White Christianity and the New Reformation – Rev. Kenneth Wheeler

thomaslinda-sittingTo be black and Christian can be a hard proposition these days – especially when you’re a black pastor in a denomination that is not only 96% percent white, but living in a country where 81% of some of the most devoted white Christians in this country voted for a presidential candidate that consistently mocks your community. Rev. Kenneth Wheeler, an august and respected pastor in the ELCA, shares some thoughts on how the confrontation of racism within the church may well be the task of the next Reformation in our communities. 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.”


“Fear takes away a person’s humanity. This is not what the creature made by God looks like. The Bible, The Gospel, Christ, The Church, The Faith- All are one great Battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. We who believe in Jesus must no fear, because we have heard the good tidings of the Arrival of a new political regime: The Kingdom of God. We are all patriots of a different homeland.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933

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Slave auction block – Greenhill Plantation, Virginia

102 years after the Reformation the first slaves were brought to America. And every institution in America, including the Church, was impacted by this scandal.

A New Reformation

A few months ago I spoke at an event in Milwaukee in commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It began as a theological movement by a young monk whose name was Martin Luther. He would speak to his Church, the Roman Catholic Church, that had shackled the Gospel in the trappings of tradition and “works righteousness” – making the claim that one’s good works could earn salvation.

Specifically the selling of indulgences, a corruption of the sacrament of penance, was a manifestation of the claim of good works. But Luther saw this not only as a perversion of the Gospel, it was in effect another Gospel and  he would come to realize that the Roman Church was wrong.

Then in 1517 Luther would nail his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg -hoping to engage the Church in a theological discussion about the meaning of scripture, the authority of scripture, and the meaning of faith. But instead of a conversation Luther’s actions would stir up a firestorm and the Church that he loved rejected his arguments, saw them as undermining the Church’s authority. So he was labeled  a heretic and in 1521 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X.

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I’ve been thinking a great deal in these last several months about the Church and specifically about the ELCA – a Church that I have been a part of for most of my life, a Church that I know better than any other. A Church that I love and that I served in for 30 years as an ordained Pastor and yet a Church that is still 96 percent white – in part because in the words of Paul Kivel, “Racism is still a central constituent of American life.” The ELCA this predominantly white Church body is a part of this American life.

As we celebrate the 500 year Anniversary of the Reformation I believe that our great work as Evangelical Lutherans  is to reclaim the truth and the freedom that is rooted in the Gospel – truth that calls us to put to death any other claim that we might choose to hold up including the claim of race. We need a new Reformation that calls us to strip away the idolatry of race not just with nice sounding words, but with a commitment to live into the inclusiveness that the Gospel calls us to, even if it means that we lose membership in our current congregations and denominations because they are simply unable to give themselves fully to what the Gospel is demanding.

It was troubling to me and it continues to be troubling that 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted in the last election for a man who rose in the polls offending women, disparaging Immigrants, and spouting racist and vitriolic language. Perhaps, more than anything else, it highlighted the bondage of white Christians and the bondage of the white Christian Church to the idolatry of racism – a bondage that had wrapped Jesus in the white skin of privilege.

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Black preacher in the 19th century south

African slaves brought to our land resisted the Christ of the white slave master because they knew deep down within that the Christ of the slave master was false. The slave masters had co-opted Christ and co-opted God to support their position of racial superiority and of all things white, and this God was silent in the face of the savagery and the cruelty of slavery and the nightmare of Jim Crow segregation.

Yet the slave knew that this vision of God was incongruent and inconsistent with the God they knew to be the God of love, a God who so loved the world that God allowed His Son Jesus to suffer death. Black liberation theologian James Cone writes about this god most eloquently in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, worshiped by Christians who would leave their Sunday service to watch the lynching of a black mana god co-opted by racist fears.

This God came to the aid of Donald Trump, who won the presidency because he exploited the racial fears of whites. It’s also the god of hundreds of once all-white inner city congregations abandoned by their original members as soon as other racial minorities moved into those neighborhoods. To illustrate, an African-American female pastor serving an all white Lutheran congregation in the mid-west, recently shared what happened she invoked the names of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in her sermon. The congregation’s response…?

“We don’t want to hear any of this Pastor. We just want to remain white and Lutheran.”

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There are many within our Church who share that sentiment but where such sentiment exists Jesus is absent. I don’t mean the Jesus who has been Americanized but the Jesus who is black and who suffers with those who are black and who are rejected because they are despised. This is the Jesus who welcomes all and who makes room for all especially those who have been the outsiders

This is the Jesus who is able to set all of us free.

This is the Jesus who is able to renew His Church

This is the Church that I and so many of us long for.

