Dear Church: You Would Rather Hang Me from a Tree. A Reflection on the Execution of #PhilandoCastile – Vicar Lenny Duncan, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church; Conshohoken, PA

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St. Anthony, Minnesota Police Officer Geronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Philado Castile last week. And since everything from the shooting to the trial took place in Ramsey County, Minnesota – in the heart of US Lutheranism – “We Talk. We Listen.” knew we had to get the conversation going, and powerfully. Vicar Lenny Duncan, currently entering his second year of internship at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshohoken, PA, gets us started. 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.”

 


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Freeze.

Don’t move.

Let me see your ID.

Don’t move.

Freeze.

What are you doing around here?

Anything in the car I should know about?

Freeze.

Don’t move.

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This is how death is pronounced over hundreds of black bodies every day. This may or may not result in death. This interaction I’m describing to you is haunting when heard by black bodies. This may very well cost a black person their life. These may be the last words I ever hear. I was asked to write this piece about #PhilandoCastile on Saturday night, before I preached yesterday. I agreed. I always agree, because what am I to do? How else am I supposed to relate to my church at times like this?

I’m tired y’all.

I’m tired of pleading with you for my life, ELCA.

There I said it.

If you valued my life even a little bit this would stop. Philando was executed in the Land of the Lutheran. The Twin Cities. One of the most segregated areas of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

But I understand. It’s not you.

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The Charleston 9, top/bottom, left-to-right: Susie Jackson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Doctor, Ethel Lance; Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pickney, Daniel Simmons Sr. Their killer, Dylann Roof, was baptized and confirmed in the ELCA and the senior pastoral staff of Mother Emanuel had studied at the ELCA seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.

This acquittal happened the same week that we remember the second anniversary of Charleston and the first anniversary of Pulse. I hear the same words that are like a clarion call to all of Black America. It is the sound of the seal being broken.

The final trumpet blows.

It is like ashes on my tongue.

Not. Guilty.

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Link to this summer’s tributes to the #Pulse victims.

How hard was it for you to feign surprise and shock? That you thought things would be different this time? What evidence did you have that it would be?

I knew from the first day of the trial the officer would be acquitted.  I knew from the day I saw the Facebook live video. I watched within the first hour it was posted. I knew as I watched the life drain from Philando’s eyes, as I heard the cry of his child, as I watched the anger of his girlfriend rise, this officer wouldn’t see any consequences.

If you are honest with yourself, you knew too.

We watched the lynching of a black man by law enforcement in almost real time.

It changed nothing.

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If you are Lutheran and reading this, or have read me before, you are probably waiting for me to dig deep and find the grace. To offer the hope and resurrection.  If you are ordained clergy you might even feel justified to tell me it’s my duty as an emerging leader in this church.

I offer you none.

The law in this country offers me death. Why should the law be any different for you?

I am obligated by God to tell you the truth.

The truth is there is no grace in this anymore.

We are watching as the moral fiber of this country is being shredded. We are casting our souls into the pit. We have made a conscious decision to walk with the enemy of all life. In the name of law and order, safety and prosperity we have become everything we tell the rest of the world we are not.

The truth that is self-evident is that Black bodies will continue to be the sacrifice on the altar of America.

Since my ancestors were thrown into a hold of a ship.

Since our leaders were murdered one by one a generation ago.

We are to be the lamb you sacrifice, for your original sin.

How can I sing a song in a strange land? 

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Church we are doubly as guilty. We are supposed to be better. We have in turn become white washed tombs.

The silence is deafening. Your inaction telling.

My heart is bled dry, perhaps yours is too.

Perhaps the grace is the fact that Black people still love this church. That people like me are willing to throw themselves into the breach. That I will not leave until I die. That I will stay in the church I love until the very end.

But you won’t experience me as grace. You will experience me as the thing that makes you uncomfortable.

Many of you would rather see me hung from a tree, with my side pierced.

You did it to Philando.

Well in this country, you just might get your wish.


16195868_10206838983808083_6435496150445692170_nLenny Duncan is the vicar at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshoshoken, PA and Candidate for Ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. He is also the Evangelist for the #decolonizelutheranism movement, as well as a frequent voice on the intersection of the Church and the cries of the oppressed. He pays special attention to the #blacklivesmovement in his work, but lifts up the frequent intersection with other marginalized peoples.  He believes that the reason the ELCA has remained so white, is a theological problem, not sociological one. He is currently an M.Div Coop student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and holds a Bachelors of Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College, with an emphasis in New Testament Theology and Ministry.

Decolonize Grief Counseling – Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Linda Thomas at CTS eventThe loss of a loved one is always traumatic – be they spouse, sibling, friend, even a pet. But what do you do when the loss you’re grieving is your church? The socio-economic, demographic, and political conditions that made post-WW II church-life possible are truly  a thing of the past, and in the coming years millions of Christians in the United States will have to confront this new death – the death of denominations. In her poignant post, Networker for the insurgent Lutheran group #decolonizeLutheranism, reflects on how her travels and conversations with worried church-goers have turned her into a grief counselor for the mourners of a dying church. 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.”


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“Why do you want to kill the church I love so much?”

“Why do you want me to feel bad about being white?”

