We have only just begun our work at “We Talk. We Listen.” and there is no better time to talk about the work of inclusion than the first week of classes at my seminary – The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In the last year we heard a wonderful symphony of voices – white pastors and bishops talking about white privilege and anti-racism, three transfolx explaining and exploring the issues of gender and what they mean to the church, and many posts about what it means to be a woman in ministry. So as we re-publish last week’s post, see this as a forum for conversation. Add some comments about what you think this blog can do, what we should do, how we’ve done. Anytime is the perfect time to start asking, as the work of the Gospel never rests, and neither do the forces of evil against whom we so often struggle and strain and sing! So keep reading and keep praying and keep commenting and keep on going!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor –“We Talk. We Listen.”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
As “We Talk. We Listen.” crosses the threshold of its one-year anniversary I am in a space of celebration for the coalition of voices that have participated in an amazingly constructive, cathartic and transformative process.
The past 12 months have been an intense journey. As editor, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the many talented and thoughtful authors, researchers and readers. Your support, involvement and enthusiasm have made this forum what it is today.
“We Talk. We Listen.” was inspired by womanist public theologian and religion and media specialist the Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell. It endeavors to present diverse voices from a rainbow of social locations and examines how their stories intersect with Christian theology and current events. For her creative contribution and vision to this forum, I am extremely grateful.
Additionally, my gratitude extends to LSTC’s Ph.D. student Francisco Herrera. From its inception Francisco approached the blog as an artist painting on a canvas. He matched graphic representations to each post so that images matched the expressions penned by the blogger. He also managed day-to-day operations for the blog.
Through “We Talk. We Listen.” we have weaved through some of the church and society’s most complex issues. We’ve weighed in on topics like what it means to be human and be clothed in skin of color in our world; how it feels to experience cultural currents that run counter to biblical teaching; attitudes of entitlement by majority populations, and many other “hot button issues”.
We have examined the many faces of our humanity, our frailty, partiality and brutality. We’ve tried to frame these issues from a theological perspective—how does a public church centered faith drive us, make us different, and keep us hopeful that meaningful progress will be manifest in God’s work through our efforts.
I believe that a significant takeaway from this inaugural year is embracing the need for a more consistent effort among members and leaders of the faith community to speak up, become more active in the aforementioned areas, and redouble our efforts to strive toward the faithful proclamation of the gospel.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this year of developing and discovering how to support crucial and dynamic discussions that need to occur.
As “We Talk. We Listen.” eagerly endeavors into its second year, I find that we are facing many familiar obstacles that recent posts have discussed and future posts will seek to examine.
In her August 22nd post, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin thoughtfully examines glaring racial disparities that have persisted since the inception of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After 28 years, the ELCA continues to under-perform on its self-imposed goal of diversity and inclusion at a rate of at least 10%.
Rev. Paris-Austin provides a magnificent examination of systems, why they’re in place and the checks and balances that need to exist in the way of racial, cultural and ethnic inclusion for the purpose of “justice and peacemaking of our national church”.
As expressed in this piece, Rev. Paris-Austin seeks to remain fully engaged in the conversation with the ultimate goal of reversing the trend of virtually homogenous religious communities. She has demonstrated commendable responsiveness and obedience to the Holy Spirit through her address of the assembly accompanied by action. Continuing to be discerning and attentive to the Spirit’s leanings, Rev. Paris-Austin has stepped out on faith with the foundational guidance that only God’s word can provide.
That same week, then, her colleague, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, spoke about her side of the same issue – the flesh. When life doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. So she then wrote about her part in writing a constitutional resolution so that the ELCA would have accountability, solidarity, and resources to accomplish its announced goal of making the church more inclusive of ethnic differences.
Her experience and subsequent contribution to the blog demonstrates how essential this forum “We Talk. We Listen.” really is to the larger tasks at hand.
