We Live in a World… by Apu Seyenkulo, Linda Johnson Seyenkulo

Dr. Apu Seyenkulo lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina – living a busy and fulfilling life as a physical therapist entrepreneur and creative. But as a Black woman, these last weeks have been rough, and like so many under duress – like George Floyd – she reaches out for her mom and she answers. Yet her mother – Rev. Linda Seyenkulo – is not only an ocean away in Liberia, working as a missionary in tandem with her husband the Rev. Jensen Seyenkulo, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, she is also white. How do this mother and daughter care for one another and their mutual fear with such difference and distance between them? Read and learn and share.

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Blog Editor


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Apu Seyenkulo, daughter:

We live in a world…

We live in a world where I can’t sleep because I am traumatized by fear. Fearful that my brother, sister, boyfriend and/or friends will walk out of the house and not return.

As my brother was driving home the other night, we were on the phone catching up; talking through the Bluetooth, driving less than 6 blocks home and doing nothing wrong. Through the phone I hear my brother say “Oh my gosh”… I go silent. I hear a police car’s siren/horn “Whoop, Whoop” sounding like its inside of my brother car. The fear… the anxiety… the terror that flowed through my body is indescribable. Followed by silence. Silence you could cut with a knife. Hearing my brother’s breath accompanied with “they are gone”… I could have dropped me to my knees in relief.

The awkward silence that followed was filled with me thanking God that he wasn’t murdered for driving home while black.

We live in a world where it is exhausting to check social media or watch the news. We are afraid we will see another black person killed, yanked out the car or sprayed with tear gas. We are afraid to hear the words of our leaders, hoping they are not supporting the injustice that has been endured for…forever.

We live in a world where we are to go to work, attend Zoom meetings and discuss upcoming celebrations like we are not affected by the trauma in the world right now. We are expected to focus on our daily tasks; acting as if we are in a headspace that is the same as our white counterparts.

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We are not okay. We are tired of not being heard. We are tired of being referred to as “thugs”. We are tired of being scared to drive. We are tired of being afraid of the people that should be protecting us. We are tired of a broken system. We are tired of acting like everything is okay. We are tired…

I hate violence. I hate people getting hurt. I want people to be empowered to change this broken system.

Regardless, there is one thing that needs to be understood…

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Black Lives Matter. This IS a thing… the world we live in needs to act like it.

 


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Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, mother:

We live in a world…. My daughter and I, same world, different experiences. She wrote the previous piece.  She is biracial.  My husband, son, and other daughter are people of color. 

I am white . My reality is different than theirs. They are flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and so my reality changes.  When my daughter writes “…traumatized by fear. Fearful that my brother, sister, boyfriend and/or friends will walk out of the house and not return” I feel that fear in my gut. 

Anti-racism training taught me the power racism has over us: power over people of color; power to privilege white people;  power over all of us to destroy us. I define racism as race prejudice plus the misuse of systemic power.

Apu’s experience is racism’s power over  people of color.  She spoke her experience eloquently.  In her description racism makes people of color daily be discounted,  anxious, fearful for safety and fearful of death. It is the air she, our family, and friends breathe.

For most white people this is racism we understand: it affects people of color and many of us feel we are not a part of it.

White friends read her writing; they were moved. As a white person, I can read what she wrote, feel moved, sad, or guilty. Then I can move back to my life without changing.  I can decide what she wrote is not true because it’s not my experience.  Racism affects us white people collectively in those ways.

But Apu is my child, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone as is her brother.

Because of  them, their father, their sister, her boyfriend and colleagues/friends of color, I know my privilege and my participation in the systems they suffer from. 

Knowing this does not make me better than other white people. I do not understand all about racist privilege. What it means is I continue to learn how racism affects me and my privilege.

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As a white person racist privilege forms me. Here are ways it works for me: (Repeat the refrain after each sentence.)

It is assumed I am intelligent until I prove differently.  

Refrain: “It’s just how it is…because I am white.”

If I do something wrong, no one attributes it to me being white. Refrain:

In my denomination, I can be a pastor to any ethnic group; no one asks how long I’ve been Lutheran.  Refrain:

If I go to the doctor, my condition will be taken seriously. Refrain:

No one follows me around a store when shopping. Refrain:

The police protect me and serve me. Refrain:

If I pass a counterfeit bill, it will likely be assumed it was accidental or I will be arrested and released on my own with a court date:  Refrain:

Encounters with police are respectful. I may be charged but I can expect to come out alive.  Refrain:

 I can hear about George Floyd’s death and my first response could be “not all police officers are bad.” (they are not but the first issue is that a man is dead.)   Refrain:

I can choose to not preach on racial issues because it’s uncomfortable. Refrain:

The list of racism privileges for white people is long, much longer and deeper than what is here.

Much of what I began to learn about racist privilege is because I am white with children and a husband who are people of color. I learned because of them and that is privilege in itself.  I also know when I am alone, I am treated differently than when I am with my family. The air I breathe changes. 

And this is my shame: sometimes when I am alone as a white person (without my family) it feels like a relief!  This. Is. My. Great. Shame. 

Being white I can choose to stay in shame and guilt. Many of us would like to do that. It keeps us from losing privilege. To my white brothers and sisters, as a start,  I  encourage you to take a note from my courageous, gifted daughter: think out loud, on paper. 

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Start with: how does racism privilege you as a white person? 

Read, learn about systemic institutional racism.  Get involved with organizations working for institutional anti-racist change.  Give money to anti-racist justice organizations.  Stop changing the subject.  Listen to, believe people of color.  Check out non-white literature, media, arts.  

And VOTE in ways that will change the system.

For those of  you who read Apu’s experience and said, “I don’t know where to start.” 

Start here. 

Don’t stop.

It’s a matter of life and death. 

It is our work.


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Giving thanks to God for our lives and this world we live in… we are:

Dr. Apu Seyenkulo (far left), Doctor of Physical Therapy, serving as a Pediatric Physical Therapist located in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I am an avid physical fitness buff,  artist, author, and entrepreneur.

Rev. Linda Johnson Seyenkulo (second from right), ELCA pastor serving in Liberia, West Africa in theological education.  I am a reader, singer, writer. I have worked in anti-racism organizing/training for many years. I was Dean of Community at LSTC, 2003-2008.

A shout-out to our family: Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo (middle), Kenata Seyenkulo (far right), and Yongor Linnea Seyenkulo (second from left), who make our lives rich and meaningful—and educational.

Identity Crisis – Rev. Mauricio Vieira

IMG_4512After a hiatus of a couple of weeks, we have returned to our series honoring Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month – and this new post is truly a curious one. Written by Rev. Mauricio Vieira, a naturalized US-citizen from Brazil serving in rural Illinois, it is a poignant reflection on how being a “white-passing” Latino immigrant has been problematic. 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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Colorism in the Latino community – see video here.

Peace, sisters, and brothers, be with you from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. How should I describe my journey as a Latino ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Four words come to mind: post-adolescence identity crisis. 

Allow me to explain.

It all began in the year 2000. My wife Ana and I were somewhat fresh living in the United States and working as life sciences scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One day someone working for the census bureau stops by, and Ana answers the door. There was a mistake with our census information. We had marked white. Ana looks at the inside of her forearms and all the veins visible through her ashen skin, gives the person a very puzzled look, and asks flat out, what do you mean?