“I don’t like the word ‘decolonize.’ We’re all one in Christ.”

“If we decolonize, that means we’re just handing over power to anyone. I don’t like that.”

These are some of the questions and statements I’ve received in my travels talking about #decolonizeLutheranism. My travels have taken me across the United States to congregations, ELCA educational institutions, small group discussions outside congregational settings, and clergy gatherings. I have met with such a wide spectrum of individuals: laity, clergy, those invested in theological education, and those curious about this new movement that is just over one year old. I usually go into a space to facilitate discussions and answer questions about the movement. But with such pointed questions and statements, I realize that I am not a facilitator. I am not present to answer questions.

Instead, I am a grief counselor.

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I am accompanying people to the foot of the cross. I am accompanying people to the tomb. I am moving with people from Good Friday to a vigil in angst and anticipation. I find myself sitting with people in the valley of the shadow of death. I move with many people through the stages of grief because the church as it once was… is changing. As much as many of us claim that we welcome change, change makes us uneasy, uncomfortable, and unsettled. Change brings about the death of what once was. As followers of Christ, we are a people of death, but to experience death is painful. It is complicated. And it brings about endings of what once lived.

Grief does bizarre things to people. When my father died, my emotions shifted drastically from moment to moment. At one moment, I could be laughing with a family member while recalling a comical incident that involved my father. At the very next moment, though, I could be engaged in a shouting match with that very same family member, arguing over how to converse with a distant relative that had their own issues with the death that took place in our lives. Over the course of one day, I could encounter any of the five stages of the Kübler-Ross model of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. All of these are valid reactions in encountering the shock and perceived permanence of death.

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I recall that anger was one of the more prevalent stages in where I felt stuck. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t process. I couldn’t think rationally. I could, however, lash out and pass that anger on to other people. I could feel incredible anger and rage over the loss I was experiencing with the gaping hole produced by death. Because I could not work through this immense loss, I instead found myself giving into the visceral emotion of anger, not ready to let go of the person who was formative in shaping the individual I am today. It is a similar anger that I encounter in my siblings in Christ today who are confused and perplexed over these potential changes within our church body. These changes are not simply to make room and to create space, but to work for radical love and action to move into palliative care. But with that move to palliative care, even with the discussion of palliative care, comes the reactionary response.

“Isn’t there anything more we can do?”

“What are other life-saving measures we can take?”

“I hate you, hospice provider. Your presence means that everything will come crashing down and this will all end.”

The cry that has troubled me the most is being equated to a murderer. That my existence and the existence of the co-conspirators is to abruptly end the life of the church that they have come to know it. I’ve been the focal point of much anger, being involved in heated and heightened discussions on the existence of #decolonizeLutheranism. If we are to have open and honest conversations about the diversity of God’s creation and the potential for God’s collective body as the ones who are called out into the world, the ekklesia, then the current state of the denomination will have to come to pass. Something must change, and within that change, the presence of death looms near. Part of sensing the change, sensing the presence of death, is talking about denial and what is revealed to us when our hardened hearts are cracked open.

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One of the difficult aspects of grief counseling is truth telling. No one wants to hear that their loved one is dying. No one wants to hear they are contributing to the demise of their beloved. When I lead discussions and conversations on #decolonizeLutheranism, I often talk about the isms and phobias that plague not just our church, but also the broken world in which we inhabit. I talk openly and honestly about whiteness. I talk about white supremacy. I use the word “white” a lot. I then tell the mostly white communities to sit with this discomfort and unease, much like sitting at the bedside of a beloved under palliative care.

The church is a living and breathing being filled with the moves of the Spirit. The church, in its nearly 2,000 years of existence, has gone through an incredible amount of change. The church has experienced so much death and resurrection, but with death comes intense grief. Jesus’ disciples were so overcome with grief that they weren’t even present at the crucifixion. The women at the foot of the cross lamented and mourned. The two disciples who walked the road to Emmaus were grieving. We must remember that it is biblical to grieve.

But it is also biblical to die.  

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As a grief counselor, I ask people to sit with me at the foot of the cross. I ask them to accompany me to the tomb as the stone is rolled in place. I ask them to wait with me in vigil, because as a people of death, we are also a people of resurrection hope.

That day is coming.


12829211_10102460194482458_3928793812784612436_oRev. Tuhina Verma Rasche lives a hyphenated life as a second-generation Indian-American woman. She focuses much of her work and ministry on racial justice, dismantling white supremacy, and conversations on the complexities of identity/ identities. She is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Networker for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism, co-curator of a subversive online Advent devotional (#F***ThisS***/ #RendTheHeavens), and has served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration. She blogs at thislutheranlife.blogspot.com and medium.com/@tvrasche and tweets at @tvrasche.

Confronting White Supremacy in Historical Erasure and the Faith to Respond – Karl Anliker, MDiv Student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingOne week after graduation, I taught an intensive one-week course, “Identity and Difference: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class and Sexuality.” 
Surprisingly, several students chose this as the final course of their theological education before going on internship or first call. Not having taught the course for a few years, I recognized that my thinking had shifted on these matters – specifically, that all people have overlapping identities but some people’s overlapping identities, that, when interfaced with structural power, face discrimination that can be exceedingly harmful if not, death-dealing. 

