Caught in the Words – Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Picture 002The flesh is messy. It needs food, love, caresses and correction. When it doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is the, of no wonder that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. From this point, then, Rev. Tuhina Rasche (ELCA) shares with us why something even so simple as a constitutional resolution for the ELCA absolutely must have flesh – accountability, solidarity, and money – if it is to accomplish it’s goal. Read, comment, and share, friends!

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


“My name is Tuhina Verma Rasche. I am the Associate Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland… and I offer myself as tribute from District C.”

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Rev. Tuhina Rasche speaking at the 2016  Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly.

I used words from the recent Hunger Games trilogy in my 30-second Churchwide voting member nomination speech at the 2015 Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly. There is no irony whatsoever that I was voted to be the Person of Color/ First Language other than English voting member from my synod. The words I selected in my nomination speech were partially in jest, but they were also a critique of particular words that have been used to define my place within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I was offering myself as a token, a sacrifice within a broken system.

It was at Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans earlier this month that I got caught up in words. It is safe to say that I am obsessed with how words are used in the world. I am fascinated how words are put together to construct ideas and used to communicate between people. And there were no shortage of words at Churchwide. I believe words to be important, but I have come to realize that sometimes, words are not the entirety of the world. There are times where words are simply not enough.

And there are times where words seem meaningful, but upon closer inspection, they lack power.

Words need accompanying actions.

Words need flesh.

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http://www.decolonizelutheranism.org / #decolonizeLutheranism

Before Churchwide Assembly, I was informed by co-conspirators in the #decolonizeLutheranism movement that the Assembly would be voting to amend the denomination’s constitutional provision that the ELCA would reach ten percent minority membership within ten years of its inception, and that this particular voting would take place en bloc with additional amendments. The specific amendment on diversity shifted from a concrete number to words speaking of a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in relation to the demographic data of a community.

The words shifted.

Not just in the constitution, but in my heart.

The ELCA had high hopes for who we were supposed to be, but we never achieved those aspirations. We had words and a number that never truly became a part of our identity. After 28 years of hope, we remain on of the whitest mainline Protestant denominations in the United States. The amended language, moving from ten percent to a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity, felt like the ELCA presented words that expressed a vague notion without much accountability.

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Results of a 2015 study by Pew Research showing that the ELCA is the whitest church in the United States.

And that hurt.

Even though the history of the denomination in which I serve did not achieve a goal and did not have an ideal history with racial and ethnic and racial diversity, I did not want these words to be written from the church’s history. I could not sit well with a revisionist history. While the history was far from ideal, these words were a part of my history. These words were a part of my experience as an ordained woman of color within our church. We can learn from what we do not erase. We can also take time to grieve what never came to pass.

I got caught up in the words…

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Presiding during the eucharistic worship service at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

There are particular words that pierce my being. I grieved during Thursday worship at Churchwide Assembly. The Words of Institution are powerful and terrifying. They are words that profess a broken Christ for each and every one of us. These powerful words of our crucified Lord call us not just to ponder, but also to act. During the Eucharist, my mind went to siblings of color who are crucified daily, whether that crucifixion be the traumatic metaphorical or the horrific physical. It was in the Words of Institution that I was reminded that those who partake of such a holy meal are called to act in response to God’s love. That action could be great or small.

It was time to act.

I was on the search for accountability. I yearned for words to state accountability with this amendment to our constitution; I wanted to know just how congregations would work with synods and Churchwide to become more reflective of their communities? How would we be accountable to one another to serve as the body of the crucified and risen God in the world? In searching between the words and letters of this proposed amendment and being moved by the Eucharist, I was desperately searching for something… and I was not the only one.

The work of Churchwide Assembly cannot be done in isolation. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that there are so many within our church that work incredibly hard to profess the Gospel. Sometimes that work comes through church polity and agendas. Sometimes that work comes through extensive planning and coordinating worship services. Sometimes that work comes in writing memorials and amendments to continuing resolutions. It is with this collective body, amazing siblings in Christ, some who have served the ELCA since its birth, some who are a couple of years within their first call, that Christ was present. Christ came in our voices as we sat across from tables working on language, in the furious typing of notes and recommendations, in sitting with people hearing their experiences and hopes and dreams, in fervent prayer. Christ was present in all of it.

All of this led to one sentence. A string of words linked together to communicate an idea. This led to an amendment of the continuing resolution, which stated…

“Each synod shall submit their goals and strategies to the appropriate Churchwide unit office and shall annually submit a report on progress toward their goals to the Church Council.”

There is hope in this sentence. Through the hard work of Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, a memorial was created to speak of accountability. The words that can lead to our action.

My words to speak to amending the continuing resolution were:

“This revision speaks of assessment yet does not have an overt statement of accountability. What are the metrics outside of US Census Data and congregational parochial reports that will be used to maintain accountability, especially if each synod is to develop their own goals and strategies to monitor progress?

There needs to be an intertwined relationship of accountability and empowerment to be a diverse church. How will Churchwide, synods, and congregations work together? What tools will be used to empower, and not simply monitor, congregations to become more reflective of the communities in which they reside, and what will the assessment be? What are the words and numbers that will be a part of our flesh?

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Discussing the amendment before the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, LA.

The ELCA has been stepping up on conversations about diversity and who we are as a church body. We have evidence of Bishop Eaton’s work with the not only one, but three webcasts on racism, diversity, and being a welcoming church. But we need to do more. We did not make the commitment of 10% people of color/ primary language other than English. But this was a misguided goal at the onset, as a people of the good news of Jesus Christ, the only acceptable number is 100%. This is more than just numbers.