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wheelerBorn in 1952 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Rev. Kenneth Wheeler later moved to and grew up in Jackson. After graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN in 1974 he would eventually pursue his M.Div Trinity Lutheran Seminary, receiving it in 1982. He has served parishes in Florida, California, and eventually and Milwaukee, Wisconsin – where he served 18 years as Assistant to the Bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA. The last seven 7 years of his career he served as the Senior Pastor of Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, then retired in 2013. He considers himself a student of the theology and ethics of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., even spending time at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, learning about non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. He’s made multiple trips to Tanzania since 2000, learning about evangelism and church growth, and even co-lead a trip to Israel for 12 days. He is additionally a sought-after speaker an preacher, has had reflections published by Living Lutheran, and Working Preacher, and has received Distinguished Alumni awards from both Concordia College (1995) and Trinity Lutheran Seminary (2012). He and his wife of 42 years, Cloria, are blessed with three sons, two daughter in-laws, and five wonderful grandchildren.
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Taking a Knee, Then and Now – Prof. Reggie Williams

ThomasLindaOver the weekend, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a criticism of kneeling, protesting NFL stars – trying to conflate athletes protesting violence against black people with disrespect for the country and our military. In response, members of roughly two dozen NFL teams either knelt, locked arms, showing solidarity not only with the suffering of black people of the United States, but Colin Kaepernick – the originator of the protests. Blog contributor Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams weighs in on the conversation. 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.”


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On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what would be his last sermon, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was there to help promote the cause of black sanitation workers who were on strike in resistance to the brutal injustices they were subjected to at work. At stake was an understanding of the very notion of human being that would include black people. The striking sanitation workers were seen carrying signs that read “I Am A Man,” in opposition to the practice of reducing the black sanitation workers to treatment reserved for animals.  

If we are human beings, than black people should be seen as welcomed to the Civil Rights that correspond with the condition of all human beings within the democratic republic of the United States. One of the common methods of protest during the Civil Rights Movement available to the sanitation workers was marching. But city officials in Memphis were opposed to their marching, as were the people of Montgomery Alabama, thirteen years earlier, and all other towns and cities where the Movement sought to arouse the conscience of the nation during it’s thirteen years of life.

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Memphis sanitation workers protesting in 1968.

The sanitation worker’s protest was illegal. It was in violation of a court ordered injunction put in place at the request of the city officials two years prior, forbidding municipal employees from just such protests. During his sermon, King appealed to democratic ideals that are understood to be core the nation when he said, “Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.” Thirteen years earlier during the Montgomery bus boycott, peaceful protesters were also denounced as disturbers of the peace, and immoral. In Albany, Birmingham, Selma, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, protesters were described as lawbreakers, malcontents, anarchists, and un-American.

Opposition to Civil Rights protests was buttressed by lofty ideals like patriotism, law and order, and Christian piety. What’s not so clear is the way that those very ideals served to sharpen the blades of dehumanization and oppression.  In his book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal examined the paradox of a slave-owning nation that espoused lofty ideals like liberty and justice for all. What he found was that the lofty ideals were part of the problem. In order to hold on to slavery and their lofty ideals, Myrdal claims that racism became the mechanism that held it all together.

Racism was the creation of a sub-human category, a hierarchy of being with white at the top, and black as the anchor. The category of the human did not apply to black people.  We were partially human, which is to say, sub-human. That logic helped maintain the integrity of the lofty ideals in the practice of slavery, as “liberty and justice for all humans.” The place of the subhuman within a civilized democratic republic is one of subjugation to the civilized human—to whites—not co-participation in the democratic republic, or co-humanity. The greatness of this country was indeed in the practice of its democratic ideals, but they were sutured to a hegemonic notion of universal humanity. They were for whites only. Any protest from the racialized subject, from black people, is anarchy, or lawlessness and demands for equality are profane. And in a civilized Christian nation, such things are unheard of.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the movement for Black Lives that is demanding that police be held accountable for murdering unarmed black people.

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When Colin Kaepernick knelt on one knee during the national anthem at the beginning of football games, he was continuing the unfortunate, but still necessary historical protest for Civil Rights. His protest was peaceful, but that didn’t matter. It was on behalf of black life, rendered something other than human life. The protest was meant to draw attention to the concrete reality of brutal loss of life, and the injustice that allowed it all to happen without accountability from the nation’s justice system. His gesture of solidarity has cost him his job, and continues to be a source of disgust and vitriol.

 

Although the protest was to give attention to brutal injustice, opposition to Kaepernick is focused on concepts like disrespect for the national flag, and anti-America. Yet, like King, Kaepernick and other protesters recognize protest, as within the moral boundaries of the character of the U.S. that would distinguish this country from dictatorships and oppressive regimes, “The greatness of America is the right to protest for right!” With Kaepernick, and now many other professional athletes, showing solidarity with black people who are demanding co-humanity and police accountability has run headlong into the honor of the nation and its flag.

There’s something ironic and historical about that. Is it possible for black people to be perceived as co-human in this country? What does the nation stand for, with its lofty ideals?

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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., kneeling in prayer before a protest.

Martin Luther King Jr. appealed to the nations lofty ideals as the spokesperson for the civil rights movement. By doing so, he placed black people on moral ground not intended for us by the founding fathers who so shrewdly crafted that moral ground on the backs of enslaved black people. The fashioning of that ideological structure of white supremacy and black inhumanity, what I’m calling the national moral ground, is an historic act of violence, which makes sense of black suffering in the context of a nation whose laws and justice are for whites only.

