Chaos and Living Waters – Liz Christensen Kocher; Candidate for Ordination, ELCA

Picture 002The Holy Spirit is moving mightily among us these days – not-so-subtly exposing the systemic evil that plagues this country in everything from our criminal justice system to our electoral politics. It is no wonder than, the dignity of our nations indigenous people’s would eventually come to the fore as well.  In response, M.Div. senior Liz Christensen Kocher has written a brief reflection on her time visiting the Standing Rock Sioux last week, effectively modeling the passionate, compassionate, and fearless leadership which church-leaders must provide in times such as these. 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 beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep. A wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1.1-2)

Then the Spirit showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22. 1-2)

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The banner of the delegation of ELCA seminarians.

In his essay, “Out of Chaos,” Native theologian Vine Deloria Jr. narrates the ways that indigenous peoples have been living in exile since their first contact with colonialism. This exile exists when peoples with intimate, divine ties to land and place are systematically removed from those lands and stripped of that spiritual identity. What we are witnessing at Standing Rock is a return from exile, the beginnings of the realization of Deloria’s hope that…

“out of the chaos of their shattered lives…Indians would begin to probe deeper into their own past and view their remembered history as a primordial covenant.”[1]

Out of chaos comes this kairos moment at Standing Rock: this season of time when God’s liberating actions are breaking through the injustices of the world and breathing life and hope into God’s people in this time and space.

So when Episcopal priest and long-time advocate for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Father John Floberg, relayed a call from Standing Rock Sioux elders to summon clergy of all denominations and faiths to join together for a public witness, myself and 10 other members of LSTC followed. And during this kairos moment we engaged in peaceful, prayerful, non-violent, and lawful witness to the compassion that the water protectors and Standing Rock Sioux were actively demonstrating in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Huddled together on bleachers in a community gym in the town of Cannon Ball, ND, our journey in this witness together began. We clarified that our purpose there was not to ‘save’ the people at Standing Rock or to fight their battles, but to be advocates and allies, to be a voice affirming the protests and the actions. We dwelt in the chaos, complication, and uncertainty of the situation. We lamented the places where brokenness was still deep, places as yet unhealed. We embraced anger. We prayed for the law enforcement, knowing that the Creator binds us all together as one body.

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Gathering during the morning of Thursday, November 3, 2016.

And then on the chilly morning of Thursday, November 2, 2016, 524 clergy – representing more than 24 faith traditions – stood in front of the Standing Rock Sioux elders, while hundreds from the camp looked on.

We began by publically repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, a church-created document that negated the humanity of indigenous peoples and allowed for colonial expansion on this very land. Fr. Floberg proclaimed that we could not authentically advocate for the Standing Rock Sioux and all native peoples without first repenting the evil of the doctrine. “They are protecting a pipeline that was put in place because of a church doctrine. And we are here to say that we were wrong.”

With songs of “Amen,” with blessings of a sage smudging, and with the testimonies of Elders and protectors, we began. And when it was our turn to move forward in the march, we heard others saying to us, “I love you. We love you.” Through tears, an indigenous woman at the camp proclaimed these words to both the clergy gathered and the water protectors, elders, and campers at Sacred Stone camp, alike. We gathered at the borderland bridge with clergy from indigenous nations in the Pacific Islands, Central America, and North America; Muslim, Jewish, Buddist, Universalist testimony to the holiness of creation; Native peoples sharing their lands’ religious and spiritual history. The thread that drew us together was the sacredness of the water. Mni Wiconi. Water is life.

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Giving testimony at the borderland bridge.

Throughout the time of testimony we clergy were invited, a few at a time, to approach the border of the bridge and pray. With helicopters above my head, militarized police in front of me, surveillance and sniper vehicles ever-present in the distance, we emerged from the crowd of protectors and silently approached that border. I offered words of gratitude to the water protectors, shook their hands, and then lifted my own hand in blessing to the border, and the law enforcement beyond the border. My silent prayer was one of reconciliation, hope, and safety, that the fullness of God’s creation might be restored.

When I returned to our clergy witness, we were gathering, single-file, clergy and non-clergy alike, into an enormous circle. We prayed, and then offered a sign of peace to one another. Every one of us, to every other one of us. And just like that, our time together was over, and after sharing a sack lunch near the bridge, watching the flow of our own little river of life, we explored a bit more of the camp, then embarked on the long journey home.