People of color, we’re here. Our ministries matter. Our lives matter. Our place in this church matters. We are not just something to be handled and we are more than photo opportunities.

We are a church of a crucified Lord, and there is a need to mourn and lament that we did not meet our intentions. And we must ponder why.

As an ordained person of color in our church, I do not want to be written out of the church’s history, even if it did not meet our ideals. We profess death AND resurrection. We saw that in this place, voting to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and approving AMMPARO. Let us continue such work in our own neighborhoods and on our own streets.

The conversation must continue on accountability.”

We must live with and acknowledge that we did not meet our desired goals.

But let us face the future with good courage, as there is much work to do.


Resources

Robert P. Jones’ powerful book on the changing landscape of Christianity in the United States and beyond, The End of White Christian America.

George “Tink” Tinker’s article, a central reading for the #decolonizeLutheran movement, “Decolonizing the Language of Lutheran Theology.”

The central website for #decolonizeLutheranismwell as their bio-video.

A link to the Facebook page on #decolonizeLutheranism‘s first gathering/revival, #decolonize16. To register click here.


12829211_10102460194482458_3928793812784612436_o.jpgRev. Tuhina Verma Rasche (PLTS, M.Div. 2012) is the Associate Pastor of Adult Faith Formation and Social Ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, CA. She also served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration, blogs at thislutheranlife.blogspot.com, and is the unofficial liturgist for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism.

In Search of Authenticity – Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin

Linda Thomas at CTS eventCan bureaucracy provide a path toward justice? Like secular institutions, mainline Christian denominations use bureaucratic procedure to move toward change and transformation. However, unlike secular institutions, the Church is called through the Triune God to offer grace and strive for justice. With the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly recently completed, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin gives us a snap-shot of her activities during the week-long series of meetings and votes, and how she and others continue their tireless efforts to call the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to confess, reassess, and deal with the reality that after 28 years it’s racial composition is still 96% white. Reverend Austin reminds us that God created racial diversity and calls the ELCA to redouble it’s efforts to make good on its commitment to diversity. Read and be inspired, friends – and don’t forget to 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.”


I have a love/hate relationship with systems.

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Participants at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At their best systems create pathways to justice and equity. Systems can establish order and promote fairness in a chaotic, disorderly and sinful world. This is why I deeply value our church constitutions and assemblies.  Setting the high aim of bringing forth God’s reign on earth, these systems seek to shape an orderly pathway for healthy relationships within and beyond the church, all for the glory of God!

So when the opportunity arose for me to attend the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the church geek in me leapt for joy. I cleared my calendar, arranged special activities for my children, adjusted my family budget and jumped on the plane to spend a week in New Orleans in August, knowing full well, that most of my time would be spent in the confines of a windowless convention hall. All because I knew that this was my chance to add my voice to the work of justice and peacemaking of our national church. Yes, I love systems.

But systems are designed and operated by human beings, who in our theology we understand to be both saints and sinners. That means that despite our best and most saintly of efforts, we will often fall into our own patterns of sinfulness that make the system oppressive, hurtful, harmful and very contrary to the way in which Jesus might do things. In the name of good order we find ourselves protecting the system from people rather than uplifting people through the system. It is my deep frustration with this reality that keeps me engaged with the system in an effort to call it to the same daily confession and repentance that I need in my life.

This summer I entered the Assembly with no particular agenda, other than to be certain that voices from the margins get moved to the center of the conversation. And through this simple calling, the Holy Spirit set me on a path of sleepless nights, copious writing, and a multitude of surprising conversations that led to a 2 minute speech on the floor of the assembly and affirmative vote to shake up the system.

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Graph of the Pew Study’s finding on diversity among religious communities in the United States. At 96% white – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is officially the whitest religious organization in the United States (see second-from-the-bottom).

 

You see, at its founding in 1988, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America set a goal for diversity and inclusion within our ranks. That goal was given a number, 10%, and institutionalized into the system via the Churchwide Constitution. 28 years later, the Pew reports showed that not only had we not achieved that goal, but the percentage of people of color in the ELCA was less than when we started.

It seems that forming Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and staffing a Unit for Multi-Cultural Ministries was not sufficient to make change occur. It seems that despite, the presence and development of a library of resources by affiliated organizations like Women of the ELCA, a shift in the culture of the church is still slow to be made manifest. And it seemed that our system response to this failure, was to remove the goal from our governing documents and replace it with a commitment to work toward diversity.

Suffice it to say, this did not sit well with me, but the Holy Spirit was at work. It turns out She had gathered in this place and time the exact collection of individuals necessary to dream up a new vision for our church. She had tilled the soil and softened the hearts of leaders who were now naming new priorities of justice and inclusion.  As I sat humbly at the feet of phenomenal young adult leaders in our church, and under the wings of elders who have been walking this road since before I began, it became evident that She was calling the church geek in me to action.

 

It was time to call the system to account. It was resolution writing time.

In my heart, I simply wanted to tell the assembly, that we can do better. I wanted them to understand that God has provided us with all we need to do God’s work of building a beautiful, diverse, inclusive, beloved community. I know that is messy work, but I wanted the system, or rather, I wanted the people in the system to hear the grace that the answers exist within our midst. That we can be all that God is calling us to be. So my head got to work, laying out the WHEREAS[i] clauses that name our abundant resources and confess our failure. Then with Spirit guidance from young adults and wise elders the RESOLVED[ii] clauses came into being.

The final hurdle of the system

was now before me…

…funding.

