The Boston Declaration

fontThe annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature wrapped up last week in a flurry of lectures, books and book sales, rich with camaraderie and mutual inspiration. The terror of our hyper-phobic times were not ingored, however. Inspired by the Barmen Declaration – a document written as part of the German Confession Church in 1934 as a direct rebuke and refutation of the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, penned mostly by Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, and signed by theologians, pastors, and academics like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller — a kindred group theologians and academics, meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature dispatched the The Boston Declaration at the Old South Church at 12:30 pm on Monday November 20, 2017 — a statement of repentance, rebuke, and resistance to the current administration of the government of the United States of America, and to the myriad forces which enable it’s death-dealing, house-dividing agenda. As one of the more than 200 initial signers of the declaration, I feel it my duty to share this with the readers of the blog – along with a call for every reader to help the original signatories to find an additional 2000 supporters. These are truly strange and dangerous days we live in, and as a called, ordained, sent and PhD’d servant in the Church of Jesus Christ, I adjure you all to join us in the struggle.

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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Signatories of the Boston Statement wearing sack-cloth and ashes

Occasion

As followers of Jesus, the Jewish prophet for justice whose life reminds us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out. We declare that following Jesus today means fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith.

Choose Life

This is a time of heightened racist and patriarchal empire where wealth is concentrated at the top. The Living God asks us to make a decision: “Today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil. … Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 31).  Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. And yet, we live in a moment when death and evil seem to reign supreme in the United States, when those with the power of a uniform or the president’s pen or a position of authority or fame or economic tricks of capitalization and interest or sheer brute force… again and again choose death rather than life. In a moment when too many who confess Christ advocate evil, we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.

We acknowledge the manifold and complicated ways we participate in these systems, even as we are often complicit in them. We confess that the Church, in a variety of forms, has too often failed to follow the way of Jesus and perform the good news. We are people who are still discovering the ways we participate with death and evil, even while we continue to seek the good, to choose life again and again. This declaration is such a choice, hoping and clinging to the God of life and seeking to bear witness to that life in our present moment. Acknowledging our own failures and embracing an appropriate sense of humility should not, however, silence us. While we do not have ready-made answers for all the problems we face, we know something about the pathway we must follow if we are to find those answers, and this is the pathway of Jesus.

 

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Who is our God and What is the Jesus Way?

We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35). We affirm the beauty and humanity of all people in their manifold difference–race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion–as reflecting God’s image through lives of love and hope. We believe the Jesus Way calls us to the possibility of living in a world where all can love and be loved, and live into joy.

The Jesus Way continues through our best, prayerful, honest, and empirical attempts to understand why and how the world has come to be in the shape it is today. This pathway calls us to act in ways that are Spirit-led and strategic in confronting evil wherever evil exists, to combat ignorance wherever ignorance has led people astray and to place our lives and our bodies on the line with whoever is being threatened, beat down, or oppressed in any way, anywhere.

Lamentation

As followers of Jesus who is our Sabbath, who preached and lived Shalom, and who offers the gift of jubilee to the world, we mourn the coarseness of our politics, the loss of compassion for those in need, the disrespect we routinely show each other, and the thoughtlessness with which we use and abuse our planet. We especially mourn the way in which the name of Jesus has been used to support and encourage actions and attitudes that demean others and threaten the community of creation.

We acknowledge and lament the realities we see around us: broken lives, broken homes, a broken social system that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. We lament a broken and corrupt police system, a broken economic system that prioritizes profits over people, a broken sense of national identity. We lament national boundaries that make our worries about security a pretext for destroying the lives of others, and a broken church that disrespects and marginalizes many people rather than honoring and embracing them. We rebuke the ideologies and idolatries that lie beneath the death we see in our midst and collectively hope to point to ways we might all choose life.

As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we take action when our government seeks to continuously harm life made in God’s image by cutting social safety-nets and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us to spiral into an abyss of desperation. Action on the part of the church is warranted at a time when women, people of color, and various ethnicities, individual religions, immigrants and distinct sexualities are targeted for slander and violence from the highest offices of government. We cannot sit idly by and allow the people and the earth to be accosted with series after series of unjust policies that allow the interest of corporate profits to expunge the future for coming generations of humans and other living species.