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Jacksonville Jaguars kneeling at their game in London, England – one of many to do so in response to Twitter criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.

That is the problem we face, today. Any protest, any perceived effort to move in a direction other than subjection to white supremacy, will be met with vitriol until the greatness of America is no longer tethered to white supremacy.


reggiewilliams-cropThe Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams before becoming Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in 2012, he received his Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011. He earned a Master’s degree in Theology from Fuller in 2006 and a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Westmont College in 1995. Dr. Williams’ research interests are primarily focused on Christological hermeneutics, and Christian morality. He has a particular interest in how the Western-world understanding of Christianity has been calibrated to a false ideal that corresponds with racialized interpretations of humanity, morality, and Jesus. Dr. William’s book Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Baylor University Press, 2014) was selected as a Choice Outstanding Title in 2015, in the field of religion. The book is an analysis of the influence of exposure to Harlem Renaissance thought and worship at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist on the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, during his year of post-doctoral study at Union Seminary in New York, 1930-31. Dr. Williams’ research interests include theological anthropology, Christian ethics derived from interpretations of Jesus, race, politics and black church life. His current book project includes a religious critique of whiteness in the Harlem Renaissance.

Confronting White Supremacy in Historical Erasure and the Faith to Respond – Karl Anliker, MDiv Student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingOne week after graduation, I taught an intensive one-week course, “Identity and Difference: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class and Sexuality.” 
Surprisingly, several students chose this as the final course of their theological education before going on internship or first call. Not having taught the course for a few years, I recognized that my thinking had shifted on these matters – specifically, that all people have overlapping identities but some people’s overlapping identities, that, when interfaced with structural power, face discrimination that can be exceedingly harmful if not, death-dealing. 

To explicate this, legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Defining the term in a September 2015 column of The Washington Post, she described the intersectionality as “a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” that has “given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.” My class provided an intellectual space for students to do theological reflection on intersectionality and what it means for them.

And in response to this, first-semester M.Div. student, Karl Anliker, writes a reflection about his identity/identities and power, and specifically how it has impacted the way that he responds to African American History. And then after Karl’s post, please read the text of a special e-mail written by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., in response to recent attempts to attack the museum with racist vandalism.

 Please read. Reflect. Share. This issues are as important now as never before.

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


CNN reports that for the second time in a week a noose was found on the grounds of a Smithsonian Museum and this time it was at the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. [1]

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Outside view of the Museum of African American History in Washington D. C.

Very recently in my life, I might have understood this to be a “micro” aggression or a prank. However, I have come to see and understand that there is nothing “micro” about this crime nor can it be dismissed as a prank. This is a symptom of a system made up of individuals like myself who have systematically benefitted from the erasure and dehumanization of an entire group of people. I must name White Supremacy. I must acknowledge my complicity and privilege in this system.

The noose was found in a portion of the museum concerning segregation. The Museum’s Director released the following statement on twitter:[2]

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Twitter Statement from the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Before I, as a white, cis, hetero male, move to outrage over this reality, I must ask myself a very important question. I have been to dozens of Museums in the Midwest in my lifetime. I have lived in Hyde Park, Chicago since January and visited the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, but have I ever visited a Museum of African American History?

I have heard many people speak of the museums and cultural centers for which Chicago is famous. However, I had never heard of the DuSable Museum of African American History until Dr. Thomas at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago brought it to my attention.

A trip for two to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum can cost over fifty dollars. The DuSable Museum of African American History is eight dollars per person for Chicago residents and there are free days.

So we visited the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park only TEN MINUTES from our apartment.

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Main Entrance to the DuSable Museum of African American

The Museum is relatively small, tucked amidst the giant buildings of the University of Chicago’s Medical Center. The size, however, can be deceptive. Within the walls there is so much.

The Museum is packed with historical information, audio visuals, and art. There is the story of the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington.

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Photo of the Harold Washington Exhibit at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Harold Washington was uniting those left out by the democratic machine in Chicago. He was in the midst of this important work when he suffered a heart attack which ended his life. Had you heard of Harold Washington’s story, a man who President Obama would later recall in his speeches? I know I had not.

Their names are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Harold Washington, Frederick Douglas, Ida Wells, Du Bois, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Bob Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Barrack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jesse Jackson, Bobby Rush, Carol Moseley Braun, Dorothy Tillman, Jewel Lafontant, William W. Lee, Thurgood Marshall, and Ralph Tuner and that is only a few. I did not know them for I did not wish to hear and read their stories.

Ben Carson recently referred to African Slaves as “immigrants.”

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A screenshot of a Tweet where Steve Kopack and the NAACP respond to Carson’s words.

The erasure and complicity of people like myself who inherit and comply with the culture of whiteness and white supremacy, however, goes far beyond what many pundits berated Ben Carson for when he minimized the experience of those stolen from African for slave trade in the Americas. It would be easier if white supremacy was as easily seen.