As a nation, we are on the precipice of electing our next President and Commander-in-Chief. This cycle, however, has brought to the fore a previously overlooked and very tiny segment of our population (about 1 percent of the total U.S. population). The confluence of Muslim voices and the upcoming presidential election stands to be a showdown of epic proportions.
Amidst this polarized and heated 2016 election, there has also been an upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, leaving many in the Islamic community feeling in danger.
In her December 2015 post, Sara Trumm, the Program Coordinator for LSTC at the Center for Christian Muslim Engagement (CCME), penned “Responding to Anti-Muslim Rhetoric: How to Be a Muslim Ally.” Through the piece, Trumm goes far in linking valuable community resources and suggestions on how non-Muslims can and should access them. To be certain, “We Talk. We Listen.” will continue to be a voice for positive change in this area.
LSTC student authors have contributed foundational articles to the national conversation about gender diversity. Last fall, River Needham proved instrumental in helping us to better understand transgender identity and issues in “Trans/forming our World, our Words and our Selves”.
As a result of contributions by members of the community like Needham, our society is experiencing a growing level of discussion and exposure of many issues impacting the transgender community.
This past spring, “We Talk. We Listen.” also featured the personal account of a beloved graduate of LSTC’s experience as transgender. Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson provoked reflection on the topic he shared with us through “My Gender, So Far…” His piece was so well received; The Huffington Post ultimately picked it up.
Andrew’s recounting of his experience causes readers to pause and resolve to extend understanding and compassion to those facing questions or issues surrounding identification as transgender. The reader is left with a profound sense of necessity for inclusiveness of this community — emphasizing Christian love, the general valuing of diversity and recognizing that they too are image-bearers of Almighty God.
Not only are some of the more profound ideological issues of our humanity being discussed within our forum, but the more pragmatic ones rotate to center stage as well. High on that list includes the long-standing issue of the gender pay gap. First Lady Michelle Obama and at least two dozen American companies took the occasion of Women’s Equality Day this past June to refocus the spotlight on this issue. We know that this discussion on eliminating the pay gap needs to be a regular one in order to bring about positive concrete results. “We Talk. We Listen.” encourages the community to be attuned to this issue. Let us know where and how you see the tide turning towards a narrowing in the pay gap.
These and many more invigorating discussions can and likely will be found within “We Talk. We Listen.” in this our second year.
To our new and returning students, I wish you well in this upcoming season of study and look forward to seeing you today! Your educational undertaking is crucial and will provide an invaluable contribution to the knowledge, wisdom and depth of spirit required for our society to flourish.
Your ability to keep an open mind and a warm heart will imbue you with the necessary strength to affect change and our Public Church curriculum will help you to do so. Our faculty takes seriously our charge to cultivate mature, wise Christian leaders to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. That charge includes developing this blog — creating a powerful resource for students who will become colleagues and leaders in ministry.
To those preparing for the momentous challenge of preparing to be pastors and those preparing for service to the church in some other purposeful capacity, I lift you up and genuinely hope that this blog provides you with a way to remain abreast of issues that directly impact those you interact with daily.
To readers and contributors who are alumni or function as board and trustee members, I additionally challenge you to read, enjoy, engage, question and pray.
At our core as humans, we possess different views on a plethora of subjects. For most of humanity our core also dictates, however that we care about the well-being of each other and our world. The bible teaches us that “we are the light of the world” and are called to be light in the time that we are living. So I hope that as you read and consider contributing to the blog that you also respond to your environment in faithful and transformative ways.
Going forward, I passionately encourage readers and contributors alike to share the existence of this forum with fellow members of the community of faith as well as the community at large.
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
*This is a re-post of the blog entry from August 30, 2016
 Dr. Joan Harrell is the Associate Director, Community Engagement and Visiting Scholar at the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare. She is also the founder of RacismContradictsChristianity.com and Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities.
Dr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for thirty-one years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. An ordained Methodist pastor for 35 years with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.