Leaving Them in Their Tombs – Rev. Nate Sutton; Peace Lutheran Church, Puyallup, WA

Linda Thomas at CTS event

If you are a white person in this country with any amount of savvy about race and power, you understand that taking part in any and all efforts to advocate for people of color, with people of color, can be fraught. Rev. Nate Sutton speaks to something of that in this week’s blog post, not only as a pastor in a denomination that is 96% white, but also as some one who is seeing the racial violence continue apace – and who has moved his frustrations and anger into a call to action. 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.”


“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.”  – Matthew 27:57-60

“Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people!” – Malcolm X


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I’m tired of hashtags.

#TrayvonMartin

#TamirRice

#MichaelBrown

#EricGarner

#SandraBland

#FreddieGray

#AltonSterling

#LaQuanMcDonald

#PhilandoCastile

#CharleenaLyles

I can’t even remember the right order.

And, I’m excluding countless names that should be on the list. Why? Because I haven’t heard them. Apparently, the vast majority of people of color killed by law enforcement do not warrant the dignity of our awareness.

As I reeled from the most recent news of an acquittal in a case involving state violence, all I could bring myself to do was publish a simple affirmation on Facebook and Twitter: “Philando Castile’s life mattered.” But as true as it is, the statement left me with a nagging question: Is this really the extent of my power?

Each time I type the name of another lost parent/child/sibling/friend/neighbor/citizen, I feel like a latter-day Joseph of Arimathea, nowhere to be seen prior to the crucifixion, but showing up just in time to tend to the body. Handling Jesus with care, Joseph ultimately seals him in his tomb and leaves him behind.

But I’m tired of hashtags. I don’t want to bury more crucified people with nothing more to remember them than a digital whisper of their names.

And, I suspect I’m not the only one who is dissatisfied with reactive outrage and grief. If discipleship means taking up a cross of my own in Jesus’ name, then I’m called to be right beside him at Golgotha. If Jesus is to be found in the pain of oppressed people, then that is where I should go to find him. The charge is clear: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

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Exodus – Marc Chagall

Faithfulness to a crucified Lord means proactive solidarity with those who are crucified. But for all my eagerness to stop leaving people in their tombs – to do something worthwhile to prevent crucifixion in the first place – as a white person I also acknowledge a number of potential pitfalls.

The first temptation is to opt out from time to time. White privilege affords me the freedom to periodically suspend my involvement in the movement for racial justice. News of yet another trauma is upsetting, so I close my browser and busy myself elsewhere. Since people of color do not have the choice to take a break from race, however, solidarity demands a reliable commitment on my part. So I am compelled to answer the question: How prepared am I to truly share the burdens of those whose lives are threatened in my community, in my nation, on account of the color of their skin? I’m willing to repeat a hashtag, sure, but what other commitments am I ready to make?

And just as importantly, what is the most respectful and effective means of my involvement?

One of the more insidious functions of racial privilege is the insistence that white allies be free to participate in the movement for racial justice on our terms. As soon as we become convicted of the need for change, we’re apt to dive in. We take charge because that’s what we’re conditioned to do. But when white people enter black-centered spaces uninvited, for instance, or impose preformed ideas about how the movement ought to proceed, or center our own feelings about the ways we are included or not, we exploit the very power we presume to dismantle.

We also risk becoming preoccupied with our own acceptance. We want to be perceived by people of color as allies. We want to prove that we’re woke. So, we attend closely to the voices of people of color and affirm them. Whereas such support is warranted, problems arise when we identify our participation exclusively with the efforts of people of color.

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First, we may become convinced that we have earned the right to our place at their side. If I like all your posts, then I am free to associate myself with you at any time. For a variety of reasons, however, some spaces are reserved for those who are directly affected by injustice. White people (or men, or cisgender or heterosexual folks) may simply not be invited into these spaces. And when we are invited, we are expected to enter with care, as guests.

Second, we may neglect our own responsibility to the movement, a responsibility that is independent from the work of people of color. Our black friends are not available to address racism in our families. Our teachers of color are not available to practice anti-racism with our colleagues and in our communities. In the all-white spaces in which I so often find myself, my voice may be the only one to ask hard questions and insist upon change.

With all this in mind, how should I be about the work?

“Get in where you fit in.”

This wisdom from a leader in the movement for black lives continues to frame my own commitment.

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Get in where you fit in, that is, make an effort to understand the way your identity positions you uniquely in the movement for justice. Recognize where and when your role is to listen. Own the power your identity affords you, and leverage it for the sake of a more equitable distribution of power.

I’m tired of hashtags.

I’m tired of leaving crucified people in their tombs.

So I’m vowing to take new steps in faith and love, and I’m ready to take direction.

Will you come with me?


Vestments 3.2017.jpgNate Sutton is an LSTC alumnus, graduating in 2013. He serves as pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in downtown Puyallup, Washington. A Pacific Northwesterner by upbringing and choice, he and his spouse, Bethany, call Chicago “their city,” the place where many of their fiercest friendships developed and their dearest memories reside. Their child, Alexandra, will be three years old at the end of August.

Closing Thoughts – Inez Torres Davis

lt-ny-eve-march-2016Inez Torres Davis has been involved with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America more than 20 years, working as an anti-racism trainer in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States. She retired just a couple of months ago, ending her two decades of service as a core leader with The Women of the ELCA. She shares some parting thoughts with us this week, along with the firm reminder that we have a long way to go before our churches are anti-racist, and that we must continue the struggle. 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.”