The unfazed person then answered, “Sorry, you are not American.”

See, in spite of being born and raised in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ana and I are white as white comes. We are designated as white in our birth-land. Without relying on the precision of DNA tests, Ana is 100% Portuguese. I am more or less 70% Portuguese, 15% Italian, and 15% French – pure Caucasian blood unless proven otherwise by modern science. Therefore, without thinking, Ana just went with the motions and checked the box that said, white. I confess that the fact that someone had come back in an official capacity to knock on our door to correct the “mistake” gave me pause. I went on to learn much more from that point on.

As a consequence of my pure whiteness, I can claim to myself the colonizer heritage mentioned by Nicole Garcia in this blog. Our ancestors, the Portuguese, did pretty much the same stuff that was done in the rest of the Americas, plus one small devilish detail. We invented the concept of go to Africa, kidnap people, and ship them as cattle to a foreign land to live lives of slavery – the British took over the business later. This is a heritage that is not oblivious to me, nor my wife, nor my two sons.  Ana and I, we own it, and since the time we were college students, each one of us on their own path, and then together, have worked and stood against the prevailing racial injustices that happen in Brazil.

Contrary to North American perception, Brazil is a very racist country, and I have benefited from its systems of racism. That privilege allowed me to come to the United States legally, to be offered a job, to become a permanent resident, and then, later on, a citizen.

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Nonetheless, like most Latinos, due to the excessive number of vowels in my name, which can be typical of Latin-derived names, combined with my place of birth, I was introduced to stereotyping very early. A lot of it can be dissipated in the science field. Flagship State University towns and work environments tend to be melting pots, including biology labs. Therefore, one’s accent and culture does not necessarily carry the same weigh in the power structure because this is what is important: can you generate data and get funding? If one can, ethnicity does not matter as much.  Even so, there were moments when, despite my qualifications and expertise, I lived the typical Latino experience in America, that is, almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard.

However, nothing had yet prepared me for the reality of the North American relationship systems outside the science “bubble.”

Seminary for me was brutal. I checked most of the handicap boxes, a second career, full-time, commuter, husband of a wife with a full-time job, father of two kids in elementary school, international student.  My perceived privilege – and physical strength – was shattered by mid-October during the fall semester of my first year. I made it, but I have scars.

I get it now what took me some time to figure out. In white North American Anglo-Saxon systems, solidarity and respect are earned, especially if you are perceived as a person of color – now you can see where this is getting twisted. I come from a system where there is an expectation of solidarity and respect out of the gate – at least if one is Caucasian – which is lost if you prove otherwise over time.  Therefore, when it came to the “real” world outside labs and conference rooms, acceptance was upside down to me, as it was paper styles. In life sciences, the conclusions are the last paragraphs. It took me a “D” to figure out that in human sciences the conclusion comes first. The seminary professor for whom I actually wrote that commented that it was upside down.

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Latinxs talking about the pain and frustration of being seen as “white.”

But I digress.

So, there I was. On the one hand, male, Caucasian and privileged for some, and therefore steward of powers that now I know I have, but that I never claimed or wanted. On the other, Latino, foreigner, heavy accent, perceived as a person of color for others – even if one can still see the veins on my arms – and therefore almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard. It was a mess.

Who was I supposed to be in God’s beloved creation!?

I know it sounds dramatic, but I have many mundane and shocking examples to share. However, since I am mindful of the number of words suggested to me by my friend Francisco Herrera, I will mention only three.

There was this day in CPE small groups that a colleague told me out of the blue that she did not know what it was, but my presence alone was stressful to her. I wonder if she got confused by a big Caucasian male who acts like a Latino. Then there was the day when we were on a candidacy retreat, and I had volunteered to set up the worship space, only to hear a fellow person of color tell another that he was sticking around “to make sure our international student (yours truly) knew what he was doing.” By the way, that was after one of the internship supervisors in the retreat approached the organizer and offered to set up the worship space in my place, only to hear that I was the one assigned to do it.

Now comes the cherry on top.

Once I was attending one of the classes on Science and Religion and it happened that the speaker was presenting something about my country of birth, out of a website, that I knew to be, let’s say, scientifically incorrect. The speaker had no idea that sitting in the audience was not only a life scientist with a doctorate but also a native of the same country. Credentials enough, right? Nope, comments dismissed, even after the such were presented. Apparently, I did not know enough about my own country.

One can’t make this up!

I can certainly say, however, that not everything in this crazy and awesome life of serving Christ through God’s people has been annoying our upsetting for this Latino pastor and preacher. I have met classmates, teachers, colleagues, and parishioners who have made this journey absolutely a blessing. The support of my home congregation of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana, IL. My friends from St. Andrew Lutheran Church and Campus Center, who welcomed my services during my time in Ministry In Context. My supervisor and the people of Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign, IL, who taught me more than I deserved during my internship, especially my beloved confirmation class. My candidacy committee, who accompanied and prayed for me along the way. Those from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL, who have embraced me as their proclaimer, teacher, and pastor. I don’t have space to name all of you. But, you know who you are I would not have done without you; and I continue to do it for you. I love you all.

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Me and my family

So, here is my message to you, fellow Latinos who may be pursuing ministry, or to anyone who is not cookie cutter and feels like always having to justify why you are in such path…

By the way, it is a minimized version of the crude and lousy sermon that I preached on the before mentioned candidacy retreat. It goes like this. When one goes into my country to buy salt, one will find only one kind, which is cooking salt. It can be either coarse or finely ground but cooking salt, nonetheless.  In this country, there are a variety of salts, sometimes on the same shelf. There is water softening salt, salt to melt ice, rock salt, salt for ice cream machines. Besides the ordinary cooking salt, there is Kosher salt, sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, and Himalayan pink salt.

So remember, you too were called to be the salt of the earth. Figure it out what kind of salt God has made out of you, for this time and this place, and never, ever, let anyone take your saltiness away.

“[The God who abundantly poured grace upon you] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).

Amen.


mo.jpgPastor Mauricio Vieira was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and became an American Citizen. He is a former life scientist with a Ph.D. in Cell Biology by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He obtained his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Home is currently in Cullom, IL, with his wife Ana, sons Logan and Dominick – all culprits in this ministry – and puppies Gus and Molly.  He is currently the called Pastor to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL and St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL.

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/

Becoming Human: My Confession and Response to the Mythologizing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Patrick Freund

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWhere I teach – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – we do a lot of talking about the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A spy for the German Resistance, scholar and pastor, professor and widely-respected author and public commentator, there is much to admire about him. But Bonhoeffer was human, as seminarian Patrick Freund is eager to point out. Patrick wrote this piece upon my request, as a student in his final year of seminary,  and as a response to Dr. Williams’ lecture at LSTC earlier this semester. For Patrick felt that for all of his greatness, Bohoeffer’s faults, too, are particularly instructive for white Christians and seminarians coming to consciousness about race in the United States.  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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Dr. Reggie Williams at the burial location for the human remains and ashes at the Flossenburg concentration camp, site of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution (video).

