White Privilege – the Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

 

Picture 002Bishop Ray Tiemann, from the ELCA’s Southwestern Texas Synod, provides a concise, practical response to discussions on race at my home seminary – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – as well as the church as a whole in the US. Taken from a speech he wrote in response to an article written by the Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr,  (from the book On Secular Governance: Lutheran Perspectives on Contemporary Legal Issues) and presented before the LSTC Board of Directors, Tiemann makes a direct connection between the all-too-easily forgotten history of Jim Crow and the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Grey, and the victims of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC. He then gives personal testimony of what he does, as a “White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant” to mitigate his own privilege as best he can – inviting others to do the same.  Please read, comment, and share. Let’s keep this conversation going!

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


Brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we planned this event I was asked to speak about a part of the subject of racism that particularly intersects with me as a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant.  I want to talk about white privilege.

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“White privilege” is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people (in Western countries like the United States) beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.  It has been a challenging process for me and one that I have only started.  I’m certainly not an expert on the complexity of white privilege, but one thing I have learned is that white privilege and racial discrimination are opposite sides of the same coin.  One does not exist without the other.  So, as much as I may be tempted to deny it exists, both white privilege and racial discrimination are a part of my life and yours as well.

One glaring example that comes to mind is in our home state of Texas. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 – in a single stroke it changed the federal legal status of more than three million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free” – since Texas was not a battleground state, its slaves were not affected unless they escaped.  Finally, on June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government and on June 19 declared the total emancipation of slaves in Texas.  So, three years, five months, and 18 days after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves became free in Texas.

This day, June 19, is even celebrated as a state holiday in Texas – though recognized nationally as well – called “Juneteenth.”

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Newspaper with Major-General Granger’s announcement.

Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537) is another horrific example of this. This United States Supreme Court decision (in effect between 1896 and 1954) upheld the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities – enshrining the doctrine of “separate but equal” and inspiring the proliferation of countless segregation laws known collectively as “Jim Crow.”

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However, though “separate” was always there, “equal” wasn’t.  For example:

  • Farm workers and maids, who made up 60-75% of the work force in the South, couldn’t join unions, get minimum wage, have regulated hours of work, or get Social Security until 1950.
  • Health services were unequal, so that in the 1940s, statistics show that access to doctors in Mississippi was 1/1,800 whites, 1/18,000 for African Americans.
  • Metropolitan Life Insurance Company noted death rates 203 times higher for African Americans for the flu, TB, and pneumonia and life expectancy was on average 10 years less.
  • In 1940, the cost of the value of education in schools was $162 per white student and $34 per African American student, with only 3% of white schoolchildren who worked, compared to 16% of African Americans.
  • Any relief payments were not equal. Local authorities kept payments artificially low for African Americans so as not to undercut the labor market’s low wages.  “By decentralizing authority and fragmenting decision-making, national policies (of the New Deal) could be administered to suit white Southern preferences.” *

I believe we continue to struggle with that challenge even today, more than sixty years after Brown v. The Kansas Board of Education did away with “separate but equal.”  All we need do is consider how racial tensions continue to exist as evidenced by the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or Michael Brown’s death in St. Louis, or the shooting deaths by Dylan Roof in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. 

So what can we do, since most of us here are like me, White Anglo Saxon Protestants?  If the goal is to open doors for conversation across races, I need to be aware of the barriers that come unbidden as part of my white privilege.  So, how will I do that?

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(photo credit waywuwei)

 

First, I need to deal with the guilt I feel, knowing that the history is true and is a part of my history and my being.  In one sense, it is not about my trying to live a life that seeks to not be prejudiced.  It is, however, a realization that I am part of a system that gives me advantage because of the color of my skin.  For example, when I was in Washington DC a week ago as part of the ELCA’s Advocacy Days, we visited some offices in the House of Representatives.  I was with two Latina women who had personal stories to tell about why it is important to end detention of immigrant children.  They told their stories, but the staff person kept turning to me for comments.  I couldn’t believe he felt my words would have more weight than theirs, but then I was male and white.

Second, I have a personal desire to be kept comfortable.  I don’t like having these hard conversations or face these hard realities.  I will avoid this conversation if I can, I will change the subject, I will make excuses, and I will deny it’s true.  I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7(19), “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  It’s a constant struggle.

