The Nashville Statement, Faithfulness, and My Story – Troy Medlin

thomas110_1027092On Tuesday, August 29, 2017 a group of conservative Christian leaders released what they called The Nashville Statement, an attempt on their part to give public witness “to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture” – essentially declaring that it is impossible for anyone in the LGBTQAI+ to be a Christian. Critical response was rapid, as Christian leaders from a variety of communities condemned the document for its theological and Scriptural basis. This week’s author, Troy Medlin, however, frames his response as both a critique of the evangelical Christianity that formed him, as well as a life line to those who – like himself – struggled with their sexuality while being part of churches that would likely stigmatize them if they came forward. Read, comment, and share.

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


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A few weeks ago, Southern Baptist and other Evangelical leaders, the president of my alma mater among them, composed and signed something called the Nashville Statement – the main message of this manifesto is basically that one cannot be both openly LGBTQ and Christian.

When I heard about it, I felt called to respond, but not by arguing hermeneutics or theology. I felt called to simply share my story as someone who has been impacted by some of the signers of the statement, is an openly gay seminarian, and who feels called to follow Jesus into the ministry.

It was among the Southern Baptists where I received my first formation – where I learned so many of the hymns that I still love, learned to love Scripture, where I fell in love again and again with the God revealed in Jesus, and this good news of grace that felt like fresh water to my weary soul. It was in this southern baptist church where I met dear saints who had traveled this journey of faith for much longer than I had and who inspired me to live a life of faithfulness, following Jesus no matter the cost.

It was these siblings in Christ who also encouraged me as I preached my first sermons.

I began preaching when I was 19, with no formal education, just a call and a passion. And, the people in this congregation affirmed my calling in such a beautiful way. They would encourage me to keep preaching and keep exploring this call to ministry and became dear to me.

Eventually I applied to Moody Bible Institute to continue to pursue this call to ministry. I spent the first part of my time at Moody commuting and continuing to preach and serve every now and then at my home church. But it was also at Moody, thanks to a good friend who shared part of his story with me, that I began to come to terms with something else that was just as true for me as this call to ministry, but that I hadn’t expressed before.

I was able to say for the first time that I was gay…

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In that moment I knew that whatever was going to happen in my life it was going to be informed by this – that I was gay –  and that moment felt holy, sacred, faithful. I felt free and liberated.

Shortly after that I began to experience some dissonance, for though on one hand I had been held and loved and accepted by God for who I was, on the other hand I was in a school where I could not be completely myself – where I had to be selective about who I shared this part of my story with. I had to deny these feelings that felt so intrinsic to me and so God given, that I wanted to spend my life in a covenantal, self giving, and committed relationship with another man and the fact that I felt convinced that I could in relationship with another man still image Christ and his church.

I had to wrestle with this conflict, between this peace I felt that I was blessed by God and the fact that, theologically, I was surrounded by people who had confirmed my calling to ministry and had taught me so much about what it means to be faithful – and yet who viewed my sexual orientation as a “struggle” that I had to deny and suppress

I had to wrestle with the fact that the Southern Baptist Church that had affirmed my calling, and had seen my gifts, who had let me preach, who had learned from my Bible studies, who I had prayed fervently with and for; these same people just would not understand.

They just did not have categories for who I was. It was simply confusing for them that someone who was so much like them, who shared so many of their values, and who had shared their same faith who also happened to be gay.

Moreover, I began to feel further isolated and on the margins as I slowly came to terms with my sexuality. I slowly began questioning some of my inherited theology around sexuality and other aspects of my faith. I tried to make sense of what was causing my cognitive dissonance. Despite the struggles I experienced throughout Bible College there were two things I just could not shake:

I was gay

And, I still felt called to be a pastor.

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The further I searched, prayed about, and discerned my sexuality, the more and more I felt confident that I was supposed to be a pastor – even when I thought it impossible.

There was this tension between what the Spirit was calling me to, and the communities who had given me so much – but I did not have the language to understand all I was experiencing.

As I was about to graduate college….as sort of a last attempt to remain in this inherited community, I attended a few sessions of a very mild type of reparative therapy known as healing prayer. It was here that I realized I was going to have to come out. I was going to have to live openly and honestly, and that denying my sexuality and denying myself intimate relationships with other men was not what God had called me to.

It was through something that was supposed to change my sexuality that God confirmed to me, that faithfulness was found in bringing all of myself to God.

And, so I began to come out to family and friends slowly and carefully, sharing that truth with those I loved and who loved me, and who had seen this calling to be a pastor grow inside of me.

And, in the process of coming out I tried one last time to shake this calling I had to be a pastor. Still maybe not fully believing that I could be openly gay and a pastor. I even applied for other jobs and thought that maybe it would be easier for me to not be a pastor, that is, not to work in the church.

The problem with that was there was always that still small voice, reminding me that I had been called; that God had made me to be a pastor. God had called me, with all of my story, in this body and everything that means…. to be a minister of the gospel.

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So, I came to seminary to further explore this call to ministry and to find a community where I could be fully myself and fully discern this call I had felt for the past 10 years.

The more I was honest about who I was, the more I embraced all of my story, even as I began dating another man, something happened:

I began to fall deeper in love with Jesus than I had in long time

My prayer life began to flourish again

My relationship with Scripture came to life.

My relationship with God was reborn.

And I felt more alive than ever when I was preaching.

This narrative is my response to the Nashville Statement and those who signed it – my story and how God’s faithfulness has proved itself in my life over and over again.

So to the supporters of the Nashville Statement, I say this: listen to my story. Listen to those like mine, look at our fruit, because Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.”

Let me, then, finish by talking directly to anyone who may be wrestling with his/her/their sexuality and are affiliated with Southern Baptist churches or other conservative spaces.

As a seminarian, a now-church intern, and as someone who still gets to preach, let me be one to tell you the deepest truth in the universe:

You are loved.

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To my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer siblings:

You are loved.

The God who made everything, made you.

God made you in all of your uniqueness.

No statement, no one person, no church, no denomination can take this truth away from you or change what is most true about you.

And finally – we need you, the church needs you.

For as the apostle Paul says, “…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor statements, or churches, or pastors, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I am here as proof that it all belongs, it gets so much better, and God is more faithful and more loving than we could ever imagine.

Amen.


troyTroy has a bachelor’s degree from Moody Bible Institute and is an ecumenical seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is also currently serving as a ministry intern at Urban Village Church in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He is a progressive evangelical who is passionate about helping people ask new questions and creating space for transformation. He believes that intentional encounters with people who are different have the power to change us and set us free. Troy currently lives in Hyde Park and enjoys eating breakfast at diners, politics, liturgy, 80’s classic rock and talking endlessly about how much he loves his hometown of Sandwich, Illinois.