Condemnations

3 J Drives Out Moneychangers

We reject the false ideology of empire building and the myth of racial laziness and substance abuse that harms the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the US territories.

We reject the false ideology that peace is achieved through military strength and that violence is the necessary foundation for freedom, safety, or security. We stand against the manufacturing and proliferation of weapons which continue to drown the planet in the blood of millions through global war and the terrorism of domestic mass shootings.

We reject the false ideology of the corporate ruling class that services and supports the US military, dispossess and represses poor communities of color, and which erodes and blocks real empowerment of the most vulnerable of peoples and of any real people’s democracy.

We reject the false ideology of American exceptionalism and the evil of political corruption, calling for integrity in our elected officials and multilateral governance. It is this myth by which moral responsibility is suspended in the pursuit of its interests.

We reject the false ideology of white normalcy and bigotry. We reject the false identification that exclusively binds whiteness with Christianity, true humanity, and United States citizenship. We reject antisemitism, which is driving much of white Christian nationalism.

We reject the patriarchal and misogynistic legacies that subject women to continual violence, violation, and exclusion. We stand strongly against sexual abuse and harassment in the highest offices of power.

We reject violations against the Earth, especially the stripping of her resources and polluting that harms her and the creatures that inhabit her soil and seas.

We reject economic policies that are grounded in an illusion of extreme individualism and favor the accumulation of wealth for a few to the detriment of the many.

We reject Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.

We reject homophobia and transphobia and all violence against the LGBTQ community.

We reject all anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that fail to recognize the contributions of immigrants who have come from every corner of the world to strengthen the fabric of this nation—culturally, economically and spiritually.

Call to Action

“Choose you this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15)

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Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.

May we live in this world continually welcoming the stranger and “treating the foreigner with love, for we were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).

May we bear witness to the hues of difference in God’s life – a God who is neither male nor female and who embraces all people regardless of their identity.

May we not fear the loss of power or certainty when confronted by our very real weakness. May we discover the gift of being creatures not as something to be overcome, but embraced, discovering the fullness of our humanity in the flourishing of all women.

May we embrace a future where the legacies of white supremacy are dismantled. We refuse to dehumanize any individual, reducing their identity to singular markers and possibilities. May we work toward a radical openness for every individual as we fight together for a better today and tomorrow.

May we build not to kill but to enliven. Let us garner all of our economic power to fight desperately for one another’s health, for full stomachs, for equal access to buildings and teachers where we might discover the fullness of our gifts and skills. May our power not be oriented toward empire but towards mutual community.

May we witness to a beloved community where we seek to be with one another as Jesus is with us. May love and mutuality be the marks of our lives together, our community building, our budgets, and our public policies.

May we work together to care for the community of creation, fighting against the influence of the pursuit of petrochemicals and all other earth diminishing, non-renewable and polluting practices that exploit Indigenous and poor peoples, poison our waters and contribute to the extinction of species. We speak for the earth herself and all her creatures, human and non-human, for the preservation of life over monetary gain.

May we stand in solidarity against anti-semitism and the use of any language and actions that threaten the lives of our Jewish sisters and brothers while standing with the plight for human rights with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

May we stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and all immigrants, fighting against Islamophobia and xenophobia. We denounce any legislation that discriminates against people on the basis of their religion, race or ethnic identity.

We welcome and seek the wisdom of all people of all faiths and those who confess no faith, believing that God’s faithfulness breaks into the world in many ways and through many people. May we continue to stand with anyone who calls for justice, mercy, and love in this world.