At the beginning of his Lutheran Heritage lecture last month, Dr. Reggie Williams made two observations about Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s early life:

1) That the portion of his life which biographers term his “Academic Period” was spent in the predominantly racist context of the Weimar Republic, and…

2) That during this time he also travelled to the United States of America, where he “experienced developments in his understanding of himself as a white Christian.”[1]

Dr. Williams continued that when these observations are considered as correlated, two things become apparent:

“First, Bonhoeffer’s struggle was both external against Nazi racism as idealized conceptions of humanity and community and internal with a conflicted interpretation of himself as a western Christian. Second, the struggles he engaged in a racist society and with a conflicted self are as relevant today for his readers as they were for Bonhoeffer years ago. He engaged in both struggles for the remainder of his natural life, and we can learn from him for our own battles that we must wage today.”

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This impacted me in a major way. From my point of view, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been popularly sainted in the Lutheran cannon. In the popular imagination we have stripped him of his sinfulness so that we can see him as the pure and virtuous Lutheran Pastor who stood up to Hitler and the Nazis, and eventually died a martyr’s death. Bonhoeffer’s speech and action is a life of bearing witness to Christ; living into a daring trust and living out a bold faith. We cannot, however, forget that his struggle was not simply that of a virtuous person against an immoral, amoral, and devastating regime. His struggle was internal too. From early on, he was swimming in philosophical waters littered with flotsam and jetsam of racial pseudo-science. He saw the German people as being a superior people. He was familiar with concepts such as “Biologism,” which sought to explain human culture and behave as an aspect inextricably woven into race and biology. While he fought National Socialism externally, he wrestled with his own racism internally, and he died a racist.

This is painful to admit. But necessary.

Its necessary, because I know that I too have grown up in a racist society. I have grown up in a society that claims that all are equal in the eyes of the law but incarcerates Black and Brown men at a staggeringly higher rate than white men. I grew up in a society that ghettoized, stigmatized, and disenfranchised peoples of color while claiming to be the land of opportunity. I grew up in a society where I didn’t need to fear police brutality. I grew up white and middle class in the context of white middle class South Jersey. I spent my teens white and middle class in the context of white middle class Richmond, Virginia. It really wasn’t until I came to seminary that I realized that “America” doesn’t look like me, and Jesus doesn’t either. I think that this is what Bonhoeffer realized during his time in New York, which led to his internal and external struggles.

This has been my struggle too. I grew up in what was often called “post-racial America,” or “colorblind America.” And yet through the media and the cultural waters in which I was formed, I was conditioned to fear Black people.

I was conditioned to to equate drugs, poverty, and violence with Black people. I am racist because I living in and benefit from a racist system. What’s more, I’m racist because I was raised in a racist society. Racism is systemic. This must be affirmed. Racism is individual too. And this cannot be denied. I can relate to Bonhoeffer’s inner struggle. I struggle within myself everyday.

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Image via (medium.com)

I struggle against the thoughts and the feelings that arise within me, unsolicited and unwarranted, which bid me to deny the spark of God that has been implanted in every human. I struggle against the impulse to check “wallet, keys, cellphone” when approaching young Black men on the sidewalk. Especially the day after a “Security Alert” email is sent out. I struggle against the conflation of issues such poverty, drug use, and homelessness with my conception of the Black experience. I struggle.

When Bonhoeffer died, he was still struggling. And that struggle tells me that God wasn’t done with him until the day he died. I believe this because I know that I struggle, and I will continue to struggle all my life with the many and various ways that I seek to deny humanity to my siblings in Christ or my siblings in Noah. I am still human.

But, I also know that God isn’t done with me.

God isn’t done with us.

And the struggle cannot simply be internal.

God calls us to the external struggle for justice and humanity in many and varied ways. As I prepare to go on internship, I am looking to where God will be calling me to struggle externally in my new context. And leaving this place, I have regrets about the opportunities I did not take. I never went to a meeting of Seminarians for Justice, because my fear prevented me. I never marched, because my fear prevented me. I never preached, because my fear prevented me. I never took the Red Line to 95th, because me fear prevented me.

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If you are a student who has more time here – especially if you are a white student, a cisgender student, a straight student, a male student, a middle class student, natural-born U.S. citizen student, or any combination of characteristics from which you benefit from being a part of the “majority,” do not leave seminary with the same regrets that I am. Explore the ways in which God may be calling you to struggle for justice internally and externally. This is a call that you received at baptism, a call that resounds your whole life long. God is calling you to struggle for justice internally and externally while you are here, in and out of the classroom. Take advantage of answering for the now, while you are here.

And answer the call in different ways.

Try answering the calls that put you out of your comfort zone. Not everyone is called to march, or organize, and that’s okay. Not everyone is called to write and teach, and that’s okay. But everyone is called to participate. If you march and organize, do not despise those who don’t. If you teach and write, do not despise those who don’t. But in whatever you do, strive for the justice that comes with faithful witness to Christ. We are paradoxical creatures. God calls us to affirm the humanity in each other. Our own humanness gives us the capacity to see God’s own loving image in others as well as attempts to prevent us from doing so.

But God is not done with us.


1175397_10202066809055372_1572783268_nPatrick Freund is a third-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

[1]     Williams, Reggie. “Becoming Human: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theological Confrontation with White Supremacy.” Lutheran Heritage Lecture, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, April 3, 2017. All quotations are transcribed from the lecture recording, and the author takes all responsibility for any mistakes in transcription herein.

Reflections on Bonhoeffer and Politics in Our Time – Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams

ThomasLinda sittingDr. Reggie Williams is going to be a guest on my seminary campus today – sharing some of his insights into Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his interaction with white supremacy. To help get the conversation started, Dr. Williams has shared this blog post with us, helping to give a bit deeper bit of history into Bonhoeffer’s context – a reflection that has uncanny resonance in today’s political climate, even though it was originally written almost one year ago. Read, comment, and share, friends!

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


In the summer of 2015, I visited Germany for research and to speak with German Bonhoeffer scholars about my study of Bonhoeffer’s year as a post-doctoral student in New York, 1930-31. The German Bonhoeffer scholars were eager to know about Bonhoeffer’s encounter with white supremacy in America, and my time with them was inspiring. While there I learned that white supremacy remains a problem in Germany long after the fall of the Third Reich and the end of efforts by the Deutsche Christen (Nazi sympathizing German Christians), to unify the protestant church in Germany under the Führer, giving Hitler authority to enforce a pure-blood Aryan Germany by power extending from the government into the church.

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This propoganda photo depicts Hitler as a pious Christian, hat in hand as he leaves church, standing under a cross. Hitler needed Christian support in Germany for his Nazi party to gain majority power in government.