 

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What I’ve Learned Since Graduating Seminary… – Elyssa Salinas, M.Div.

Linda Thomas at CTS eventThe beginning of seminary is such a powerful experience – the fact that you’ve been recognized by your community as have a call, the knowledge that you’re following the call of God to serve the church, the intense coursework, the community. Yet in the middle of this seminarians – let alone anyone seeking to serve the Church more fully – often ignore the way that God’s call works distinctly in each student, impeding their growth in faith as opposed to strengthening it. This week’s post by Elyssa Salinas, Ph.D. Candidate at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary, vulnerably recounts her own journey from divinity studies to Ph.D. work, and the pratfalls she had to overcome in order to understand God’s true call for her, not the call she expected. Read, comment, and share!

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


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This year I’m starting my second year in a doctoral program, and seeing the new students enter the building has made me think back to when I started my seminary experience. I did not understand that seminary was a different kind of experience, one that shaped and changed me more than anything else. Seminary did not just give me tools for ministry, it also made me see true brokenness.

Nobody tells you on your tours that many people in seminary, future leaders of the church, are the ones that need guidance. I should know; I was one of them. I had this beautiful vision of a life in ministry where I was going to write sermons, make visits, and live a simple life. I had a scholarship that named me a future leader and a call story that I could whip out at parties. All of this made me feel like I was ready for what my classes had to offer, but what I was not ready for was the way that my faith was truly tested.

Throughout my time in seminary, I doubted and questioned my call, but I was too afraid to talk about it. I was afraid that if I spoke too loudly my scholarship would be taken away or that my doubts meant I could not hear God’s call clearly. Instead of voicing my questions, I buried myself in school work, socializing, and never admitting the worry I truly had. I felt that I had a call to ministry, but I only thought that ministry equaled pastor. Whenever I heard about other possibilities, they were shown to me as a stepping stone or second-rate version of being “the Reverend.” I came from an undergrad that housed both supporters and nay-sayers of me being a pastor. My school was a pan-Lutheran institution where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) mingled and met. In this space I was told multiple times, in not so many words (because church people have to be nice), that my call was invalid because I am a woman. This fueled my fire to be the best, but it blinded me to what I truly felt.

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I was so afraid of not hearing God correctly that I neglected my own intuition. This was intensified when I stepped into seminary because I did not want to make myself vulnerable to any more doubt. It seemed like everyone heard their call from the womb, only some people took a little longer to respond. What I did not know at that time was that the Holy Spirit dances throughout our lives, and our vocations are numerous. The wind of the Spirit never stops, so we need to keep feeling Her on our bodies, and respond when She blows us in a new direction. God is calling us throughout our lives, and She will make us shift and grow.

Therefore, Lesson #1 I learned from seminary: You need to listen to your own call, and ministry does not have to equal pastor.

While in seminary, I opened myself up to a lot of painful experiences and toxic behaviors, what I saw though is that I was not the only one. There is no need for me to expound on anyone else’s story, simply listen for a reference to a “friend” in your pastor’s weekly sermon. That friend is usually a lot closer than any of us want to admit.

Seminary gave me a wrestling ring to battle my demons, but I did not face them head on. I wiggled away, hiding in shadows, hoping that my committee would never see the real me. I was hurting and unable to fix it. I was in pain and unwilling to share it. I was broken and ashamed to admit it. Wrestling with my demons was too scary, so instead I ran towards toxic behaviors and secrecy. I think I tried to be the model of the wounded healer, but I forgot that I needed to care for my own wounds before trying to help anyone else. I was leaving a trail of blood from my open wounds, and not taking the time to let them scar over. Scarring is a painful process, but a necessary one. They never let you forget, but they allow you to move on.

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There is a great deal of brokenness inside seminary walls, more than anyone wants to admit. Wrestling with God, we are all Jacob, and while we admit it during our call stories, we don’t acknowledge the wounds that aren’t healed. Many of us are drawn to seminary because of a great deal of pain: pain that we’ve experienced or pain that we’ve witnessed. There is something within us that hopes for something different, a way to heal, so we cling to our faith. We feel Christ’s fear in Gethsemane and ask to have this cup taken from us. We are broken and afraid to confront it. We cling to the cross, and, like Peter, deny that we even know Christ because how could anyone save us?

I remember crying in chapel more times than I can count when I was in my deepest pain. I kept asking for forgiveness and my brokenness to heal. I kept asking because I never thought it possible. My brokenness felt too far gone, and I could not imagine a God who still loved me. When I finally started admitting this pain, I was able to confide in a therapist and begin to heal. My brokenness is still part of me, but it no longer rules me. It is a scar that is part of my tapestry, part of my story, and it strengthens me. My scars make me remember the pain of the past and the knowledge that I am stronger than I realize.

So Lesson #2 I learned from seminary: I am broken, but I can be healed if I acknowledge and participate.

Bringing the conversation to the present, this past week has made me reflect on whether seminary taught me anything about what do to in the face of evil. When people in power go after the vulnerable among us, what, as leaders in ministry are we to do? What are we as Christians to do?

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I will admit to being paralyzed this week beyond hitting the “share” button on social media. Fear crippled me because, as a Latina, the DACA decision was going after my community and my family. DACA is about more than immigration reform, it is about acknowledging someone’s humanity, and chance to thrive. I cried more than once because throughout it all, I felt helpless. It is difficult to have hope in a country that is steeped in stories of blood, and death in the name of God; a history of colonization, assimilation, and decimation for an extra plot of land or a greater slice of the American pie.

But we need to start asking ourselves, what can grow in soil steeped in blood? What can flourish when the only light has been lies? What is there to trust when Lady Liberty herself may have been white all along?

Lesson #3 I learned from seminary: Stop hiding behind fear, it is time to get your hands dirty in the soil of justice.

This is a terrifying time, and one that has easily paralyzed many of us into silence. But people are hurting, and it is not going to stop unless we do something.

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Clergy and lay religious leaders marching in #Charlottesville, VA.

We have a call to serve God’s people, and that phone is ringing off the hook right now!

Whatever your God-given gifts are, use them to speak out, organize, and share the amazing truth of the Gospel.

The truth that love is a verb, a call to act and it is present whenever we respond to that call.


19030606_10210062178447962_3224229950823408292_n.jpgElyssa Salinas believes that her theology must touch her body; therefore, her scholarship encompasses her experience as a Mexican American and as a woman. Utilizing her own body as a crux, her research embraces sex and body-positive theology in order to combat a culture of disgrace. Currently beginning her second year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Elyssa continues to write for www.boldcafe.org and on her own blog Coffee Talk With E, and performs poetry throughout the city of Chicago.