ELCA

Prologue: My first day of service (call) with Women of the ELCA (WELCA) was January 27, 1997; my last day of service was March 31, 2017. Over those two decades my job title was changed, but anti-racism education remained my one programmatic constant. In the two months since my retirement, I have been healing. This is the first time I have been moved by Spirit to say something about the ELCA, anti-racism education, and me.

I first got the impression the ELCA cared about racial justice at its forming. That is when the ELCA (then, a 98’% white denomination) publicly stated that they wanted to grow in the number of persons of color in their church. To my mind, to have such growth, required relationship and a passion for racial justice.

I concluded that with such aspired growth, the ELCA definitely wanted to relate to many, many more people of color. It even had a percentage for that growth! The ELCA wanted to reach a representational presence of persons of color of 10%, a significant goal that more than tripled their existing number. I was impressed by such faith.

When my life partner and I joined a Lutheran church, it was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that we joined and it was at its forming. We are both people of color and the ELCA said they wanted us. We had recently escaped the clutches of fundamentalism, and wanted our young family (two young daughters) to have a church presence.

It sounds perfect, even now.

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As the last decade of the last century began, the people of color leadership of the churchwide ELCA’s Multicultural Ministries Commission drafted me to become a facilitator of the ELCA’s needed anti-racism work. Their actions and the language used by the ELCA communicated to me that this church had serious intent. I believed there was real work to do.

Unlike many of the current churchwide leadership of color, that leadership had both great expectations and the resources to have a role in facilitating a transformation of a Northern European church into a 1-in-10 person of color representational church in the United States. The ELCA spoke and looked like it meant business. This was heady stuff!

At the time, we lived in Flint, Michigan. I was welcomed by the Southeast Michigan ELCA Synod by everyone BUT the white leaders of the congregation where I worked as lay associate. That congregation’s leadership did not know how to receive me. I came neither with hat in hand nor with a wide disarming grin. I frustrated them and in their frustration they concluded there was no reason to learn how to relate to me, particularly when judging me at secret meetings was easier and more satisfying.

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I believe that had I been a sharp, young white woman with a white husband and two daughters, the white people of that congregational leadership would have welcomed me; hell, they might have thrown a party at our arrival!

Instead, they made it clear: the idea of relating to more persons of color for the sake of church growth was a Chicago notion.

Most white ELCA people resist and resent the prophetic utterance central to anti-racism education. Anti-racism education within the church lays the historical and current shedding of the blood of the oppressed by a white-privileged, patriarchal system at the feet of the church. Most of the Christian church took the papal bulls of the 15th century to heart and have used them these past (going on) six centuries to center whiteness throughout the world.

Over the last nearly three decades, however, rather than seeing the ELCA grow in its understanding of its role in combating racial oppression, I have watched the almost all-white ELCA come to accept itself. It has come to accept that it is white and for the most part, that is just fine. For some, I suspect, it is close to heaven on earth – as the 270 electoral college votes necessary to elect our current president went through the ELCA.

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Many states that propelled Donald J. Trump to the presidency – North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have significant numbers of congregations in the ELCA.

For many if not most ELCA Whites, any person who raises the issue of race is doing so for suspicious reasons and, therefore, cannot be trusted. This distrust is true for aspiring white anti-racists as well as aspiring anti-racists of color. The treatment for both is alarming if not always similar.

Those theologically and spiritually immersed in the white, patriarchal culture of the ELCA see little that needs fixing or worse–they see those of us doing anti-racism as a bigger problem. Put enough people into the Conference of Bishops, the Church Council, and other key leadership positions who lack the humility to see anti-racism education as a core necessity for growth in grace or faith and racial justice efforts will crumble.

The first letter of complaint about me received by the corner office came in early 1998. It came from a white woman emotionally devastated by the idea that she and her husband acted in racist ways. The idea that they acted in racist ways came to her after she attended an anti-racism education training weekend that I had led.

What was WELCA thinking,

she asked,

sending out such a person as myself to stir up such trouble? 

When the executive director called me into her office to answer the charges in that letter, I told her that if she was going to need me to respond to every white woman who found the ministry WELCA had hired me to do upsetting, she should have a desk added to her corner office so we could have our many conversations discreetly.

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I told her there would always be those willing to kill the messenger. But, I asked, was she willing to mid-wife death?

At first, I was surprised some ELCA people of color resented the work. Then I realized that many had thought the only ones that needed changing were white. However, when anti-racism education hits home, people of color learn about internalization and, thereby, learn that we must also change if we are to be a part of ending the cycles of oppression. Change is no less a bitter pill for us, and it can feel doubly damning to be asked to change when we are the ones oppressed!

It takes bold faith to steward the demolition of the structures created neither by love or grace but by sanction of the Doctrine of Discovery. It was and continues to be within the authority of the Doctrine of Discovery that principalities and powers created systems and laws that beat, torture, and strangle those created in God’s image. Within such a canon, the least of these had best simply, and quickly, die.

Becoming a practicing anti-racist takes living by faith, not in some esoteric color-blinding, once-and-for-all final solution kind of way, but in a living by faith, a breath to breath, from relationship to relationship across and within the racial divides kind of way. Anti-racism from the heart infuses not just our good days but also our bad days and will always carry us back again to God’s impossible grace.

It takes radical faith and actions to facilitate God’s will on this earth. Such radical faith births a sweeping, bold human spirit with the capacity to partner with God’s Spirit in replacing what Empire has given us with the beloved community.

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It also takes a great deal of life and soul energy to engage in such a battle against principalities and powers in high places. To seek justice within the house of God and with the people of God, takes strong fruit of the Spirit.

At this point in my life, I pray that more and more of us baptized will place their hand to God’s wheel. I pray this because, without more folks carrying on this kind of work as me and my friends retire, we will only continue to grow  irrelevant. That can’t happen.