Yet broadly speaking, Germans appear to have responded differently to the history of their overtly racist Nazi government than America has to its overtly racist history of slavery and Jim Crow laws. For example, it’s unlikely that one would find streets, schools, buildings, or monuments named for Nazis, the Nazi government or its military, as one would find streets, schools, buildings and monuments to confederate soldiers, members of the KKK, and historically notable overt racists in America. Indeed, the longing in America for bygone days of greatness is nostalgia for the history of Americas overtly racist past, and sounds eerily familiar to the yearning that helped fuel the mobilization of Hitler’s regime in the wake of WWI. Joblessness, economic insecurity, and the aftermath of war were part of the soil from which the overtly racist Nazi government grew, helping to dismantle and berate the outgoing Weimar democratic government for it’s supposed immorality and failure to address the economic crisis in Germany that was actually impacting the whole world in the global Great Depression, and not Germany alone. What is most relevant for understanding the struggle that Dietrich Bonhoeffer waged in Germany was his attention to the Deutsche Christen, German Christian Nazi loyalists who were Christian conduits of hatred, and co-laborers with Hitler in efforts to secure an ideal community populated with ideal humans.

Bonhoeffer was an outspoken member of the Confessing Church Movement. To say “Confessing Church” is to say a “creedal” church, which is to say, a movement committed to the creeds of the faith. This movement stood in opposition to German Christians who sought political oneness with the Nazi government. Yet in the confessing Church movement, Bonhoeffer was more radical than his peers. It is one thing to claim devotion to the creeds and demand the traditional separation of church and state, which is what most in the Movement were doing. It is quite another to declare oneself in direct opposition to the government in general, for it’s treatment of its citizens. That is the position that Bonhoeffer found himself in, and it put him at odds with many members of the Confessing Church Movement. Bonhoeffer was politically outspoken, which was highly uncommon for a German. He was an untypically political, outspoken German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He came to recognize that the lordship of Christ over all of life to means concrete obedience to God by paying as much attention to his neighbor’s needs for justice as his own.

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In October of 1941, Nazis began deporting Jews from Berlin to the Lodz Ghetto, which was a halfway stop on the way to the concentration camps. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Fredrich Justus Perels Documented that very first deportation of Jews in a public letter, publicizing Nazi racist hostility. This photo is of the memorial site, Track 17, in Berlin. It is the train station from where Jews were deported. The deportation that Bonhoeffer publicized in that first letter is identified at the memorial as the first deportation.

Bonhoeffer was indebted to his time in Harlem, New York for developments in his theology that had him valuing social justice as a core component of the way of Jesus, leading inevitably to speaking up for his neighbor against a politically oppressive government. The way of Jesus and the person of Jesus were not separate for Bonhoeffer. Hence, seeing needs and acting on behalf of those needs just as Christ acts on our behalf describes who Jesus is as Stellvertretung, our vicarious representative before God, and the one who is for us. Stellvertretung also describes what Jesus does; Christ responds with action, to the needs of others. To claim to be a Christian and live comfortably in non-action as your neighbor is disparaged and abused is to rely on cheap grace, rather than the costly grace of discipleship.

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Bonhoeffer picked up this extensive bibliography of Harlem Renaissance literature from the Schomburg Library, at 135th and Lennox, in Harlem. IT is an extensive list of the popular works that he no doubt was reading, while he was also attending Abyssinian Baptist Church, in Harlem. He brought this bibliography back to German with him, where it remains among his papers in Berlin.

Bonhoeffer opposed Christians in Germany who were enthusiastic about Hitler’s efforts to make Germany great again by reviving the splendor of Germany’s past. In the process of reviving the past, people became scapegoats for their current problems; humans became rubbish to discard, or symbols of the nations greatness. In either case, everyone’s humanity was distorted by the dream of the ideal community. Bonhoeffer argued that because Christ is the vicarious representative for all humanity, in every social encounter we have, we interact with Christ. Other persons are not objects that can be discarded, nor are they symbols for boasting; human interaction represents the site of our concrete obedience to Christ.

Race logic trains the racist to see humanity in the ideal only, and others as objects of derision. That is the history of whiteness, and the creation of race. The superior race is the template of ideal humanity. Christians who espouse racism despise Christ in concrete encounter with others.

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This photo taken in the memorial at the Floessenburg Concentration Camp, depicts the signage worn by prisoners in the camp, indicating their crime. It is an indication of the various offenses that would cause one to be incarcerated by the Nazis: Political prison, career criminal, emigrants (foreign forced laborers), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals (sexual minorities), and asocial (this black triangle included Roma, Pacifists, mentally ill, vagrants, anarchists, etc…). Bonhoeffer spent one night in this camp. He was murdered in the morning.

That was the danger that Bonhoeffer saw in the Nazi worldview that made it’s way into the church in Germany. Within weeks of his return from New York in the summer of 1931, Bonhoeffer penned a catechism with his Jewish friend, Franz Hildebrandt, for the training of young Lutherans in the faith. Together with Hildebrandt Bonhoeffer borrowed from the worldview he was immersed in, in Harlem, to describe Christian social responsibility. Bonhoeffer claimed that “ethnic pride” is sin against the Holy Spirit, and argued, “as much as the Christian would like to remain distant from political struggle, nonetheless, even he re the commandment of love urges the Christian to stand up for his neighbor.” The concept of the ideal person and ideal community is courier of the “ethnic pride” inside of the concept of the Aryan. In Germany ethnic pride included the language of “blood and soil,” the loyalty to Volk, and the Nazi concept of the Aryan, or Herrenrasse, master race. In America the concept of the Aryan was simply the understanding of humanity that accompanied white people, only. Ethnic pride, or white supremacy, keeps Christians from being able to love their real neighbor, which is to say, from loving Christ who is vicarious representative. Bonhoeffer saw racism as a singular problem for Christians. Indeed, Bonhoeffer described ethnic pride as an unpardonable sin because it is concrete opposition to the presence and work of God in the world, in Christ.

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Remains of the special barracks at Floessenburg concentration camp where Bonhoeffer spent his final night.

In our current political climate we’ve faced a similar employment shortages, financial insecurity, and war, in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the great depression. Acerbic rhetoric about racial, national, and religious others heightens loyalties to the slogan “make America great again” and fuels practices of dehumanization, turning real human beings into scapegoats of American white supremacy. In this climate we find many Christians energized by the rhetoric and endorsing the politics that it supports. One might say that the effort to “make America great again” has them giving their devotion to a god who resembles the embodied symbol of that national greatness, idealized white humanity, in pursuit of the ideal community, rather than practice concrete service to God by loving their real neighbor. In this climate, following Christ is not popular. Indeed it has never been popular. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually willing to pay the cost of discipleship.


reggiewilliams-cropThe Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams 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. He is a member of the board of directors for the Society for Christian Ethics, as well as the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society. Dr. Williams is also a member of the American Academy of Religion and Society for the Study of Black Religion. 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. Williams’ book 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 exposure to Harlem Renaissance intellectuals, 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. Reggie lives in Flossmoor, Illinois with his wife Stacy. They are the proud parents of a son, Darion, and a daughter, Simone.

One Week After the Women’s March: A White Mother’s Take on Next Steps for White Christians – Prof. Aana Marie Vigen, Loyola University – Chicago

Picture 002So much has happened in the last week it has been hard for We Talk. We Listen. to catch its breath, let alone find its bearings. Trump’s inauguration was followed by the Global Women’s Marches, which was then followed-up by Trump signing a flurry of executive orders that affected everything from women’s health services, health care, immigrants and refugees – not to mention his constant spats with the media.  Prof. Anna Marie Vigen’s contribution for this week, however, ties much of this together – reflecting on much of what has happened in the last 10 days as well as how Christians – especially white Chritians – might respond.