On Immigration and ‘Putting-Up’ with Oppression – Francisco Herrera, M.Div.

Linda Thomas at CTS eventLate this past Sunday evening, and after several suspenseful days, the White House began actively hinting at their plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative (DACA), suggesting that it might be extended only by about six months or so in order for Congress to pass some kind of immigration reform tied to either the US government’s debt ceiling or funding for Trump’s border wall. DACA is a popular program which allowed those who came to the United States as children of undocumented parents to have a measure of protection from deportation. The shock of this announcement moved swiftly and one of our regular contributors, blog manager Francisco Herrera was quick to respond. Both resigned and defiant, he reminds us that immigrants do not need, nor want, pity – rather incarnate solidarity and support, and gives some practical suggestions that are as easily applied as they are Lutheran. Read, comment, and share.

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


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As you can probably imagine, like most Latinos in the United States these days (let alone countless undocumented immigrants from all over the world) late Sunday evening was a blur of rage and fear for me. That night, the White House finally broke weeks of tension and began leaking to the media that President Trump would likely not renew the Deferred Action Child Arrival program (instituted by President Obama in 2014) for anything more than six months, as opposed to continuing it. The news hit the country like a neutron bomb – the external structures of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country and those who love them somehow miraculously standing and functioning despite all life and hope within us viciously vaporized. I was fortunate that my colleagues in #decolonizeLutheranism let me draft our official statement. But the first rush of despair soon passed and, as is always the case, within short order an ancient and eerily familiar calm settled over me.

Because let’s face it, what else is new?

Seriously.

What else is new?

Living in a country where millions of individuals denigrate you for speaking Spanish – never mind that your people have been speaking Spanish in these lands for close to three hundred years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Being in elementary school and having to sing a patriotic hymn about a country that goes “from sea to shining sea” – even though one third of that country was violently torn from Mexico under the most pathetic of justifications, while the entire thing was stolen from its myriad indigenous people through a combination of disease, betrayal, and war?

That likes to call itself  ‘America’ despite the fact that this word covers two massive continents with 28.4% of all land on planet and more than 40 countries and territories filled with people who are just as equally American?

But you know, I don’t mind.

Really on some level I don’t mind, because despite all the ways that whiteness and white supremacy have doggedly impeded the dreams and aspirations of untold numbers of immigrants and their decendents, I’ll know we’ll be fine.

I mean, we’re still here – right?

Because if it’s one thing that immigrants of all times and all places know what to do it’s aguantar – a marvelous little Spanish verb that means ‘to endure,’ ‘to hold on for dear life,’ even ‘to put up with.’ The noun form ‘el aguante’ is equally pretty brilliant – meaning ‘resilience,’ ‘endurance,’ ‘resistance,’ even ‘guts’ or ‘nerve,’ similar to the US slang word moxie or the Yiddish chutzpah.

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L to R: René Pérez Joglar aka “Residente,” and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez aka “Visitante” – their stage names a play on immigrant visa statuses world-wide – ‘resident’ or ‘visiting.’

Calle 13, a music duo out of Puerto Rico, has even written an excellent song about it, simply titled ‘El Aguante,’ and it’s chorus perfectly describes the attitude of many who have come to our shores seeking a better life, their steps strengthened and steadied by a mix of resignation and fortitude:

Por lo que fue y lo que pudo ser

Por lo que hay y lo que puede faltar

Por lo que venga y por este instante

Levanta el vaso y a brindar por el aguante! 

¡A brindar por el aguante!

(keep reading for translation*)

Because even though there is always plenty of scholarship money for already well-connected white students that want to get any kind of degree and never enough for people like us, we’ll still sweat in dish-rooms, teach adjunct courses, sweep floors late at night and work four jobs because we know if it worked for our ancestors it will work for us too.

And even though you sent a ship of our family members back to Europe to die in death camps and gas chambers, we will make here a life of beauty and abundance – despite the sideways glances and questionable jokes –  because we know that the Living God has our backs in part because you so readily stab them.

And we stay because, as that prophet James Baldwin so brutally remarked we have the advantage of seeing who you are and what you do clearly while you don’t really know much of anything about us – and this knowledge gives us a terrifying advantage – a reservoir of insight into the workings of white supremacy and how to protect ourselves from it.

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Arial view the ICE raid of the Agriprocessors Inc. facility in Pottsville, Iowa on May 12, 2008. 389 undocumented workers were arrested from five different countries – 18 of them were juveniles.

So therefore when horrors like the MOVE bombing or or the Postville raids occur we’re not really surprised. Charlottesville  may have put a lot of otherwise supportive white people on the defensive, but if your people would have lived through Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears you similarly would have known for hundreds of years the orgasmic delight white supremacy gets over the violent exploitation of countless innocents and have long had multiple plans of action.

Having your ancestors sold on auction blocks, also for hundreds of years, kind of prepares you for the tragic inevitability of death and destruction at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect you, motivated by the sick wiles of people you didn’t vote for – or even did vote for. And just as science has shown that trauma actually alters human DNA, our readiness to both stand up to and suffer these attacks is hardwired into us and always gets us through.

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However, it certainly would be nice to have a little help in the fight. So if any of you Christian leader types are reading this, and especially if you’re Lutheran, pay close attention – because wonderfully enough, the classic Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms can give a pretty solid confessional foundation for how we respond to these problems in our days.

Though often used as an excuse to keep the Church and church leaders “out of politics” and focused only on a bloodless notion of salvation and sacrament, Luther indeed had another intent for it. For as someone who stood toe to toe with the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V himself and said “Here I stand,” the Reformer understood there are times that faith leaders must stand against the power of the state – especially when the church is called by God to defend its people from the forces of oppression. 

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In her recent book, Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda points out that if white folks want to become serious accomplices in the battle against structural oppression, you need to learn from people in the struggle as opposed to about them – to take a few hits on the jaw, to lose sleep, the compromise your relationship and reputation to the powerful.

For certainly advocating for and assisting the undocumented in their struggles with governmental authorities it’s a great way to begin learning something from them.

So first, get connected to justice orgs that advocate for and protect the undocumented.  If you want to take it up a step, the next thing you can do is advocate for your synod to declare itself a sanctuary synod – as we see in the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Southwest California Synod, the Oregon Synod, the New England Synod and the Greater Milwaukee Synod. If your congregation is in close proximity, let alone in the middle of, an immigrant community and you don’t have any mission outreach to them, start one. Any use of your power and presence in order to protect the innocent is always needed.

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En la Cena ecológica del Reino – Cerezo Barredo

And if you really want to learn something from especially undocumented Latinos – often the first victims of these deportation frenzies –  take it a step further and do something to immerse yourself in the soul and context of Latinos in this country.