InezInez Torres Davis is an indigenous Latina worked within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently having retired as the  core racial justice/anti-racism trainer  of Women of the ELCA after 20 years. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, a Reiki master, and creator of sacred spaces.

What it’s All About – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingEvery so often the Church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, ##decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

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


“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about,  anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not Children of God.

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Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.” “You black people may clap in church, but not us!” “That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader who is LGBTQ and you hear…

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 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?” “They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!” “We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the Devil rubs his hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians? Pshaw…

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.” “Your husband approves?!” “You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.” “What does your husband think?”

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@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 203 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United Sates, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

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Because everyone has to pee.

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folkx had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

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“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.


red-fireBefore 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. He completed his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012 and then began Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Fall of 2013 – his emphasis on World Christianity and Global Mission. A polymath and a scatterbrain, when he isn’t preparing for school stuff he blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

 

In Search of Authenticity – Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin

Linda Thomas at CTS eventCan bureaucracy provide a path toward justice? Like secular institutions, mainline Christian denominations use bureaucratic procedure to move toward change and transformation. However, unlike secular institutions, the Church is called through the Triune God to offer grace and strive for justice. With the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly recently completed, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin gives us a snap-shot of her activities during the week-long series of meetings and votes, and how she and others continue their tireless efforts to call the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to confess, reassess, and deal with the reality that after 28 years it’s racial composition is still 96% white. Reverend Austin reminds us that God created racial diversity and calls the ELCA to redouble it’s efforts to make good on its commitment to diversity. Read and be inspired, friends – and don’t forget to 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.”


I have a love/hate relationship with systems.

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Participants at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At their best systems create pathways to justice and equity. Systems can establish order and promote fairness in a chaotic, disorderly and sinful world. This is why I deeply value our church constitutions and assemblies.  Setting the high aim of bringing forth God’s reign on earth, these systems seek to shape an orderly pathway for healthy relationships within and beyond the church, all for the glory of God!

So when the opportunity arose for me to attend the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the church geek in me leapt for joy. I cleared my calendar, arranged special activities for my children, adjusted my family budget and jumped on the plane to spend a week in New Orleans in August, knowing full well, that most of my time would be spent in the confines of a windowless convention hall. All because I knew that this was my chance to add my voice to the work of justice and peacemaking of our national church. Yes, I love systems.

But systems are designed and operated by human beings, who in our theology we understand to be both saints and sinners. That means that despite our best and most saintly of efforts, we will often fall into our own patterns of sinfulness that make the system oppressive, hurtful, harmful and very contrary to the way in which Jesus might do things. In the name of good order we find ourselves protecting the system from people rather than uplifting people through the system. It is my deep frustration with this reality that keeps me engaged with the system in an effort to call it to the same daily confession and repentance that I need in my life.

This summer I entered the Assembly with no particular agenda, other than to be certain that voices from the margins get moved to the center of the conversation. And through this simple calling, the Holy Spirit set me on a path of sleepless nights, copious writing, and a multitude of surprising conversations that led to a 2 minute speech on the floor of the assembly and affirmative vote to shake up the system.

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Graph of the Pew Study’s finding on diversity among religious communities in the United States. At 96% white – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is officially the whitest religious organization in the United States (see second-from-the-bottom).

 

You see, at its founding in 1988, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America set a goal for diversity and inclusion within our ranks. That goal was given a number, 10%, and institutionalized into the system via the Churchwide Constitution. 28 years later, the Pew reports showed that not only had we not achieved that goal, but the percentage of people of color in the ELCA was less than when we started.

It seems that forming Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and staffing a Unit for Multi-Cultural Ministries was not sufficient to make change occur. It seems that despite, the presence and development of a library of resources by affiliated organizations like Women of the ELCA, a shift in the culture of the church is still slow to be made manifest. And it seemed that our system response to this failure, was to remove the goal from our governing documents and replace it with a commitment to work toward diversity.

Suffice it to say, this did not sit well with me, but the Holy Spirit was at work. It turns out She had gathered in this place and time the exact collection of individuals necessary to dream up a new vision for our church. She had tilled the soil and softened the hearts of leaders who were now naming new priorities of justice and inclusion.  As I sat humbly at the feet of phenomenal young adult leaders in our church, and under the wings of elders who have been walking this road since before I began, it became evident that She was calling the church geek in me to action.

 

It was time to call the system to account. It was resolution writing time.

In my heart, I simply wanted to tell the assembly, that we can do better. I wanted them to understand that God has provided us with all we need to do God’s work of building a beautiful, diverse, inclusive, beloved community. I know that is messy work, but I wanted the system, or rather, I wanted the people in the system to hear the grace that the answers exist within our midst. That we can be all that God is calling us to be. So my head got to work, laying out the WHEREAS[i] clauses that name our abundant resources and confess our failure. Then with Spirit guidance from young adults and wise elders the RESOLVED[ii] clauses came into being.

The final hurdle of the system

was now before me…

…funding.

You see, while my love/hate relationship with systems is complex, my hate/love relationship with money goes even deeper. But I knew that the reality of the capitalistic society in which we live, is that whatever solution I proposed, it was going to require money, a financial investment in our future. I wanted to be like Jesus and simply toss the tables in the temple and let the money fall where it may. I was inside the system, in a seat with voice and vote and an organized coalition of support, but I knew the system would not take well to such upset and the power we held, even collectively was not quite enough to bring forth the dollars needed. The question became; who was the Holy Spirit calling to complete what I had started?