Original Signatories

  • Amey Victoria Adkins, Boston College
  • Efrain Agosto, New York Theological Seminary
  • Macky Alston, Auburn Seminary
  • Gelky Alrvelo, New York Theological Seminary
  • Cheryl B. Anderson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Cara Anthony, University of St. Thomas
  • Ellen T. Armour, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Sarah Azaransky, Union Theological Seminary
  • Brian Bantum, Seattle Pacific University
  • William Barber II, Repairers of the Breach
  • Eric D. Barreto, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Angela Bauer-Levesque, Episcopal Divinity School
  • Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Moses Biney, New York Theological Seminary
  • Traci Blackmon, United Church of Christ
  • Mary C. Boys, Union Theological Seminary
  • Valerie Bridgeman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Stina Busman Jost, Bethel University
  • Lee H. Butler, Jr., Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Gil Caldwell, United Methodist Clergy
  • Leslie Callahan, St. Paul’s Baptist Church
  • Jamall Andrew Calloway, Brown University
  • Rosemary P. Carbine, Whittier College
  • J. Kameron Carter, Duke Divinity School
  • Cláudio Carvalhaes, Union Theological Seminary
  • Noel Castallanos, Christian Community Development Association
  • Choi Hee An, Boston University School of Theology
  • Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way
  • Jawanza Eric Clark, Manhattan College
  • Christian T. Collins Winn, Bethel University
  • Monica A. Coleman, Claremont School of Theology
  • James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary
  • David W. Congdon, University Press of Kansas
  • M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College
  • Kendall Cox, University of Virginia
  • Shannon Craigo-Snell, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
  • Brandy Daniels, University of Virginia
  • Keri Day, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Megan K. DeFranza, Boston University School of Theology
  • Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
  • Kelly Brown Douglas, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
  • Kait Dugan, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Victor Ezigbo, Bethel University
  • Nancy Fields, New York Theological Seminary
  • Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
  • John Flett, Pilgrim Theological College (Australia)
  • Walter Fluker, Boston University School of Theology
  • Yvette Flunder, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
  • Robert Franklin, Emory University
  • Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Duke Divinity School
  • Wil Gafney, Brite Divinity School
  • Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
  • Jacquelyn Grant, Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Gene Green, Wheaton College
  • Sharon Groves, Auburn Seminary
  • Katelin Hansen, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Lisa Sharon Harper, Greenville University and  Freedom Road, LLC
  • Jennifer Harvey, Drake University
  • Susan Hassinger, Boston University School of Theology
  • Katharine Henderson, Auburn Seminary
  • Johnny Hill, Shaw University Divinity School
  • Peter Goodwin Heltzel, New York Theological Seminary
  • Michael S. Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Alice W. Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Douglas “Jake” Jacobsen, Messiah College
  • Jeffrey Jaynes, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Willie James Jennings, Yale University
  • Wonhee Anne Joh, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Alfred Johnson, New York Theological Seminary
  • Paul Dafydd Jones, University of Virginia
  • Serene Jones, Union Theological Seminary
  • Sherry Jordan, University of St. Thomas
  • Namsoon Kang, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
  • Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Claremont School of Theology
  • Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Claremont School of Theology
  • Catherine Keller, Drew University School of Theology
  • Jeff Keuss, Seattle Pacific University
  • Grace Ji Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion
  • Nicole Kirk, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University Divinity School
  • Jennifer Wright Knust, Boston University School of Theology
  • Deborah Krause, Eden Theological Seminary
  • Kwok Pui Lan, Emory University
  • Sarah Heaner Lancaster, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Erik Leafblad, Bethel University
  • Terri LeBlanc, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological  Studies
  • Bernon Lee, Bethel University
  • Jacqueline J. Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church
  • Pamela Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology
  • Diane H. Lobody, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Tamura Lomax, The Feminist Wire
  • Vanessa Lovelace, Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Joretta Marshall, Brite Divinity School
  • Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University
  • Jenny McBride, McCormick Theological Seminary
  • Clint McCann, Eden Theological School
  • Carolyn McCrary, Interdenominational Theological Seminary
  • Brian D. McLaren, Convergence Leadership Project