See  about signing up for the Spanish for Ministry courses available at an ELCA seminary. Go down to Austin, Texas and baptize yourself in the realities of the Borderlands between the US and Mexico through the auspices of the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest –  they have special intensive programs on specific themes in January and May and June.

And when you do this, do it as a labor of love, because though members of these communities may be wary of you and treat you with suspicion (and can you blame them?), working your way through their suspicions – even their indifference – will eventually reveal to you a likely never-before-experienced manifestation of God’s love and grace that will transform everything about you.

Everything about you.

And then when white people learn to struggle, sing, and dance with our immigrant kindred as they work through the obstacles of their lives – be they from Honduras or Libya or Venezuela or Syria or Mexico or wherever – they will eventually understand more fully why it is we keep going the way we do – and learn something about el aguante in the process – and why this resilience is so important to the faith of countless immigrants of countless religions all over the world.

*For that which was, and that which could have been

For that which is, when what we want cannot be

For what is coming, and right now in this moment

Lift high all your glasses! Raise a toast to our resilience!

Raise a toast to our resilience!

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Praise Dancing – Charles Harvey (2008)

Because it is through the seemingly endless struggle, where triumphs are often few and fleeting, that all of the little ways that the devil preys upon our souls and our communities fall from us like parasitic bugs in the caustic gas of a delousing chamber. And it may burn a little bit, but since we’ve long learned to squeeze our eyes and our lungs shut, hold our breath a long time, when we come through – and we always come through – we are just that much stronger, that much braver, and that much more saturated with God’s love that even the longest march to freedom and righteousness seems but a pleasant stroll – relishing in the company of our loved ones, singing and dancing on the way to the cross and beyond.


421302_4275580040705_820243508_nBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor at LSTC, Wartburg Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

Trump, Arpaio, and the God Who Sees – Joel Cruz, Ph.D.

thomas110_1027092Misery and pain. Arrogance and tragedy. Because of Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, Christians can never allow any who suffer to go without comfort and solidarity. So in the wake of both hurricane Harvey and the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio, Prof. Joel Cruz shares his pointed but encouraging thoughts on both human suffering and how God stands with us, even when it seems that the pain will never end. Read, comment, and share!

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


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On Friday, August 25, while the nation watched as an increasingly more powerful hurricane barreled towards the Gulf Coast, Donald Trump released two controversial directives aimed at vulnerable communities in our country: the ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces and the pardon of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As a cisgender man, I cannot speak to the experience of my trans friends and colleagues but as a Latino I can imagine that some of their feelings were similar to mine at the pardon of Arpaio – the feeling of justice denied, of being rendered invisible and inconsequential by one’s own government, the sense of being targeted. I do not want to waste space reciting the long litany of Arpaio’s moral and legal offenses. A quick Google search can reveal how he mismanaged funds, tortured prisoners, ignored hundreds of reports of child sexual abuse, and targeted individuals who criticized him with bogus investigations.

What finally brought him before a federal court was the systemic racial profiling of the Latinx community for arrest and detention. He was found in contempt of court several times between 2015 and July of this year for failing to end his practice of detaining Latinx people without charge. It was at this point, before sentencing, that Trump stepped in to pardon Arpaio, effectively placing his stamp of approval on the sheriff’s misdeeds and giving the Latinx community and the judicial system a middle finger.

I could feel myself reeling at the news. Sadness, helplessness, and rage filled me. Another checkmark in a long list of blatant hatred from this man towards marginalized communities from Muslims, African-Americans, Jews, LGBTQ, and Native Americans. On the heels of his defiant defense of his comments after Charlottesville, it has become more obvious that Trump’s administration has sided with the forces of white supremacy and nationalism, supported by the conservative religious voices who have preferred the power of Empire to the service of the Gospel.

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As I scan the comments of my friends who come from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Peruvian, and other Latin American backgrounds I see that same sense of anger and sadness that I experience. Many are people of faith. Who will see us when our government renders our rights and dignity invisible?

In Exodus 3, Moses, having fled the Pharaoh into the desert, meets the God of the Hebrews. I know many people who like to focus on the burning bush or the great “I Am” statement. But for me, verse 7 stands out:

“Then the Lord said, “I have SEEN the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have HEARD their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I KNOW their sufferings…”

Imperial power commodifies the marginalized. Like the Hebrew people who were used as slaves to build Pharaoh’s monuments, marginalized people today are used for service — to pick crops, nanny children, or entertain the masses in sport and media. Yet the moment they stand up for their rights – or kneel down—they are, in one way or another, made invisible.

Yet God sees…

God hears…

…and God knows the suffering of God’s people.

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Protesting clergy in Ferguson in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown.

 

What’s more, this knowing is not simply the academic knowing of a fact – like 2+2=4. The verb used here is related to the “biblical” sense of knowing as readers of the King James Bible will understand. It is used of intimacy, of sexual relationship, a knowing through experience. God does not simply know the suffering of the people. God KNOWS it. As Christians, we see that in Jesus, a one-time refugee who was arrested and detained without charge, who was tortured by his jailers, who was executed by an indifferent State to make an example of those who would speak out for the voiceless.

Christian devotion in Latin America (and as the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the New World I include the US) has repeatedly resurrected this theme of the God who sees and knows and acts.

In a continent where indigenous, African, creole, and other people have been used and abused by imperial and nationalist powers, their faith in the God who sees butts up against the god of power and wealth with which the Churches have often sided alongside the government.

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In 1531, a decade after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Indian on a hilltop outside the Mexican metropolis. Mary, with bronze skin and black hair, expectant on this Advent morn with the Christ Child, said to him, “I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”

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The Cuban devotion to Caridad del Cobre began in the seventeenth century, claiming that the Virgin Mary rescued two indigenous brothers and an African slave during a storm at sea. For Africans in Cuba, her yellow cloak and association with the waters echoed the Yoruba orisha, Oshún, who exemplifies beautify, sweetness, and life-giving.

And on and on we see it throughout the continent; the God who sees, and hears, and knows.

Many of these Marian apparitions are versions of the Woman Clothed with the Sun from Revelation 12, whose newborn Child is threatened by the dragon that symbolizes imperial might. Rather than a book of future events that Christian pop culture and bad theology imagines, Revelation is a coded anti-Roman tract and looks to the judgment of God on imperial power and the triumph of the non-violent Lamb. But it reminds us that in the meantime, the Empire will have its way:

“Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev 12:17)

Its victims cry out to God under from under the heavenly altar, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). We echo that cry for justice when governments and churches conspire to maintain power over others and render invisible and silent those whom they decide are expendable or threats to their way of life.