This led me to more conversations, with more of God’s beloved church geeks and the answer became clear. It was time for a call to accountability to all we named and claimed as church. And it was time to trust the system.

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I stood on the Assembly floor and directed these words to our Presiding Bishop[iii]:

 “I love my church. By that I mean I love my church in all its expressions, in all the locations I have served, lived, loved and been formed. I am overjoyed by the intentional naming and claiming of our efforts to be a people of restorative justice and reconciling peace with a commitment to diversity.

But I want MORE.

I want our commitments to be more than just lip-service.

I want them to move us to action.

I want them to be supported with a plan for success.

I want them supported by the wisdom of people of color who have been leading in our midst,

Let Us LEAD.

I want them supported with strategies of accountability that are adaptive & authentic and

I want them supported with resources, that means, dollars.

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At the assembly – from left to right – Rev. Tuhina Rasche, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin.

I am grateful for the strong affirmation and support of Reference and Counsel for this resolution and I support it being referred to Church Council for budgetary consideration.

I am trusting that the work of Called Together Forward[iv], the current priorities of the Council and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the actions of this Assembly thus far this week will serve to compel our church council to partner effectively with the Churchwide Staff, all the partners who are named in this resolution to bring to fruition the heart and content of this resolution”

The resolution was referred to the Church Council, an action that on its surface, that seems futile, but I am a child of the risen Christ and therefore called to live in hope. My hope and my prayer is that we will be who God calls us to be.

Meanwhile, I will continue to love the system by holding it accountable to fulfill this promise.


11181188_1017277271638254_7750523003400743439_n.jpgRev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (LSTC M.Div. 2011) is currently the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA. Additionally, she is a member of the Rostered Women of Color Project Steering Team for the ELCA as well as the Northwest Washington Synod Strategy Team for Authentic Diversity.


[i] WHEREAS the ELCA Church Council voted [CC15.11.55]:To recognize and affirm the extensive efforts of the presiding bishop to call the entire church to confront racism and to add our voice to that call; and To invite the presiding bishop to include the current efforts in a broader, comprehensive strategy toward becoming a racially and ethnically diverse church committed to dismantling racism; and

WHEREAS the Women of the ELCA has developed a wealth of resources and curriculum for racial justice from a Biblical and historical perspective and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations along with the Ethnic Specific, Multicultural and Racial Justice team have developed strategies for engaging and  involving people of color in every aspect of the life of our church; and

WHEREAS our church is blessed with a breadth and depth of people of color and people with a first language other than English whose voices need to be amplified in order to guide this church in moving forward towards becoming a more inclusive and diverse church; and
WHEREAS even with these resources and supports, synods and congregations have had difficulty achieving this church’s commitment to diversity as reflected in the Continuing Resolutions under section 5.01 of the Constitution,  Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; therefore

[ii] BE IT RESOLVED the Churchwide Assembly direct the ELCA Church Council to form a Task Force for the purpose of developing a comprehensive set of strategies to equip congregations and synods to work towards becoming a more authentically diverse church. The work of the Task Force shall include but is not limited to:

  • consulting with WELCA,  the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations,  the Multicultural and Racial Justice Team, the Conference of Bishops and ecumenical partners;
  • collecting existing resources such as those available from WELCA and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and beyond the ELCA;
  • identify needs for additional resources;
  • supporting synods in identifying their specific opportunities for growth;
  • assess the effectiveness of diversity strategies across the three expressions church in order to identify strategies that have yielded authentic diversity; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force be composed of 1 person from each of the 9 regions and 1 Bishop who will serve as co-chair. The composition of the Task Force shall conform with the representational principles in section 5.01.f of the ELCA Constitution except that persons of Color and/or persons whose Primary Language is other than English shall comprise 100% of the Task Force and the Task Force will be ethnically diverse. The members of the Task Force shall be appointed by the Church Council in consultation with the ELCA Director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Church Council designate funds to support the work of the Task Force as soon as funds become available, no later than November April 2017. The work of the Task Force shall begin no later than August 2017 and conclude at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force submit a report and recommendations to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly that includes;

  • a summary of the information gathered by the Task Force and
  • a proposal of recommendations for metrics and supports to provide mutual accountability for our commitment to diversity across the three expressions of the church and a proposal for funding these efforts.

[iii] Video link is available at http://livestream.com/elca/events/5829763 Plenary 8 – 1:36-1:41 [approximately]

[iv] http://www.elca.org/future

Creating Holy Spaces for Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas, Professor of Theology and Anthropology @ LSTC

ThomasLinda sitting“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” – thus begins the writer of Psalm 133. My own school, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, in response to recent events both in the city and in the seminary, has recently ended an intensive week of lectures, panel discussions, and “Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism.” All of these things were done with the hope of achieving this unity, this shalom. And my thoughts for this weeks post hope to fill you all in on what’s been going on. These have truly been momentous times for my school, and I have been heartened and strengthened by all of the responses. Please read, enjoy, and share. Let’s keep this conversation going!

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


On January 15, 2015 African American Presidents and Deans of theological schools in the United States issued an open letter to their colleagues throughout theological education.  The letter was a call to action for leaders of theological schools to “arise from the embers of silence” in the face of racial violence and injustice. Those who wrote this needed epistle –  no different than Paul’s letter to the Romans  or that sent by Martin Luther King from the floors of a Birmingham jail – exposed the murder of black and brown bodies by those sworn to serve and protect. It challenged Christians leading institutions of theology to step up to claim the sanctity of black and brown children of God  – their own siblings.

These leaders put forth a series of questions, but most significantly, they ask:

“How can we continue with business as usual in our theological schools in the midst of so many egregious injustices?”

