Advent and Cancer – Dr. Lea F. Schweitz

Dr TLast week, Dr. Lea F. Schweitz, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology/Science and Religion/Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at my institution – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – preached a sermon that not only spoke to her research interests and the stellar work of Zygon this semester, she also spoke to the real life circumstances that members of our community and their loved ones live with–cancer. Making full use of the tension inherent in ‘waiting,’ Dr. Schweitz presents some elegant points between what something as vicious as cancer has to say to us, about what it means to wait, about who is made to wait, and how waiting and expectation reveal as much about us as our doing. Please 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.”


advent-wreath-560643_1280.jpg

Grace and peace to brothers and sisters in Christ, siblings in Spirit, children of God.

Advent has begun. Alleluia! The semester is all but ended.  Lord, have mercy!

The ubiquity of both/and dialectics in Lutheran theologies should mean that we know how to move gracefully between Advent’s beginning and the semester’s ending. And, yet, in my experience of time at LSTC, the beginning of the church year in Advent and the end of the semester in December often feels more like whip lash than like a dialectic dance. It’s a beginning and an ending that together feel more like being pulled into Lake Michigan by a strong undertow than a peaceful swim at Promontory Point.

Beginnings and endings are delicate things.

One of the things that ended for me this week is the Advanced Seminar in Religion and Science. This is the Zygon Center class I taught with Dr. Leonard Hummel on evolutionary theologies of cancer.

Biologically, and much to my lament, cancer is a rather elegant disease. It finds its way into human bodies through the very mechanisms that helped us to evolve. Cancer just is part of humanity’s evolutionary inheritance. This is why it is so hard to pin down; this is why treatments are becoming personalized and individualized. Cancer is not one thing, it is a shape-shifter. It transforms itself, and more importantly its key feature is an ironic immortality.

Cancers are cells that have simply forgotten how to die.

And yet, the legacy of humanity’s evolutionary inheritance in cancer has not been divided up equally.

Cancer disparities are everywhere.

The Center for Disease Control reports that breast cancer death rates are 40% higher for black women than for white women.  The National Cancer institute has found that poverty is a carcinogen. It would seem that both God and cancer have a preferential option for the poor.

MLK blog.jpg

And, these are simply for the data points that have been deemed worthy of collection – sample sets, for example, for Latinx and LGBTQI persons are still not “statistically significant.” A turn of phrase that captures what you will soon hear Emilie Townes call an “ontological category that serves to keep us from our health” and one of  “the death-dealing, life-denying ways that we structure our existence.”

The story of cancer includes the inelegant – no, the decidedly sinful – chapters of systemic factors that keep some from their health. Cancer disparities are the signposts of the “death-dealing, life-denying ways” that we structure our lives and our categories to keep some from health.

The story of cancer has other chapters as well.  In our lives, there is the chorus of those we know and love who are in, with, and under the biology and the culture of cancer. Some we name out loud in our prayers; many we hold in our hearts.  Often, we ask: God, where are You in this?

After World AIDS day on December 1, we boldly proclaim that the body of Christ has HIV/AIDS.

Today, also, we recognize that the body of Christ  has cancer.

Is there good news in this? Honestly, some days, I don’t feel it.

Reading Luke at the beginning of Advent and the ending of a semester when we have been teaching and living theologies of cancer has forced the question: where is the gospel in our working and in our waiting in a world of cancer?

Let’s talk work first; waiting can wait.

Did you hear the imperatives in our text from Luke?

Be on guard!

Do not get weighed down!

Pray for strength to escape!

It feels like a lesson full of exclamation points.

7841723.jpg

In my own life, this is always the sign of trouble. If it seems like everything on my to do list is punctuated with an exclamation point – and there isn’t a differentiation between, for instance, folding socks and paying the gas bill, it’s a clear sign that something is off. I can actually hear my therapist gently say: “Lea, this is a red flag.”

As we enter the season of Advent, the lectionary brings us visions of apocalypse. And, preachers have the task of undoing some of the ways apocalyptic imagery has been used as a weapon of violence and theological fear-mongering. There are many ways that our readings of these texts at the start of Advent that can signal that something is off.

The lectionary’s apocalyptic invocations might seem to push an all imperatives kind of living. Run faster! Work harder! Be busy! Keep awake! Stay alert! All exclamation points! All the time!

These texts are easily read as a permission slip for the kinds of soul-crushing busy-ness that many of us know all too well. Clearly something is off. Our text from Luke is not about these imperatives.

Note well, in a Lutheran seminary, this is dangerous territory. This is not a blanket dismissal of work because of the fear of works righteousness. Sure, works righteousness is a thing, but it’s not the thing that should get in the way of doing works of love and justice. It’s a categorical mistake to confuse justice and justification. The warning in Luke about getting distracted or weighed down does not apply in the arena of justice.

On the other extreme it is a misreading of the text if we only read the imperatives and we forget the prepositions. It’s not: “Work! Work! Work!”  It’s the work of; It’s work with, and It’s work for. Loosely paraphrased, our text in Luke implores us to be alert and to pray so that we can be ready to make our stand, when the time comes.

10529-The-Kingdom-Of-God-Is-Within-You.jpg

The trick about Advent texts is that they speak of a future that is already present. Beginnings and endings are delicate things – as Advent begins, we already know the end. Christ is coming, and Christ is here. Both/and. When Luke implores us to be alert and to pray so that we can be ready to make our stand, when the time comes, we know that the time is coming, and the time is now. Because the time is also now, we make our stand today.

TownesEthumbnail
Emily Townes

You can hear it in an excerpt from Emilie Townes’ theological response to the long, unjust history of health care in African American communities. In her conclusion from Breaking the Fine Rain of Death, she writes:

“Hope is a spirit that is within us and without us

It calls us to itself, to ourselves, to one another

This hope/ is lament / is community / is love / is justice / is healing.

It is the very heart and soul of who we are and how we are and how we can be and how far we have yet to go…

This hope reminds us that we cannot accept the death-dealing and life-denying ways in which we have often structured our existences or had our worlds ordered for us through the Tuskegee, the HIV/AIDS, through the inadequate clinical trials, through unaffordable health care, through unattainable insurance.

“We must act through a faith that is grounded in what the wise old folks tell

Us about living and hoping and refusing and cussing and praying and doing.

The work of love and justice to bring ourselves home again.”

She doesn’t overlook the imperative: we must act. But it’s the prepositions that get the top billing – It’s the work of love and justice, It’s the work for peace, It’s the work with neighbors. The good news in a world of cancer is in the Spirit of hope that is lament, community, love, justice, and healing.