  • W. Travis McMaken, Lindenwood University
  • Linda Mercadante, Methodist Theological School of Ohio
  • Rosemary Bray McNatt, Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Stephanie Mitchem, University of South Carolina
  • Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago
  • Deborah Flemister Mullen, Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Susan Myers, University of St. Thomas
  • Francesca Nuzzolese, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • M. Fulgence Nyengele, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Kate Ott, Drew University
  • Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University
  • Joon-Sik Park, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Angela N. Parker, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology
  • Peter Phan, Georgetown University
  • David Penchansky, University of St. Thomas
  • Jim Perkinson, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
  • Larry Perry, Georgetown University
  • Adam Ployd, Eden Theological Seminary
  • Alton B Pollard, III, Howard University School of Divinity
  • Thomas Porter, Jr., Boston University School of Theology
  • Andrew Prevot, Boston College
  • Bradford H. Price, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Jeffrey C. Pugh, Elon University
  • Marc A. Pugliese, St. Leo University
  • Luis N. Rivera Pagan, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Shelly Rambo, Boston University School of Theology
  • Erica Ramiriz, George Fox University
  • Paul Brandeis Raushenbusch, Auburn Seminary
  • Darby K. Ray, Bates College
  • Stephen Ray, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Lallene Rector, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Joshua Reno, University of Minnesota
  • Patrick Reyes, The Forum for Theological Exploration
  • Kenneth A. Reynhout, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
  • Kurt Anders Richardson, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics
  • Joerg Rieger, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Kyle Roberts, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
  • Gene Robinson, Episcopal Church
  • Luis R. Rivera Rodriguez, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Timothy J. Scherer, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Laurel C. Schneider, Vanderbilt University
  • Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church
  • Christian Scharen, Auburn Seminary
  • David Schnasa Jacobsen, Boston University School of Theology
  • Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Ry O. Siggelkow, University of St. Thomas
  • Angela Sims, Saint Paul School of Theology
  • Andrea Smith, University of California, Riverside
  • Kay Higuera Smith, Azusa Pacific University
  • Melanie Smith, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
  • Patrick T. Smith, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • Shannon Nicole Smythe, Seattle Pacific University
  • Bryan Stone, Boston University School of Theology
  • Diana M. Swancutt, Boston University School of Theology
  • Kathryn Tanner, Yale University
  • Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Seminary
  • JoAnne Marie Terrell, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
  • John E. Thiel, Fairfield University
  • Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Linda Thomas, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
  • Julie Todd, Iliff School of Theology
  • Joseph Tolton, The Fellowship Global
  • Miguel A. De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology
  • Cameron Trimble, Center for Progressive Renewal
  • Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt Divinity School
  • Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University
  • Timothy L Van Meter, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Eldin Villafañe, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • Kimberly Vrudny, University of St. Thomas
  • Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College
  • Janet Walton, Union Theological Seminary
  • Nimi Wariboko, Boston University School of Theology
  • Michele E. Watkins, Iliff School of Theology
  • Eric Weed, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Sharon Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Jim Wellman, University of Washington
  • Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School
  • Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School
  • Vitor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
  • Andrea C. White, Union Theological Seminary
  • Tamara Francis Wilden, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
  • Wesley J. Wildman, Boston University School of Theology
  • David E. Wilhite, Baylor University
  • Matthew Williams, Forum for Theological Exploration
  • Reggie L. Williams, McCormick Theological Seminary
  • Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Rutba House
  • Janet Wolf, United Methodist Clergy
  • Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman, University of Otago (New Zealand)
  • Randy Woodley, Portland Seminary/George Fox University
  • Jessica Wong, Azusa Pacific University
  • Gale A. Yee, Episcopal Divinity School
  • Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Yvonne C. Zimmerman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio

If you would like to add your name to a petition inspired by the Boston Declaration – click here.

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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.

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.

Dear Church: You Would Rather Hang Me from a Tree. A Reflection on the Execution of #PhilandoCastile – Vicar Lenny Duncan, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church; Conshohoken, PA

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St. Anthony, Minnesota Police Officer Geronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Philado Castile last week. And since everything from the shooting to the trial took place in Ramsey County, Minnesota – in the heart of US Lutheranism – “We Talk. We Listen.” knew we had to get the conversation going, and powerfully. Vicar Lenny Duncan, currently entering his second year of internship at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshohoken, PA, gets us started. Read, comment, and share.

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

 


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Freeze.

Don’t move.

Let me see your ID.

Don’t move.

Freeze.

What are you doing around here?

Anything in the car I should know about?

Freeze.

Don’t move.

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This is how death is pronounced over hundreds of black bodies every day. This may or may not result in death. This interaction I’m describing to you is haunting when heard by black bodies. This may very well cost a black person their life. These may be the last words I ever hear. I was asked to write this piece about #PhilandoCastile on Saturday night, before I preached yesterday. I agreed. I always agree, because what am I to do? How else am I supposed to relate to my church at times like this?

I’m tired y’all.

I’m tired of pleading with you for my life, ELCA.

There I said it.

If you valued my life even a little bit this would stop. Philando was executed in the Land of the Lutheran. The Twin Cities. One of the most segregated areas of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

But I understand. It’s not you.

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The Charleston 9, top/bottom, left-to-right: Susie Jackson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Doctor, Ethel Lance; Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pickney, Daniel Simmons Sr. Their killer, Dylann Roof, was baptized and confirmed in the ELCA and the senior pastoral staff of Mother Emanuel had studied at the ELCA seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.

This acquittal happened the same week that we remember the second anniversary of Charleston and the first anniversary of Pulse. I hear the same words that are like a clarion call to all of Black America. It is the sound of the seal being broken.

The final trumpet blows.

It is like ashes on my tongue.

Not. Guilty.

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Link to this summer’s tributes to the #Pulse victims.

How hard was it for you to feign surprise and shock? That you thought things would be different this time? What evidence did you have that it would be?

I knew from the first day of the trial the officer would be acquitted.  I knew from the day I saw the Facebook live video. I watched within the first hour it was posted. I knew as I watched the life drain from Philando’s eyes, as I heard the cry of his child, as I watched the anger of his girlfriend rise, this officer wouldn’t see any consequences.

If you are honest with yourself, you knew too.

We watched the lynching of a black man by law enforcement in almost real time.

It changed nothing.

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If you are Lutheran and reading this, or have read me before, you are probably waiting for me to dig deep and find the grace. To offer the hope and resurrection.  If you are ordained clergy you might even feel justified to tell me it’s my duty as an emerging leader in this church.

I offer you none.

The law in this country offers me death. Why should the law be any different for you?

I am obligated by God to tell you the truth.

The truth is there is no grace in this anymore.

We are watching as the moral fiber of this country is being shredded. We are casting our souls into the pit. We have made a conscious decision to walk with the enemy of all life. In the name of law and order, safety and prosperity we have become everything we tell the rest of the world we are not.

The truth that is self-evident is that Black bodies will continue to be the sacrifice on the altar of America.

Since my ancestors were thrown into a hold of a ship.

Since our leaders were murdered one by one a generation ago.

We are to be the lamb you sacrifice, for your original sin.

How can I sing a song in a strange land? 

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Church we are doubly as guilty. We are supposed to be better. We have in turn become white washed tombs.

The silence is deafening. Your inaction telling.

My heart is bled dry, perhaps yours is too.

Perhaps the grace is the fact that Black people still love this church. That people like me are willing to throw themselves into the breach. That I will not leave until I die. That I will stay in the church I love until the very end.

But you won’t experience me as grace. You will experience me as the thing that makes you uncomfortable.

Many of you would rather see me hung from a tree, with my side pierced.

You did it to Philando.

Well in this country, you just might get your wish.


16195868_10206838983808083_6435496150445692170_nLenny Duncan is the vicar at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshoshoken, PA and Candidate for Ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. He is also the Evangelist for the #decolonizelutheranism movement, as well as a frequent voice on the intersection of the Church and the cries of the oppressed. He pays special attention to the #blacklivesmovement in his work, but lifts up the frequent intersection with other marginalized peoples.  He believes that the reason the ELCA has remained so white, is a theological problem, not sociological one. He is currently an M.Div Coop student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and holds a Bachelors of Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College, with an emphasis in New Testament Theology and Ministry.