It is this last question, in particular, that pierces the souls of those who lead, teach in, and attend theological schools.

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Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel – and former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke has been officially charged with murder in Laquan McDonald’s death.

The New York Times then upped the ante on April 16, 2016 when they unambiguously proclaimed “Chicago Police Department is Plagued by Systemic Racism.” A task force appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued its report, saying “Racism has contributed to a long pattern of institutional failures by the Chicago Police Department in which officers have mistreated people, operated without sufficient oversight, and lost the trust of residents . . .” Even the Chicago Police Department’s “own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

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Medical examiner report showing the 16 bullet entry-and-exit-points in Laquan McDonald’s body.

Chicago’s population is almost evenly split between Whites (31.7%),  African Americans (32.9), and Latinos (28.9%) – but violent confrontations between people of color and the police are horribly skewed. The report revealed that between 2008-2015 there were 404 shootings of which 74%  were Black, 14% were Latino, and only 8% were White. 

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“Disturbed” – for mixed media, a reflection on the cross and the murder of black bodies. By LSTC student Sami Pfalzgraf.

 

The final tipping point then came just three weeks ago – on April 19, 2016 – when Professor Richard Perry, read a statement of protest after the all-white panel for discussion on “Law and Gospel” had been introduced. Dr. Perry had recently treated this same subject in an article in the February issue of The Lutheran in an article titled “Multicultural Ministry: Is it a Matter of Faith or a Fad?” He mourned that “…the ELCA remains among the least racially and ethnically diverse denominations in the U.S. Many questions can be asked about this situation. Why is it that, more than a quarter century since we set lofty goals, only 3 to 4 percent of us are people of color?” Dismayed by this inability to change, Prof. Perry asks: “Is there something about the Lutheran ethos that is a barrier to incorporating how racially and ethnically diverse people understand God and Jesus Christ operating in their lives? Is multicultural ministry a matter of faith or following a fad?”

His protest statement from a few weeks ago echoed this sentiment:

“. . .once again, an event, in my area of expertise, fails to include me or another North American Lutheran of color theologian.”  The panel “models and reinforces a view that North American people of color, who are Lutheran, have nothing of value, theologically, to contribute to a “conversation” on what “Lutherans” understand about “the law!” That is offensive and needs to be called out!”

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The Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

So the question remains: What does a seminary in the United States of America and in the racist climate of the city of Chicago do in light of the open letter to the presidents and deans of theological schools in the USA? What do we do in light of the report from a task force of esteemed scholars about the racism in the Chicago police department? What do we do in light of Professor Perry’s statement?

On February 2, 2015 Presidents and Deans of ELCA theological schools committed themselves to give attention to racial injustice in the United States. The statement pledged that leaders of all eight ELCA seminaries would publicly challenge and oppose racial injustice “in vigorous and prophetic ways in our schools.”

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Presidents and deans of ELCA theological schools admitted that those attending and working in theological education were predominantly white and, what’s more, fell dreadfully short of keeping concerns about racial and social injustice in the foreground of their work. Yet, even with that being the case the call for action from African American presidents and deans of theological schools across the nation meant “. . .[they] cannot be silent.” They continued, “We confess that the fear of being uncomfortable or making others uncomfortable has contributed to render some of our efforts inadequate.” However, they continued, “We are grateful for all those in our institutions and churches who have been and continue to be prophets for racial justice and freedom” while at the same time  “recogniz[ing] that our efforts need to be more consistent among all that we do throughout all our theological education institutions” –  and that remaining “silent when we should speak” is failure.

This is a stunning articulation of a commitment for social justice – especially since the President and Dean of my own seminary, The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, are also signatories on the statement – the Rev. Dr. James Nieman and the Rev. Dr. Esther Menn, respectively. It is no wonder that there was space for Dr. Perry to make his prophetic statement.

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LSTC President, Rev. Dr. James Nieman and LSTC Dean, Rev. Dr. Esther Menn

So what do we do in light of Professor Perry’s statement?

Dr. Perry’s statement is connected to the open letter African American Presidents and Deans. It was not simply a rhetorical manifesto or clarion call uniquely tied to the panel. It was a cry for humanity, his black humanity, to be recognized and valued. This cry resounded “Black Lives Matter” –an assertion of his existence. His words were deeply spiritual, linked to the history of a people who have experienced centuries of collective oppression representing the communal expression of a people insistent that it is a reasonable, right, and holy thing for them to have a nondiscriminatory existence.

LSTC graduate, Dr. Carlos Santos writing for the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, in response to the Open Letter of African American presidents and deans, pens:

“Historical amnesia, personal guilt and (un)conscious bias often get in the way of helpful conversations about the issue of race in the United States of America and elsewhere.” Consequently, he asserts, “we must dare to explore the past, we must be humble in understanding our own feelings of guilt or anger or self righteousness, and we must place it all under the cross of the One who died to redeem us from our own self-destructive ways and to open up a new way, a way of peace, reconciliation and true justice for all.” (Journal of Lutheran Ethics, October 2015).

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In the weeks following Dr. Perry’s protest, LSTC then presented an embodied response to the questions asked in both the Open Letter as well as Dr. Perry’s article in The Lutheran. During the last week of classes we did not continue with business as usual in the midst of so many egregious injustices at our little seminary. We engaged in sacred conversations.