During Advent, in a world of cancer, we await the coming of Christ who is already here in works of love and justice, in works of peace, and in works with neighbor.

star-wallpapers-22.jpg

So, what about waiting?

Waiting is a common thread between cancer and Advent.

Much of both Advent and oncology is in the waiting.

ThurstonBonnie_Au.jpg
Bonnie Thurston

Hospitals and parenting have taught me that waiting with grace is a rare and beautiful gift, but I had missed it in my thinking about cancer. It was the final verse of our Advent reading today that re-attuned my ear to it, but it comes out even more clearly in an excerpt from Bonnie Thurston’s poem, entitled “Oncology in Advent:”

She writes:

“Theologians say

The Cosmic Christ

Is operative in all things

I’m waiting to see it.

Where are You?

In the oncology waiting room…?

Where are You

When diseases maim and kill

Not quickly and cleanly

But with messy tendentiousness?”

How am I to see You here

Unless, perhaps, as Emmanuel,

A fellow sufferer,

Bald and trembling.”

Like working, this waiting is in the prepositional mode rather than the imperative. It isn’t “Wait!”

Waiting is in the prepositions: We wait for and we wait with.  In our holy waiting, what we find – or better, whom we find, is Christ there in our midst, waiting with us, and waiting on us.

Together, cancer and Advent teach us a new move in the dialectic dance. We walk the delicate balance of working and waiting – and God is there, already with us in both the working and the waiting. This is not an either/or – it’s not a choice to work or to wait. It’s not in the imperative mode. In a world of cancer, God calls us to work with and to work for those affected by the death-dealing and life-denying ways in which we have often structured our existence to keep some of us from health. In a world of cancer, God calls us also to wait with those in whom we already see the face of the coming Christ, now, perhaps, as Emmanuel, fellow sufferer, bald and trembling.

Amen.


schweitz.jpgDr. Leah F. Schweitz holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. In July 2007 Lea Schweitz joined the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, where she teaches courses in Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and Science and Religion. Schweitz’s research revolves around the question of what it means to be a human being, a matter that she believes is uniquely illuminated by conversations between religion and science – a passion which finds its keenest outlet at LSTC as the Director for the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. In addition to her professional interests, Dr. Schweitz is interested in natural history, cooking, gardening, papers arts, and music.

Advertisements

Unapologetically Divisive – Rev. Erik Christensen

fontPastor to the Community and Director of Worship at LSTC – the Rev. Erik Christensen – preached a marvelous sermon last week. Pulling on everything from the Boston Declaration, to a painful family story, not to mention the immortal and disquieting Gospel text Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats. Caring for each other, loving our neighbors as ourselves, aiding any and all who suffer – these are things that we must do, and do now, Christensen reminds us. This is an especially poignant message after recent steps by our nation’s Congress – advancing a tax proposal that overwhelmingly enriches the powerful at the expense of the least of these. So please, 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.”


“What I think, is that this is hell,” is what my sister told me.

scan0026
Me and Tara, ca. 1985. Arriving in the United States from Thailand.

By this point, I’d already gone to seminary. So it occurred to me, in the moment, that my sister was articulating a very present eschatology. By this point, she’d been living with a dual-diagnosis of persistent mental illness and mild developmental delay for a few years. She’d experienced the primal wound of being abandoned by her birth mother, raised in a foster home for the first six years of her life, and then torn from the land of her birth by loving, well-intentioned people who, nevertheless, did not look like her, or speak her language. By this point, my sister, Tara, who is Thai by birth and gifted with beautiful, lustrous brown skin, had experienced a childhood filled with racism both ignorantly casual and pointedly vicious. She had spent years running away from home, running toward danger. She’d been exposed to the violence that comes with life on the streets. She’d been beaten, she’d been exploited, and when she turned to the police in a life-or-death moment looking for help escaping the horrors of her immediate surroundings, they’d taken one look at her and saw only a disheveled, disorganized, dirty, brown-skinned girl with a funny way of talking and they told her to get lost, as if she wasn’t already.

20170222-chicago-tulips-breaking-ground
Tulips, breaking through topsoil.

So we were talking, she and I, about resurrection, and what hope we may have for the future, for a life better than the ones we’d known. I was talking to her about the miracle of tulips, which seem to die over and over, only to break free from the earth again and again to show their beauty in their frailty. And that’s when she told me, “what I think, is that this is hell.”

So, my reflection on this passage from Matthew has to start there, in hell, though the text itself does not use that word.

This scene of final judgment, which is unique to Matthew’s gospel, is “the only scene with any details picturing the last judgment in the New Testament.”[1] Here we hear Jesus speaking in the voice of the ruler of heaven and earth seated on a cosmic throne before all the nations, rendering a judgment that addresses each person, each of us, on the basis of how we have responded to the human beings in our midst who are experiencing on a daily basis the depth of the hells this world has to offer: hunger, thirst, hostility to all that is strange or foreign or different, the bare naked exposure of poverty, the wretchedness of disease and illness, the graceless confines of our retributive justice and our merciless prison industrial complexes. In this scene of final judgement, the Lord of the universe says nothing about people’s personal sentiments, or public proclamations. The Lord gives no consideration to who you have claimed as your “personal Lord and savior.” The Lord of time focuses, like my sister, on the present and the fires to which we have consigned each other and asks what we have done for those whose daily reality is a burning hell.

Matthew.Lindisfarne
Illustration of St. Matthew the Evangelist from the Lindisfarne Gospels. Britain, 8th century.

I haven’t always known quite what to do with the festival of the Reign of Christ at the end of each liturgical year. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity it provides for us to consider the distinctive voice of the synoptic gospel assigned to the year now ending. For this last year, it has been the Gospel of Matthew. So we have been hearing the good news of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ in a recognizably Matthean mode. Matthew’s theological world draws us into a recognition of the reign of God in clear opposition to the reign of Satan; it is the only gospel to speak explicitly of the “church” as a description for the community of believers, and so it invites us to give consideration to what we think the church is and who is part of it; it insists that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, not the abolishment of it, and in doing so it ties the ethical life of those who follow Jesus to the ethical demands of the prophets of Israel. Then there is the thorny matter of Matthew’s relationship to the rest of Judaism, as this gospel preserves the memory of a religious community divided within itself over the nature of the covenant, the revelation of the messiah, and the imperative of the present moment to acknowledge and respond to what God is doing now in human history.