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


Step One: Take Stock of a Powerful Day

Memory is powerful; it can fuel imagination. So, let me begin by recollecting our Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. My family of three headed to downtown Chicago to join, what we hoped, would be a gathering of 50,000. My nine-year old son chatted happily with friends on the “L”. The excitement exponentially built as marchers filled the car – and every car—to the point of sardines.

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Leading up to the Women’s March, I worried: Would too few show up? Would there be paltry news coverage? Would no one notice? However, my biggest fear was this: Would only white women show up and for only a narrow set of issues? Too often, this shoe has fit our foot. Such tunnel vision played a significant role in giving this unqualified man the election as 54% of white women voted for Trump along with large majorities of white Christians (58% of white Protestants, 60% of white Catholics & 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him).

The night before the march, I struggled with what to write on my sign. I wanted to be clear that I was not marching for white women or reproductive rights alone. I wanted my sign to send the message that white folk especially must see the connections and become allies for others even more at immediate risk.  I ended writing: “I March for: Black and Brown Lives; for the Planet; for My Child and YOURS!”

My concerns about size and media evaporated as soon as my face was met by the light of the morning. Our plans to meet others from our church and son’s school were impossible to realize.  We happily bobbed along in the middle of a rippling sea of people expressing both hope and conviction, numbering 250,000 or more. The spirit was ebullient—propelled by big smiles, camaraderie, laughter, singing, clever signs, and hundreds of babies and children whose mere presence was enough to showed us plainly why we had come and why it mattered.

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Indeed, what most amazed me was the vast constellation of people: youth, elders, students, parents, immigrants, pastors, teachers, healthcare professionals, scientists, etc.—of every color, gender, culture, religion, and sexual identity. Together, for a few shining hours of brilliant blue sky and balmy 60 degrees, we embodied the UNITED States of America. And we did this not only in Chicago, but across the country and even the globe. On this dazzling day, We the People showed up. We showed up to speak out for human rights, for black and brown lives, for healthcare, for immigrants, for reproductive justice, for equality, for the planet, for our children. And the world noticed. And, apparently, so did this new president.

It has been a head-spinning, wretched week of executive orders and bald lies. Each action has taken aim at hard-fought successes of the Obama administration. The targets, to date, include: women overseas in need of reproductive information and medical care; the 20 million Americans newly insured by Obamacare, including that of coal miners and other workers with no employer-based healthcare options; the independent reporting of proven, credible science; Obama’s efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and pipelines; the well-being and rights of Native peoples; new immigrants and refugees and the cities who have pledged to offer them sanctuary.

What are Christians, especially white Christians, to do?

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Step Two: Call Out Idolatry

White theologian Stanley Hauerwas named publically what many felt in our bones with each new pronouncement: This administration embodies a powerful, idolatrous faith.

With lightening speed and a shocking disregard for democratic principles and processes, it is feverishly erecting golden shrines to false idols that glorify: unchecked ego and concentrated power; the fear of strangers (whether Muslim or Mexican); a twisted (white) nationalism packaged as patriotism; unlimited corporate profits and gushing fossil fuels (over science and prudence). And this faith is reinforced by a glaringly-white inner circle of advisors and spinners of “alternate facts”.

My language is strong because Christianity has had a prophetic obligation and identity since Jesus started turning over tables and calling out the unjust treatment of women, slaves, gentiles, foreigners… Jesus was a refugee, prophet, and messiah. We are called to be his disciples. A German, Lutheran pastor and pacifist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer bore witness to the idolatry in Nazi fascism. His legacy reminds us that we need to be very clear about the faith and leaders to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Step 3: Become Authentic Allies & Take Concrete Action

As many on social media have proclaimed since last Saturday: “Marches are not Movements”.  There is much more, urgent work to do.

In recent weeks, prominent white theologians such as Jim Wallis, Jennifer Harvey, Christian Scharen, Todd Whitmore and Diana Butler Bass, among others, have put a sharp point on how the complacency and flawed assumptions white Christians have put the lives of black and brown people at great risk.

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We need to confess this failure. Starting now, we need to start grasping the complex intersections of injustice (race, socio-economic class, religion, geography, sex/gender). As just one example: It is black and brown women and children—in the U.S. and around the world— who are, and will, suffer the most immediate and worst effects of climate change. In Alaska and Louisiana, their families are losing land to encroaching seas. In Syria, China, and in the U.S., they are losing crops to drought. Women and children are among those most vulnerable to hunger and infectious diseases carried by polluted water and viruses carried by mosquitoes. Climate change is, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, the largest public health crisis of the 21st century. Women and children are the ones who are already disproportionately losing homes, opportunities for education, and livelihoods due to the disappearance of schools, farming, trades along with increasing civil strife and unstable governments and economies.

In short, those of us with religious, racial, socio-economic, and geographic assets need to become trustworthy and visible allies to those more vulnerable. And we need to do this both out of a moral duty, but also for the sake of our common future.  Indeed, how we act now will determine what kind of prospects any of us may have—in terms of pursuing any semblance of liberty, happiness, or life.

For our march, my nine-year old wrote on his sign: “I March for My Future.” Let’s join him. I will continue to act for the sake your children—Christian or Muslim; from a family of new or long-ago immigrants; affluent or impoverished; rural or urban black, brown, white. I ask you to act with my son’s future in mind. All of our children need to know we have their backs.

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At the Women’s March in DC.

We owe it to them. Now is the time to be prophetic together.

 


imgres.jpgAana Marie Vigen is an Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Vigen earned a BA in Spanish, Religion, and Hispanic Studies from St. Olaf College, an MA in Theology and Ethics jointly conferred by the Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Social and Theological Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is a member of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Dr. Vigen is also an active lay member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and served on the national ELCA Genetics Taskforce from 2008–2011. She offers courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

I Long for the Dream that is America – Deacon Inez Torres Davis

Linda Thomas at CTS eventContinuing our series of Hispanic Heritage month, Deacon Inez Torres Davis – from the Women of the ELCA – gives us a candid reflection on the exhilaration and disappointment of working to dismantle systems of white supremacy in the church and broader society. Both lyrical and terse, her words are a fantastic point of departure for any discussion on race, patriotism, and justice. Read, comment, and share, friends. Keep the conversation going!

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


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

I am a patriot.

I love this land, this nation—I long for the dream that is America.

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Time cover from July 8, 1987, depicting “We The People,” commissioned to celebrate the bicentennial of the US Constitution.

I come from a military family. My uncles and my brothers served in one or another branch of the military. From WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom, family members have offered their lives and bear the scars of military combat. When the National Anthem plays, my eyes tear and my chest swells.

Twice when I have shared this in training retreats White women told me how my statement helped them, brought them joy. Or, was it a sense of relief? I do not know; their perspective is not mine to explore. But I asked each woman to explore the why of her joy.

Why does hearing me say that I am a patriot provide another joy?

What mechanization of internalized white privilege lies beneath such?

Can’t I love America in all of her imperfections? Is the ability to inventory our nation’s shortcomings and then live a life in pursuit of making things better more the road-map of a patriot than to blindly assent to power and refuse any idea that things need to be fixed, or returned to some illusion of the past?