Yet God sees, and God hears, and God knows.

It brings us to the present moment.

What are the organs of seeing, hearing, or knowing but eyes, ears, mind, and heart?

Amid injustice, racism, transphobia, misogyny, and militaristic nationalism, the Body of Christ is the instrument through which God will act in the world. Until Christ returns we must be the fulfillment of the Burning Bush, of Guadalupe, or Oshún. Make no mistake that God still sees and hears. A few years ago, a life size statue of the crucified Christ was discovered on a sandbar by Border Patrol on the Río Grande. Unable to find the original owner (who would carry a life-sized statue across the border?), the Border Patrol donated it to a local church where the Christ of the Undocumented continues to attract the prayers and hopes of the faithful who know full well on whose side God is acting.

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As we take comfort that the Trumps and Arpaios of the world will not have the last word, we must not let the despair of the times paralyze us. We practice self-care and then we act. In the words of Teresa of Ávila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”

To that end we – and especially those who benefit from gender, sexual, religious, or racial privilege– must be willing to see the injustices of world, to hear the cries of the oppressed, and to enter into intimacy with our neighbors to know the pain they feel.

Yet this will only be the beginning, for the call to confront evil and act towards the liberation of all peoples is the greater task that lies before us.


Ponce 2016.jpgJoel Cruz is an adjunct professor of theology and history at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He earned a PhD and ThM from LSTC in World Christianity and Mission as well as a Masters in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Cruz is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago and is the author of several articles and books, including The Histories of the Latin American Church: a Handbook (Fortress Press, 2014). He is currently working on his next book, a theology of the 17th-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Who’s Blocking Your Light? – Rev. Dr. Harvard Stephens, Jr.

ThomasLinda“…a message situated between the Charlottesville protests and [today’s] solar eclipse” is how this week’s author, the Rev. Dr. Harvard Stephens, described the sermon he preached yesterday – and that we are featuring on the blog this week. It is one thing to be seen as a human being, still another to be seen as a child of God, still another to be told – as was the Canaanite woman by Jesus himself – that she was a dog (Matthew 15:21-28). It’s a good reading as we sit with the situation of the country and ask ourselves how does God want us to act/do in our troubled times. Read, comment, and share!

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


Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28, preached on August 20, 2017 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Racine, Wisconsin

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I am looking forward to [today’s] total solar eclipse.  When the moon comes between the earth and the sun and is positioned to block out most of the sun’s light for just a few minutes, a great shadow appears.  We’ll then be able to see the corona, a circle of light around the sun that seems a lot like a halo – but be warned: it’s dangerous to look at all of this without some serious protection for your eyes.

I believe that a solar eclipse can teach us something valuable about our life together as a human family in the light of God’s own amazing grace.  Today’s story from Matthew 15 is also hard to look at and even hard to believe.  Jesus has traveled far from Jerusalem, to the north, near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  He is face to face with a woman that his ethnic and religious tradition has taught him to reject because she’s spiritually unclean and culturally offensive.  That’s a lot of judgment to make about someone he has just met.  This is a snapshot of bias, prejudice, and religious intolerance even impacting the Son of God.  Whoever this woman is, whatever her character, her contributions to society, her place in her community – all of this is hidden from us.

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Now, instead of labeling her a Canaanite woman, let’s call her a child of God.  Let’s offer her the same kind of consideration we would like for ourselves.  Let’s go even farther and say this: this woman is the light of the world – and maybe she has heard, in her own way, about the Sermon of the Mount, where Jesus tells those gathered: you are the light of the world; let your light so shine so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Well, guess what I see happening?  I see an eclipse.  I see something blocking her light.  I see something in the way that keeps us from seeing her as she really is.

The same kind of problem impacts our world today.  So much has happened since the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia – which are about a lot more than the place of Confederate monuments on public land.  Yes, that is the topic at one level of debate, but what we are actually encountering is deep division, hatred, and violence.  Many World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors are shocked by what they’ve seen, saying: this is the same hatred we saw during WWII; don’t they know what these things mean?  These political discussions have caused another kind of eclipse, a failure of people to recognize one another as siblings in the same human family because something is in the way.  This is what happens when someone’s truth, someone’s humanity, and someone’s value as a child of God is denied.  Today, the Canaanite woman’s light is shining, but there are religious and cultural traditions that refuse to respect her and listen to her plea for help.

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NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 21: Ligia (Li) Guyamier poses for a portrait for a “C-Section Scar” photo series in New York on March 21, 2017. (Photo by Damon Dahlen, Huffington Post).

I especially am moved because this brave woman is a mother – a strong mother who embodies the strengths we would like to see for ourselves – for our families – for our communities – and especially for our churches.  Mother church: here’s a role model for you!  Refuse to be eclipsed by the traditions that will keep you down and hold you back.  I am also reminded of the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman who lost her life in the protests in Charlottesville, who says that her daughter’s legacy of courage is meant to shine brightly against the forces of hatred and intimidation – calling us to overcome the fears that threaten to smother and eclipse the light of freedom’s story unfolding in our own day.

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Heather Hayer (1985-2017) – killed during the Charlottesville, VA protests.

In our Bible story, the disciples say: send her away, because she won’t stop shouting at us.  And Jesus seems to take their side as he explains that his mission is only for the lost sheep of Israel.  Another eclipse!  But as the persistent woman continues to plead, help me, she sets into motion a timeless exchange about what is actually fair.  What is the children’s food, and why does Jesus seem so stingy?  This story is purposely placed in between two stories about feeding thousands of people, because the issue is not that there’s not enough food on the table.  The issue is this: the benefits of having a place at this table are not being offered to this woman – but she refuses to be denied.  Even something falling from the table will be enough for me, if you insist on treating me like a dog.

This is some of the strongest language you’ll ever hear Jesus use.  It is basically a racial slur, a way of speaking that equates this woman’s heritage with the dogs that live with households across the land.  Scraps are enough for them.  But this brave woman’s words actually cause Jesus to pivot.  That’s a word we use in our political discourse today.  Who will pivot?  Who will find an alternative path?  Who will compromise?  Who will respect the views of someone not in their group or party or economic class?  Who will pivot because they believe in fairness and justice and compassion?  Jesus certainly did.

Woman, great is your faith!  I can see your light shining brightly.  It is showing me a way forward that I needed to recognize.  Yes, I will heal your daughter.  And the daughter lived!

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Who do you say that I am?

Next week’s reading will ask the question: who do you say Jesus is?  If today’s story had not taken this turn, I’m not sure what kind of Jesus we would have been left with.  Is Jesus a bigot?  Is he imprisoned by the social and cultural customs that perpetuate prejudice and hatred generation after generation?  Can he see the humanity of a woman from another land whose daughter is being tormented by a demon?  Can he respond and show mercy for the sake of her suffering child?