You see, while my love/hate relationship with systems is complex, my hate/love relationship with money goes even deeper. But I knew that the reality of the capitalistic society in which we live, is that whatever solution I proposed, it was going to require money, a financial investment in our future. I wanted to be like Jesus and simply toss the tables in the temple and let the money fall where it may. I was inside the system, in a seat with voice and vote and an organized coalition of support, but I knew the system would not take well to such upset and the power we held, even collectively was not quite enough to bring forth the dollars needed. The question became; who was the Holy Spirit calling to complete what I had started?

This led me to more conversations, with more of God’s beloved church geeks and the answer became clear. It was time for a call to accountability to all we named and claimed as church. And it was time to trust the system.

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I stood on the Assembly floor and directed these words to our Presiding Bishop[iii]:

 “I love my church. By that I mean I love my church in all its expressions, in all the locations I have served, lived, loved and been formed. I am overjoyed by the intentional naming and claiming of our efforts to be a people of restorative justice and reconciling peace with a commitment to diversity.

But I want MORE.

I want our commitments to be more than just lip-service.

I want them to move us to action.

I want them to be supported with a plan for success.

I want them supported by the wisdom of people of color who have been leading in our midst,

Let Us LEAD.

I want them supported with strategies of accountability that are adaptive & authentic and

I want them supported with resources, that means, dollars.

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At the assembly – from left to right – Rev. Tuhina Rasche, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin.

I am grateful for the strong affirmation and support of Reference and Counsel for this resolution and I support it being referred to Church Council for budgetary consideration.

I am trusting that the work of Called Together Forward[iv], the current priorities of the Council and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the actions of this Assembly thus far this week will serve to compel our church council to partner effectively with the Churchwide Staff, all the partners who are named in this resolution to bring to fruition the heart and content of this resolution”

The resolution was referred to the Church Council, an action that on its surface, that seems futile, but I am a child of the risen Christ and therefore called to live in hope. My hope and my prayer is that we will be who God calls us to be.

Meanwhile, I will continue to love the system by holding it accountable to fulfill this promise.


11181188_1017277271638254_7750523003400743439_n.jpgRev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (LSTC M.Div. 2011) is currently the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA. Additionally, she is a member of the Rostered Women of Color Project Steering Team for the ELCA as well as the Northwest Washington Synod Strategy Team for Authentic Diversity.


[i] WHEREAS the ELCA Church Council voted [CC15.11.55]:To recognize and affirm the extensive efforts of the presiding bishop to call the entire church to confront racism and to add our voice to that call; and To invite the presiding bishop to include the current efforts in a broader, comprehensive strategy toward becoming a racially and ethnically diverse church committed to dismantling racism; and

WHEREAS the Women of the ELCA has developed a wealth of resources and curriculum for racial justice from a Biblical and historical perspective and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations along with the Ethnic Specific, Multicultural and Racial Justice team have developed strategies for engaging and  involving people of color in every aspect of the life of our church; and

WHEREAS our church is blessed with a breadth and depth of people of color and people with a first language other than English whose voices need to be amplified in order to guide this church in moving forward towards becoming a more inclusive and diverse church; and
WHEREAS even with these resources and supports, synods and congregations have had difficulty achieving this church’s commitment to diversity as reflected in the Continuing Resolutions under section 5.01 of the Constitution,  Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; therefore

[ii] BE IT RESOLVED the Churchwide Assembly direct the ELCA Church Council to form a Task Force for the purpose of developing a comprehensive set of strategies to equip congregations and synods to work towards becoming a more authentically diverse church. The work of the Task Force shall include but is not limited to:

  • consulting with WELCA,  the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations,  the Multicultural and Racial Justice Team, the Conference of Bishops and ecumenical partners;
  • collecting existing resources such as those available from WELCA and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and beyond the ELCA;
  • identify needs for additional resources;
  • supporting synods in identifying their specific opportunities for growth;
  • assess the effectiveness of diversity strategies across the three expressions church in order to identify strategies that have yielded authentic diversity; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force be composed of 1 person from each of the 9 regions and 1 Bishop who will serve as co-chair. The composition of the Task Force shall conform with the representational principles in section 5.01.f of the ELCA Constitution except that persons of Color and/or persons whose Primary Language is other than English shall comprise 100% of the Task Force and the Task Force will be ethnically diverse. The members of the Task Force shall be appointed by the Church Council in consultation with the ELCA Director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Church Council designate funds to support the work of the Task Force as soon as funds become available, no later than November April 2017. The work of the Task Force shall begin no later than August 2017 and conclude at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force submit a report and recommendations to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly that includes;

  • a summary of the information gathered by the Task Force and
  • a proposal of recommendations for metrics and supports to provide mutual accountability for our commitment to diversity across the three expressions of the church and a proposal for funding these efforts.

[iii] Video link is available at http://livestream.com/elca/events/5829763 Plenary 8 – 1:36-1:41 [approximately]

[iv] http://www.elca.org/future

Weeding Out Injustice, Harvesting Peace (Or Rules for Fighting Multi-headed Monsters) – Carmelo Santos, M.Div., Ph.D.

ThomasLinda sittingFighting the demons of systemic oppression is a holy, but exhausting work – not just for the time and energy that it demands, but for the seemingly endless -isms there are to fight. Carmelo Santos – scholar, pastor, and editor – gives us a word of encouragement this week, though. The ways that evil torments society may be a beast of many heads, but by fully confronting one of those societal ills you eventually end up taking out one or two others with it. So be of courage, friends, and keep fighting the good fight. 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.”


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May Day Immigration Rally in San Jose, CA.