To explicate this, legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Defining the term in a September 2015 column of The Washington Post, she described the intersectionality as “a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” that has “given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.” My class provided an intellectual space for students to do theological reflection on intersectionality and what it means for them.

And in response to this, first-semester M.Div. student, Karl Anliker, writes a reflection about his identity/identities and power, and specifically how it has impacted the way that he responds to African American History. And then after Karl’s post, please read the text of a special e-mail written by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., in response to recent attempts to attack the museum with racist vandalism.

 Please read. Reflect. Share. This issues are as important now as never before.

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


CNN reports that for the second time in a week a noose was found on the grounds of a Smithsonian Museum and this time it was at the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. [1]

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Outside view of the Museum of African American History in Washington D. C.

Very recently in my life, I might have understood this to be a “micro” aggression or a prank. However, I have come to see and understand that there is nothing “micro” about this crime nor can it be dismissed as a prank. This is a symptom of a system made up of individuals like myself who have systematically benefitted from the erasure and dehumanization of an entire group of people. I must name White Supremacy. I must acknowledge my complicity and privilege in this system.

The noose was found in a portion of the museum concerning segregation. The Museum’s Director released the following statement on twitter:[2]

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Twitter Statement from the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Before I, as a white, cis, hetero male, move to outrage over this reality, I must ask myself a very important question. I have been to dozens of Museums in the Midwest in my lifetime. I have lived in Hyde Park, Chicago since January and visited the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, but have I ever visited a Museum of African American History?

I have heard many people speak of the museums and cultural centers for which Chicago is famous. However, I had never heard of the DuSable Museum of African American History until Dr. Thomas at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago brought it to my attention.

A trip for two to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum can cost over fifty dollars. The DuSable Museum of African American History is eight dollars per person for Chicago residents and there are free days.

So we visited the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park only TEN MINUTES from our apartment.

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Main Entrance to the DuSable Museum of African American

The Museum is relatively small, tucked amidst the giant buildings of the University of Chicago’s Medical Center. The size, however, can be deceptive. Within the walls there is so much.

The Museum is packed with historical information, audio visuals, and art. There is the story of the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington.

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Photo of the Harold Washington Exhibit at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Harold Washington was uniting those left out by the democratic machine in Chicago. He was in the midst of this important work when he suffered a heart attack which ended his life. Had you heard of Harold Washington’s story, a man who President Obama would later recall in his speeches? I know I had not.

Their names are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Harold Washington, Frederick Douglas, Ida Wells, Du Bois, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Bob Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Barrack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jesse Jackson, Bobby Rush, Carol Moseley Braun, Dorothy Tillman, Jewel Lafontant, William W. Lee, Thurgood Marshall, and Ralph Tuner and that is only a few. I did not know them for I did not wish to hear and read their stories.

Ben Carson recently referred to African Slaves as “immigrants.”

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A screenshot of a Tweet where Steve Kopack and the NAACP respond to Carson’s words.

The erasure and complicity of people like myself who inherit and comply with the culture of whiteness and white supremacy, however, goes far beyond what many pundits berated Ben Carson for when he minimized the experience of those stolen from African for slave trade in the Americas. It would be easier if white supremacy was as easily seen.

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Display from the DuSable Museum of African American History

I have erased far more than the slave ships and the Maafa.

I have erased inventors and leaders.

I have erased families and ancestors.

I have erased Queens and empires.

I have erased speakers and preachers.

I have erased art and culture.

I have erased.

What is it like to be a white person in a museum dedicated to history I have actively erased?

Well it involves confronting my own complicity and privilege and choosing to listen to stories whose time is long overdue.

As a person of faith, I draw upon the Christian tradition to give me strength against seemingly insurmountable systems of the white supremacist hetero-patriarchy that have demonized and dehumanized for so long.

Dorothy Day in her book Loaves and Fishes wrote:

“One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

My resistance to talking about race must be put aside. My need to affirm myself and my own identity must be put aside. My fear that I may say the wrong thing and be corrected or the fear that I may not know must be put aside. My guilt in complicity with white supremacy must be overcome and I must move to concrete, faith filled action in the world to overturn systems of evil in our midst. I must humbly walk with God, not looking to affirm myself and become “woke” but to journey down a road of repentance, restoration, and transformation.

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Quote and image of DuSable Museum of African American History founder, Margaret Burroughs.

When confronted with racism in the media and the reality of white terrorism against communities of color, I think the white community may ask, as we often do:

What am I supposed to do about it?

The answer in this case is clear. We must go; we must listen, look, and seek to understand. For students at LSTC or the University of Chicago, it is only a 10-minute walk to the DuSable Museum of African American History and it is a Smithsonian Affiliate.


An email from the Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture:

As many of you may know by now, on Wednesday, May 31st, a noose was found in the history galleries at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans. Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.

Our museum is a place of learning and solace, a place to remember, to reflect and to engage in important discussions that help change America.

This was a horrible act, but it is a stark reminder of why our work is so important.