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Third, when I am working with people of color, I have to get over feeling that “I know what you need, that my experience is the standard by which everything else is measured.”  We have a tendency to do that when we go on mission trips, not asking what the needs of our neighbors are, but assuming we know and taking with us things that don’t help.

Finally, I have to stop being afraid and remaining silent.  In wanting to avoid conflict, too often I don’t speak up when God gives me the opportunity.  This sin of omission can be as great as a sin of commission, because when I don’t speak up, others assume I am agreeing with them.  So, the nasty, loud voices continue unchecked.

As I said earlier, learning to address my white privilege is a life-long process.  What I keep in mind to help me are those Scripture verses which remind me that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3 (27-28):  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Thank you for letting me share.


Resources

*Historical details from the book, “When Affirmative Action was White,” by Ira Katzelson.

An open letter from African American Presidents and Deans in Theological Education.  A full list of the authors is at the bottom of the letter.

A response given by the Presidents and Deans of the ELCA seminaries. A full list of the authors is at the bottom of the letter.


DSC_3292536x800.jpgThe Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann was called to serve as the fourth bishop of the Southwestern Texas Synod  in 2000 and was re-elected in May, 2006 for a second six-year term and was re-elected in May 2012 for a third six-year term. Prior to his election as bishop, Tiemann served as co-pastor at Holy Ghost Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg, Texas, since 1985. He was pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church of Cameron, Texas, from 1979 to 1985. Currently a member of the LSTC Board of Directors, Bishop Tiemann also previously served as chair of the Southwestern Texas Synod’s Commission for Professional Leadership, twice as Dean of the Hill Country Conference, and as chair of the planning committees for several synod assemblies and other synodical events. Tiemann received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas Lutheran College in 1975, a Master of Divinity degree from Wartburg Theological Seminary in 1979, and a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 1995. His thesis centered on the relationship between the children’s sermon and the general sermon for the day as a way to reach a broader segment of the congregation with the message of the Gospel. He and his wife, Debbie, reside in Fredericksburg. They have two children, Daniel and Rebecca.

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5 thoughts on “White Privilege – the Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

  1. I am very proud and excited that our bishop is confronting the centuries-old sins of white privilege and racism, both sides of the same coin. It will be a long and painful process but I firmly believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit, sincere confession by those of us who daily benefit from white privilege, and the courage to name and face the actions and inactions that perpetuate racism–indeed any __ism, we can begin honest conversation and prayer leading to transformation.

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  2. Marvis

    Greetings
    I found Bishop Tieman’s commentary refreshingly honest, as white privilege should not be a sentiment easily reconciled with a Christian spirit. Thus, in response I too would like to be honest. As an African American female, a baby boomer approaching sixty, I have recently become more privy to conversations regarding white privilege. It seems that finally whites are beginning to acknowledge their active participation in white privilege. And in a recent class lecture, Rev. Dr. Richard Perry of LSTC defined “racism as institutionalized white privilege.” so they are not only “opposite sides of the same coin,” I believe racism is a direct manifestation of white privilege, specifically in our American society. And, I think it was in the early 1980’s when sociologist and legal scholars began to identify Critical Race Theory (CRT) in America acknowledging systemic racism and the ramifications of white privilege on American society.
    However, in all honesty, as someone who has experienced racism directly throughout my life, it is difficult for me to empathize with a white person struggling with white privilege. This is my struggle, and perhaps the struggle of many African Americans. How do I as an African American move past my memories and experiences where the exercise of white privilege painfully and brutally impacted and affected my life, and the livlihood of my family. I too am a Christian, a minister, and I too have quoted Paul’s words in Galatians 3:27-28 to many of those I have counseled. But in my heart, there is a tiny space where the pain of being called a “nigger,” numerous times beginning when I was a child, compels me to keep at least a minimal distance and to always remain suspect of any white person, regardless of how much I may love them or become friendly with them. I have many white American friends and in my past I dated white American men. Yet I have found that there is always that moment in our relationship, regardless of our bond, where white privilege makes its appearance. It can come in any form, and I am suddenly reminded of who I am and who they are. So, this is my struggle as a good Christian of color. The struggle for both of us is real and as you said, it is a life long process.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Want to get uncomfortable? Join us on a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend. At the same time you will see the dramatic transformation going on in prisons – less violence, good relationships between men of different color and religious faiths.

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