Do we require the sleight of hand that buries what is true about America in order to love her?  Not only is it possible to love the incomplete; it is an imperative of the gospel for what makes another an “enemy” if not our ability to see their lack, their failure?

But, the chickens are coming home …

Smart phones have brought into the homes of America the racial profiling and targeting of people of color. Social media provides the average person access to alternative press news. Groups like Daily Kos, MoveOn, NowThis, Color of Change, Colorlines, The Root, and the like get out the stories that the corporate media do not cover or would not otherwise cover.

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his sitting protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States.

 

Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem because he refuses to “stand to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” His refusal to stand was his protest against the police brutality visited upon his community. In response to his patriotic action, all kinds of baloney came out the conservative meat factory.

World Cup and Gold Medal winning soccer player Megan Rapinoe was the first white and the first woman to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. She did it to show solidarity with Kaepernick.  Then members of the West Virginia Tech Women’s Volleyball team kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem.

Opening day in the NFL had Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters raise a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. The protest was amplified later Sunday when four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts as “The Star Spangled Banner” played in Seattle. The movement is spreading.

I am a patriot.

I long for the dream that is America.  

And, there are chickens coming home to roost.

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“Happi” American Horse gestures to supporters after locking himself to equipment in protest of the pipeline – August 31, 2016.

The Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by other tribes in their protest of the construction of the North Dakota Pipe Line that risks the water they drink as well as desecrate their holy land. The federal government’s temporary hold on the development of the North Dakota pipeline has only slightly shaken the world of entitlement and privilege. The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners had the military capabilities of this nation at their beck-and-call; the protesters have only moral authority. Most recently the possible use of drones has been added to the police force’s ability to “protect and serve” the rights of the corporation. The same is reflected by the state of North Dakota vs. Amy Goodman in which state power seeks to punish Democracy Now! for its video reporting of attack dogs being used on peaceful protestors on September 3.

Power refuses to release its privilege. It is that simple.

I don’t care how complicated people want to make it.

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Extreme right wing activism has provided a candidate that the GOP struggles to handle, to make palatable. At the same time, the corporate media confuses providing fair coverage with making false equivalencies. And the nation teeters.

In my research the idea of curses being like birds who return to their place of origin (nest) is said to have first been offered in 1390 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in The Parson’s Tale: “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfuly retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a byrd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.” It speaks to the unwelcome dividends (the karma) of our wrong actions.

Jesus said it this way:

You reap what you sow.

My further research revealed how the 19th century when Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810), said, “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.”

Now, I realize I have the privilege of a quarter of a century of study in the racial history of this nation. It is this exposure to hidden as well as the collective racial truths of America that provides my perspective. When I say that the chickens are coming home to roost, I am speaking of how the racial injustices that have been practiced and continue to be practiced in this nation is delivering to us a tidal wave of issues and challenges that simply will not fly away or be hid from.

When Malcolm X referred to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the “chickens coming home to roost”, what happened to him is what often happens to those who speak truth to power, his words were twisted. But, if we listen to Malcolm X, he spoke deep truth.

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Further, when given the opportunity to speak about progress toward racial justice, Malcolm X clearly stated he was unable to say there was progress being made because “if you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and you pull it out 6 inches, there is no progress. You pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And, they haven’t begun to pull the knife out.”

And here we are. We can count chickens. The evils of our society ruffle in their roost. There are many faces of oppression but there is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is full-winged. Racism.  Sexism. Heterosexism. Classism. Age-ism. Able-ism. I list these few coming home to roost.

We must tend to the chickens.

It is the patriotic thing to do.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)


Resources:

A controversial commercial from Coca-Cola featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages.

#WeAre America ft. John Cena – “Love Has No Labels” | by the Ad Council


 

inez.jpgInez Torres Davis is an Indigenous Latina working within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Women of the ELCA’s core racial justice/anti-racism trainer – having worked in this capacity since January of 1997. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, as well as a Reiki master and creator of sacred spaces.

 

 

 

 

A Conflicted Confession – by Crystal Solie, (M.Div. 2012)

Picture 002For the first few posts of August, “We Talk. We Listen.” will be focusing on white privilege and the thoughts and struggles that our authors have had with it. Our first post, by LSTC alumus Crystal Solie (2012), focuses on her personal revelations – some not so pleasant – in the wake of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub; and how reflecting on the hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” (ELW #346) lead her to a painfully healing understanding of how she, as a white, cisgender gay woman, could respond to the tragedy. 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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Conflict has been a friend of mine for some time now.

Feelings of attraction to women conflicting with what the world tells me is normal. Tense relationships within my family nearly severed by disclosing my sexual orientation. Fear and anger driving me away from the Church colliding with the deep desire to embrace the worship, community, and faith written on my heart in my childhood. Rage incited by slurs hurled at me from cars at odds with the question if it’s safer to engage, ignore, or forgive.

I have had to deal with conflict constantly since I made the decision to publicly identify as a gay woman. That is to say I have had to walk with it and anticipate it every day. But I have also allowed it to inform the foundation of my faith and remind me that nothing is going to shake God’s grasp on me; that I am redeemed and justified before God; that the darkness will not overcome the light.

Then Orlando happened.

The first wave that hit me was pain and fear. It didn’t go unnoticed by my four year old daughter who took a moment too look up from her cartoons Sunday morning to me and ask, “Mama, are you ok?”

No, I wasn’t.

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I am gay. This could have happened to me and my friends. My wife and I had tickets to a concert that night and contemplated not going. No show was worth the risk of leaving our children orphaned. That was how deep the fear went, down to the darkness where we realized there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves or our kids from anything like this. We ended up going out Sunday night and it was absolutely what we needed. We laughed and we cried. We sang and we danced.

As the week went on, more information was released about the victims. As I read the names of the victims and viewed their images, a second wave hit me, one of guilt and despair. This was when I got uncomfortable, when I started experiencing an internal conflict that I have yet to reconcile.

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Pulse Nightclub during happier days.

I am white. This would not have happened to me or my friends. I probably wouldn’t have been at Latin Night at Pulse or any other club. I can say it’s because I prefer karaoke or because I have two left feet. Regardless of the fact that I live two hours away, I was not there and probably wouldn’t have been. I do not have many Latinx friends. I have not shared in their joys or struggles. I have not attempted to learn their songs or their dances.

In this surmounting conflict within my heart, where my pain and fear are at odds with my guilt and despair, I picked up my hymnal to meditate on “Ah, Holy Jesus”:

 

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone the.

‘Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #346]

Now a third wave has enveloped me, a seismic rage rippling through me and the world I thought I knew. A new conflict that is tearing me wide open and making me reexamine my identity.

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Trans Latinx Activists march in New York, City.

How can I sing “I crucified thee,” admitting my participation in the very sin that killed our Savior hundreds of years ago, and not accept responsibility for the deaths of people of color in this country? I crucified Emmett Till. I crucified James Byrd Jr. I crucified Trayvon Martin. I crucified the Emanuel nine. I crucified the forty-nine at Pulse.

On Sunday June 12th, I was a victim. By Saturday June 18th, I was a perpetrator. I still go back and forth between these roles, Law and Gospel charting a course through this tragedy, leading me to a confession that is long overdue.