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Display from the DuSable Museum of African American History

I have erased far more than the slave ships and the Maafa.

I have erased inventors and leaders.

I have erased families and ancestors.

I have erased Queens and empires.

I have erased speakers and preachers.

I have erased art and culture.

I have erased.

What is it like to be a white person in a museum dedicated to history I have actively erased?

Well it involves confronting my own complicity and privilege and choosing to listen to stories whose time is long overdue.

As a person of faith, I draw upon the Christian tradition to give me strength against seemingly insurmountable systems of the white supremacist hetero-patriarchy that have demonized and dehumanized for so long.

Dorothy Day in her book Loaves and Fishes wrote:

“One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

My resistance to talking about race must be put aside. My need to affirm myself and my own identity must be put aside. My fear that I may say the wrong thing and be corrected or the fear that I may not know must be put aside. My guilt in complicity with white supremacy must be overcome and I must move to concrete, faith filled action in the world to overturn systems of evil in our midst. I must humbly walk with God, not looking to affirm myself and become “woke” but to journey down a road of repentance, restoration, and transformation.

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Quote and image of DuSable Museum of African American History founder, Margaret Burroughs.

When confronted with racism in the media and the reality of white terrorism against communities of color, I think the white community may ask, as we often do:

What am I supposed to do about it?

The answer in this case is clear. We must go; we must listen, look, and seek to understand. For students at LSTC or the University of Chicago, it is only a 10-minute walk to the DuSable Museum of African American History and it is a Smithsonian Affiliate.


An email from the Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture:

As many of you may know by now, on Wednesday, May 31st, a noose was found in the history galleries at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans. Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.

Our museum is a place of learning and solace, a place to remember, to reflect and to engage in important discussions that help change America.

This was a horrible act, but it is a stark reminder of why our work is so important.

In an show of strength, our colleagues from across the Smithsonian Institution, led by our sister museum National Museum of the American Indian, held a “Solidarity March” yesterday, coming to the NMAAHC. To see pictures of the Smithsonian Institution standing in solidarity against hate click here to go to our Tumblr.

The great work we do continues, and I hope you will continue to be part of it.

All the best,

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Founding Director


head shot.jpgKarl Anliker (he/him/his) is a first year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/31/us/african-american-museum-noose/index.html

[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/noose-found-african-american-history-museum-washington-dc/

Christianity in the Era of Alternative Facts – Rev. Ronald Bonner

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This week’s author in African American History month, Pastor Ronald Bonner – who published this time last year as well, knows a thing or two about racism, United States society, and the church. However in addition to talking about the evils of racism, he has used the occasion of our country’s political situation to write boldly about how the recent upsurge in white supremacist rhetoric since the election of our new president has heightened not only the racism, but also the homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia – all the ways that evil tries to divide and conquer God’s children, intersect. And specifically, he talks about the “alternative facts” of white supremacy continue to divide and enrage. 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.”


 

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Chief White House council, Kellyanne Conway, in the interview where she created the term “alternative facts.”

Calling “alternative facts” the truth is like calling arsenic “alternative salt.”

The Bible is clear lying breeds contempt and must be avoided yet we allow it from our politicians, pundits and media sources.  Much of America’s woes and divisions are due to lies.  Racism, sexism, classism, hetero-sexism, are examples of lies or alternative facts that led our culture to accept hate, superiority, and unnatural division as normative.  The use of alternative facts by political and religious leaders serves as a superficial surrogate for the depression and hopelessness that many Americans feel.  Not knowing who to blame, external enemies are created to serve as scapegoats. Alternative facts and hateful speech creates pundits out of persons who have found this fracture in our society and have rushed to fill this void with the venom of blame.

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For 60 million Americans Donald Trump is the new messiah.

For the millions of white Americans and others who have felt displaced or devalued in this society Donald Trump is the personification of their hope.  Many average and below average income white Americans and some others have felt that their rights and prestige has been taken away. They feel that they are the ones whose ancestors built this country on a bedrock of gritty determination.  Only to now passively witness their privileges and rights being compromised and redistributed to, in their estimation, blacks, immigrants, and other less deserving groups of people.

The obviously coded and racially biased message of “make America great again” resonates with their primal fear of an end to the notion of white supremacy. Donald Trump supporters are fearful of losing their self-esteem in society and the world.  Further, these supporters are also fearful of losing their place in history.  They have been taught that the “white race” is the superior race. Yet, for eight years they have had that notion of white superiority undermined by the presence of Barak Obama a man of African descent as the President of the United States of America and his Black family living in the White House.  What these hurting supporters see in the 45th President that they could not see in Barak Obama the 44th President of the United States is a messianic hope for the restoration of white supremacy and the calming of their fear of its annihilation.

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Anti-Obama protest in 2010 – accusing President Obama of not having been born in the US, the same line of attack that started Donald Trumps political career.