Going Radical in my Front Yard

My fifteen seconds of fame came when as a pastor in the DC Metro area I became involved with the immigrants’ rights movement. There were fasts to reunite families, rallies to agitate Congress to act on immigration reform, and pastoral meetings congressional staff. We even borrowed a page from the Occupy Wall Street movement and were successful in “occupying” Congress for about an hour in order to bring to our decision makers the voices of those most affected by their decisions (or more accurately, by their indecision).  And there were symbolic acts of civil disobedience (or, as my elders taught me to think of them, acts of obedience to the gospel).

During one of those events a journalist approached me for an interview. She seemed baffled by the fact that I was a Puerto Rican, therefore a U.S. citizen by birth, and yet I was investing so much time and energy advocating for the rights of undocumented immigrants in our country. She was curious about why I had chosen that particular cause among many other worthy causes, especially since it was one that did not affect me directly. The answer came to me almost like a vision, from which I am still learning. Here I would like to share that vision and some of the insights that I have gained from it. I hope others will find something helpful in them, especially those fighting the insatiable systemic monsters of oppressions in our society.

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My vision was really a memory. I remembered the one time that I had decided to do some work in my garden (well, it’s really just a few flowerbeds in my front yard). After mowing the lawn I saw some weeds that were choking the other flowers near them. So I decided to tend to the problem. Now, I don’t know much about gardening but I do know that cutting off a weed won’t get rid of it; in fact, if you are not careful you might end up spreading weed seeds further, and have even more weeds in your garden. Paradoxically, to get rid of weeds in your garden you must not immediately get rid of them, instead you must go radical.

I am using the word radical in its literal sense of going to the roots. I went radical in my front yard. There were three weeds that I was determined to get rid off. First, I grabbed one and pulled hard, as hard as I could, but to no avail. The same happened with the other two. So I decided to dig them out. I chose one of them and began to dig out the earth beneath it. I dug and dug until the roots were finally exposed. I didn’t want any roots to remain so I dug a little more and then grabbed the roots to pull them out of the soil. To my surprise, not only did the weed that I was focusing on come out (the one that I had chosen out of the three possible ones) but the other two came out as well. The surprise to one who knows next to nothing about gardening) was that what I had thought to be three different plants, three different weeds, were in fact one!

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They all shared the same root system and so they were really one even though they appeared as many. That’s it; that was the vision/memory that came to me when the reporter asked me why I had chosen immigrants’ rights as my cause. I am convinced that by taking seriously any particular system of oppression, marginalization or injustice in our society and digging deeply into its roots we will be able to find that it is connected to many other social injustices.

Therefore, by going radical on any one of them we are truly fighting against them all.

Alternatively, by settling for simplistic solutions we might end up feeling good about ourselves and feeding the illusion that we are fighting for a just cause when unbeknownst to us we are actually further spreading seeds of violence, hatred, and division. Furthermore, my garden vision also helps me to remember that weeding out injustice is not the ultimate goal of our activism; growing flowers of peace, justice, and loving-kindness is.

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The Beast of Revelation 13- Albrecht Durer

 

Rules for Fighting Multi-Headed Monsters

Another metaphor that I find helpful regarding the struggle for social justice, and that I think complements the vision of the garden, is that of fighting a multi-headed monster. I am, of course, borrowing the image from the book of Revelations, where the beast stands for the Roman Empire, and the heads and horns are its many allies and proxies.

“Divide and conquer” is the favorite motto of the multi-headed beast. It has so many heads (racism, patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, etc.), each so monstrous and lethal on its own that it is easy to forget that it is but one head in a multi-headed monster. If the victims of the monster don’t realize that all the heads belong to the same beast then one hears baffling comments along the lines of “my monster is worse than your monster,” or “our cause is more urgent than your cause.”

The monster smiles, and sometimes one of the heads offers itself as the champion or “the voice” of one set of victims against the others, vowing solemnly to help them get back from the other groups the resources that have been stolen from them so that they can achieve the greatness that they yearn. And so they pledge allegiance to the very beast that has devoured their resources and whose insatiable greed has trumped their needs and condemned them to the misery that now afflicts them.

Blinded by their justified frustration, anger, and a myriad of unexamined prejudices, the groups aim their weapons against each other – and forget the beast!

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The beast feeds on hatred, ignorance and divisiveness. Therefore, the first rule for fighting the beast of injustice is this: don’t feed the beast!

An apostle who knew a thing or two about fighting beasts, wrote: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 6:12). This is so easy to forget, but it is so true and so important to keep in mind in order to not allow our efforts to get derailed. We must be very clear about who, or, more accurately, what, the enemy is. Think again about the multi-headed beast. The damage it does to its victims is produced directly by a specific head and its fangs, metaphorically speaking, of course. But what if, like a shark, it grows new teeth constantly so that removing its teeth would be of no consequence. And, what if our beast were like the mythological hydra imagined by the Greeks, so that cutting any of its heads would only result in more heads growing instead!

The actual individuals and groups that perpetrate and perpetuate violence and oppression in its manifold expressions are like the teeth and heads of the beast. They are the ones causing pain and wreaking havoc in our marginalized and oppressed communities and yet the solution does not lie in attacking them or getting rid of them. This is hard to write but from s spiritual perspective they are not the ultimate enemy, in fact they themselves are victims of a form of demonic possession that has condemn them to serve the beast at the expense of having their humanity distorted almost beyond recognition. But Jesus taught us to love our enemies. And that is not a nice or even naïve platitude; it can actually be a very powerful tactic in the struggle for justice and peace, as many of our spiritual elders have shown us.