In an show of strength, our colleagues from across the Smithsonian Institution, led by our sister museum National Museum of the American Indian, held a “Solidarity March” yesterday, coming to the NMAAHC. To see pictures of the Smithsonian Institution standing in solidarity against hate click here to go to our Tumblr.

The great work we do continues, and I hope you will continue to be part of it.

All the best,

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Founding Director


head shot.jpgKarl Anliker (he/him/his) is a first year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/31/us/african-american-museum-noose/index.html

[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/noose-found-african-american-history-museum-washington-dc/

Closing Thoughts – Inez Torres Davis

lt-ny-eve-march-2016Inez Torres Davis has been involved with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America more than 20 years, working as an anti-racism trainer in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States. She retired just a couple of months ago, ending her two decades of service as a core leader with The Women of the ELCA. She shares some parting thoughts with us this week, along with the firm reminder that we have a long way to go before our churches are anti-racist, and that we must continue the struggle. 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.”


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Prologue: My first day of service (call) with Women of the ELCA (WELCA) was January 27, 1997; my last day of service was March 31, 2017. Over those two decades my job title was changed, but anti-racism education remained my one programmatic constant. In the two months since my retirement, I have been healing. This is the first time I have been moved by Spirit to say something about the ELCA, anti-racism education, and me.

I first got the impression the ELCA cared about racial justice at its forming. That is when the ELCA (then, a 98’% white denomination) publicly stated that they wanted to grow in the number of persons of color in their church. To my mind, to have such growth, required relationship and a passion for racial justice.

I concluded that with such aspired growth, the ELCA definitely wanted to relate to many, many more people of color. It even had a percentage for that growth! The ELCA wanted to reach a representational presence of persons of color of 10%, a significant goal that more than tripled their existing number. I was impressed by such faith.

When my life partner and I joined a Lutheran church, it was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that we joined and it was at its forming. We are both people of color and the ELCA said they wanted us. We had recently escaped the clutches of fundamentalism, and wanted our young family (two young daughters) to have a church presence.

It sounds perfect, even now.

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As the last decade of the last century began, the people of color leadership of the churchwide ELCA’s Multicultural Ministries Commission drafted me to become a facilitator of the ELCA’s needed anti-racism work. Their actions and the language used by the ELCA communicated to me that this church had serious intent. I believed there was real work to do.

Unlike many of the current churchwide leadership of color, that leadership had both great expectations and the resources to have a role in facilitating a transformation of a Northern European church into a 1-in-10 person of color representational church in the United States. The ELCA spoke and looked like it meant business. This was heady stuff!

At the time, we lived in Flint, Michigan. I was welcomed by the Southeast Michigan ELCA Synod by everyone BUT the white leaders of the congregation where I worked as lay associate. That congregation’s leadership did not know how to receive me. I came neither with hat in hand nor with a wide disarming grin. I frustrated them and in their frustration they concluded there was no reason to learn how to relate to me, particularly when judging me at secret meetings was easier and more satisfying.

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I believe that had I been a sharp, young white woman with a white husband and two daughters, the white people of that congregational leadership would have welcomed me; hell, they might have thrown a party at our arrival!

Instead, they made it clear: the idea of relating to more persons of color for the sake of church growth was a Chicago notion.

Most white ELCA people resist and resent the prophetic utterance central to anti-racism education. Anti-racism education within the church lays the historical and current shedding of the blood of the oppressed by a white-privileged, patriarchal system at the feet of the church. Most of the Christian church took the papal bulls of the 15th century to heart and have used them these past (going on) six centuries to center whiteness throughout the world.

Over the last nearly three decades, however, rather than seeing the ELCA grow in its understanding of its role in combating racial oppression, I have watched the almost all-white ELCA come to accept itself. It has come to accept that it is white and for the most part, that is just fine. For some, I suspect, it is close to heaven on earth – as the 270 electoral college votes necessary to elect our current president went through the ELCA.

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Many states that propelled Donald J. Trump to the presidency – North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have significant numbers of congregations in the ELCA.

For many if not most ELCA Whites, any person who raises the issue of race is doing so for suspicious reasons and, therefore, cannot be trusted. This distrust is true for aspiring white anti-racists as well as aspiring anti-racists of color. The treatment for both is alarming if not always similar.

Those theologically and spiritually immersed in the white, patriarchal culture of the ELCA see little that needs fixing or worse–they see those of us doing anti-racism as a bigger problem. Put enough people into the Conference of Bishops, the Church Council, and other key leadership positions who lack the humility to see anti-racism education as a core necessity for growth in grace or faith and racial justice efforts will crumble.

The first letter of complaint about me received by the corner office came in early 1998. It came from a white woman emotionally devastated by the idea that she and her husband acted in racist ways. The idea that they acted in racist ways came to her after she attended an anti-racism education training weekend that I had led.

What was WELCA thinking,

she asked,

sending out such a person as myself to stir up such trouble? 

When the executive director called me into her office to answer the charges in that letter, I told her that if she was going to need me to respond to every white woman who found the ministry WELCA had hired me to do upsetting, she should have a desk added to her corner office so we could have our many conversations discreetly.

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I told her there would always be those willing to kill the messenger. But, I asked, was she willing to mid-wife death?