The flames of this conflict in my heart are further fanned by the deep desire to feel the connection to a faith community that sees what is happening in our world and is fighting it. But when I look to our leaders and listen to the words being spoken, there is something missing. Where are the LGBTQIA voices? Where are the Latinx voices? We lift them up in prayer, but we fail to engage, to ask, to listen. As a gay woman, I expect more of my Church. As a white cis-gender person, I expect more of myself.

I am a sinner. I like to think that I sit at the farthest reaches of the margins, that I am a victim. In some ways I am, but in many ways I am not. I have failed to use my privilege to help those further ostracized by the Church and the World. I have failed to acknowledge that privilege. I have failed to reach out beyond what I know. I have allowed fear to prevent my growth, to keep me in those places where I am comfortable, to avoid unnecessary conflict.

 

This is sin.

This is the sin that ensnares us so subtly that causes us to hide behind excuses like “we are just keeping ourselves safe” or “it’s not my fault there aren’t any [enter any marginalized population] living in my neighborhood or going to my church.” Was this shooting incited by racism? Doesn’t seem to be, however there are absolutely racial implications that led black and brown bodies to congregate in that sanctuary that night and not (as many) white ones.

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As much as I am praying for comfort for the victims of the shooting and their families and myself, I know that prayer is a woefully inadequate repose. I must change. I must sin boldly and trust in my promised salvation. I must find a new way – a way of continual repentance and renewal. I must find a way through this conflict, a way of asking, searching, and knocking.


Sollie family pic.jpgCrystal Solie (pictured left, holding her oldest daughter Georgia next to her wife Lindsay Cofield-Solie and youngest daughter Eliza) is an alumni of the Lutheran School of Thology at Chicago (MDiv 2012) living in Jacksonville, FL with her wife and two daughters who enjoy weekend trips to the beach and raising butterflies. In addition to her calling as a wife and mother, Crystal serves the LGBTQIA community as a storyteller and director for the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community inspired, community created, and community led production promoting social change through storytelling.

White Mother – by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Ph.D.

ThomasLindaThough it is impossible for white allies to completely relate to the suffering and fear of people of color, this does not mean that white people should not at least try to understand – on a personal level – what it means to be a person of color. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda does so here, and with great power. A white mother struggling to understand what it means to be the womb and cradle for black children in our society, she reflects good and long on what it means to truly live and work against the white supremacy that saturates our society, and the full implications that it has in the lives of all white people, as well as people of color. 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.”


I have felt a visceral sense of terror, a tightening in my guts, when I imagine how  I would feel if my two precious sons were Black and, therefore, in danger of their lives every day and night at the hands of police violence and other manifestations of institutionalized white supremacy.  

Wondering whether they would be shot for “walking while Black” down a street in  a white neighborhood, stopped for “driving while Black” and then shot while reaching for the car registration. Would some officer plant drugs on them in order to make a needed drug arrest?  How would I feel at night if they were ten minutes late and had not yet called?  What would be my fury and unbearable grief if one of them had been thrown into jail, accused of a crime that he did not commit, and I was powerless to get him out? What kind of treatment would a young Black man get while there? How would it damage his heart and soul?  What would it do to his belief in life’s goodness?  How could I survive knowing what was being done to him in a privately owned prison transport van if they moved him to another place, still in custody for something he had not done?

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I imagine teaching my sons all of the things that Black mothers teach their sons day in and day out – keep your hands at 2:00 and 10:00 on the steering wheel when they stop you for driving while Black.  Keep your driver’s license out of your pocket and your insurance card and car registration out of the glove compartment so that you don’t need to reach into your pocket or glove compartment when they stop you. Don’t question; comply.  Never walk together with more than one other young Black man if you are wearing jeans; they will suspect a Black threesome.  The litany goes on and on, as it has for centuries – Black mothers teaching their sons survival skills in a racist society.

Once many years ago, I was taking my sons to a demonstration. I think it was against the war in Iraq. One of them – then a little boy – was worried about his safety, but felt safer when he learned that the  police would be escorting the demonstration. I realized with a jolt that he would never have been able to say or feel that had he been Black.  What would I do if my little grandson were Black and, when he was 10 or 12, wanted to play with a toy gun in a park with friends who were white? How could I tell him that he could not join in that play? How would I talk to the white mothers asking them to prohibit gun play when my son was with them, because white people who saw him with a gun might call the police who might shoot him?

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I cannot fathom the pain of knowing my sons were being tormented in their young manhood by people who were likely to see them – even if on a subtle level or completely unconsciously – as demonic or dangerous or closer to an ape because they are Black. How would I feel when my white friends said things like: “But I don’t notice race” or “I see your son as just like all of the other boys” (that is, the white boys), knowing what these seemingly innocent words mean? The words would mean that white mothers did not get it that my sons’ lives were in danger, that my sons had to read the signs of danger when they walked into any situation and had to be aware of how police or shopkeepers were watching them,  that my sons – gentle and  good as they were – were less likely to survive because of what society does to Black  people.

But I am a white mother of white sons. Therefore, I have the option to ignore what it would mean to be the mother of black children in this country.  I could choose to not pay attention, to deny reality, to indulge white privilege.maxresdefault.jpg

I also am a theologian and have been thinking, writing, and speaking for some years about Jesus’ call to “love neighbor as self” (Matt. 22:37) or “to love as God loves” (John 13:34). Love as a biblical and theological norm is nothing like love in a Hallmark card. It is a steadfast commitment to serve the well-being of neighbor and that includes resisting systems of injustice (structural sin) where they damage neighbor.  Here is the discomfiting truth: my “neighbor” in the biblical sense includes all people whom my life touches. In a white supremacist society such as ours, white privilege and other manifestations of white racism touch all people, damage all people; in biblical terms, we are all neighbors.

What does it mean for a white person in a white racist society to heed Jesus’ call to love neighbor? 

That is the question. In all honesty, I would much rather flee from it.  Often I do; but not always. Here, I call upon all white people to raise the question and not hide from it under the comforting cloak of privatized morality. Privatized morality allows us to be good to the people with whom we interact personally while avoiding the profound impact that our lives have on others through the tendrils of systemic racism that form white psyches and shape the institutions that determine life chances – institutions of education, criminal (in)justice and law, health care, housing, electoral politics, and so much more.

For white people to “love neighbor as self” includes an on-going commitment to see beyond the blinders of white privilege. This means listening to and honoring Black articulations of reality, and grappling with what it really means to have been shaped as a white person in a white supremacist society. And surely loving neighbor includes figuring out how – collectively and individually – to repent of institutionalized racism, resist it, and be a part of dismantling its structures developed for five centuries on this continent. That will include promoting public and institutional policies that seek to repair the damage done.

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“Love they neighbor as thyself… means listening to Black articulations of reality, and grappling with what it really means to have been shaped as white person in a white supremacist society.”

God does not call people where God does not empower us to go. Therefore, along with the call to “love neighbor as self” comes empowerment for “doing” that love. In the tradition in which I live, progressive Christianity, that is the work of what we call the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit of the sacred Source known by many as “God”). Said differently, while we white people will make mountains of uncomfortable errors along the way as we seek actively to renounce the sin of racism, the Spirit of God accompanies us and  we join a marvelous band of justice-seeking people that spans the  centuries.