These themes and tensions are always with us, and I was reminded of that fact as I read and re-read the Boston Declaration, a theological statement released last Monday at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature that publicly calls out American Evangelicalism for the ways that it has stoked the fires of a very real and present hell for millions of “the least of these” who suffer under the tyranny of intersecting ideologies of oppression that have interlaced racism, colonialism, and environmental degradation in ways that have created a living hell for the peoples of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the US territories; that have privileged and prioritized profits for gun manufacturers over the lives of human beings; that have supported the violent hetero-patriarchy evident in the daily revelations of rampant sexual misconduct and abuse by men against women and girls in workplaces and in homes; that has scapegoated Jewish people, Muslim people, Black and Brown people, and Queer people for the sins of White Christian Patriarchy; for elevating the economic appetites of nations by respecting national borders more than the lives of those who cross them as immigrants or refugees from the living hells created by those very same nations.

The stark and unapologetically divisive nature of the Boston Declaration very much reminds me of the stark and unapologetically divisive nature of this scene from Matthew of the final judgment in which all the nations are gathered before God and the people are surprised once more to hear that God takes sides.

That our apathy and misconduct cannot be dismissed or justified by our claims to ethnic or national or religious exceptionalism.

Fra_Angelico_009
“The Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico, ca. 1395-1455

We all recoil from this scene, or should if we are in the least bit self-aware. The on-going presence of hunger and thirst, violence and poverty, malicious neglect of the ill and obscene incarceration of our neighbors who are, in fact, our siblings, indicts us all as complicit in the dominion of “the devil and his angels.” (Mt. 25:41) And it simply will not do to dismiss our discomfort with reminders of our Lutheran doctrine of justification by grace through faith; to let ourselves off the hook with reminders of God’s unceasing mercy, because it is God who addresses us here. It is God who speaks these words of judgment.

So we are left to grapple with the purpose and function of this eschatological vision and the tensions it produces. It is a tension that brings me back to my sister’s own declaration: “What I think, is that this is hell.” A very present eschatology, not unlike, I think, Jesus’s own eschatology. After all, it is in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt. 4:17) This is Matthew’s Christology, that Jesus brings the reign of God, the fulfillment of God’s promises in the past, into the present moment with consequences for all of human life, for all of creation, here and now. Now is the moment of judgment. Now is the assurance that God does, in fact, take sides. Now is the promise that the hells in which we are burning cannot stand against the waters of the Christ into whom we are baptized. Now is the moment of our salvation. Now, not in the words we say or the identities we claim, but in the acts of lovingkindness we perform for one another, for the needless misery we relieve, for the welcome we offer, for the liberation we effect.

Now.

Now.

Now.

Hell is not a threat of future punishment by our God.

It is now.

Or at least that’s what I heard when I listened to my sister, one of the least of these, and I believe her.

What do you suppose might happen if you, if all of us, believed the voices of the women and girls, of the strangers and foreigners, of the masses that are incarcerated, of the legions of the sick and dying, of those who hunger and thirst?

A final word before I say goodbye to Matthew for a couple more years:

We struggle with the vitriol Matthew voices against those he calls “the Jews” because of the long history of Christian anti-Semitism, which the Boston Declaration rightly both laments and condemns. In its own context, however, what Matthew gives witness to is an intra-religious conflict among people who understood themselves as belonging to the same faith, yet who still drew very different conclusions about what God was doing in the present moment and what their faith required of them as a result. Here, again, the Boston Declaration provides a timely example. We might wonder what this present moment will look like two thousand years from now to those who have the advantage of that perspective, who will be able to look back and see what this one group called Mainline Protestants said about another group called American Evangelicals. We cannot know how these divides will deepen, or heal. Perhaps we will continue to drift away from one another to such an extent that we can no longer even recognize ourselves as belonging to the same religion.

Here Matthew shows us the righteousness of God, in that, no matter how much Matthew the evangelist might wish to claim superiority over the other sects of Judaism on the basis of his theological declarations, in the end God once again confounds our ideas of righteousness by disrupting the borders we draw around nations, tribes, religions, identities by lifting up those who do what is needed to meet the needs of the wounded neighbor, the suffering sibling.

We, too, should hear this word: that God cares less for our Boston Declarations than for our

actual presence with those who suffer. God cares less about the accuracy of our theological ideas than the impact of our public witness. Just as fifty years of dialogue with the Roman Catholic church has led us to a new commitment to shared acts of proclamation and service, we might imagine and should already be looking for ways to heal the rifts that divide us from the very people we now condemn. For surely, in the moment of judgment that is always already happening, we will discover once again that we are all a part of the same family, that we all bear Christ to one another, that we are all standing before the throne of God, and that we are all in this together.

Amen.


headshot professional (large)Pastor Erik Christensen serves as Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at LSTC. He joined the staff this fall after previously serving as the redevelopment pastor with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (Chicago) for the past eleven years.

 

[1] “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” by M. Eugene Boring in The New Interpreter’s Bible, v.8, p.455 (1995: Abingdon Press)

The Boston Declaration

fontThe annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature wrapped up last week in a flurry of lectures, books and book sales, rich with camaraderie and mutual inspiration. The terror of our hyper-phobic times were not ingored, however. Inspired by the Barmen Declaration – a document written as part of the German Confession Church in 1934 as a direct rebuke and refutation of the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, penned mostly by Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, and signed by theologians, pastors, and academics like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller — a kindred group theologians and academics, meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature dispatched the The Boston Declaration at the Old South Church at 12:30 pm on Monday November 20, 2017 — a statement of repentance, rebuke, and resistance to the current administration of the government of the United States of America, and to the myriad forces which enable it’s death-dealing, house-dividing agenda. As one of the more than 200 initial signers of the declaration, I feel it my duty to share this with the readers of the blog – along with a call for every reader to help the original signatories to find an additional 2000 supporters. These are truly strange and dangerous days we live in, and as a called, ordained, sent and PhD’d servant in the Church of Jesus Christ, I adjure you all to join us in the struggle.

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


Boston_Declaration[1].png
Signatories of the Boston Statement wearing sack-cloth and ashes

Occasion

As followers of Jesus, the Jewish prophet for justice whose life reminds us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out. We declare that following Jesus today means fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith.

Choose Life

This is a time of heightened racist and patriarchal empire where wealth is concentrated at the top. The Living God asks us to make a decision: “Today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil. … Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 31).  Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. And yet, we live in a moment when death and evil seem to reign supreme in the United States, when those with the power of a uniform or the president’s pen or a position of authority or fame or economic tricks of capitalization and interest or sheer brute force… again and again choose death rather than life. In a moment when too many who confess Christ advocate evil, we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.