The sad truth is alternative facts are not new, they are recorded in the Hebrew and Christian Bible.  The primary form of alternative facts that is admonished in the Bible is lying or bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.   The writers of the Hebrew text took this notion of false witness very seriously and devoted scores of references throughout their work to condemn it and those who practiced it.  However, for those who use lying as a source for personal gain they know that if they can lie enough, they will find an audience ready to listen by creating false fear and attacking the core emotional values of honest hardworking people.

One cannot honor God by lying and engaging in lying.

In early Judaism one could not proclaim devotion to God while violating God’s rules.  To do so would be a violation of God’s Will and declaring that they were in charge and not God.   This was seen by the elders during nascent Judaism as a direct assault against God.  This assault against God had another name, idolatry.

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We see this today with blind right-wing evangelical support for the current presidential administration. It has been reported that one iconic right-wing evangelical leader shamed former First Lady Michelle Obama for having bare-arms while praising the current First Lady for baring it all. In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul calls on Christians to be imitators of God.  As imitators, we are required to be critical thinkers and repudiate alternative facts and hateful speech.  It is what Jesus did and it is what is required of us.  The Bible calls on us to heed sound advice and discipline, Proverbs states and restates that requirement of us.  The Bible states that we are to dismiss foolishness, empty acts and coarse joking.  We are compelled by God not to be deceived by vain or empty words.  Lies, which is another name for hate speech and alternative facts, are used in the political arena to distract from the true and important issues facing the general population.

We are commanded by God to dismiss this speech for it is the substance of empty acts and deception.  We are not to listen to it and certainly we are not to follow or act on this negative output.  Because, it is based on lies or a false witness we are required to keep our wits about us and not join them in their wickedness or oppressions. Their sins will eventually ensnare those involved and hold them tight.  Their own evil devices will be their source of ruin.  Consider the gallows that Haman built for Mordecai.

As stated before, in the political arena alternative facts creates division because it is designed to exacerbate negative emotions especially the fear of loss and greed.  Alternative facts serve as an anemic substitute for useful activity and only serves to divide and distract from the truth. Amid dire circumstances, it inflames human ire until it boils over the top and creates unneeded panic, mistrust, and of course hate.  This practice festers because of fear in the unknown based on uneasy current circumstances, creating a sense of instability that only the speaker or their cohorts can resolve.  In most cases the profiteers are proven wrong yet they continue to thrive creating hateful divisions between voters and the general population.  Jesus stated when he was accused of bearing false witness that a house divided cannot stand.

We cannot allow politicians and those in their administrations to divide the nation by lies, alternative facts, and deception.

During this political climate, the stakes are too high for us to rally around fairy tales from false messiahs.  We must hold political figures to a higher standard than in past elections. They must engage in the truth and not political spin that is full of vain and empty promises.  We must see clearly and not be fooled by words that are designed to distract from the truth.  Beloved, when we live in the illuminating light of Christ we can clearly see the stealth of empty promises and alternative facts as the lies that they are.  As the body of Christ, we must take a stand to keep the integrity of and demand the truth. We can no longer accept that politicians bear false witness as par for the course. We need a reformed normal where truth is not diluted or poisoned with the arsenic of alternative facts. Those who want our votes must come to us not spinning the truth to distract us but, speaking the truth to lead us. We as Christians are called to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds or behaviors.

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Former Trump National Security adviser, Michael Flint – before his recent firing after having been caught giving “incomplete” information about conversations with representatives of the Russian government while working on Trump’s presidential campaign.

When politicians come to us with alternative facts, to support their malignant words of fruitless endeavors that lead to higher gas and food prices, lack of health insurance for working class people, increased unrest and injustice God requires we reject them.

When Jesus was confronted by the father of lies in the wilderness Jesus dismissed Satan, we in this political season must be imitators of Christ!


pastorfoto.jpgRonald Bonner, is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta, GA, author of No Bigotry Allow Losing the Spirit of Fear: Towards the Conversation about Race and The Seat. And has recently been called as a Director of Evangelical Mission/ Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA

A Legacy Too Long Ignored – Prof. Mark Granquist, Luther Seminary

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWe begin African American Heritage Month, noting that at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, the lack of US-based racial and ethnic diversity among our student body is a common subject. Hence, it is all the more heartening to have voices like those of Prof. Mark Granquist who come to the table with this important reminder: “African-American Lutherans have been in this country for more than 350 years, longer than many European immigrants whom we generally think of as being Lutheran.” So take a minute, and enjoy something that one doesn’t read about too often – the history of Black Lutherans in the US. 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.”


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Colonial New York – the first African American Lutheran was baptized in Albany in 1669.

On Palm Sunday, 1669, a Lutheran pastor in Albany, New York, baptized into his congregation an African-American man, who was given the name, Emmanuel. In subsequent years other African Americans, enslaved or free, became members of the Lutheran congregations in New York and New Jersey. African-American Lutherans have been in this country for more than 350 years, longer than many European immigrants whom we generally think of as being Lutheran.

African Americans became Lutherans in many places in the colonial period. In addition to New York, they were found in the Carolinas and Georgia, on the Danish Virgin Islands, and in British and Dutch Guiana in South America.