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Thus the second rule for fighting the beast of injustice is this: don’t get distracted, intimidated or overwhelmed by its many heads and sharp teeth, choose one of its heads (even as you keep the others in mind) and track it down to its neck all the way down to the heart.

That is, go radical: get to the roots.

That might not be as immediately satisfying as slashing off evil monsters’ heads, but if what we want is to bring about real change, to find long lasting solutions to the heart wrenching suffering that our communities face, then we must do the hard and unglamorous work of understanding the spiritual roots (or heart) of the systems of oppression that we fight and find effective ways to uproot them.

In the end we must remember the humbling and yet hope inspiring fact that only God’s Messiah can slay the dragon for good. And only the Spirit of God can weed our gardens and turn our desert places into blooming flowerbeds. We get to be part of God’s work of liberation, healing and redemption, but it is ultimately God’s work. That doesn’t mean that we can lower our guard or give up the struggle. On the contrary, it means that we can press on with a sense of peace knowing that our struggle is rooted in God’s work and therefore nothing will be lost.

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Therefore, the third and last rule for fighting the multi-headed monster of injustice is this: To remember that every small act of kindness, every word advocating justice, every sacrifice inspired by real love, every small gesture of reconciliation, is a seed that we offer to God, who will use them to plant the garden of a new society blooming with peace, justice and mercy.


05610d8.jpgCarmelo Santos is a graduate of LSTC’s M.Div. and Ph.D. programs. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Annandale, VA, as professorial lecturer at Georgetown University, and as editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Critical Lutheran Spirituality and the Bodies of Privilege – Prof. Robert Saler

Picture 002As we enter the last month of summer before classes resume at my school, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, we begin this month with a reflection on a reflection. In the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and attacks upon police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, my seminary’s President – the Rev. Dr. James Nieman – asked how a white institution such as our school could effectively address white privilege and racism. Rob Saler, Lutheran Heritage Researcher for the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, then expounds on this letter – warning that if we don’t make our faith practice more embodied and visceral, we are at risk of continuing to play into systems of oppression and violence against black and brown bodies. 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.”


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LSTC President James Nieman.

As an alum and former visiting faculty at LSTC, I was pleased to see President Jim Nieman’s July 9th letter to the LSTC community in which he denounces the lethal effects of white supremacy with admirable candor. My former professor and colleague Dr. Linda Thomas has asked me to expand upon the letter in light of President Nieman’s call to think theologically about white privilege, white supremacy, and leveraging white privilege.

I want to be clear about the position from which I would seek to honor that request. While I have become aware that genetic factors (known and unknown) have occasionally led people to experience me as racially ambiguous, for the most part I have been identified (and have always self-identified) as white; thus, I am intimately familiar with the benefits conferred by white privilege. There are multiple ways to “know” about white privilege and white supremacy, and following the adage of liberation theology that those oppressed by a given systemic evil have a kind of epistemological advantage over the oppressors, it seems clear that the first mandate is to prioritize the insights of people of color into the workings of such evil.

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Martin Luther preaching and teaching.

However, my training in Lutheran theology has, among other things, been an exercise in seeking to understand what aspects of our theological heritage can facilitate the dismantling of structures of oppression, and which aspects conversely serve as barriers to this work. It’s in this light, and in hopes of making a small contribution to what we might call a “critical Lutheran spirituality” against white supremacy, that I seek to meditate on one specific question posed by President Nieman:

“Can thinking and confessing ever be potent practices that make a difference?”

The answer to this question is, I believe, yes, but with a massive caveat.

The caveat is that, as with a number of potentially powerful Lutheran themes, the move to remove an ancient Christian practice (in this case, confession) from the realm of ecclesiastical control and into the existential life of the individual believer during the Reformation has often had the (perhaps unintended) effect of dis-embodying the practice.

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Kiev monk hearing confession during the protests in Ukraine on January 25, 2014.

While the medieval sacramental economy of sin, confession, penance, absolution, etc. was indeed tied in with some of the worst excesses of corruption and superstition that plagued medieval Christendom, we should at least notice that the system tended to be fairly visceral in expression: bodies humbling themselves, ascetic pangs, actual exchange of currency, direct communication between priest and penitent, etc. When confession moved to a mode of prayer without a human intermediary and “stripped” (Eamon Duffy) of its penitential economy, then it was easy for the practice itself to become more disembodied – a kind of spiritual/mental transaction between God and the believer.

The existential disembodiment of confessional practices thus fueled the broader Lutheran tendency to render salvation as a kind of private possession of the individual believer, an assumption that produced both a hermeneutic and a praxis of self-containment. This tendency represents, I believe, a degeneration of Luther’s own best insights about justification; indeed, the entire ethical thrust of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian is that justification is a gift that frees us, not to be curved inward, but to be shaped entirely by the horizon of the neighbor’s need. This shaping, to the extent that is has any purchase at all in the realities of suffering people, necessarily needs to be embodied in risky and vulnerable fashion; justification by grace through faith and not works is, for Luther, precisely the condition that makes such vulnerability to the horizon of the neighbor’s need possible.

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A procession of penitents in Fatima, Portugal.

When this insight is lost in the fog of privatized Protestant disembodiment, though, then the sort of self-enclosure for which white supremacy (and white theology more generally) is an almost exact analog is the result. Bonhoeffer already saw the dangers of this when he pointed out that the Protestant need to bring back private confession and forgiveness was due to the fact that it is so much easier to delude ourselves about our openness to repentance when we are conducting an interior existential contract with God rather than speaking actual words to a fellow embodied human being.