We acknowledge the manifold and complicated ways we participate in these systems, even as we are often complicit in them. We confess that the Church, in a variety of forms, has too often failed to follow the way of Jesus and perform the good news. We are people who are still discovering the ways we participate with death and evil, even while we continue to seek the good, to choose life again and again. This declaration is such a choice, hoping and clinging to the God of life and seeking to bear witness to that life in our present moment. Acknowledging our own failures and embracing an appropriate sense of humility should not, however, silence us. While we do not have ready-made answers for all the problems we face, we know something about the pathway we must follow if we are to find those answers, and this is the pathway of Jesus.

 

ezquivel-viacrucis

Who is our God and What is the Jesus Way?

We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35). We affirm the beauty and humanity of all people in their manifold difference–race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion–as reflecting God’s image through lives of love and hope. We believe the Jesus Way calls us to the possibility of living in a world where all can love and be loved, and live into joy.

The Jesus Way continues through our best, prayerful, honest, and empirical attempts to understand why and how the world has come to be in the shape it is today. This pathway calls us to act in ways that are Spirit-led and strategic in confronting evil wherever evil exists, to combat ignorance wherever ignorance has led people astray and to place our lives and our bodies on the line with whoever is being threatened, beat down, or oppressed in any way, anywhere.

Lamentation

As followers of Jesus who is our Sabbath, who preached and lived Shalom, and who offers the gift of jubilee to the world, we mourn the coarseness of our politics, the loss of compassion for those in need, the disrespect we routinely show each other, and the thoughtlessness with which we use and abuse our planet. We especially mourn the way in which the name of Jesus has been used to support and encourage actions and attitudes that demean others and threaten the community of creation.

We acknowledge and lament the realities we see around us: broken lives, broken homes, a broken social system that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. We lament a broken and corrupt police system, a broken economic system that prioritizes profits over people, a broken sense of national identity. We lament national boundaries that make our worries about security a pretext for destroying the lives of others, and a broken church that disrespects and marginalizes many people rather than honoring and embracing them. We rebuke the ideologies and idolatries that lie beneath the death we see in our midst and collectively hope to point to ways we might all choose life.

As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we take action when our government seeks to continuously harm life made in God’s image by cutting social safety-nets and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us to spiral into an abyss of desperation. Action on the part of the church is warranted at a time when women, people of color, and various ethnicities, individual religions, immigrants and distinct sexualities are targeted for slander and violence from the highest offices of government. We cannot sit idly by and allow the people and the earth to be accosted with series after series of unjust policies that allow the interest of corporate profits to expunge the future for coming generations of humans and other living species.

Condemnations

3 J Drives Out Moneychangers

We reject the false ideology of empire building and the myth of racial laziness and substance abuse that harms the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the US territories.

We reject the false ideology that peace is achieved through military strength and that violence is the necessary foundation for freedom, safety, or security. We stand against the manufacturing and proliferation of weapons which continue to drown the planet in the blood of millions through global war and the terrorism of domestic mass shootings.

We reject the false ideology of the corporate ruling class that services and supports the US military, dispossess and represses poor communities of color, and which erodes and blocks real empowerment of the most vulnerable of peoples and of any real people’s democracy.

We reject the false ideology of American exceptionalism and the evil of political corruption, calling for integrity in our elected officials and multilateral governance. It is this myth by which moral responsibility is suspended in the pursuit of its interests.

We reject the false ideology of white normalcy and bigotry. We reject the false identification that exclusively binds whiteness with Christianity, true humanity, and United States citizenship. We reject antisemitism, which is driving much of white Christian nationalism.

We reject the patriarchal and misogynistic legacies that subject women to continual violence, violation, and exclusion. We stand strongly against sexual abuse and harassment in the highest offices of power.

We reject violations against the Earth, especially the stripping of her resources and polluting that harms her and the creatures that inhabit her soil and seas.

We reject economic policies that are grounded in an illusion of extreme individualism and favor the accumulation of wealth for a few to the detriment of the many.

We reject Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.

We reject homophobia and transphobia and all violence against the LGBTQ community.

We reject all anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that fail to recognize the contributions of immigrants who have come from every corner of the world to strengthen the fabric of this nation—culturally, economically and spiritually.

Call to Action

“Choose you this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15)

joshua

Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.

May we live in this world continually welcoming the stranger and “treating the foreigner with love, for we were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).

May we bear witness to the hues of difference in God’s life – a God who is neither male nor female and who embraces all people regardless of their identity.

May we not fear the loss of power or certainty when confronted by our very real weakness. May we discover the gift of being creatures not as something to be overcome, but embraced, discovering the fullness of our humanity in the flourishing of all women.

May we embrace a future where the legacies of white supremacy are dismantled. We refuse to dehumanize any individual, reducing their identity to singular markers and possibilities. May we work toward a radical openness for every individual as we fight together for a better today and tomorrow.

May we build not to kill but to enliven. Let us garner all of our economic power to fight desperately for one another’s health, for full stomachs, for equal access to buildings and teachers where we might discover the fullness of our gifts and skills. May our power not be oriented toward empire but towards mutual community.

May we witness to a beloved community where we seek to be with one another as Jesus is with us. May love and mutuality be the marks of our lives together, our community building, our budgets, and our public policies.

May we work together to care for the community of creation, fighting against the influence of the pursuit of petrochemicals and all other earth diminishing, non-renewable and polluting practices that exploit Indigenous and poor peoples, poison our waters and contribute to the extinction of species. We speak for the earth herself and all her creatures, human and non-human, for the preservation of life over monetary gain.

May we stand in solidarity against anti-semitism and the use of any language and actions that threaten the lives of our Jewish sisters and brothers while standing with the plight for human rights with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

May we stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and all immigrants, fighting against Islamophobia and xenophobia. We denounce any legislation that discriminates against people on the basis of their religion, race or ethnic identity.

We welcome and seek the wisdom of all people of all faiths and those who confess no faith, believing that God’s faithfulness breaks into the world in many ways and through many people. May we continue to stand with anyone who calls for justice, mercy, and love in this world.