Resources:

Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda http://resistingstructuralevil.com/

Dear White Christians by Jennifer Harvey  – http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/7207/dear-white-christians.aspx


moe-lobeda headshot .jpgDr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, an ELCA Lutheran, has lectured or consulted in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and many parts of North America in theology; ethics; and matters of climate justice and climate racism, moral agency, economic justice, public church (and whose “Public Church” commencement speech at LSTC in 2013 directly influenced that seminary’s current public church curriculum), and eco-feminist theology. Her most recent book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Fortress, 2013), won the Nautilus Award for social justice. She is author or co-author of four other volumes and numerous articles and chapters. Moe-Lobeda is Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She holds a doctoral degree in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

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For special information and materials for her most recent book visit: http://resistingstructuralevil.com/

White Privilege – the Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

 

Picture 002Bishop Ray Tiemann, from the ELCA’s Southwestern Texas Synod, provides a concise, practical response to discussions on race at my home seminary – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – as well as the church as a whole in the US. Taken from a speech he wrote in response to an article written by the Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr,  (from the book On Secular Governance: Lutheran Perspectives on Contemporary Legal Issues) and presented before the LSTC Board of Directors, Tiemann makes a direct connection between the all-too-easily forgotten history of Jim Crow and the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Grey, and the victims of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC. He then gives personal testimony of what he does, as a “White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant” to mitigate his own privilege as best he can – inviting others to do the same.  Please read, comment, and share. Let’s keep this conversation going!

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


Brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we planned this event I was asked to speak about a part of the subject of racism that particularly intersects with me as a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant.  I want to talk about white privilege.

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“White privilege” is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people (in Western countries like the United States) beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.  It has been a challenging process for me and one that I have only started.  I’m certainly not an expert on the complexity of white privilege, but one thing I have learned is that white privilege and racial discrimination are opposite sides of the same coin.  One does not exist without the other.  So, as much as I may be tempted to deny it exists, both white privilege and racial discrimination are a part of my life and yours as well.

One glaring example that comes to mind is in our home state of Texas. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 – in a single stroke it changed the federal legal status of more than three million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free” – since Texas was not a battleground state, its slaves were not affected unless they escaped.  Finally, on June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government and on June 19 declared the total emancipation of slaves in Texas.  So, three years, five months, and 18 days after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves became free in Texas.

This day, June 19, is even celebrated as a state holiday in Texas – though recognized nationally as well – called “Juneteenth.”

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Newspaper with Major-General Granger’s announcement.

Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537) is another horrific example of this. This United States Supreme Court decision (in effect between 1896 and 1954) upheld the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities – enshrining the doctrine of “separate but equal” and inspiring the proliferation of countless segregation laws known collectively as “Jim Crow.”

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However, though “separate” was always there, “equal” wasn’t.  For example:

  • Farm workers and maids, who made up 60-75% of the work force in the South, couldn’t join unions, get minimum wage, have regulated hours of work, or get Social Security until 1950.
  • Health services were unequal, so that in the 1940s, statistics show that access to doctors in Mississippi was 1/1,800 whites, 1/18,000 for African Americans.
  • Metropolitan Life Insurance Company noted death rates 203 times higher for African Americans for the flu, TB, and pneumonia and life expectancy was on average 10 years less.
  • In 1940, the cost of the value of education in schools was $162 per white student and $34 per African American student, with only 3% of white schoolchildren who worked, compared to 16% of African Americans.
  • Any relief payments were not equal. Local authorities kept payments artificially low for African Americans so as not to undercut the labor market’s low wages.  “By decentralizing authority and fragmenting decision-making, national policies (of the New Deal) could be administered to suit white Southern preferences.” *

I believe we continue to struggle with that challenge even today, more than sixty years after Brown v. The Kansas Board of Education did away with “separate but equal.”  All we need do is consider how racial tensions continue to exist as evidenced by the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or Michael Brown’s death in St. Louis, or the shooting deaths by Dylan Roof in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. 

So what can we do, since most of us here are like me, White Anglo Saxon Protestants?  If the goal is to open doors for conversation across races, I need to be aware of the barriers that come unbidden as part of my white privilege.  So, how will I do that?

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(photo credit waywuwei)

 

First, I need to deal with the guilt I feel, knowing that the history is true and is a part of my history and my being.  In one sense, it is not about my trying to live a life that seeks to not be prejudiced.  It is, however, a realization that I am part of a system that gives me advantage because of the color of my skin.  For example, when I was in Washington DC a week ago as part of the ELCA’s Advocacy Days, we visited some offices in the House of Representatives.  I was with two Latina women who had personal stories to tell about why it is important to end detention of immigrant children.  They told their stories, but the staff person kept turning to me for comments.  I couldn’t believe he felt my words would have more weight than theirs, but then I was male and white.

Second, I have a personal desire to be kept comfortable.  I don’t like having these hard conversations or face these hard realities.  I will avoid this conversation if I can, I will change the subject, I will make excuses, and I will deny it’s true.  I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7(19), “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  It’s a constant struggle.

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Third, when I am working with people of color, I have to get over feeling that “I know what you need, that my experience is the standard by which everything else is measured.”  We have a tendency to do that when we go on mission trips, not asking what the needs of our neighbors are, but assuming we know and taking with us things that don’t help.

Finally, I have to stop being afraid and remaining silent.  In wanting to avoid conflict, too often I don’t speak up when God gives me the opportunity.  This sin of omission can be as great as a sin of commission, because when I don’t speak up, others assume I am agreeing with them.  So, the nasty, loud voices continue unchecked.

As I said earlier, learning to address my white privilege is a life-long process.  What I keep in mind to help me are those Scripture verses which remind me that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3 (27-28):  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Thank you for letting me share.


Resources

*Historical details from the book, “When Affirmative Action was White,” by Ira Katzelson.

An open letter from African American Presidents and Deans in Theological Education.  A full list of the authors is at the bottom of the letter.

A response given by the Presidents and Deans of the ELCA seminaries. A full list of the authors is at the bottom of the letter.


DSC_3292536x800.jpgThe Rev. Dr. Ray Tiemann was called to serve as the fourth bishop of the Southwestern Texas Synod  in 2000 and was re-elected in May, 2006 for a second six-year term and was re-elected in May 2012 for a third six-year term. Prior to his election as bishop, Tiemann served as co-pastor at Holy Ghost Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg, Texas, since 1985. He was pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church of Cameron, Texas, from 1979 to 1985. Currently a member of the LSTC Board of Directors, Bishop Tiemann also previously served as chair of the Southwestern Texas Synod’s Commission for Professional Leadership, twice as Dean of the Hill Country Conference, and as chair of the planning committees for several synod assemblies and other synodical events. Tiemann received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas Lutheran College in 1975, a Master of Divinity degree from Wartburg Theological Seminary in 1979, and a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 1995. His thesis centered on the relationship between the children’s sermon and the general sermon for the day as a way to reach a broader segment of the congregation with the message of the Gospel. He and his wife, Debbie, reside in Fredericksburg. They have two children, Daniel and Rebecca.