At first, I was surprised some ELCA people of color resented the work. Then I realized that many had thought the only ones that needed changing were white. However, when anti-racism education hits home, people of color learn about internalization and, thereby, learn that we must also change if we are to be a part of ending the cycles of oppression. Change is no less a bitter pill for us, and it can feel doubly damning to be asked to change when we are the ones oppressed!

It takes bold faith to steward the demolition of the structures created neither by love or grace but by sanction of the Doctrine of Discovery. It was and continues to be within the authority of the Doctrine of Discovery that principalities and powers created systems and laws that beat, torture, and strangle those created in God’s image. Within such a canon, the least of these had best simply, and quickly, die.

Becoming a practicing anti-racist takes living by faith, not in some esoteric color-blinding, once-and-for-all final solution kind of way, but in a living by faith, a breath to breath, from relationship to relationship across and within the racial divides kind of way. Anti-racism from the heart infuses not just our good days but also our bad days and will always carry us back again to God’s impossible grace.

It takes radical faith and actions to facilitate God’s will on this earth. Such radical faith births a sweeping, bold human spirit with the capacity to partner with God’s Spirit in replacing what Empire has given us with the beloved community.

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It also takes a great deal of life and soul energy to engage in such a battle against principalities and powers in high places. To seek justice within the house of God and with the people of God, takes strong fruit of the Spirit.

At this point in my life, I pray that more and more of us baptized will place their hand to God’s wheel. I pray this because, without more folks carrying on this kind of work as me and my friends retire, we will only continue to grow  irrelevant. That can’t happen.


InezInez Torres Davis is an indigenous Latina worked within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently having retired as the  core racial justice/anti-racism trainer  of Women of the ELCA after 20 years. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, a Reiki master, and creator of sacred spaces.

As a Latino – Abel Arroyo

Linda Thomas at CTS eventThis week I am teaching an intensive course called Identity and Difference: Theological Reflection on Race/Ethnicity; Gender/Sexuality; Class/Political Economy or Theological Reflection on Intersectionality. Our purpose is to critically investigate the concept of identity by reading primary sources on the categories of race, gender, sexuality and class, and our goal is to explore the ways that the scholars we read and we ourselves address contemporary challenges of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism/homophobia. Part of the job of being a leader in a Public Church is to develop alternative models for the transformation of religious institutions for witness in the world, and by doing so push religious communities towards becoming spaces of greater inclusion and welcome.

As a compliment to this class, today we will be featuring a marvelous blog post by recent LSTC graduate Abel Arroyo Traverso. A reflection upon his life as a Latino, as well as his time in seminary, he gives us a good look at what it means to deal with intersectionality, whiteness, and what it means to self-affirm. 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.”


 

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Street fair in Miami.

While at LSTC, as a Latino has been one of the phrases that I’ve learned to say almost compulsively. As a Latino has become a kind of mantra, a battle cry, as well as gospel and a grounding phrase. Living and serving in Chicago, I learned that the only things that are acknowledged by others are those that are said bluntly and loudly, and as a Latino is the start of my journey into that practice of self-affirmation.

Timely affirming one or more of my identities – such as man, cisgender, queer, Latino, and beloved child of God, to name a few – became a need for the first time in class, when I learned in an Old Testament class, that the professor wouldn’t grade one of my papers because “it was too culturally biased” to which I replied “well, yes, they all are.” I got a passing grade. That was good enough.

 

And this was when I learned, vividly, that as much as academia tries to break the elements of my identity down – my gender, my sexuality, my ethnic back-ground, immigration and economic status – in order to quantify and qualify who I am, they can’t. All of these over-lap, in classic intersectionality, creating a web of privilege and marginalization that will be a permanent part of my life (for example, I am an immigrant and suffer because of racism, but as an immigrant who is now a naturalized citizen of the United States I have unquestionable advantages over someone who was where I was one year ago, or who has no documents at all). But acknowledging was, sometimes, too hard for the people in school.

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From then on, I learned that in academia the default was white, the normal was US upper middle class. I wasn’t any of those things, so by reclaiming my own labels, I embarked in a journey of creation and reinvention.

As a Latino, I learned to claim my roots as not only welcomed in the ELCA, but to recognize them as necessary for its survival. This also means that as a Christian, I bring particular gifts to the body of Christ, and as a person looking to be ordained in the ELCA as a minister of Word and Sacrament, I bring into the conversation a gift of bridging cultures.

As a Latino, I learned that talking about how down one is with the idea of community doesn’t mean that a person is actually willing to be in community. I learned that it’s easier for people to interact with my multitude of identities through an academic filter rather than acknowledging that as a person, I have specific needs as real as my need for air and water, and just as necessary for my survival. 

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LSTC students and faculty traveling in India.

As a future pastor, and as someone who is expected to do competent theological reflection, I learned that I will always need to educate people about my cultural understanding of community, accompaniment, who Christ and Jesus are, and why those labels carry a deep significance for me and my community.

As a Latino, I learned that it is my responsibility to remind students, professors, pastors, and authorities that Latinx, Liberation, Mujerista and Queer, are no longer terms, theories, and theologies to be examined and approached as a distant other, but rather, they are just as valid and should be considered just as seriously in a classroom, parish, and synod as any – or could I perhaps dare to dream, over- exclusively white theology.

