The 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.”
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.”
Rev. 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.