If Lutheran practices of confession, then, are going to be tools in a critical spirituality dismantling white supremacy, it is imperative that we first recognize the dangers of the drift into disembodiment. For those of us who “think we are white,” (Coates), such recognition should be followed by the courage to allow the horizons of our own conceptions of what forgiveness means to be disrupted by risky and vulnerability-producing confession to and with people of color, those whose broken bodies cry out with a need for which non-chastened white theology is simply inadequate.

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Moreover, given that those of us possessed with white bodies possess a concomitant level of privilege to be leveraged, that privilege must also be leveraged bodily – placed in the path of billy clubs less likely to damage white skin than brown skin, placed in courtrooms where white mouths are heard more clearly, placed in all the spaces where reparations for the ill-gotten treasure of white privilege merits that we have accrued might begin to be disbursed through reparations (material and otherwise).

If – and the “if” is genuine – Lutheran thinking and confessing in our various contexts can move our bodies to this sort of action, then it is needed more than ever.


RobTalking.jpgAn alum of the M.Div. and Ph.D. programs at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Robert Saler is Research Professor of Lutheran Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

A Conflicted Confession – by Crystal Solie, (M.Div. 2012)

Picture 002For the first few posts of August, “We Talk. We Listen.” will be focusing on white privilege and the thoughts and struggles that our authors have had with it. Our first post, by LSTC alumus Crystal Solie (2012), focuses on her personal revelations – some not so pleasant – in the wake of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub; and how reflecting on the hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” (ELW #346) lead her to a painfully healing understanding of how she, as a white, cisgender gay woman, could respond to the tragedy. 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.”


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Conflict has been a friend of mine for some time now.

Feelings of attraction to women conflicting with what the world tells me is normal. Tense relationships within my family nearly severed by disclosing my sexual orientation. Fear and anger driving me away from the Church colliding with the deep desire to embrace the worship, community, and faith written on my heart in my childhood. Rage incited by slurs hurled at me from cars at odds with the question if it’s safer to engage, ignore, or forgive.

I have had to deal with conflict constantly since I made the decision to publicly identify as a gay woman. That is to say I have had to walk with it and anticipate it every day. But I have also allowed it to inform the foundation of my faith and remind me that nothing is going to shake God’s grasp on me; that I am redeemed and justified before God; that the darkness will not overcome the light.

Then Orlando happened.

The first wave that hit me was pain and fear. It didn’t go unnoticed by my four year old daughter who took a moment too look up from her cartoons Sunday morning to me and ask, “Mama, are you ok?”

No, I wasn’t.

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I am gay. This could have happened to me and my friends. My wife and I had tickets to a concert that night and contemplated not going. No show was worth the risk of leaving our children orphaned. That was how deep the fear went, down to the darkness where we realized there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves or our kids from anything like this. We ended up going out Sunday night and it was absolutely what we needed. We laughed and we cried. We sang and we danced.

As the week went on, more information was released about the victims. As I read the names of the victims and viewed their images, a second wave hit me, one of guilt and despair. This was when I got uncomfortable, when I started experiencing an internal conflict that I have yet to reconcile.

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Pulse Nightclub during happier days.

I am white. This would not have happened to me or my friends. I probably wouldn’t have been at Latin Night at Pulse or any other club. I can say it’s because I prefer karaoke or because I have two left feet. Regardless of the fact that I live two hours away, I was not there and probably wouldn’t have been. I do not have many Latinx friends. I have not shared in their joys or struggles. I have not attempted to learn their songs or their dances.

In this surmounting conflict within my heart, where my pain and fear are at odds with my guilt and despair, I picked up my hymnal to meditate on “Ah, Holy Jesus”:

 

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone the.

‘Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #346]

Now a third wave has enveloped me, a seismic rage rippling through me and the world I thought I knew. A new conflict that is tearing me wide open and making me reexamine my identity.

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Trans Latinx Activists march in New York, City.

How can I sing “I crucified thee,” admitting my participation in the very sin that killed our Savior hundreds of years ago, and not accept responsibility for the deaths of people of color in this country? I crucified Emmett Till. I crucified James Byrd Jr. I crucified Trayvon Martin. I crucified the Emanuel nine. I crucified the forty-nine at Pulse.

On Sunday June 12th, I was a victim. By Saturday June 18th, I was a perpetrator. I still go back and forth between these roles, Law and Gospel charting a course through this tragedy, leading me to a confession that is long overdue.

The flames of this conflict in my heart are further fanned by the deep desire to feel the connection to a faith community that sees what is happening in our world and is fighting it. But when I look to our leaders and listen to the words being spoken, there is something missing. Where are the LGBTQIA voices? Where are the Latinx voices? We lift them up in prayer, but we fail to engage, to ask, to listen. As a gay woman, I expect more of my Church. As a white cis-gender person, I expect more of myself.

I am a sinner. I like to think that I sit at the farthest reaches of the margins, that I am a victim. In some ways I am, but in many ways I am not. I have failed to use my privilege to help those further ostracized by the Church and the World. I have failed to acknowledge that privilege. I have failed to reach out beyond what I know. I have allowed fear to prevent my growth, to keep me in those places where I am comfortable, to avoid unnecessary conflict.

 

This is sin.

This is the sin that ensnares us so subtly that causes us to hide behind excuses like “we are just keeping ourselves safe” or “it’s not my fault there aren’t any [enter any marginalized population] living in my neighborhood or going to my church.” Was this shooting incited by racism? Doesn’t seem to be, however there are absolutely racial implications that led black and brown bodies to congregate in that sanctuary that night and not (as many) white ones.