This kairos moment is about the Dakota Access pipeline, and it’s also about more than the pipeline. It’s about how God created the waters of our land to be the veins of the body of creation, a life force that none can live without. It’s about water protectors coming together to protect that life force, protectors representing over 200 tribal nations, coming together for the first time in at least a century. It’s about standing up to a system that allows desecration of indigenous peoples and lands for the benefit of those in power. It’s about naming the wrongs of 524 years of broken land treaties, abuse, cultural and physical genocide, exiling of a people, and actively righting those wrongs. It’s about breaking free from the reservation system, named by some protectors as “POW camps,” which keeps indigenous peoples in a cycle of staggering unemployment, poverty, and suicide. It’s about the full humanity of every indigenous person in all creation. It’s chaos. It’s amazing. My voice and presence is simply one of thousands that can witness to the creative force that, like Revelation’s tree of life, is for the healing of the nations.

As public leaders, we are called to show up in those places of chaos and uncertainty, beauty and hope. Places like Standing Rock, Ferguson, Baltimore, Michigan Avenue and the street of South Side Chicago, ICE detention centers, advocacy centers and shelters in our small, rural towns. It doesn’t take a far look to see where people are hurting.

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LSTC’s delegation to Standing Rock.

Not everyone can make the trip to North Dakota. Not everyone feels called to make the trip to North Dakota. The size and shape of advocacy is a diverse and varied as the make-up of the human family. And yet it is precisely with that beautiful chaos that God uses us to bring about God’s kin-dom.

[1] Deloria Jr., Vine, “Out of Chaos,” in For This Land: Writings on Religions in America. New York: Routledge Publishing, 1999. 248.

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For ways to support the Sacred Stone camp and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/

http://standingrock.org/

More information on our clergy gathering:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/11/04/peaceful-prayerful-nonviolent-stand-of-solidarity-with-the-standing-rock-sioux/

hTtp://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/11/04/image-gallery-500-interfaith-clergy-and-laity-answered-call-stand-standing-rock-166361


14996419_1438045336207378_1682265140_nLiz Christensen Kocher is a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA and in her final year at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is from Omaha, Nebraska, and sees her call to ministry as one that builds bridges, embraces the beautiful diversity of all God’s creation, and has a hope and faith in the future of our church. Liz finds life and energy in making music and hiking with her husband, Phil.

The Messianic Politics of the Body – the Rev. Dr. Ray Pickett

Picture 002Professor Ray Pickett knows a thing or two about Paul. But as a pastor steeped in the life of the public church, he also knows very well how the message of the early church also has deep resonance in the public church. Here he reflects powerfully on the apostle Paul, especially his Epistles to the Corinthians and to the Romans, and how the notion of the body of Christ truly raises up all people and all voices to full participation in the church and in the world. Please read, comment, and share!

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


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Mural designed as part of the Art ministries of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church.

 

 

For about four years now I have been accompanying a group of ELCA pastors and leaders who call themselves the Organizing for Mission Cohort because they use the arts of community organizing to do community based ministry and develop new models of being church. My involvement with this group has challenged me and shaped me in profound ways. When the cohort gathered this past October at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, we spent three days discussing the following questions:

  • Who have you paid attention to in the past? Who are you paying attention to now? Who should you be paying attention to?
  • Who have you primarily been paying attention to in the past? Who are you accountable to now? Who should you be accountable to?
  • Who has benefited? Who is benefiting” Who should benefit?

I have been carrying those questions around with me now for several months. They are certainly pertinent questions for the wonderful discussions of diversity on this blog. They are questions that each of us can ask ourselves, but they are also political questions that we can and probably should ask during this election year.

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In a striking move in both 1 Corinthians and Romans Paul invokes the human body as a metaphor for the community constituted by the messianic event, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus. The metaphor of the body was widely used in Greco-Roman political discussions of concord to illustrate how unity can exist within diversity in society. However, Greco-Roman authors and orators appealed to the political significance of the body in order to emphasize the predominance of the head so as to legitimate the hierarchical order of imperial society.

This usage provides the frame for the use of metaphor of the body in Paul’s letter where he challenges notions of class, status, and privilege assumed to be natural by elites. In this respect the vision of the social body Paul sets forth here is thoroughly political in that, as in Greco-Roman discourse, his primary concern is the relationship of the part, that is the individual, and the social body as a whole. Whereas Greco-Roman authors placed the emphasis on the unity of the whole, Paul emphasizes the importance of the diversity of the parts as they relate to the whole. It is a messianic politics of the social body predicated on the vindication of the crucified messiah that provides a paradigm for how diverse individual bodies are to regard and respond to one another.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul indeed turns inside out conventions regarding social power by paradoxically identifying divine power and wisdom with the humiliation and vulnerability of the the crucified messiah. The logic of Paul’s argument is that the demonstration of God’s power in raising from the dead a Galilean Jew who was executed as an enemy of the Roman imperial order signaled a restructuring of the social order through a transvaluation of values. The political transformation inaugurated through the messianic event is mediated through the community organized according to this inversion of worth and advantage. This is reflected in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul, contrary to the traditional use of the body metaphor, claims that “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect” (1 Cor. 12:22-23).