Though not always, they often were slaves of Lutheran masters; initially, Lutherans were against slavery, but some quickly adapted to it in this country. By the time of the Civil War, there were several thousand African American Lutheran members in the South, and many more (probably 8,000-10,000) who had been baptized Lutheran.

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Rev. Jehu Jones

In 1832 an African-American Lutheran preacher named Jehu Jones formed St. Paul’s Colored Lutheran Church in Philadelphia which lasted until 1849. Another African-American Lutheran, Daniel Payne, graduated from Gettysburg Seminary in 1837. After some years as a Lutheran pastor he became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

After the Civil War, most of the African-American Lutherans in the South left the white congregations, where they had generally been second-class citizens. In response, various Southern Lutheran synods began sporadic efforts to evangelize the newly-freed African Americans, and to establish separate Lutheran congregations. Starting in 1868, the Lutheran synods in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia began to license African-American preachers to preach the gospel and gather in congregations.

These efforts were poorly funded at best, and in 1889 (out of desperation) African-American preachers in the North Carolina Synod formed the Alpha Synod, the first African-American Lutheran church organization. This little synod, and the other African- American Lutheran congregations in the South, struggled for survival through the end of the 19th century.

African-American Lutherans move North and West

As national Lutheran denominations formed in the 19th century, they began to do mission work outside their own ethnic boundaries. Many times this meant foreign missions, but it also meant, to some, evangelism among minority groups in the United States. In 1877 the Synodical Conference (dominated by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) began mission work among African Americans — first in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then more successfully in New Orleans.

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(the logo of Concordia College, Alabama)

Subsequently, the Synodical Conference also incorporated the preachers and congregations of the Alpha Synod, and began a very successful mission work among African Americans in Alabama. (They were joined here by the Joint Synod of Ohio.) In the South these African-American Lutherans opened schools, academies, and teacher-training institutions, one of which grew into Concordia College, Selma, Alabama, the only historically-black Lutheran college in the country.

Beginning around World War I, the “Great Migration” of African Americans to the cities of the North and West brought new African-American Lutheran congregations in these cities, 38 of them founded between 1923 and 1950. Some of these congregations were formed by migrants from the American South, while others were comprised of immigrants from the Virgin Islands and South America. By 1950, there were nearly 11,000 African-American Lutherans, primarily in urban areas.

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(African American Lutheran pastors from the last Cenetury: Rev. Will Herzfeld, the Rev. Nelson Trout and the Rev. Rudolph Featherstone)

With the Civil Rights movement, beginning in the 1950s, the old era of African-American Lutheranism began to change. Prior to this time, most Lutheran congregations were segregated. Beginning in the 1960s, the three largest American Lutheran denominations began to push for integrated congregations, and increased outreach to African Americans. In the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the number of African-American members jumped from 5,000 in 1962 to 49,000 (with 111 African-American pastors) in 1989, when the LCA became a part of the ELCA. In all the American Lutheran bodies in 1991, there were 132,000 African-American Lutherans (about two percent of all Lutherans). In the last 20 years, new Lutheran immigrants from Africa have formed a number of congregations around the country.

How should these numbers be seen? The numbers are, in part, a success story, but they also indicate that, had white Lutherans been more consistently supportive of African-American Lutherans, these numbers could have been much higher. African-American Lutherans have often heroically struggled to build and maintain their congregations, only occasionally assisted by white Lutherans.

Their accomplishments must be honored, and their 350 year legacy lifted up.


granquist_mark_2015_220x240Mark Granquist is Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, a position he has held since 2007. Prior to this he taught in the Religion Department at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota (1992-2000) and at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota (2000-2007). A 1979 graduate of St Olaf College, Granquist received his M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School in 1984, and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1992. His publications include “Lutherans in America: A New History” (Fortress, 2014), “Scandinavian Pietists: Spiritual Writings from 19th-century Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland” (Classics of Western Spirituality, 2015), and “The Augustana Story: Shaping Lutheran Identity in North America” (Fortress, 2008). He is one of the editors of the “Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions” (Baker Academic), which will be published in 2016, and the author of many book chapters, articles and essays, especially on the history of Lutherans in North America.

There Is Trouble in Our Land! – Prof. Kelly Brown Douglas, Goucher College

ThomasLinda sittingIn the wake of the killing police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, as well as our country’s on-going discussion on Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, not to mention the end of one of the most xenophobic and frightening political conventions in history, “We Talk. We Listen.” is now teaming with its authors to point a way forward out of the tragedies of the from the beginning of this month. Pulling from the wisdom of African American thinkers, Prof. Kelly Brown Douglas of Goucher College reminds us all that there is indeed a way forward, and that we needn’t despair even when facing the most intractable evils of our country’s history. 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.”


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Yesterday morning I sent my son the following text as I was unnerved by videos of yet two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, being killed by police officers for no readily apparent reason…

“Just saw the video of police killing yet another black man.  As always be careful, stay safe and remember what to do if you are stopped for whatever reason by the police: hands on the steering wheel, do nothing and say nothing, stay alive.”