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As much as I am praying for comfort for the victims of the shooting and their families and myself, I know that prayer is a woefully inadequate repose. I must change. I must sin boldly and trust in my promised salvation. I must find a new way – a way of continual repentance and renewal. I must find a way through this conflict, a way of asking, searching, and knocking.


Sollie family pic.jpgCrystal Solie (pictured left, holding her oldest daughter Georgia next to her wife Lindsay Cofield-Solie and youngest daughter Eliza) is an alumni of the Lutheran School of Thology at Chicago (MDiv 2012) living in Jacksonville, FL with her wife and two daughters who enjoy weekend trips to the beach and raising butterflies. In addition to her calling as a wife and mother, Crystal serves the LGBTQIA community as a storyteller and director for the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community inspired, community created, and community led production promoting social change through storytelling.

There Is Trouble in Our Land! – Prof. Kelly Brown Douglas, Goucher College

ThomasLinda sittingIn the wake of the killing police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, as well as our country’s on-going discussion on Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, not to mention the end of one of the most xenophobic and frightening political conventions in history, “We Talk. We Listen.” is now teaming with its authors to point a way forward out of the tragedies of the from the beginning of this month. Pulling from the wisdom of African American thinkers, Prof. Kelly Brown Douglas of Goucher College reminds us all that there is indeed a way forward, and that we needn’t despair even when facing the most intractable evils of our country’s history. Please 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.”


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Yesterday morning I sent my son the following text as I was unnerved by videos of yet two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, being killed by police officers for no readily apparent reason…

“Just saw the video of police killing yet another black man.  As always be careful, stay safe and remember what to do if you are stopped for whatever reason by the police: hands on the steering wheel, do nothing and say nothing, stay alive.”

This morning I received this text from my son: What do you think about what is going on in this country? He was apparently unnerved—as am I—about the slayings of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of seven others.

There is trouble in our land.  The deadly tragedies of the last few weeks are only symptomatic of the trouble. For it is about more than the apparent suspicious mistrust and broken relationship between police and the black community.  The trouble in our land is about a divide which we have yet to have the courage to face in this country: it is the divide of race.

As Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison once pointed out, “Deep within the word ‘America’ is its association with race.” There is no getting around it, “racism” is endemic to America’s very identity. Though sometimes unspoken, throughout America’s history—in  both explicit and implicit ways—a   racialized narrative has circumscribed  the meaning of citizenship for certain groups of people. It has determined who is and who is not “entitled” to the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   And, it has created a violently racialized society that compromises and endangers all life in this country.

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Rally outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion, protesting the shooting death of Philando Castile. (photo credit: Isaac Hale, Minnesota Star Tribune)

And so, “where do we go from here?”

Fifty years ago, in response to President Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, “Our nation should do a great deal of soul searching . . . while the question ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question ‘What killed him?’ is more important.” King’s words are instructive. For, if there is to be an end to the epidemic of  “racialized” violence in this country, if there is to be justice, then at the same time that we seek arrests, indictments, and guilty verdicts, we must demand that this nation  engage in hard soul-searching regarding the  question of race.  It must confront the ideology that sustains systemic, structural and cultural forms of racism.  We must be clear that   systemic, structural and cultural racism is violent—left unchecked and unaddressed it is deadly.

Borrowing from the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, America is a nation defined by “two warring thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings, two warring ideas.” This country must decide if it is going to be a nation torn asunder by race or a nation unified by a commitment to freedom and justice for all.  

It must determine if it is to be a nation divided by lines of color or a nation dedicated to the declaration that all persons, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual identity or any other human attribute, are created equal and deserving of all that is necessary to flourish into the sacred beings they were created to be.

22822425977_d92d35a592_b.jpgWhat happened to Alton, to Philandro, to the five dead and seven wounded Dallas police officers was not just about events that unfolded on any particular night. They are about the insidious and unexamined racialized history and identity that is America.

Poet and scholar Audre Lorde once said, “Our silence will not protect us.”  We must break the deadly silence in this country about the matter of race if ever we are to stop the senseless brutal and fatal attacks upon innocent lives.

Resources

An  interview with the Dr. Douglas talking about her book Stand Your Ground.

Timeline, details of the shooting of Alton Sterling.

Timeline, details of the shooting of Philando Castile.

Timeline, details of the Dallas shootings.


headshot_kelly-1-700x430Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, is Professor and Director of the Religion Department at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a leading voice in womanist theology and has served as an Episcopal priest for over 20 years. Widely published in national and international journals, her groundbreaking book Sexuality and the Black Church was the first to address the issue of homophobia within the black church community. Her most recent publication is Stand Your Ground, where she writes, “There has been no story in the news that has troubled me more than that of Trayvon Martin’s slaying. President Obama said that if he had a son his son would look like Trayvon. I do have a son and he does look like Trayvon.” Other publications include, The Black Christ, Black Bodies and the Black Church, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It? She has also received the Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement, and was honored as “Womanist Legend” by the Black Religious Scholars Group.

White Mother – by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Ph.D.

ThomasLindaThough it is impossible for white allies to completely relate to the suffering and fear of people of color, this does not mean that white people should not at least try to understand – on a personal level – what it means to be a person of color. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda does so here, and with great power. A white mother struggling to understand what it means to be the womb and cradle for black children in our society, she reflects good and long on what it means to truly live and work against the white supremacy that saturates our society, and the full implications that it has in the lives of all white people, as well as people of color. 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.”