Matthew writes this story, we are told, because these are exactly the questions that the church was facing.  I want you to remember this: the four gospels are not books written by the disciples – but they are written in their names.  It’s as if you had the incredible experience of walking with Jesus with nothing separating you from him.  There is no eclipse blocking the light of his presence, and you didn’t spend your time writing.  Disciples told stories – and their children listened and repeated the stories.  Eventually their grandchildren began to write them down – so they wouldn’t forget.  And sometime in this process of experience and memory and story-telling, the practice of writing became more and more important.  And stories that the children and grandchildren told were mixed with stories of their own experiences as the early church struggled to come to terms with prejudice – and doubt and fear and persecution – and also tremendous opportunities to form communities that demonstrated generosity and compassion and especially love.

Generosity, compassion, courage, and love are signs of God’s light in us.  So is wisdom – and the ability to make difficult choices that may not be popular.  The Jesus-path leads us through seasons ripe with questions.  How do we let our light shine?  How do we overcome the barriers that keep us in fear and turmoil?  What does it mean to make room at the table – and refuse to settle for a standard that says: the crumbs that fall are all we have to offer people like you.
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You are the light of the world, and that light is the gift of faith that is resilient and compassionate.  That light is our stories coming together in the great mystery of the body of Christ.  It’s about congregations full of veterans and children, people like me, born in a segregated Alabama, and people from all over the world, including those born and raised right here.  We are all people with experiences that show God’s light in hundreds of different ways.  The light is our journey past the silence of disciples to the emergence of a church that stands with those caught in a cultural eclipse.

There is a way to shine this light in today’s world – with integrity, wisdom, and confidence that God is with us and calls us to celebrate the promises such a light reveals.  When the light of God’s love is hidden by shadows of prejudice, fear, and violence, we have the gift of faith that leads us with courage to let our own light shine as we work for justice and peace – in the name of Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.


harvardHarvard Stephens, Jr., is the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Racine, Wisconsin. He is the former dean of the chapel at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and at Carthage College. He previously served as the Senior Pastor of Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States Virgin Islands and also as the Lutheran Campus Pastor at Howard University. A published devotional writer, he also teaches Tai Chi Ch’uan and performs improvisational sacred music on his soprano saxophone. In a time of unprecedented cultural and social changes, he urges everyone to believe: this is no time to live an uninspired life!

Charlottesville And The Truth About America – Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

Linda Thomas at CTS eventFurther exploring the issues raised around Charlottesville, VA – and also in commemoration of this blog’s 100th post – this week we are going from out of the world of Lutheranism to talk with a long time friend of the blog, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. Generously shared from its original home on .base – the Black Theology Project –  Dr. Douglas wastes no time deconstructing the myth that what we saw last Saturday “was not America.” Indeed, she shows how the violence in Virginia has been fore-ordained and set in place since the earliest years of settlement in North America, as well as what we can do about it. Read, comment and share!

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


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While the Charlottesville, Va. “Unite the Right Rally” is certainly alarming, it should come as no real surprise. For as disgusting as many Americans find the beliefs of these “alt-right” crusaders, their white supremacist beliefs reflect an ugly truth about this country. The truth is this country, even as it proclaims freedom and justice for all, was founded on an “Anglo-Saxon myth” of white racial superiority.

This is a truth that Donald Trump’s politics has tapped into and brought into clear relief. Simply put, during his campaign and now presidency, Mr. Trump guilefully exploited America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth while dangerously revitalizing the culture of whiteness that serves to protect it.

Many Americans, horrified by the hate and violence on display in Charlottesville, exclaim, “This is not America!” But the truth we need to know to actually root out white supremacy is that this is integral to America, and has been, from the very beginning.

When America’s Pilgrim and Puritan forebears fled England in search of freedom, they believed themselves descendants of an ancient Anglo-Saxon people who possessed high moral values and an “instinctive love for freedom.” These early Americans crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically, culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage. Theirs was a vision soon to be shared by this nation’s Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. As such, America was envisioned as a testament to the sacredness of Anglo-Saxon character and values, if not people.

In order to safeguard this vision a pervasive culture of whiteness was born. Why? Because simply put, not everybody that looks like an Anglo-Saxon in the United States is actually Anglo-Saxon. The perpetual vexing problem for the nation is that from its very beginnings it has been an immigrant nation with migrants—even from Europe, who were not Anglo-Saxon. Yet there was a mitigating factor, at least for those who came from Europe, they were white—and this whiteness made all the difference. To be white was to be considered Anglo-Saxon enough.

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Put simply, whiteness became the passport into the exceptional space that was American identity with the rights and privileges of citizenship. From its earliest beginnings, therefore, America’s social-political and cultural identity was inextricably linked to a myth of Anglo-Saxon superiority. The “city on the hill” that the early Americans were building was intended to be nothing less than a testament to Anglo-Saxon, hence white, chauvinism. There is simply no getting around it, a myth of Anglo-Saxon “exceptionalism” has shaped America’s sense of self. It and the culture of whiteness that sustains it runs deep within the DNA of this country.

This is echoed, in a profoundly revealing way, by Donald Trump’s claim that his success is due to the fact that he has “superior genes.” This brings us to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

What happen in Charlottesville is another instance of the resurgence of bigoted hate that has erupted across the country since the November election. And, if we are going to come to grips with this resurgence then we must face the fact that Donald Trump’s vision to “Make America Great Again” is essentially a 21st century manifestation of America’s Anglo Saxon exceptionalist myth and the culture of white supremacy that protects it. His “mantra” of greatness has served as more than a “dog-whistle.” It has been a clarion call to action for those who have clung tightly to the Anglo-Saxon/white vision of America. No one made this clearer than past imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan than David Duke when he said, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

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Just as a “Unite the Right” rally should come as no surprise, neither should President Trump’s refusal to unapologetically and unambiguously denounce the violence that is white supremacy and religious bigotry (make no mistake about it, such ideologies in and of themselves are violent. For any ideology or system of thought that objectifies another human being and fails to recognize their very humanity must be recognized as violent. Moreover, such ideologies and systems serve only to precipitate more violence.) Far from rejecting the “alt-right” groups and their violent ideologies Mr. Trump has emboldened them with a “birtherism” crusade along with racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic campaign rhetoric: this runs smoothly into his wall-building, “Law and Order” and “nationalistic” immigration policies. Essentially, Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies have played into the bigoted fears and stereotypes that fuel white supremacy, thereby making various expressions of white supremacist violence predictable if not inevitable. To be sure, the politics of Donald Trump and “alt-right” beliefs reflect the inherent danger of America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth: when it expresses itself it makes people the problem. Hence, “To make America Great Again” is to “take back the country” from the problem people—that is, non-white peoples. So again, it is no wonder that we are witnessing a resurgence of bigoted violence or for that matters presidential calls for bans, orders and policies that prevent “certain” peoples from enjoying the full rights and privileges of citizenship.