This morning I received this text from my son: What do you think about what is going on in this country? He was apparently unnerved—as am I—about the slayings of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of seven others.

There is trouble in our land.  The deadly tragedies of the last few weeks are only symptomatic of the trouble. For it is about more than the apparent suspicious mistrust and broken relationship between police and the black community.  The trouble in our land is about a divide which we have yet to have the courage to face in this country: it is the divide of race.

As Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison once pointed out, “Deep within the word ‘America’ is its association with race.” There is no getting around it, “racism” is endemic to America’s very identity. Though sometimes unspoken, throughout America’s history—in  both explicit and implicit ways—a   racialized narrative has circumscribed  the meaning of citizenship for certain groups of people. It has determined who is and who is not “entitled” to the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   And, it has created a violently racialized society that compromises and endangers all life in this country.

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Rally outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion, protesting the shooting death of Philando Castile. (photo credit: Isaac Hale, Minnesota Star Tribune)

And so, “where do we go from here?”

Fifty years ago, in response to President Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, “Our nation should do a great deal of soul searching . . . while the question ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question ‘What killed him?’ is more important.” King’s words are instructive. For, if there is to be an end to the epidemic of  “racialized” violence in this country, if there is to be justice, then at the same time that we seek arrests, indictments, and guilty verdicts, we must demand that this nation  engage in hard soul-searching regarding the  question of race.  It must confront the ideology that sustains systemic, structural and cultural forms of racism.  We must be clear that   systemic, structural and cultural racism is violent—left unchecked and unaddressed it is deadly.

Borrowing from the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, America is a nation defined by “two warring thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings, two warring ideas.” This country must decide if it is going to be a nation torn asunder by race or a nation unified by a commitment to freedom and justice for all.  

It must determine if it is to be a nation divided by lines of color or a nation dedicated to the declaration that all persons, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual identity or any other human attribute, are created equal and deserving of all that is necessary to flourish into the sacred beings they were created to be.

22822425977_d92d35a592_b.jpgWhat happened to Alton, to Philandro, to the five dead and seven wounded Dallas police officers was not just about events that unfolded on any particular night. They are about the insidious and unexamined racialized history and identity that is America.

Poet and scholar Audre Lorde once said, “Our silence will not protect us.”  We must break the deadly silence in this country about the matter of race if ever we are to stop the senseless brutal and fatal attacks upon innocent lives.

Resources

An  interview with the Dr. Douglas talking about her book Stand Your Ground.

Timeline, details of the shooting of Alton Sterling.

Timeline, details of the shooting of Philando Castile.

Timeline, details of the Dallas shootings.


headshot_kelly-1-700x430Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, is 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.

Black History Month and White Parenting- by Elle Dowd, Candidate for Ordination in the ELCA

 

Picture 002Raising black children in the United States has distinct challenges – challenges that are shaped in an unconventional manner if one is a white parent raising a black child. Elle Dowd is a ardent activist and blogger, a ministry candidate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is the mother to a beautiful little girl from West Africa. Her piece, “Black History Month and White Parenting,” is the perfect bridge from Black History Month to Women’s History Month as Elle, a woman called to ordained ministry, takes a stance on the difficult topic of race and in so doing begins a courageous conversation on her Christian call, as a white woman, to combat racism through education and solidarity. Originally published in The Persistent Voice, a blog from Wartburg Theological Seminary, “We Talk. We Listen” is very pleased to have it here on our page as well. Please read, reflect hard, maybe shed a tear of love and hope, 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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Me and my daughter, Alice (photo by Fresh Blend Media in St. Louis).

When other white folks hear about the way my family was formed via transracial adoption, they will often respond with some well-meaning phrase that goes something like, “Oh how great!  Everyone knows that it doesn’t matter what color a child’s skin is, love is all they need!”

In some ways, I know what they mean. I agree that, as Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms puts it “Love is the most powerful force in the universe for social change.”  But when that statement is coupled with words saying my child’s skin color “doesn’t matter”, it gives me pause.

Because even though I grew up in white suburbia on a steady diet of Colorblind Ideology, my conversations with adult transracial adoptees [1], the anti-racism training I’ve received, and my work following the Uprising in Ferguson, Missouri have lead me to understand that while being “colorblind” sounds nice, it does nothing to dismantle the system of racism and only serves to erase the experiences of people of color.

That’s something that doesn’t sound very loving at all. [2]

“never
trust anyone
who says
they do not see color.
this means
to them,
you are invisible.”
― Nayyirah Waheedsalt.

I don’t want to erase my daughter’s Black skin.  I don’t want to tolerate it.  I want to celebrate it as one of the best parts about her.  “Dear one,” we whisper to her as we rub coconut oil over her luminescent dark, African skin, “Your melanin ties you to all kinds of beauty and power throughout the ages.”