I have felt a visceral sense of terror, a tightening in my guts, when I imagine how  I would feel if my two precious sons were Black and, therefore, in danger of their lives every day and night at the hands of police violence and other manifestations of institutionalized white supremacy.  

Wondering whether they would be shot for “walking while Black” down a street in  a white neighborhood, stopped for “driving while Black” and then shot while reaching for the car registration. Would some officer plant drugs on them in order to make a needed drug arrest?  How would I feel at night if they were ten minutes late and had not yet called?  What would be my fury and unbearable grief if one of them had been thrown into jail, accused of a crime that he did not commit, and I was powerless to get him out? What kind of treatment would a young Black man get while there? How would it damage his heart and soul?  What would it do to his belief in life’s goodness?  How could I survive knowing what was being done to him in a privately owned prison transport van if they moved him to another place, still in custody for something he had not done?

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I imagine teaching my sons all of the things that Black mothers teach their sons day in and day out – keep your hands at 2:00 and 10:00 on the steering wheel when they stop you for driving while Black.  Keep your driver’s license out of your pocket and your insurance card and car registration out of the glove compartment so that you don’t need to reach into your pocket or glove compartment when they stop you. Don’t question; comply.  Never walk together with more than one other young Black man if you are wearing jeans; they will suspect a Black threesome.  The litany goes on and on, as it has for centuries – Black mothers teaching their sons survival skills in a racist society.

Once many years ago, I was taking my sons to a demonstration. I think it was against the war in Iraq. One of them – then a little boy – was worried about his safety, but felt safer when he learned that the  police would be escorting the demonstration. I realized with a jolt that he would never have been able to say or feel that had he been Black.  What would I do if my little grandson were Black and, when he was 10 or 12, wanted to play with a toy gun in a park with friends who were white? How could I tell him that he could not join in that play? How would I talk to the white mothers asking them to prohibit gun play when my son was with them, because white people who saw him with a gun might call the police who might shoot him?

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I cannot fathom the pain of knowing my sons were being tormented in their young manhood by people who were likely to see them – even if on a subtle level or completely unconsciously – as demonic or dangerous or closer to an ape because they are Black. How would I feel when my white friends said things like: “But I don’t notice race” or “I see your son as just like all of the other boys” (that is, the white boys), knowing what these seemingly innocent words mean? The words would mean that white mothers did not get it that my sons’ lives were in danger, that my sons had to read the signs of danger when they walked into any situation and had to be aware of how police or shopkeepers were watching them,  that my sons – gentle and  good as they were – were less likely to survive because of what society does to Black  people.

But I am a white mother of white sons. Therefore, I have the option to ignore what it would mean to be the mother of black children in this country.  I could choose to not pay attention, to deny reality, to indulge white privilege.maxresdefault.jpg

I also am a theologian and have been thinking, writing, and speaking for some years about Jesus’ call to “love neighbor as self” (Matt. 22:37) or “to love as God loves” (John 13:34). Love as a biblical and theological norm is nothing like love in a Hallmark card. It is a steadfast commitment to serve the well-being of neighbor and that includes resisting systems of injustice (structural sin) where they damage neighbor.  Here is the discomfiting truth: my “neighbor” in the biblical sense includes all people whom my life touches. In a white supremacist society such as ours, white privilege and other manifestations of white racism touch all people, damage all people; in biblical terms, we are all neighbors.

What does it mean for a white person in a white racist society to heed Jesus’ call to love neighbor? 

That is the question. In all honesty, I would much rather flee from it.  Often I do; but not always. Here, I call upon all white people to raise the question and not hide from it under the comforting cloak of privatized morality. Privatized morality allows us to be good to the people with whom we interact personally while avoiding the profound impact that our lives have on others through the tendrils of systemic racism that form white psyches and shape the institutions that determine life chances – institutions of education, criminal (in)justice and law, health care, housing, electoral politics, and so much more.

For white people to “love neighbor as self” includes an on-going commitment to see beyond the blinders of white privilege. This means listening to and honoring Black articulations of reality, and grappling with what it really means to have been shaped as a white person in a white supremacist society. And surely loving neighbor includes figuring out how – collectively and individually – to repent of institutionalized racism, resist it, and be a part of dismantling its structures developed for five centuries on this continent. That will include promoting public and institutional policies that seek to repair the damage done.

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“Love they neighbor as thyself… means listening to Black articulations of reality, and grappling with what it really means to have been shaped as white person in a white supremacist society.”

God does not call people where God does not empower us to go. Therefore, along with the call to “love neighbor as self” comes empowerment for “doing” that love. In the tradition in which I live, progressive Christianity, that is the work of what we call the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit of the sacred Source known by many as “God”). Said differently, while we white people will make mountains of uncomfortable errors along the way as we seek actively to renounce the sin of racism, the Spirit of God accompanies us and  we join a marvelous band of justice-seeking people that spans the  centuries.

Resources:

Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda http://resistingstructuralevil.com/

Dear White Christians by Jennifer Harvey  – http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/7207/dear-white-christians.aspx


moe-lobeda headshot .jpgDr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, an ELCA Lutheran, has lectured or consulted in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and many parts of North America in theology; ethics; and matters of climate justice and climate racism, moral agency, economic justice, public church (and whose “Public Church” commencement speech at LSTC in 2013 directly influenced that seminary’s current public church curriculum), and eco-feminist theology. Her most recent book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Fortress, 2013), won the Nautilus Award for social justice. She is author or co-author of four other volumes and numerous articles and chapters. Moe-Lobeda is Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She holds a doctoral degree in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

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For special information and materials for her most recent book visit: http://resistingstructuralevil.com/