 

These took place in at least three ways. The last day of my Martin Luther King, Jr. class on April 29 was one response. I invited Dr. C. Vanessa White, of the Catholic Theological Seminary, to give a lecture titled, “Martin Luther King, Spiritual Formation, and Leadership.” The last hour of the class then featured a panel shared by Professors Jan Rippentrop and Richard Perry on the topic, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: Theologian, Ethicist, and Preacher.” The seminary’s students themselves then our work concluded with a series of “Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism” from Sunday, May 1 through Friday, May 6 – all lead by students, faculty, and staff.   So, with the Spirit’s leading, things began to unfold and fall in place very easily.

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LSTC Seminarians at the local watering hole, Jimmy’s, during one of the Sacred Conversations

Consequently, and with impressive thoroughness, these small group discussions, presentations, and panel discussions wrestled with  racism in a way often made difficult by the two great, evil powers of greater US society: white privilege and white guilt. Yet in recent days at LSTC, these twin powers were acknowledged and shaken under the power of the cross.

I also wish to thank Bishop Wayne Miller, the President of LSTC the Rev. Dr. James Nieman, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Thomas, and Rev. Kimberly Vaughn all the many LSTC graduates who prayed without ceasing during our sacred conversations. I also thank all the co-facilitators and participants who followed the Holy Spirit’s call to make this so memorable and effective. And lastly, I want to thank those unable to attend and I even thank those who had no desire to attend because all are beautifully made in the image of God and therefore are siblings in Christ.

All of you took your place at this table, and I thank you for it.


Linda Thomas at CTS eventDr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for almost twenty 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. 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.

 

Becoming Diversity Mystics: The Wisdom of the Body to Dismantle Racism – Malina Keaton, Candidate for Ordained Ministry (ELCA)

Linda Thomas at CTS eventAs an academic, it often pains me how much of what we are taught about learning only concerns the mind and hardly ever the body. Malina Keaton, an M.Div. student at LSTC and one of my advisees, presents us with a rich, simple model of how – even in times of great turmoil –  even the most neglected parts of our very bodies are reservoirs of insight and wisdom. Her thoughts are as plaintive as they are jolting, and as my seminary continues to address the issue of institutional racism it provides a good compliment to last-week’s insight. 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.”


*Reflection on the body is drawn from my background in gender and sexuality studies, which has for me served to counteract the Christian tendency to be anti-body. While it has become a powerful tool for theological reflection, I realize that body language is not by any means universal in its impact. I hope that my context can inform others beyond myself, but I would like to acknowledge that my words are not all-encompassing in their application.

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For the longest time I thought I could combat racism with specific parts of my body. For me, the fight against racism meant bodily subversion, holding constructs and internalization within the realm of my intellect and only using my body as a vehicle  for conversation.  Ears were open receptacles, hearing the pain and experience of others. My mouth was closed, unless it cracked open a smile in an attempt to cheer someone up. My eyes were for tears, expressing sympathy and grief when experiences were told to me. Above and beyond all of this was my mind, the golden treasure trove I loved, which enabled me to retreat into the complicated emotions I felt, and the many nuances of oppression to consider.

This love of the mind has a long-standing relationship with my tradition. It is after all, the mind’s ability to carry two ideas in tension that formulated paradox, one of Lutheranism’s most beloved theological frameworks. As an unsurprising consequence, my tradition was also where I got the notion that my life as a Christian had little to do with my body.

I was taught by society a completely different message. That as a woman, it was in fact my body that could do the most. My smile was complimented and my thoughts criticized. My body even delivered messages I hadn’t even intended to send, seduced when I thought it was just existing.

But what does this experience have to say about diversity?

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“You Will Die of Comfort.”

For so long, diversity became for me a matter of the mind, and my privilege was the choice over it being such a matter. Yet, in the realm of my mind I still wondered why there continued to be a disconnect between my thoughts and my environment. Why was I saying I valued diversity, but from an outsider’s perspective nothing indicated I had actually sought it? Part of it was that I never considered my body, and hadn’t trained myself to embody my theoretical values.

So I began by looking at my body and letting it teach me.[1]

I start at the top of my head.

My hair is constantly growing, and when the ends are split and dead, I cut them off. In this, I wonder what practices I must cut out of my life that if not attended to will result in the fragmentation of my community.

I go to my ears, they are open to receive. I contemplate ways I have sometimes only heard what I want to hear, or have been unable to receive.

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My eyes, two witnesses that perceive things around me. I think about how intentionality has enabled me to see things I didn’t before.

My mouth speaks in conversation with others. I consider how in conversation silence is inadequate.

I go lower.

My neck turns my mind to receive another view. How beautiful it has been for me to turn when summoned by those around me when I thought I should be facing one way!

My chest moves up and down. I consider repetition and how sometimes I have done the same thing over and over without thinking about it. Perhaps I should make time for the benefit of deep breaths.

I begrudgingly go lower to consider my stomach…

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which bears evidence of the ways I have stretched and grown. I ponder the ways I may have not always appreciated stretching, wishing it had never happened and the marks of it would go away.

My clitoris. That beautiful part shows me that friction with the most sensitive part of my being can eventually bring ultimate peace. I wonder how I can be more comfortable with the friction that comes with vulnerability, and how that can take us to an existence we never thought possible.

I have forgotten the back of me! I look at my butt for a moment, that which perches itself in various spaces. I consider how I have taken spaces for granted, or taken a seat when others should have been at the table.

I continue down.

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My thighs show me that two separate things sometimes rub as I move forward but remain their own. I remember all the times I thought unity and progress meant blending two distinct things together.

My knees bend when necessary, and remain tall when they need to. I wonder when in my life I am supposed to do these different tasks.

I go to my feet, they use grounded presence to move everything forward. I consider all the times I failed to move forward out of fear.

I end by taking a step back, considering my whole self and the skin that envelops me.

