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


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.”




Don’t move.

Let me see your ID.

Don’t move.


What are you doing around here?

Anything in the car I should know about?


Don’t move.


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.

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.

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.


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? 


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.

19 thoughts on “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

  1. Peter Carlson

    Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
    Alas, my treason, Philando, hath undone thee!
    ‘Twas I, Philando, I it was denied thee;
    I crucified thee.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thefightingmonk

    Unpopular statement follows:

    I’m an ELCA Lutheran.

    I’m black.

    I’m a cop with 20 years of service.

    Can I simply say that Philando Castile and his survivors got what so many people don’t get? Justice. They recieved justice. The perpetrating officer was charged. The prosecution made it’s case, as did the defense. The jury heard the arguments and came to a conclusion.

    This is what justice looks like… it isn’t always pretty, it isnt always fair (especially when you are black, because let’s face it, most white people believe that cops are always right, and black men are scary, violent crimimals).

    Castile and his family got justice… not satisfaction.

    The verdict was a forgone conclusion. See U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor and Tennessee v. Garner. These particular cases govern the use of force by police in the United States.

    Police officers dont have to be right when using deadly force, they just have to be reasonable. Reasonableness is an entirely different standard.


    1. Mary Hansen-Joyce

      Thank you. I was heartsick to hear the “foregone conclusion” expressed in the verdict of innocent. You’ve helped me make more sense of it. Not in order to accept the systems as they are (beyond broken), but to give thanks that we have a judicial system, and that the officer was held accountable within it. You helped me see that the outcome was “justice … not satisfaction.” It may be easier for me (who doesn’t live a black life and therefore is afforded inherent and unfair privilege) to live in hope that a better day is always coming, but I do. I’m still heartsick .. and unsatisfied.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Erin

      … But we can do better. Is justice simply a rigged system working the way it was set up to work? Is it justice when society is protected in the status quo? Or does justice call the system to be better? Is it justice when society moves closer to respect, dignity, and liberty for all bodies – particularly those against whom the social structures are designed? I believe the latter. So I believe this verdict is the very definition of injustice. An unfairness against a person because of who he is (the body he lives in), and a system that was always set up to let his killer go free. We can do better. We must.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thefightingmonk

        Agreed. The system IS rigged. Rigged against people with brown skin. Rigged against poor people. Rigged against the middle class.

        Yoy can call ot injustice, but, even there the system is rigged. The system will tell you what justice is.


    3. Really? This is your idea of justice? And this is your idea of acting “reasonably”?

      Two questions for you, then:

      *What does injustice look like to you?
      *What constitutes being unreasonable?


      1. thefightingmonk

        I never said that the officer acted reasonably. I said that police officers, when using force, have to be reasonable. The reasonableness standard is fairly easy to meet, especially when a jury is predisposed to agree.

        As for justice… sure. That is what crimimal justice is. The right to ave a case heard and decided upon by trial and a jury of your “peers”. Sucks, doesn’t it. I didnt say a word about fair.

        Most people say they want justice, what they really want is satisfaction, in the form of punishment.

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Orice

      Well said or explained Fighting Monk. It’s not easy to be a Policeman in these times. Today I heard a talk about ‘suicide prevention’. The speaker who has been educating people on this subject for 20 years told us ‘White males between the ages of 40 and 60 die the most from suicides. White Policeman are in the highest category of those who take their lives in that age group’. Every 13 minutes someone takes their own life. It’s a disease of an unhealthy Brain, an organ just like every other organ in our bodies. The speakers husband , a retired Policeman was with her. Police deal for the most part with the traumas and tragedies in life, They are usually first responders. In the past several years Police and Law Enforcement are being verbally abused and with less respect. Why? I don’t think it’s because of these cases as started in this discussion.There are mistakes made and injustices done, but mostly their lives have became a political and racist battle and it has come from the Top of government down.
      I’ve been a Lutheran all my life,an ELCA Lutheran, I am a Grandmother with a beautiful granddaughter in Law Enforcement.Her father was a State policeman with 25 years on the SWAT team. I remember the many times he was called out for emergencies to protect people or families from self harm, abuse, hostage situations, and more and the anguish his family felt each time not knowing if he’d come home again,
      Yes we need to speak up for Justice for all, but don’t blame the ELCA or even expect the church to fight this.
      The church needs to talk about God’s Love for each of us, Why Jesus died for us. We need to be talking, Peace and Prayer, Service and love of our neighbor, not protest physically as has been done, that turns into riots, and hate fullness and rhetoric of all kinds. Blaming the ELCA, is blaming all of us and says we are all bad because we haven’t done enough. It doesn’t matter what our color. Jesus died for us all not because of our color. Let’s be reasonable of our judgement in cases that we don’t know enough about, show compassion and pray for those involved or grieving the process. God forgive us all.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Rev Patt Kauffman

    I had so hoped after the bloodshed of the 50s 60s and 70s – after all the violence against black bodies that these horrific incidents would be our history and not our present or God forbid not our future. And yet, I was raised in a household where we were taught we could be killed for being black; that no jury would ever convict a police officer. Their fear and their racism is instituionalized and codified in our laws. We must preach the sin and yes hopefully and sometimes through clenched teeth the hope that is in us. And yes I pray for our church for the ELCA, that there will be a stand taken to stand with the minirities to advocate for justice and to be in the streets until this system has fallen .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is a huge difference in justice and fairness as pointed out by thefightingmonk. And I am in total agreement with Rev. Patt and Erin above. However, no one has commented or attempted to answer the question, Where was the Church?

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Patricia Hartman

    Where are all the other voices, either from other Churches or caring individuals. The “system” is power and money. Church and private donations need to provide the funds needed for the poor and/or brown individuals charged with crimes to pay for lawyers who have a vested/financial interest in their client’s outcome. I am just an old white lady, but for God’s sake remember these are Human lives we are wasting……if that isnt a sin, it sure as Hell should be…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The Fighting Monk

    “Nigga wake up call”? I will just say this: if this is the language you regularly use, I feel sorry for you. Further, it migh help you to know a little about the law. Start with U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor.

    Read the opinion of the court and try to understand why so many cops go free after shootings.



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  9. Lynn Hade

    I can’t see what Castile did wrong. He stopped when requested. He provided one document that was requested and was in the process of providing the second, as requested. It doesn’t appear that he was argumentative–in fact was cooperating with the requests.
    A reasonable question to ask is, if Catille was white, would the officer have reacted in the same way.
    What is the Church’s role in all this? Teaching about the power of unconscious, implicit bias. Understanding the burden of carrying the fear of the actions of others, who see threat where there is none. The burden of recurring anger that racism so profoundly affects the lives of generations of African Americans, and yet so many ignore or simply don’t see the effects of racism–because it will never endanger their own lives, their prospects or the prospects and lives of their children? As a church we have an obligation to learn about racism and its affects on the lives of our fellow citizens, and because of that affect, the affect on our nation.


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