As a Latino I’m not only Latino, and as much as I AM Latino, I am any and all of my intersecting identities as well. Fully and unashamedly.

I learned that as a Latino the church needs my experience, my knowledge and my whole self to survive. I am willing to give it my all for my call, a call that is God given. What I won’t let happen is let myself become a vehicle for the dominant culture to perpetuate the discounting of the Latinx experience of God, and the multitude of gifts the Latinx community bring.

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Me and my beloved parents.

As a Latino, I learned that my theology is formed in community, that it’s multidisciplinary, that my theology is one grounded in liberation and the cross, and as a pastor my strength is the strength that comes from my community, and the Holy Spirit that works through it.

I learned that I can navigate spirituality not as a trend to shop for the spiritual practice of the month, but as a reality that connects me to my ancestors, a reality that allows me to access the wisdom of those who came before me, to know that listening to the songs of creation is not pagan but it’s recognizing God’s voice ringing through the fullness of the cosmos.

I learned that embracing ambiguity is not only good because Lutheranism and Luther embrace ambiguity, but also because that’s what the spirit inspires in me, to look for the ambiguities. I am called to be a witness where some people think that it’s a waste of time to witness. I learned to know God not only as creator and father but as God of many and all things, journeys, and times.

God of everything good and delicious.

God of every pain and indulgence.

God of every breath.

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I believe in the sacredness of my skin and my accent, in the holiness of my shortcomings, I believe that God prefers me, as one of the poor, and that I should never be ashamed of that.

As a Latino I believe in engaging my feelings. I administer my time in a different way and prioritize relationship to punctuality. I believe in ranking my priorities in a different way than my white colleagues, and that’s okay. I believe in standing up for myself, but I will always be more willing and ready to stand up for someone else, which is why I need to trust that my community has my back.

In my time at LSTC, as a Latino I’ve experienced a number of realities, a multitude of spaces, people, classes, services, parties, meals, hugs, tears, laughs, and tea. As I prepare to move on from this part of my education, I believe that the God who brought me here will never ever abandon me.

As a Latino, I believe this. I can do no other.


11218883_10207263354805841_6667861799582009906_n.jpgAbel Arroyo is a graduate from The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Originally from Perú, his journey has taken him to explore almost all of Central and North America (no love for Canada yet). He has spent parts of his journey in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico as well as living in Washington state, Arizona, and California. A bona fide wanderer who struggles with linear time as an absolute, he is currently in Phoenix, Arizona where he journeys with the Queer, Latino and Homeless communities of Central Phoenix – as well as the occasional suburbanite. All are welcome.

Zacchaeus and Turning from Complicity – Matthew Zemanick, M.Div. student, LSTC

thomas110_1027092“Zacchaeus was a wee little man / And a wee little man was he / He climbed up in a sycamore tree / For the Lord he wanted to see.”

Thus begins the popular children’s song, based on one of the most memorable stories in the Gospel of Luke, the conversion of Zacchaeus. But for its popularity, there is a great deal this story has to teach everyone, not just children. M.Div. senior at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Matthew Zemanick, delves into some of these layers in this post – explicating how Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus brings justice to the world by transforming those with power and privilege. 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.”


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‘Zacchaeus’ by Joel Whitehead. 

I believe the praxis of deconstructing the role of white supremacy in the life of white people is a doxological – a praise-filled – response to Jesus’ call for repentance. In the context of the ELCA, it is a faithful contextualization of Article XII of the Augsburg Confession, which understands repentance as a two-fold process. The first is the feeling of remorse (contrition) for violating God’s teaching.[1] The second is accepting, by faith the gospel, that through Christ sins are forgiven and out of this faithful consciousness of God’s grace, one’s repentance bears fruit in the form of good works.[2]

One of my favorite Bible Stories is demonstrative of repentance and salvation (healing) for those in positions of power – the salvation of Zacchaeus. As Jesus and his crowd of disciples were approaching Jericho, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus better, and to hide from the crowd. He was scared of the people whom he had extorted as a tax-collector, and he knew Jesus had criticized the accumulation of wealth. But a part of him was curious because Jesus dined with the tax collectors too. Perhaps Zacchaeus thought that it would be the highest honor to dine with the Messiah, the one who would restore the Davidic Splendor of Israel.

As Jesus approached Jericho, he saw Zacchaeus hiding in the tree. Jesus hollered up to Zacchaeus, “Come down from that tree! I will be eating dinner with you tonight.”

 

The crowd was incensed that Jesus would dare eat with the man who had robbed them of their livelihood; a man who had taken even food from their children. They yelled, “Sinner! You have violated God’s command to love your neighbor, and blessings to the poor!”

Once, Zacchaeus had climbed down, and greeted Jesus, repented saying, “I have indeed defrauded my community. I will return four times the amount than I had taken. Moreover, I will take half of what I have left and give it to the poor.”