Its fairness, its shape means that as much as it has taught me, my white woman’s body does not hold all the answers and I shouldn’t pretend that it does. There are other bodies in the world.

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I have heard many different thoughts on what occurred last week at our seminary. For an excellent summary and reflection, please read Erik’s thoughts,[2] but here are a few that I have. Last week we were invited to travel by a professor in our midst, but like a multitude of white liberal institutions pursuing diversity, we could not do it. Solidarity was not an embodied practice.

Some stomachs betrayed their feelings, and in tension they twisted and turned. For many, eyes could only show tears or look at the ground instead of seeing the larger institutional racism we had always been surrounded by. Some arms were used to hold others at a distance. We were asked to move but some feet could not travel. Bodies had not been taught to act. Some bodies in our fold were tired. Some voices were hoarse from always being asked to speak up. Some backs bent from perpetually carrying a weight beyond what they should be holding. Being in white institutions mean some have to suffer in mind and body everyday. It is not a choice to do so, and it is not just.

The pursuit of diversity does not mean purely intellectualization, it means we must train ourselves to embody it. Not in an ableist sense, but in contemplating the lived and not just intellectual journey of our values. If there is a disparity between your body and your mind, you. must. work. to. fix. it. We cannot leave the embodied task of diversity and full-inclusion to select few. We simply cannot.

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Are you using your ears to hear that a person’s experience and bravery was to condemn one person and not the system of racism? Are you using your mouth to critique and pursue nuance instead of conversing about the main point, institutional racism? Is your butt seated at a table everyday with people who look just like you? This means that you are not enabling your body to teach and inform.

Working towards a diverse community means training ourselves to rote memorization so that inclusion becomes muscle memory, and when our bodies falter we can continue on in the pursuit of the gospel promise. Will it be natural? It usually isn’t at first. It means retraining many things we thought we already learned.

And yet. It will mean we are trying to get there. When people in our midst offer a brave and embodied act, we respond with every part of us, and we commit to learning to embody what we say we believe. This will be difficult, but the key to dismantling the structural evil of racism will not come from the worship of our minds. The key will come from the power of a group of bodies that act together, speaking in confession, fighting for justice, working out reconciliation in our midst, and living out this gospel message of inclusion for all.


Malina.jpgMalina Keaton is a first year M.Div. student at LSTC, pursuing an emphasis in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Originally from Northern California, she is entranced as a candidate for ministry with the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA. Malina is active at LSTC as a Public Church Fellow with the Night Ministry, and the Gender and Sexual Justice Organizer for Seminarians for Justice.


[1] Inspired by the writings of Hildegard of Bingen. Barbara Newman, trans. “Commentary on the Johannine Prologue: Hildegard of Bingen.” Theology Today 60 (2003): 16-33.

[2] https://wetalkwelisten.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/killing-lutefisk-lutheranism-erik-olaf-thone-candidate-for-elca-ordained-ministry/

 

 

Killing Lutefisk Lutheranism – Erik Olaf Thone, Candidate for ELCA Ordained Ministry

Picture 002A wise man once said “By the time that you think that evil might be around, it has actually already come inside and made itself at home.” This is true for the church as much as anywhere else, and we had a powerful reminder of this last week at my home seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I’ll leave this week’s author, M.Div. student Erik Olaf Thone, to give you the details  – but rest assured these have been powerful days of late. The Holy Spirit is shaking my community but good. Hopefully, what Erik’s written will shake you good too. Please 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.”


My seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Americaa denomination where 96% of its members are white – and last week this reality became uncomfortably clear. On Wednesday, April 20, 2016 LSTC hosted a faculty panel to discuss preaching “Law and Gospel,” or how and when Christians should preach mercy, grace, and forgiveness as opposed to judgment and the necessity of action. It is an important subject for Lutherans.  The professors on the panel were all qualified to address the subject but the panel reflected a flaw often seen in the ELCA – despite there being a small number of faculty of color on campus – all of the participants were white.

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According to Pew Research, the ELCA is literally the whitest Christian denomination in the US – second from the bottom on this chart.

Protesting this persistent problem, the Rev. Dr. Richard Perry – African American ELCA pastor and Professor of Church and Society and Urban Ministry at LSTC – stood before approximately 70 LSTC students, staff, and faculty, and read a carefully prepared statement elucidating his disappointment that, as has happened in countless other ways and events in the ELCA, his perspective as an African American Lutheran (let alone any non-European perspective) is not really valued as “Lutheran.”

In concluding his statement, he invited all assembled to attend a lecture on this exact subject – the conflation of white-ness with Lutheran identity – in his Contemporary Christian Ethics course. The panel then adjourned, and then they and the attendees then went to Dr. Perry’s class for the remainder of the afternoon period.

I’ve heard a variety of critiques of my professor’s actions, however, focusing on the circumstances surrounding this panel is to miss the point.  Whether or not the other members of the panel were qualified or if Dr. Perry could have been more tactful in his protest matters about as much as what Michael Brown may have said to police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri before – though unarmed and a considerable distance from Wilson’s vehicle – he was murdered.  As Jim Wallis writes in his new book (which I would highly recommend): The facts in specific cases are often in great dispute.  But the reality that young black men and women are treated differently than are young white men and women by our law enforcement system is beyond dispute.[1]

 

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Memorial for Mike Brown on the site of his shooting – Ferguson, MO 3/2015

At this very moment an unnerving shadow weighs heavy upon the conscience of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and I hope everyone feels it.  Not everyone present would agree with my interpretation of the words and actions of Dr. Richard Perry here on our campus last Wednesday.  Not everyone present experienced it as an inspiring prophetic display that we were privileged to witness. I did. Not everyone present heard hope in the midst of his anger, frustration, and hurt.