Original Signatories

  • Amey Victoria Adkins, Boston College
  • Efrain Agosto, New York Theological Seminary
  • Macky Alston, Auburn Seminary
  • Gelky Alrvelo, New York Theological Seminary
  • Cheryl B. Anderson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Cara Anthony, University of St. Thomas
  • Ellen T. Armour, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Sarah Azaransky, Union Theological Seminary
  • Brian Bantum, Seattle Pacific University
  • William Barber II, Repairers of the Breach
  • Eric D. Barreto, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Angela Bauer-Levesque, Episcopal Divinity School
  • Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Moses Biney, New York Theological Seminary
  • Traci Blackmon, United Church of Christ
  • Mary C. Boys, Union Theological Seminary
  • Valerie Bridgeman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Stina Busman Jost, Bethel University
  • Lee H. Butler, Jr., Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Gil Caldwell, United Methodist Clergy
  • Leslie Callahan, St. Paul’s Baptist Church
  • Jamall Andrew Calloway, Brown University
  • Rosemary P. Carbine, Whittier College
  • J. Kameron Carter, Duke Divinity School
  • Cláudio Carvalhaes, Union Theological Seminary
  • Noel Castallanos, Christian Community Development Association
  • Choi Hee An, Boston University School of Theology
  • Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way
  • Jawanza Eric Clark, Manhattan College
  • Christian T. Collins Winn, Bethel University
  • Monica A. Coleman, Claremont School of Theology
  • James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary
  • David W. Congdon, University Press of Kansas
  • M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College
  • Kendall Cox, University of Virginia
  • Shannon Craigo-Snell, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
  • Brandy Daniels, University of Virginia
  • Keri Day, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Megan K. DeFranza, Boston University School of Theology
  • Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
  • Kelly Brown Douglas, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
  • Kait Dugan, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Victor Ezigbo, Bethel University
  • Nancy Fields, New York Theological Seminary
  • Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
  • John Flett, Pilgrim Theological College (Australia)
  • Walter Fluker, Boston University School of Theology
  • Yvette Flunder, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
  • Robert Franklin, Emory University
  • Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Duke Divinity School
  • Wil Gafney, Brite Divinity School
  • Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
  • Jacquelyn Grant, Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Gene Green, Wheaton College
  • Sharon Groves, Auburn Seminary
  • Katelin Hansen, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Lisa Sharon Harper, Greenville University and  Freedom Road, LLC
  • Jennifer Harvey, Drake University
  • Susan Hassinger, Boston University School of Theology
  • Katharine Henderson, Auburn Seminary
  • Johnny Hill, Shaw University Divinity School
  • Peter Goodwin Heltzel, New York Theological Seminary
  • Michael S. Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Alice W. Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Douglas “Jake” Jacobsen, Messiah College
  • Jeffrey Jaynes, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Willie James Jennings, Yale University
  • Wonhee Anne Joh, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Alfred Johnson, New York Theological Seminary
  • Paul Dafydd Jones, University of Virginia
  • Serene Jones, Union Theological Seminary
  • Sherry Jordan, University of St. Thomas
  • Namsoon Kang, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
  • Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Claremont School of Theology
  • Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Claremont School of Theology
  • Catherine Keller, Drew University School of Theology
  • Jeff Keuss, Seattle Pacific University
  • Grace Ji Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion
  • Nicole Kirk, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University Divinity School
  • Jennifer Wright Knust, Boston University School of Theology
  • Deborah Krause, Eden Theological Seminary
  • Kwok Pui Lan, Emory University
  • Sarah Heaner Lancaster, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Erik Leafblad, Bethel University
  • Terri LeBlanc, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological  Studies
  • Bernon Lee, Bethel University
  • Jacqueline J. Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church
  • Pamela Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology
  • Diane H. Lobody, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Tamura Lomax, The Feminist Wire
  • Vanessa Lovelace, Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Joretta Marshall, Brite Divinity School
  • Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University
  • Jenny McBride, McCormick Theological Seminary
  • Clint McCann, Eden Theological School
  • Carolyn McCrary, Interdenominational Theological Seminary
  • Brian D. McLaren, Convergence Leadership Project
  • W. Travis McMaken, Lindenwood University
  • Linda Mercadante, Methodist Theological School of Ohio
  • Rosemary Bray McNatt, Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Stephanie Mitchem, University of South Carolina
  • Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago
  • Deborah Flemister Mullen, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Susan Myers, University of St. Thomas
  • Francesca Nuzzolese, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • M. Fulgence Nyengele, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Kate Ott, Drew University
  • Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University
  • Joon-Sik Park, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Angela N. Parker, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology
  • Peter Phan, Georgetown University
  • David Penchansky, University of St. Thomas
  • Jim Perkinson, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
  • Larry Perry, Georgetown University
  • Adam Ployd, Eden Theological Seminary
  • Alton B Pollard, III, Howard University School of Divinity
  • Thomas Porter, Jr., Boston University School of Theology
  • Andrew Prevot, Boston College
  • Bradford H. Price, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Jeffrey C. Pugh, Elon University
  • Marc A. Pugliese, St. Leo University
  • Luis N. Rivera Pagan, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Shelly Rambo, Boston University School of Theology
  • Erica Ramiriz, George Fox University
  • Paul Brandeis Raushenbusch, Auburn Seminary
  • Darby K. Ray, Bates College
  • Stephen Ray, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Lallene Rector, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Joshua Reno, University of Minnesota
  • Patrick Reyes, The Forum for Theological Exploration
  • Kenneth A. Reynhout, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
  • Kurt Anders Richardson, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics
  • Joerg Rieger, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Kyle Roberts, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
  • Gene Robinson, Episcopal Church
  • Luis R. Rivera Rodriguez, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Timothy J. Scherer, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Laurel C. Schneider, Vanderbilt University
  • Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church
  • Christian Scharen, Auburn Seminary
  • David Schnasa Jacobsen, Boston University School of Theology
  • Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Ry O. Siggelkow, University of St. Thomas
  • Angela Sims, Saint Paul School of Theology
  • Andrea Smith, University of California, Riverside
  • Kay Higuera Smith, Azusa Pacific University
  • Melanie Smith, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
  • Patrick T. Smith, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • Shannon Nicole Smythe, Seattle Pacific University
  • Bryan Stone, Boston University School of Theology
  • Diana M. Swancutt, Boston University School of Theology
  • Kathryn Tanner, Yale University
  • Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Seminary
  • JoAnne Marie Terrell, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
  • John E. Thiel, Fairfield University
  • Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Linda Thomas, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
  • Julie Todd, Iliff School of Theology
  • Joseph Tolton, The Fellowship Global
  • Miguel A. De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology
  • Cameron Trimble, Center for Progressive Renewal
  • Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University
  • Timothy L Van Meter, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Eldin Villafañe, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • Kimberly Vrudny, University of St. Thomas
  • Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College
  • Janet Walton, Union Theological Seminary
  • Nimi Wariboko, Boston University School of Theology
  • Michele E. Watkins, Iliff School of Theology
  • Eric Weed, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Sharon Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Jim Wellman, University of Washington
  • Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School
  • Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School
  • Vitor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
  • Andrea C. White, Union Theological Seminary
  • Tamara Francis Wilden, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Wesley J. Wildman, Boston University School of Theology
  • David E. Wilhite, Baylor University
  • Matthew Williams, Forum for Theological Exploration
  • Reggie L. Williams, McCormick Theological Seminary
  • Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Rutba House
  • Janet Wolf, United Methodist Clergy
  • Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman, University of Otago (New Zealand)
  • Randy Woodley, Portland Seminary/George Fox University
  • Jessica Wong, Azusa Pacific University
  • Gale A. Yee, Episcopal Divinity School
  • Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Yvonne C. Zimmerman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio

If you would like to add your name to a petition inspired by the Boston Declaration – click here.