Representation matters to children.  To be able to see themselves reflected in the world around them justifies their existence in the world and gives them role models to aspire to.  This is crucial for all children, but it is particularly important for children like my daughter who does not see her own face reflected back in the faces of her parents.  Our mainstream culture in general is awashed in whiteness, and so this takes some special consideration and effort.  Love might be enough, but often love requires mindfulness and intentionality.  Love requires sacrifice.  Love requires reflection, repentance, learning.  As a white parent of a Black child, I try to be conscious of the pictures on my wall, the neighborhood I live in, and the media I consume. This is a job for us year round. My daughter is Black all day every day, 24/7, forever and ever, amen, and thank God for that.

Yet I look forward to February.

February is Black History Month.  And in our family that means it is a special time to really lean into and celebrate our daughter’s Blackness. [3]

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In our family that means this: we go through her entire collection of books and pull out all of the Black History ones. She has an enviable collection, thanks to gifts from family and friends who understand how important representation is for the development of her racial identity. After nightly prayers and family devotions, we have story time. We commit in February to only read bedtime books about Black History, with Black protagonists, or African/African American folk tales. This might mean that we read an illustrated version of one of Maya Angelou’s poems, read one story from “The People Could Fly”, a gift given to her by Womanist Theologian Candace Simpson, and then wrap up with reading a biography about Wangari Maathai from Kenya.

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Before bedtime each night in February, after our activities and homework and dinner, we like to watch a documentary or a piece of a biopic about Black History. “Watsons go to Birmingham” is a favorite of my daughter’s, although between the recent PBS documentary on the Black Panther Party and Beyonce’s new lyrics my daughter has become a fan of documentaries of revolutionaries with Afros. A lot of the documentaries and films take a lot of unpacking. A lot of them are hard to watch. We leave plenty of time for questions and plenty of room for feelings.
And then each year for Black History Month, we do a project as a family. Last year in 2015, my daughter interviewed prominent Black leaders in our community. She interviewed one West African immigrant who works for the Army, Johnetta Elzie, one of the important voices coming out of Ferguson and St. Louis as part of the Movement for Black Lives, one older church member who marched with MLK Jr. when she was my daughter’s age, 8 years old, and one trans Jew of color. Our daughter knows that Blackness and the Black experience is as diverse as it is beautiful. She wrote the interview questions herself, took notes, and wrote a report for each of them.

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This year for Black History Month 2016, we chose an artistic, creative project.

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Mask, front view.

Together, with help from her dad who is an artist, she made a mask out of her favorite influential Black folks. My daughter is a West African immigrant, so the mask symbolized Africa, since we have a lot of West African masks in our house it is a symbol that makes sense to us. They created the mask, paper-mache style, in the shape of my daughter’s face, connecting all the power and beauty of these Black Americans back to Mama Africa.  My daughter researched each of these people and chose them herself, from well-known historical figures like Harriet Tubman all the way to contemporary leaders like the founders of Millennial Activists United in Ferguson. These are the people who made a way for my daughter and whose stories and courage helped to form her

 

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Mask, side view.

This might seem like a lot of extra work, but unfortunately, its necessary. The more I learn about Black History, the more I am aware that outside of Rosa Parks and MLK Jr, most of us weren’t taught much in our schools. For example, how many of us white folks know anything about Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker? How many of us have heard about the bombing of MOVE or Black Wallstreet? More and more it is becoming clear, we are seeing a blatant white-washing of history because as Naoimi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu says…

 “In this country we teach history to teach pride, not to learn from it’s lessons.”

As parents and as Christians, we are charged with telling the Truth. And so here is where I plead with you, parents and faith leaders:

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Alice with mask.

It should not only be Black children who are learning Black history. White children, white adults, white churches need to take up this task. We must be able to see the image of God in our neighbors, and in times such as these, that means our Black neighbors especially. We need to know that Black Lives Matter because Black lives, like all lives, were created in the Image of God. When we teach and learn about Black history and Black contemporary leaders and issues, we are showing that we believe that Black people matter, that their contributions were important. We are saying, “We see you. You are not invisible to us. We are willing to learn.” During this season of Lent, this means confessing that as white parents and as church leaders, consciously or unconsciously, we have not always taught that Black Lives Matter, that they are made in the image of God, that Black history and Black representation is essential. I am challenging you to do this, as a faith leader, but as a parent, I am begging. I am begging you to help create a world where my daughter can grow up safe and celebrated, knowing that she matters to her neighbors because she matters to God.

It’s a task that must happen year-round, 24/7 for a lifetime, for generations.

Maybe we could start this Lent.


elleblm.pngElle Dowd is a candidate for ordination in the ELCA, planning to attend seminary this fall. She has been active in the Uprising in Ferguson, MO. To read more of Elle’s writing, check out her blog.

[1] To hear what adult transracial adoptees have to say about their experiences, read Simon’s “In Their Own Voices”.

[2] For an amazing article on why Colorblind Ideaology is harmful, full of tons of links, please see the article 7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It.

[3] In some ways I find this rhythm similar to how I work with the liturgical calendar. As Christians we are called to confession, repentance, and special care for the poor YEAR ROUND, yet during Lent we have a special time to be reminded and to really lean into it.  My daughter is Black year round and representation for her is always a top priority. But February is a time to lean into it, to be reminded.