I did.

Some critics have lost themselves in debating the “facts” of his prophetic outpouring, but this avoidance of the real issue is an act of privilege available only to those of us who are white. This evasion is a passive acquiescence to injustice and the most damaging perpetuation of racism.  We must ask ourselves: will we focus on the prophetic message or the prophet’s means to convey the message?  Will we hear the prophet Isaiah’s good news or dismiss him because we’re uncomfortable with his naked dramatization (Isaiah 20:3)?   Will we commit to the Kingdom of God Jesus preached or conform to the unjust, unearned, comfort and good order of the status quo?

The prophets never brought the conflict and Dr. Perry did not bring the conflict to LSTC.  The shadow of racism has been an ever-present plague upon this nation since before its founding. This includes the LSTC campus – whose land used to be the home of many black families who didn’t want to leave.  It is a national and a global evil. This is a Church problem.  This is an LSTC problem. It is not a problem “out there”; it is a sin deeply embedded within each of us people who believe we are white – and to remind us Dr. Perry brought the sword of Matthew 10:34:

[Jesus was saying] I come not to bring an old negative peace, which makes for stagnant passivity and deadening complacency, I come to bring something different, and whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated, between the old and the new. Whenever I come a struggle takes place between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come not to bring a negative peace, but a positive peace, which is [community], which is justice, which is the Kingdom of God.[2]

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“Only whiteness has the right to determine what it means to be Lutheran in this church. This. Is. Not. Right!” Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr., Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Dr. Perry preached the Law because if you seek justice tension is good.  Conflict is good.  Struggle is good.  Be uncomfortable.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a peace beyond the absence of conflict.  Those of us with privilege, however, are generally unwilling to welcome the struggle that leads to this positive peace.

If anyone can claim the privilege of the ELCA’s Euro-centrism it is I. 

One of the “frozen chosen” of Minnesota, my home-congregation of Advent Lutheran Church hosts an annual lutefisk dinner.  I was born with a Lutheran Book of Worship in my hands.  As a child, I fell asleep to Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  I attended an ELCA College named after the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.  I never sit in the front row of pews.  My middle name is Olaf!  Scandinavian heritage should be celebrated, but if northern European descent is conflated with Lutheranism then there will never be a place for Dr. Perry or other people of color in the ELCA and all talk of diversity is a self-deluding facade.  Further, if any Christian denomination is exclusive, explicitly or implicitly, to a particular race or ethnicity it is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That excluding church is no longer representing the Body of Christ where “there is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28).

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The Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

It is a good and faithful thing to have webcasts on confronting racism, to host diversity workshops, and to post articles on Facebook and Twitter, but as Dr. Perry so boldly reminded us – we mustn’t imagine this means we have somehow moved beyond our own racial prejudice.  Indeed, I have talked about racial justice more in my last 8 months at LSTC than ever before in my life, but I’m coming to realize that some of this talk is merely consolation for people of white.  Worse, it can be a way to excuse ourselves from honest personal reflection on our own complicity with white privilege: “I attended a Black Lives Matter action, studied abroad in India, and did mission work in South Africa so I can’t possibly be racist.”  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” (Matthew 7:3).

I am a racist.

It has been no easy journey for me to reach those four words, but I believe that if there is hope for our school, church, and country white people must move beyond our defensiveness to accept the difficult truth: “No matter who you are, where you live, how you have acted—and even if you have fought hard against racism—you can never escape white privilege in America if you are whiteTo benefit from oppression is to be responsible for changing it.[3]

I am a racist.

Being racist doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you’re still becoming the person you’re called to be, purging yourself of the racism that is the inheritance of every white person born in this country.

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That afternoon I asked Dr. Perry to forgive us for our complicity in the racism he condemned; it isn’t that easy.  He responded by calling us all to close our closet doors, fall to our knees, search our hearts and minds and seek forgiveness from God alone.  This is not a moment for cheap grace.  We have in this moment an opportunity for transformative repentance.  This moment might change the course of our school, the Church, and the country.  In this moment we will be measured as prophets or passive servants of the status quo. 

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In the words of Dr. King: “We must make a choice.  Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds?  Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity?  More than ever before we are today challenged by the words of yesterday, ‘Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’”[4]


Resources

For anyone who would like a copy of Rev. Dr. Perry’s statement to the “Law and Gospel” panel, feel free to email him at rperry@lstc.edu. He is the oldest black professor teaching Christian Ethics in the ELCA, and after his retirement in July of this year he will be deeply missed by the seminary.

Got White Privilege? is a powerful video and resource website put together by our neighbors at Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC).

Teaching Tolerance – a new initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Judith Butler, also recently had a sit-down with the New York Times to explain the beauty behind #BlackLivesMatter as opposed to #AllLivesMatter.

The Rev. Joelle Colville-Hanson wrote a piece on current ELCA leaders creating memes with the hashtag #DecolonizeLutheranism, humorously and persistently challenging the Euro-centricity of Lutheran identity in the US…

…which has lead to the development of a conference on #DecolonizeLutheranism – taking place at LSTC in the fall of  2016. For more information, email fherrera@lstc.edu.

 


Erik at CLLCErik Thone is completing his first year at LSTC as part of the M.Div. program.  He’s entranced as a candidate for ministry with the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA.  Prior to coming to LSTC he spent four years serving as the Youth and Family Minister at People of Faith Lutheran Church in Winter Garden, FL.


 

[1] Jim Wallace, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, 5.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr. “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” In A Testament of Hope, 51.

[3] Jim Wallace, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, 35.

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 20.