Don’t Put Off Love – Sarah Derrick, MDiv student / LSTC

thomas110_1027092James Baldwin once commented on the disconnect he often witnessed, confronting supposed white supporters of the Civil Rights Movement when they acted in ways that directly contradicted their verbal support of equality. His response was classic: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” It is precisely this disconnect between intent action that this week’s author, Sarah Derrick, so boldly admits and grapples with – how despite her passionate desire to help, often her privilege gets in the way of following through. 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.”


isna_logo_green.jpg

I’ve been able to put this off.

More than a year ago, I attended the Islamic Society of North America’s dynamic annual conference in Chicago. 

I was asked to write and reflect on my experience.

Sure, I thought, not even responding to the email, I will absolutely do that once I get home. 

Classes started, work began to pile up, suddenly the experience of ISNA seemed distant, lower on my list of priorities to address, it seemed less important to invite conversation around engaging our Muslim neighbors, more important to turn inward, and reflect on my own situation.  Then last November came, political rhetoric was even more charged with xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racial bigotry.  I was reminded once again that I had been invited to challenge this in some sort of written reflection.  I had every intention to do so.

Donald Trump was elected. I was angry at the country.

I wanted to speak up.

Yet, once again, I put it off.

170129105148-donald-trump-extreme-vetting-executive-order-01-27-2017-large-169.jpg

This tidal motion of my intentions, actions, and feelings are, I believe, reflective of my privilege as a white Christian in this country.  I can be bothered, invited into action, and choose whether or not it is convenient for me to engage in the moment.  I can choose to put off speaking on a topic, put off engaging with the brokenness we see around us.  My privilege allowed me to go one year without responding to an invitation to reflect on anti-Muslim bigotry and the church.  I say this to point out that I could have said something much sooner, to point out my choice to keep an arms distance.  In my complacency, I had contributed to the problem.  And to shift this out of a personal confessional into a corporate one, I invite all of us to think about how we as a collective people often times put off speaking up.  I wonder what that has looked like, I wonder what the implication of our inaction has been.

What has happened in the year plus since I was invited to write? 

Political tensions heightened, a leader many are frightened of is now president, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hate crimes have been on the rise, groups like ACT for America have organized anti-Muslim protests around the country, people have lost their lives for defending their Muslim neighbor. The election of Donald Trump has not only given permission for the incidents just listed, but I believe it has also given permission to white Christians to continue in their complacency.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard family and friends say some variation of, “wait and see” or “give it a chance first”.

anti-white-street-signs.jpg

I actually believe that most white Christians would not align themselves with extreme hate groups, that they do see anti-Muslim bigotry as a problem in this country.  But I also see the complacency of individuals and communities to take actions to address the brokenness to be the same as endorsing the hate.

A while ago I went to Washington, D.C. for Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  In one plenary session, we heard of the faith community’s silence in public witness.  We heard that where legislative offices are bombarded with 4,000 calls a day from organizations like the NRA, the same offices hear far less from faith communities.  So when it comes time for legislators to make a decision, they can say that they are voting on behalf of their constituents.

Our silence allows dangerous legislation to flourish.

While I was at the Islamic Society conference, I picked up a print of a quote from Rumi, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”  When I went to pay for it, the woman running the stall asked if I was a new convert to Islam.  When I shared with her that I was there with other interfaith religious leaders, she gave me the print as a gift, saying she felt grateful that there were people who wanted to learn and show up.  I have this print hanging in my apartment, and it has been both a source of encouragement, but it has simultaneously been a reminder of the ways I have fallen short in showing up.

PPsim_gp_400x400.jpg

The Center for Christian Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at LSTC partners with is Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a non-profit that works to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.  The calls to action they release are always twofold: 1. Speak up—write letters to the editor, op-eds, blogs, and 2. Show up—join an iftar during Ramadan, visit the mosque in your neighborhood, build relationships with interfaith leaders in your area so that when tragedy strikes, you have a relationship that is allows you to work in response to the needs of your neighbor, not in response to your own needs.

I see this twofold invitation to be particularly challenging in my own context as a white Christian.  One of my professors in seminary always teaches that the people of the United States, and I think in this context we can say mainline, white US Christians, are great at playing host, but we are not great at being hosted.  We are used to being in charge, to calling the shots, to having people over on our terms, but we are much less inclined to give up some of that control in order to be a guest.  I was able to attend several iftars over Ramadan last year year, in those meals, learning the stories of my neighbors in Hyde Park, I was once again reminded of the invitation I ignored one year ago.  I think that reminder was the work of the Holy Spirit.  She often shows up among strangers, over meals, and She often makes us uncomfortable.

Amidst the ACT for America anti-Muslim protests, and now the Muslim travel ban, I finally responded to that invitation I received – though a year late.  I deeply regret that it I ignored the invitation, and that I could ignore the pain of my Abrahamic family when it wasn’t convenient to engage.  The both/and of showing up and speaking up means we are living into what it means to be a guest.  We are speaking up when our neighbors need it, not when we need it to feel better about ourselves.  We are showing up at the invitation of our neighbors.

muslim-community.jpg

This is hard, and is something I have a hard time with holding in tension.  It seems that when I feel especially adept at speaking, I at times leave relationship behind, or when I am in relationship through interfaith gatherings or meals, I at times fail to follow up by speaking against narratives that demonize those I am in relationship with.

My having written this article doesn’t resolve my privilege to err into complacency.  I see this being something I continue to struggle with, as perhaps evident in what I have written.  My hope is that the next time, it won’t take a year for me to respond to an invitation to speak when my neighbors are suffering.  And my hope for the church is that we recognize that a “wait and see” attitude is fueling the hate we see around us.


unnamed.jpgSarah Derrick having finished her second year of Masters of Divinity studies at LSTC,  she began an internship in Seattle this past August, working in a parish as well as an interfaith advocacy organization.  Originally from South Carolina, Sarah enjoys being in the kitchen, exploring new places, and finding reasons to throw a themed party.

A Queer Reformation – Josh Evans, candidate for ordination, ELCA

thomas110_1027092

Continuing on the theme of semper reformanda – always reforming – seminarian Josh Evans has prepared a post discussing the reality that what it means to be ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ has changed radically in recent years. Intersectionality is a term that captures the change Evans writes about. It denotes the intricate and cumulative way different systems of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) coalesce, coincide, and interlock. As a result, some of God’s children– our siblings and neighbors are put at risk, discounted, and marginalized.  Read, comment, and share!