If it wasn’t clear before, the events in Charlottesville have now made it abundantly clear—we have reached a decision point as a nation. We must decide whether we want to be a nation defined by its Anglo-Saxon myth of exceptionalism and white supremacist culture or one defined by its democratic rhetoric of being a nation of liberty and justice for all. This question is even more poignant for people of faith. For we must decide if we are a people committed to a vision of a country that reflects an “Anglo-Saxon” God or a God whose image is revealed through a racial/ethnic/religiously and culturally diverse humanity.

If we are in fact committed to building a nation and being a people reflective of a God with a vision of justice and freedom for all, then we must do more than just counter-protest. Rather, we must proactively protest for the kind of nation and people we want to be.

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Proactive protest first and foremost means telling the truth, even the harsh truth about who we are as a nation and a people. We continue to arrive at these “Make America Great Again,” moments of Anglo-Saxon chauvinistic violence because of America’s utter refusal to face the hard truths of it own story. James Baldwin is right, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Until America faces the truth of itself, the violence of white supremacy in all of its expressions will continue to plague our nation and prevent us from ever living into the rhetoric of being a place where there is justice and liberty for all.

This brings us to another aspect of what is required of us if we are in fact committed to building a nation and being a people reflective of a God with an inclusive vision of justice and freedom. We are required, as Mahatma Gandhi said, to “be the change we want to see.” This is indeed at the heart of proactive protest.

Practically speaking this means that we should be people of sanctuary and witness.

To be a sanctuary means that wherever we are present no one should feel diminished or unsafe because of who they are or are not.

It also means that we must work to make our communities safe spaces for all who are made to feel unsafe by the various policies, bans and orders of exceptionalism in our society. More specifically, it means creating spaces free of bigotry or intolerance of any kind and resisting at every level of our society any efforts to reinstate 21st century versions of Jim Crow Laws like “Stop and Frisk,” or poll taxes like Voter Id’s, or LGBTQphobic orders, or ethno/religiously-centric “travel bans” and immigration policies. This leads to what it means to be a witness for the kind of change we want to see.

Proactive witness means, in the least, calling out racism, xenophobia and any other ism or bigotry for what it is, even when it mask itself in the “politically” correct language of “greatness.” It further requires calling out the racially biased social economic policies, laws, systems and structures that traps certain peoples in a dehumanizing culture of poverty and feeds the prison industrial complex. We must refuse to be silent until these systems and structures are dismantled. Audre Lorde has reminded us that our silence will not save us,” and she is right.* Our silence has not and will not save us from the violence of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism—therefore we must proactively witnesses against it.

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In 1961 James Baldwin declared, “The time has come, God knows, for us to examine ourselves, but we can do this only if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here.” The events of Charlottesville make clear that the time has come for us to decide who we want to be: a nation that is defined by racialized “greatness” or by justice and freedom for all.


headshot_kelly-1-700x430Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, is currently the Dean the Episcopal Divinity School in Manhattan. Before that, she was the Professor and Director of the Religion Department at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a leading voice in womanist theology and has served as an Episcopal priest for over 20 years. Widely published in national and international journals, her groundbreaking book Sexuality and the Black Church was the first to address the issue of homophobia within the black church community. Her most recent publication is Stand Your Ground, where she writes, “There has been no story in the news that has troubled me more than that of Trayvon Martin’s slaying. President Obama said that if he had a son his son would look like Trayvon. I do have a son and he does look like Trayvon.” Other publications include, The Black Christ, Black Bodies and the Black Church, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It? She has also received the Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement, and was honored as “Womanist Legend” by the Black Religious Scholars Group.

*Paraphrased from Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action* Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) (p. 40). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.

What are You Doing Here? – Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson Byers

lt-ny-eve-march-2016These are hard, strange days in the United States. Reading the news, it isn’t hard to think of Jesus’ warning in Mark 13 – to keep awake as thing start to unravel. But in dark times like this, there is still good news to be preached and the Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson Byers delivers. 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.”


This extemporaneous sermon was preached on Sunday, August 13, 2017, at Resurrection Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Joseph, Minnesota. (For the original video recording click here)

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Lord, let my heart be good soil. And let your love reign supreme. And may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of each heart under the sound of my voice be found acceptable in your sight. For you are our Lord, our Rock, our Redeemer… Amen.

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The Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson Byers

So, let us begin in the only way we can possibly begin (*Holds up paper*). This was today’s sermon (*Tears it up and drops it on the floor; Laughter from congregation*). Like every pastor in America, I wrote THAT before yesterday. And like every pastor in America, of good conscience, I knew that I could not preach that today.

If you’re anything like me, you watched what unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday with the utmost horror. The America that I, and people who look like me always knew existed, roared onto your television sets yesterday. Unhooded, uncovered, unashamed, and bold as it could be.

There’s a few of you in this room I can tell didn’t see your televisions yesterday because you don’t know what happened. Charlottesville, Virginia, is the hometown of some of my family, so I am VERY impacted by what happened there yesterday.

This narrative began to unfold on Friday night, when two counter-protest groups arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia. One group arrived with members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Skin Heads, and other white supremacists who were there shouting slogans like, “White lives matter!” and “Blood and Soil!” (which is a Nazi chant) and “We will not be replaced!”

And then another group arrived Friday night, saying things like, “Racism is wrong!,” and “Black lives matter!,” and “God wants better and more than this for our country!” And on Friday the group of anti-racists gathered in a church, and there were many of our ELCA brothers and sisters there. I don’t know if you were watching that, but there were many ELCA pastors who were there, along with other pastors from denominations all across the United States – who banded together inside of the church, to pray that God would rescue our country from the sin and the stain of racism.

As they sang, and as they prayed, and as they called, “Lord, help me!,” like Peter, the church was surrounded by white supremacists with torches. And they were unable and un-allowed to exit that church. It was a scary moment – how many of you saw the picture of a little African American girl, swept under the arms of a white bishop *(see image caption below)SHAKING – because she was so terrified that she was barricaded in that church, and she thought that was going to be her last day on the Earth. Who saw that picture…?

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*addendum: this picture was taken by the ELCA bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod (Bill Gohl), however, it actually shows Pastor Seth Wispelwey of www.restorationvillagearts.org and his daughter, in St. Paul Memorial Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.