Jesus addressed Zacchaeus and the entire crowd, “Amen! Healing has indeed come to this community! I have come to seek out, heal, and save the lost.”[3]

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Interpreting this story from my multi-unal identity in the United States, I can see myself in the crowd and as Zacchaeus. However, if I am specifically speaking from my white identity within the white Christianity of the ELCA, I must see myself as Zacchaeus. My silence has affirmed disembodied, overly spiritualized, Christian discourses because I feared the consequence of challenging the theology of those in power. My silence has contributed to ELCA structures which economically, socially, and theologically marginalize people of color, and LGBTQ+ community operating outside of homonormativity. White complacency with the ELCA means continued divestment from economically depressed communities and a radical embrace of white supremacist corporate business models.

Repentance (literally ‘turning’ in Hebrew and ‘transformation’ in Greek) happens when one encounters the embodied Christ in the world, just as it happened with Zacchaeus once he listened to Jesus’ compassionate call, and responded despite his shame and the crowd’s heckling.

Zacchaeus had to give up living as a thief with Roman credentials, and restore the community’s abundance which he had privatized.

Through the lens of Article XII of the Augsburg Confession, Zacchaeus expressed contrition, the feeling of guilt, when he climbed up the tree. Zacchaeus sought the forgiveness of sins offered by the Messiah, but could not stand with his community. His sin (missing the mark, straying from the path) had damaged his connection with the people in the crowd. Climbing a tree to see the Messiah, Zacchaeus acknowledged he could not authentically stand with the crowd, but indicated his desire to encounter Jesus and his disciples.

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This indication that Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus was a faithful response to the role of the Messiah – grace incarnate – to grant the forgiveness of sins. His faith that Jesus would forgive his sins (participation in the oppression of his community), and thereby reconcile his relationship with his community, allowed Zacchaeus to be “delivered from his terror”[4] of retribution and respond to Jesus’ call. By faith Zacchaeus did get down from that tree and encountered the Gospel embodied in Jesus the Christ. By faith the Gospel was materialized in the form of redistribution of communal property so that all may live in God’s abundance. By faith Zacchaeus’ repentance – contrite, faithful, turning to God’s embodied presence – bore fruit: restoration of privatized creation to abundant communal life. The souls of Jericho were not the saved at the expense of their bodies; the salvation of their souls was embodied in their community.

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So how can a white church like the ELCA repent?

What will the fruit of our repentance look like?

First we must ask ourselves, “are we terrified?” There is a lot of reason to be terrified. White supremacy led to the election of a man who ran on a xenophobic, overtly white supremacist campaign to the US Presidency.  The ELCA’s white supremacy produced Dylan Roof. The more we deny the terror of our own sin, the more we will produce terrorism.[5]

The oppressors have fear, hiding like Zacchaeus. They (I, speaking from my whiteness) wonder, “where will we meet Jesus, the Gospel?” It is not in theories or sophisticated theo-philosophy, where we risk the idolatry of our own ideas. Rather, Jesus meets us, embodied, in the suffering of the world. The Incarnate God calls us down from our fear and our encounter will change the way we live. For those of us whose privilege, wealth, and comfortability are reliant upon the exploitation of our neighbors, an embodied response to God’s call means giving it up for the sake of abundant community. The deconstruction of white supremacy may begin with understanding its history and becoming contrite. However, it ends, as James Cone puts it, with “repentance,” which bears “reparation,” in order that “there [can be] hope beyond tragedy.”


unnamed.jpgMatthew Zemanick is an approved candidate for ordination in the ELCA. His passion for social justice grounded in God’s grace is rooted in his experience of the Prison-Industrial complex as the son of a convict. He calls many places home, but the Patapsco River Valley will always be first in his heart. He likes swimming in the ocean, cooking, and adventures with friends.

[1] Here I have changed “law” to “teaching” to better honor Jesus’ tradition of understanding of Torah as a divine teaching rather than a divine legal (nomos) code.

[2] Article XII Augsburg Confession

[3] Credit is due to Dr. Westhelle for his exegetical work on the story of Zacchaeus, which he has imparted onto me and many in his lectures and writings.

[4] Augsburg Confession, Article XII.

[5] Vítor Westhelle, Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Promise of Luther’s Theology (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 56.

Becoming Human: My Confession and Response to the Mythologizing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Patrick Freund

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWhere I teach – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – we do a lot of talking about the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A spy for the German Resistance, scholar and pastor, professor and widely-respected author and public commentator, there is much to admire about him. But Bonhoeffer was human, as seminarian Patrick Freund is eager to point out. Patrick wrote this piece upon my request, as a student in his final year of seminary,  and as a response to Dr. Williams’ lecture at LSTC earlier this semester. For Patrick felt that for all of his greatness, Bohoeffer’s faults, too, are particularly instructive for white Christians and seminarians coming to consciousness about race in the United States.  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.”


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Dr. Reggie Williams at the burial location for the human remains and ashes at the Flossenburg concentration camp, site of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution (video).