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


meusa_web_bnnr_lovewon

It was a Friday, and I remember distinctly walking through the atrium of the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, OH, the hospital where I spending my summer as a chaplain intern completing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. The next day would be the city’s annual Pride Parade, and several of us at the hospital were wearing t-shirts proudly bearing a photoshopped image of the hospital’s distinctive CARES Tower with its wave-like white stripes transformed into the pattern of a rainbow flag.

“Did you hear?” whispered one colleague, as three of us met in the busy atrium. “We won!” another blurted out, still hushed but with an unmistakable smile.

We had just heard the news the Supreme Court of the United States had ruled in a landmark case that same-sex couples had the fundamental, constitutional right to marry. The joy in the room was palpable. As more of us gathered, clad in our Cleveland VA Pride shirts, we posed on the staircase for a group photo. Clearly, I have not forgotten that day.

It is difficult to imagine, only a little more than two years later, how much has changed. On that happy Friday, never did I dream that we would soon have an administration in Washington with such a strong anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda. In his timely book Preaching in the Era of Trump, O. Wesley Allen Jr. writes:

In spite of Trump holding up a rainbow flag at one of his rallies and mentioning LGBTQ rights in a positive tone, his presidency is positioned to do damage to the rights gained by the LGBTQ community in recent years (85).

trump rainbow flag

Allen goes on to cite example after example that upholds his dangerous, fearful prediction, including administration members’ support for “conversion therapy,” opposition to marriage equality and nondiscrimination legislation, commitment to dismantling the Obamacare provisions for access to transgender health care, troubling language about LGBTQIA+ persons, and nearly four full pages more of the like.

More recently, when news broke of the historic United Nations vote to condemn the use of the death penalty worldwide for LGBTQIA+ persons who engage in consensual sexual relations, that good news was quickly tempered for those of us in the United States: our country cast its vote against that resolution. In favor of the death penalty for people like me.

Immediately, I thought of Pulse, and my feelings of extreme fear in its aftermath (that could’ve been me), which I wrote about in my last contribution to this blog on the one-year anniversary of that massacre. Rereading that post, I am reminded that its composition coincided with the acquittal of two police officers charged in the deaths of two unarmed black men. Still more: writing this piece comes on the heels of yet two more mass shootings – an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a church outside of San Antonio, Texas. And even more: In one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, we have witnessed a shockingly inadequate federal response to aid in Puerto Rico, one of the countries that was hit the hardest.

Quotefancy-2183142-3840x2160
For Emma Lazarus’ fascinating bio, click here.

All of this seems to suggest to me that we live in a culture of violence – a culture that devalues and demeans black and brown and queer and trans bodies. But we, as a church, particularly its Lutheran expression, in this time, also live in a season of reformation. Of course, in its broad sense, the church, at its best, is always about the business of reforming, but in this particular year, marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we have been hearing “All Reformation All the Time!” to borrow a recent line from our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton.

It is against the backdrop of this culture of violence yet in the midst of the church’s season of reformation that I am compelled to ask: What does queer theology have to offer? To be sure, this musing comes from a deeply personal place: I myself identify as a queer, gay man, and this social location is always my starting place, explicitly or otherwise, for doing theology. I also ask this question from a place of deep fear. The narrative I hear coming from an administration in Washington that so devalues LGBTQIA+ lives scares me. And from an intersectional perspective, it scares me, too, that my black and brown siblings and those who are undocumented immigrants or political refugees are just as much in a precarious position when it comes to their very safety.

To suggest what queer theology has to offer in such a climate is more than just an exercise in academia. I suspect that what queer theology has to offer is of utmost value for those who, like me, are or are preparing to be full-time ministerial leaders in this church. What does queer theology have to say for the real people in our real pews with real problems and real fears to whom we minister and with whom we have to privilege to accompany in their joys and in their struggles?

Ru, Jim, Virginia Guadalupe

I would first like to make it clear that to take up queer theology in this context is itself to be about the business of reformation. While Luther himself is a time- and place-bound historical figure who was not perfect and whose theology was not exhaustive in addressing every possible issue the church would face ten, twenty, a hundred, or five hundred years into the future, the value of his theology cannot be dismissed. Indeed, as LSTC’s own Vítor Westhelle’s latest publication suggests, there remains the possibility of transfiguring Luther’s theology – to bring his theological vision of liberation alive in new and changing times and places for a new and changing people. This is the basis by which I suggest queer theology can enter into conversation with Lutheran theology in this season of reformation.

But back down the ivory tower: What is the gift of queer theology for our time and place, infused at once in a culture of violence done to black and brown and queer and trans bodies and in this season where we claim ecclesia semper reformanda?

Of particular interest to me is the recent, impactful work of the Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology (and friend and contributor to We Talk, We Listen). In her book Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, Lightsey’s own self-identification as a queer lesbian, who is also a person of color, informs her theology as she brings together for the first time (to my knowledge) queer and womanist theologies. From the latter she holds up Alice Walker’s now-classic definition: a womanist is one who loves “the folk” and is “committed to wholeness and survival of an entire people” (xix).

PamelaLightseyFerguson
The Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

With a commitment to queer womanist theology, Lightsey speaks of the need to reclaim a liberative vision of the image dei for persons, namely queer and black, who have been consistently devalued and made victims of violence both by church and society:

We must recapture an understanding of the body as good and not evil… We must turn the tables, declare our bodies to be good, and encourage healthy self-love. We must do this with a sense of urgency because we have the propensity to express scapegoating in criminal activity specifically in hate crime attacks against transwomen of color. So, not only must we love ourselves but that love of self must also extend to loving thy neighbor as thyself. This is why the communal nature of womanism is so critical. We must love the folk, be with the folk, and not live our lives as separatists or staunch advocates of other-worldliness (83).

This, for me, strikes at the heart of the gift of queer theology for our time and place: We must love ourselves, our very bodies, but that love must also extend outward to loving our neighbor; we must love the folk, their bodies, and be with them. To borrow words from Karl Barth: “to tell [people] the message that God is not against them, but for them.” And to elaborate, through the lens of queer theology: that God is for them, as they are.

 

liberationtheology

In our work, whether as rostered ministers or in countless lay vocations, this is the task of theology and ministry, informed by the principles of queer theology, for a church of the reformation responding to a culture infused with violence: We invite our people’s stories, and we listen. We make safe space for vulnerability, and we create a sacred space where healing can begin.


