As we approach Lent, M.Div. student at LSTC – Karl Anliker – has a powerful reflection/confession to share with our readers. Grounded in a personal story of his theological development, Anliker shares a vulnerable and passionate self-critique, as well as the steps by which he came to his conclusions. And as the church gets ready for a 6 week season of repentance, Anliker’s thoughts will make good company. 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.”
I was recently working on a project for a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). The project involved depicting a group of highly intersectional people as saints using traditional Eurocentric Mosaic depictions of saints. Samples below.
I entitled the project For All the Saints in the hopes that my faith tradition would be able to see these beautiful people as saints, beloved by God. Furthermore, I hoped I could awaken the hearts and minds of folks who share my European Lutheran heritage to a new imagining of saints.
During this #BlackHistoryMonth in the rhythm of the repentance and renewal, I discovered a story I would like to share. The story has functioned as an eye opening, soul stimulating piece of reflection as well as a corrective for the prevailing narratives of my own white, cis, hetero, able, male world.
Matthew Shepard is pictured in the image above. All of the people incorporated in the For All the Saints project were killed by acts of violence, fear, and hate. His murder played a pivotal role in awakening white communities, in particular, to the evils of homophobia. I learned his story in school and the horrors he experienced.
Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009. A quick google search reveals that this act is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
However, that is not the full name of the legislation.
The full name of the legislation is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
James Byrd Jr.?
Who was he and why did I not know his name?
Why did the legislation not commonly include his name?
James Byrd Jr. was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. He was lynched by being drug behind a vehicle for miles. The three men, whom court proceedings revealed had deep connections to white supremacist groups, offered him a ride and he, weary from work and without his own transportation, accepted the invitation.
Erasing James Byrd Jr. and his family who advocated for the legislation only furthers the atrocities committed.
The For All the Saints project was sure to honor both men and their loss of life, seeking to honor their personhood and not engage in the details of their horrific death.
James Byrd Jr.
This is his name.
This is his face.
Now and forever a Saint.
Hate Crimes prevention must begin and end honoring him and his family. I have to sit with his picture and the words from his family.
Byrd’s sister Betty said, “He (President Obama) had told him that one day my name is going to be all over the world and if he was here today I would say James Junior, we called him son, your name is all over the world.”
Knowing that the loss his family faced is unimaginable, I cannot help but remain committed to what James Byrd Jr.’s sister proclaimed. His name must be known all over the world. In my church. In my family.
LSTC is in the midst of a curriculum focused on “public church.” Although I continue to explore what this might mean for my own exploration of call, I have to tell a different story. I have to disrupt the corruption of the white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchy by finding the story that is not told, or is not received.
My role in public church is amplification and correction with a constant awareness that my own voice will dominate and must be minimized.
Public Church is being, standing, listening.
My call must include exploring how our images and depictions of the saints and icons in worship is not inclusive. I must engage with the story of James Byrd Jr. alongside the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear where I have failed to recognize my neighbor.
I must be careful to not overemphasize or erase the tragedy of theft and destruction women into the story of the African diaspora. I must honor beauty, rich cultural heritage and black excellence. Holding tragedy and beauty together.
I must be ready to hear that I have messed up.
Knowing that the narrative illuminated by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas in Stand Your Ground is my own. When I’m corrected or challenged I stand my ground. I refuse to acknowledge my own participation in systems of death dealing evil. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas speaks of how the Trump presidency is standing its ground and attempting to erase the reality of the Obama presidency. I know that in my heart I also stand my ground erasing people of color from places and spaces.
“But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed in prisons and ghettos.”
Knowing my complicity in creating the deathbed for us all, I find myself approaching Ash Wednesday. Acknowledging mortality and the reality of death. I find myself in need of repentance, conversion and the kind of transformation only God can bring to my heart and community to bring about a world where he is known all over the world. James Byrd Jr., in life and death, a saint.
 Coates, Ta-Nehisi Between the World and Me, 151.
Karl Anliker (he/him/his) is a second-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.