Yeah … one person.

I encourage you – go home and look it up. If you guys had had a screen – I was gonna show you everything!

(*Someone whispers, “We can go get a screen.”*)

We’ll just have people go home.

But there’s a little African American child, in the arms of a white bishop, and he’s holding her against his chest, y’all. As this little girl shakes in fear – as the church is surrounded — they’re barricaded and can’t get out.

Ultimately, somehow, by the Grace of God, the police extracted them – but not without great violence. There were actually University of Virginia students – how many of you have college kids in your families? Yes, there were some heroic students, who faced down the mob, and for their efforts were beaten bloody at the base of the Lee* statue which is at the heart of this argument (*adendum – the statue was actually of Thomas Jefferson).

The next day, white racists had called for a protest march, and THOUSANDS of militiamen, armed with assault rifles and guns, and their supporters, arrived in Virginia. And what unfolded on yesterday was something we have never seen in recent memory on the televisions of the United States of America.

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The vehicular assault at Charlottesville, VA – Saturday, August 12, 2017.

There was blood-shed, three people died, nineteen people were injured in a vehicular terrorist attack, and let’s call it what it was – terrorists attacks are not only perpetrated by people with brown and black skin, ya’ll!

A woman named, Heather Heyer, was killed in this vehicular terrorist attack. A white racist drove his car into a crowd of protestors – have you seen the pictures? Raise your hand if you have!  – Bodies LITERALLY up in the air; upside down!

Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates – they didn’t come home last night. Somebody is missing their husband. Somebody is missing their wife. Somebody is missing their mother. Somebody is missing their father.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?!”

While we the church, have been hidden away in a cave, failing to teach even our own children, (pointing outside of the walls of the church) that’s what our country has come to!

We’re the church, y’all! We, more than anyone else, ought to declare – as the disciples did – You are the Son of God. They said, “Indeed, you are the Son of God.

Yet what does that mean?

What does that mean when our black and brown brothers and sisters have to be terrorized in the streets of Virginia and elsewhere? What does that mean when our children think that my brown skin is brown because I’m dirty? What does that mean when you’re sitting at the Thanksgiving table and your father makes a racist comment, and you snicker and you look away because you’re afraid to confront it?

What does it mean?

To be quite honest, it doesn’t mean much.

If we, in church, don’t have the moral courage to stand up at a time like this, our faith won’t mean much.

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I saw on Facebook, someone asked, if you ever wondered what you would do during the Holocaust, during the Civil War, during moments like these – you now know. You would do whatever you’re doing right now.

If you ever wondered how you would stand up and be counted in a moment when destiny has seized us, whatever you do in this moment right here, is what you would do. And so in churches all over America, we have to say something that’s True.

And what is True?

Jesus love us, this we know. For the Bible tells us so. Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in God’s sight. And when we fail to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, with all our strength, when we fail to love all of our neighbors as ourselves – it is SIN, my friends. Racism is sin. White supremacy is sin. And what happened in Virginia is not anything new under the sun. This is not new to your black and brown brothers and sisters. It may be new to you today, but it is not new to me.

This morning I woke up so mad at Pastor Tim, I didn’t know what to do! (*laughter*) Because this would have been a better sermon from a white man.

We’ve been sayin’ it! We need YOU to say it. We need our white brothers and sisters in Christ to SAY IT!

Did you see the young men on the television holding the torches with crosses around their necks?

SHAME ON US!

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Those are our … Those are YOUR sons! Those are your daughters! Those are your nephews, those are your nieces, those are your cousins.

Go… Get… Your… PEOPLE! (*long pause…*)

And what’s worse? They’re OUR sons, and they’re OUR daughters, and they’re our nieces and our nephews. Do you remember when the Charleston Bible study was gunned down? Do you remember who did that? A child of the ELCA!

His name was Dylann. He grew up in OUR church.

This denomination is 97% white, y’all. And the ELCA is going to have to decide whose side we’re on. We’re either on God’s side – the side of love, the side of justice, the side of righteousness, the side of mercy, the side of kindness, the side of goodness, the side of faithfulness – or we’re on the side of the folks with tiki torches! Mowing down men and women and boys and girls in the streets.

Martin Luther taught us that sermons are not supposed to be feel-good messages, y’all. He said preach LAW, and then preach GOSPEL. Diagnosis the problem and then give the solution – which is ALWAYS King Jesus! Tell the truth! It’s always in order.

I am so sad for my white pastoral colleagues who didn’t find the courage today to tell The Truth. (*holding hands up; palm out*) In my flesh, I embody the wounds of racism today.

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I could not put on my white robe because it reinforces what we now know our children even believe – that white right, and white is clean, and white is good, and white is holy!

And so I wore my black robe (*holds up the bottom of black robe*). Because black is beautiful, and black is strong, and black is creative, and black is powerful, and black is original, and black is holy!

I got my doctorate at Luther Seminary, in Congregational Mission and Leadership – it’s a fancy word for Evangelism, but Lutherans are afraid of evangelism, so… (*laughter*).

We call it Congregational Mission and Leadership. And what I learned there is that God the Father sent God the Son. And God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit. And God the Holy Spirit sends the church. And the church is sent out of the four walls of this place to be the hands, the feet, and the smile of Jesus, in a world that so desperately needs Him.

And if we keep this Jesus to ourselves – Shame on us!

And if we don’t tell everybody that God loves them, then shame on us!

And if we don’t confront racism wherever we find it, even if it’s at our own kitchen tables, then we’re complicit in this sin!

We’re complicit …

And so from today, I can’t do anything about anybody that wasn’t here today (Amen!).

But for those of us who were in this room, you have heard the call to action. You don’t have to go somewhere far away. You don’t have to get on a plane and go save somebody, in Africa. Stay at home, at your own table, and change your little piece of the world for Jesus.

The storm is raging; yes it is!

There are enemies outside of the cave; yes there are!

This is a scary time in America; yes, it is!

But the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it!

Jesus is the light of the world.

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Take your fingers and mark yourselves with the sign of the cross (on the forehead). This is the calling of our baptisms. This is why we are called and sent and gathered every Sunday – not to hear feel-good messages — but to hear Law met with Gospel, and the to be sent out to be God’s Love for the world.

In the Name of the Father, in the Name of the Son, in the Name of the Holy Spirit – Amen.


20840125_10155521289087429_1747948382_n.jpgThe Reverend Doctor Yolanda Denson-Byers was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. She was educated at Wesleyan University, Harvard University, and Luther Seminary. She is currently in her twenty-first year of ministry and serves, in extraordinary call, within the Southwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. She is a hospice chaplain and an itinerant preacher. She is a proud wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. But most importantly, she is a child of the Most High God.