At the beginning of his Lutheran Heritage lecture last month, Dr. Reggie Williams made two observations about Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s early life:

1) That the portion of his life which biographers term his “Academic Period” was spent in the predominantly racist context of the Weimar Republic, and…

2) That during this time he also travelled to the United States of America, where he “experienced developments in his understanding of himself as a white Christian.”[1]

Dr. Williams continued that when these observations are considered as correlated, two things become apparent:

“First, Bonhoeffer’s struggle was both external against Nazi racism as idealized conceptions of humanity and community and internal with a conflicted interpretation of himself as a western Christian. Second, the struggles he engaged in a racist society and with a conflicted self are as relevant today for his readers as they were for Bonhoeffer years ago. He engaged in both struggles for the remainder of his natural life, and we can learn from him for our own battles that we must wage today.”

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This impacted me in a major way. From my point of view, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been popularly sainted in the Lutheran cannon. In the popular imagination we have stripped him of his sinfulness so that we can see him as the pure and virtuous Lutheran Pastor who stood up to Hitler and the Nazis, and eventually died a martyr’s death. Bonhoeffer’s speech and action is a life of bearing witness to Christ; living into a daring trust and living out a bold faith. We cannot, however, forget that his struggle was not simply that of a virtuous person against an immoral, amoral, and devastating regime. His struggle was internal too. From early on, he was swimming in philosophical waters littered with flotsam and jetsam of racial pseudo-science. He saw the German people as being a superior people. He was familiar with concepts such as “Biologism,” which sought to explain human culture and behave as an aspect inextricably woven into race and biology. While he fought National Socialism externally, he wrestled with his own racism internally, and he died a racist.

This is painful to admit. But necessary.

Its necessary, because I know that I too have grown up in a racist society. I have grown up in a society that claims that all are equal in the eyes of the law but incarcerates Black and Brown men at a staggeringly higher rate than white men. I grew up in a society that ghettoized, stigmatized, and disenfranchised peoples of color while claiming to be the land of opportunity. I grew up in a society where I didn’t need to fear police brutality. I grew up white and middle class in the context of white middle class South Jersey. I spent my teens white and middle class in the context of white middle class Richmond, Virginia. It really wasn’t until I came to seminary that I realized that “America” doesn’t look like me, and Jesus doesn’t either. I think that this is what Bonhoeffer realized during his time in New York, which led to his internal and external struggles.

This has been my struggle too. I grew up in what was often called “post-racial America,” or “colorblind America.” And yet through the media and the cultural waters in which I was formed, I was conditioned to fear Black people.

I was conditioned to to equate drugs, poverty, and violence with Black people. I am racist because I living in and benefit from a racist system. What’s more, I’m racist because I was raised in a racist society. Racism is systemic. This must be affirmed. Racism is individual too. And this cannot be denied. I can relate to Bonhoeffer’s inner struggle. I struggle within myself everyday.

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Image via (medium.com)

I struggle against the thoughts and the feelings that arise within me, unsolicited and unwarranted, which bid me to deny the spark of God that has been implanted in every human. I struggle against the impulse to check “wallet, keys, cellphone” when approaching young Black men on the sidewalk. Especially the day after a “Security Alert” email is sent out. I struggle against the conflation of issues such poverty, drug use, and homelessness with my conception of the Black experience. I struggle.

When Bonhoeffer died, he was still struggling. And that struggle tells me that God wasn’t done with him until the day he died. I believe this because I know that I struggle, and I will continue to struggle all my life with the many and various ways that I seek to deny humanity to my siblings in Christ or my siblings in Noah. I am still human.

But, I also know that God isn’t done with me.

God isn’t done with us.

And the struggle cannot simply be internal.

God calls us to the external struggle for justice and humanity in many and varied ways. As I prepare to go on internship, I am looking to where God will be calling me to struggle externally in my new context. And leaving this place, I have regrets about the opportunities I did not take. I never went to a meeting of Seminarians for Justice, because my fear prevented me. I never marched, because my fear prevented me. I never preached, because my fear prevented me. I never took the Red Line to 95th, because me fear prevented me.

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If you are a student who has more time here – especially if you are a white student, a cisgender student, a straight student, a male student, a middle class student, natural-born U.S. citizen student, or any combination of characteristics from which you benefit from being a part of the “majority,” do not leave seminary with the same regrets that I am. Explore the ways in which God may be calling you to struggle for justice internally and externally. This is a call that you received at baptism, a call that resounds your whole life long. God is calling you to struggle for justice internally and externally while you are here, in and out of the classroom. Take advantage of answering for the now, while you are here.

And answer the call in different ways.

Try answering the calls that put you out of your comfort zone. Not everyone is called to march, or organize, and that’s okay. Not everyone is called to write and teach, and that’s okay. But everyone is called to participate. If you march and organize, do not despise those who don’t. If you teach and write, do not despise those who don’t. But in whatever you do, strive for the justice that comes with faithful witness to Christ. We are paradoxical creatures. God calls us to affirm the humanity in each other. Our own humanness gives us the capacity to see God’s own loving image in others as well as attempts to prevent us from doing so.

But God is not done with us.


1175397_10202066809055372_1572783268_nPatrick Freund is a third-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

[1]     Williams, Reggie. “Becoming Human: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theological Confrontation with White Supremacy.” Lutheran Heritage Lecture, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, April 3, 2017. All quotations are transcribed from the lecture recording, and the author takes all responsibility for any mistakes in transcription herein.