Evans HeadshotJosh Evans is a seminary student from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he is in his last year of his Master of Divinity (MDiv) studies, as well as a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA. Last year, he served as the vicar at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, where he shared his passion for liturgy and worship, reading, coffee, and ice cream. He’s also fond of spoiling his two cats, Oliver and Sophia.

On the 500: Semper Reformanda and the Dream Americana – Adam Braun, PhD

thomas110_1027092“So what’s next?” is a question that many Protestants are asking these days – as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation barrels down on the globe and its many people. Adam Braun returns to “We Talk. We Listen.” with another reflection on whiteness, reforming, and a reasonable “what’s next.” Read, comment, and share.

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


Reformation-500-1310x440.png

Those in Lutheran circles are now facing the fanfare of the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  It is safe to say it has not been 500 years of “always reforming” or even “always reforming the church.” Perhaps, we have reformed ourselves all the way to the American suburbs.  Here, we have no anxiety that God is judging us.  Here, we do not have to work for our salvation.

Here, we can read our Bibles on our own, as individuals, in our individual homes.

But as individuals we are embedded in a culture, fitted with an ideology, and both our cultures and ideologies are outside the bounds of reformation, external to the limits of our possible self-critique.  As I reflect on myself as a person of immense privilege, I am not surprised then that this sort of church produces narratives that are rarely self-critical.  Sure, our narratives are full of humility and admission about the essential sinfulness of our position, but that is not the same awareness of how our privileges interact with the world, nor does it show any understanding of how they negatively impact the world.  In order for us to claim the mantra of always reforming, we must collectively think critically about where are churches are and what they ought to do.

International_Church_of_Christ_worship.jpg

I was once asked how to do Church in the American suburbs by a suburban pastor.  Behind the question is an admission of difficulty.  It is difficult to preach the prophets (including Jesus) who call for change in a space that is made for stability.  It is difficult to preach Paul in spaces that smooth over differences, when Paul pushes diasporic communities to face each other’s differences.  It is difficult to preach the Gospel, its servant-hood and sharing of resources, in the utopia of the American Dream.

In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent memoir, Between the World and Me

“I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

The reality we may not see is in fact the one we don’t want to see: that the invisible hand of the market is actually made of up of black, brown, and yellow hands.*  That cell phone that we hold everyday, was it put together by white European hands, harvested from the resources of white European lands?  How about the computers in our church, or the projectors, or the microphones?

SemperReformanda1500

If Lutheranism no longer is Lutheranism and perhaps is no longer Gospel, then what shall we do with it?  Once Lutheranism has lost the antagonism of its Northern European identity against other forms of Europe in America**, it has no structural force for its own liberation, because it is drowning in its own suburban privilege.  So if its position needs no liberation and if its message never challenges the powers of Whiteness, Patriarchy, and Capital, why celebrate 500 years?  Shall we all move to the suburbs and celebrate 500 years of ourselves and Lutheranism’s place in the Pax Americana?

Always Reform.  Sure, reform our individual selves, but let us measure our reformations by how our churches face up to the privileged and under-privileged.  This is a two step, self-critical process:

1)  Consider what the hegemonic powers of the day are and our churches’ relationships to them.

2)  Ask directly how our churches are actively participating in resisting them.  Are we not a Church PROTESTant?

Let us not celebrate ourselves in the 500.  Let us celebrate that our church tradition provides a history in which we can participate in self-critique and reformation, allowing us to call ourselves to reforming the church’s relationship to black and brown bodies (and all bodies of color), to non-cis/non-masculine bodies, to reforming all the systems that smother us in the glory of Capital. 

photo-main.jpg

Because, reforming will give us opportunity to peel back the curtains on our own crises, an apocalypse of sorts, and see that our privilege is not a blessing, but an Empire built on the backs of those who deserve better.  A better world than the suburbs.  A better church than our community centers.  A better God than Capital.  A better Lutheranism than ours.


AdamSelfieAdam F. Braun is an aspiring feminist, anti-white supremacist, as well as a PhD student in New Testament Christology at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. A former facilitator at Boston Pub Church, he describes himself as a general radical who looks for radical potential in radical Christian gatherings – prefering darkness to light, and solidarity to love.

*Of course, I do not mean that black and brown hands are the organizing agency of the market.  Rather, it is the market orienting itself around the “secret” knowledge that it can pay black and brown hands less than it pays white hands.

**For literature on the early racial fluidity of European immigrants in the U.S. see Roediger’s Working towards Whiteness and Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color.

Ten Theses for 2017 – Prof. Caryn D. Riswold

Linda Thomas at CTS eventAs the blogosphere prepares to be utterly inundated by various and sundry celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the coordinators of “We Talk. We Listen” refuse to look backward – as is often the vogue – but rather desire to make a radical statement about the way forward. Prof. Caryn D. Riswold, hence, is proposing an addendum to Luther’s much-heralded 95 Theses – her own 10 theses addressing contemporary failings of the church. Proper and true Reformation will only happen when everyone is participating – and not solely those in positions of power that reinforce nomativity and enforce rules. So read, enjoy, debate, and share by nailing them to some doors!

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


As part of the professional leadership conference at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on October 10, I opened my keynote address with the following. Things in direct quotations are from the document whose posting at Wittenberg in 1517 serves as the pivot point for the Reformation commemorated this month.

The-Most-Interesting-Reformer-in-the-World.jpg

“Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed….”

1.The reformation to which the church is called today, to which we are called today, is one that casts off status quo comforts of racial category and gender binary.

2. The reformation of the church today must include a new reckoning with heritages of hate.

3. The evangelical mission of the church in a turbulent world is to live the gospel in public.

4. Christians are to be taught that they who stand – or kneel – with their neighbor does a greater service than one who aligns themselves with Power.

5. The true treasures of the church have been coopted by white nationalism and drawn too easily on de facto segregation among our congregations.

6. Those who believe they can be certain of personal triumphal truth will be brought low by the voices from the margins and the voice of the earth itself howling in the hurricane winds.

7. It does not seem proved, by reason or by Scripture, that the church has yet to fully live out its grace-infused promise.

8. “Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)” (Thesis 92)

9. There will be peace when the prophetic voices of this day which are heard in the streets and the shopping mall, are included in policy-making and result in structural change.

10. This church is to be taught that we who claim a five-hundred year old Reformation, who hold fast to true treasures of grace, faith, and love, are called to more fully realize what Reformation might mean in our world today.


http://www.warmowskiphoto.comCaryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, as well as an M.A. at the Claremont School of Theology having earned the B.A. from Augustana University in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She teaches Religion and Gender & Women’s Studies at Illinois College, and is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Feminism and Christianity: Questions and Answers in the Third Wave. You can follow her on Twitter @feminismxianity.