the general valuing of diversity and recognizing that they too are image-bearers of Almighty God.

Andrew Tobias Nelson presiding at the Proclaim retreat for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

Not only are some of the more profound ideological issues of our humanity being discussed within our forum, but the more pragmatic ones rotate to center stage as well. High on that list includes the long-standing issue of the gender pay gap. First Lady Michelle Obama and at least two dozen American companies took the occasion of Women’s Equality Day this past June to refocus the spotlight on this issue. We know that this discussion on eliminating the pay gap needs to be a regular one in order to bring about positive concrete results. “We Talk. We Listen.” encourages the community to be attuned to this issue. Let us know where and how you see the tide turning towards a narrowing in the pay gap.

4 12 16 Equal Pay women of color.jpeg

These and many more invigorating discussions can and likely will be found within “We Talk. We Listen.” in this our second year.

To our new and returning students, I wish you well in this upcoming season of study and look forward to seeing you today! Your educational undertaking is crucial and will provide an invaluable contribution to the knowledge, wisdom and depth of spirit required for our society to flourish.

Your ability to keep an open mind and a warm heart will imbue you with the necessary strength to affect change and our Public Church curriculum will help you to do so.  Our faculty takes seriously our charge to cultivate mature, wise Christian leaders to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. That charge includes developing this blog — creating a powerful resource for students who will become colleagues and leaders in ministry.

To those preparing for the momentous challenge of preparing to be pastors and those preparing for service to the church in some other purposeful capacity, I lift you up and genuinely hope that this blog provides you with a way to remain abreast of issues that directly impact those you interact with daily.

To readers and contributors who are alumni or function as board and trustee members, I additionally challenge you to read, enjoy, engage, question and pray.

LSTC students, faculty, and staff laughing on a March afternoon.

At our core as humans, we possess different views on a plethora of subjects. For most of humanity our core also dictates, however that we care about the well-being of each other and our world. The bible teaches us that “we are the light of the world” and are called to be light in the time that we are living. So I hope that as you read and consider contributing to the blog that you also respond to your environment in faithful and transformative ways.

Going forward, I passionately encourage readers and contributors alike to share the existence of this forum with fellow members of the community of faith as well as the community at large.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

*This is a re-post of the blog entry from August 30, 2016

[1] Dr. Joan Harrell is the Associate Director, Community Engagement and Visiting Scholar at the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare. She is also the founder of and Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities.

[2] Pew Research Center, A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population
 ( 2016)

Dr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for thirty-one years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. An ordained Methodist pastor for 35 years with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.