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The Beatitudes Sermon – James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, ca. 1890.

The discord surrounding the manifestation of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is an example of what Roberto Esposito describes as an inherent tension between the transcendence of community and a metaphysics of the individual. What he means by community as “the transcendental condition of our existence” is that we are constituted by community in that we have always existed in common. Community, Esposito says, is “what we need the most, as it is a part of our very selves”, and yet this foundational condition also causes a rupture in our own subjectivity because it jeopardizes the presumed absoluteness of the individual.[1] This is what he means by the metaphysics of the individual, “the individual enclosed in his [or her] own absoluteness.” According to Esposito, neither the individual nor the community “know how to embrace the other without absorbing and incorporating him [her], without making him [her] a part of themselves.” So the self-enclosed individual needs community, and yet, as he puts it, “community is precisely what is sacrificed on the altar of individual self-preservation.”

Esposito’s Pauline insight is that the way to loosen the grip of the self-enclosed impulse for self-preservation is the realization that community is characterized by a type of sharing, and what is shared is the lack each has imposed on one’s self through participation in the community. He cites a passage from Rousseau which is strikingly similar to Paul’s perspective in the Corinthian correspondence.

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“It is man [human] weakness which makes him [us] sociable, it is our common miseries which turn our hearts to humanity … Men [Human beings] are not naturally kings, or lords, or courtiers, or rich men [people]. All are born naked and poor; all are subject to the miseries of life, to sorrows, ills, needs, and pains of every kind. Finally all are condemned to death, This is what truly belongs to man [humanity].[2]

In organizing these vanguard communities throughout the empire, Paul was guided by a vision of power through weakness and vulnerability defined by the practical wisdom of a crucified messiah vindicated by the one God “from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6).

While such a vision may seem abstract, that is only the case if we lose sight of the fact that Paul’s invocation of the social body has its origins in the crucified body of Jesus and is grounded in the experience of material bodies. Indeed, 1 Corinthians can be read from beginning to end as concerned primarily with what individuals do in their bodies and how it affects the social body. What is paramount in 1 Corinthians 12 is a concern for the “whole” body and the greater value of what are deemed, by societal conventions anyway, the weaker and less honorable members of the social body in cultivating a communal ethos in which the members have “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25).

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LSTC staff-person, Sara Trumm, protesting against political corruption.

Given that in Paul’s view the telos of this messianic event through which a new social body is being formed is nothing less than a “new creation”, which is material as well as spiritual, then we would do well to give priority in the crisis of our time to black and brown bodies, refugee bodies, poor bodies, bodies in pain, be it physical, psychic, or social, if we are to have any hope of community that will delver us from the isolation, alienation and self-enclosure that that defines our own political situation.

 


[1] Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 16. He cites Rosseau: “Our sweetest existence is relative and collective, and our true self is not entirely within us.”

[2] From Rousseau, On Education citied in Esposito, Terms of the Political, 18. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 4:6-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; 12:1-12.


102710.jpgRaymond Pickett, professor of New Testament, has been on the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago since 2009. After his ordination in 1989, Pickett served Bethany Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. for five years, and then Peace Lutheran Church in Manhattan, Kansas, for three years. He came to LSTC after teaching for twelve years at the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest.

Pickett received his his Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Sheffield. In addition to several articles and book reviews, he is the author of The Cross in Corinth: The Social Significance of the Death of Jesus and is a contributor to the multi-volume Fortress series entitled A Peoples’ History of Christianity, published in November of 2005. He also did the new SELECT DVD New Testament Introduction course with two other ELCA seminary professors. He frequently takes study groups to archeological sites in Greece, Turkey and Rome.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

But what does this experience have to say about diversity?

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“You Will Die of Comfort.”

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

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

I start at the top of my head.

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

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

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

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

I go lower.

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

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

I begrudgingly go lower to consider my stomach…

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

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

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

I continue down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

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

I am a racist.

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

I am a racist.

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

Privilege

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

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


Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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


 

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

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

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

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


My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – 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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A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
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Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
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So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
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So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
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I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”


A White Male’s Take on Why Gender Matters – Benjamin Taylor, PhD student at LSTC

ThomasLinda.jpgThis month, “We Talk. We Listen.” will be featuring multiple responses to Women’s History month written by male Christian leaders. ELCA Lutheran PhD student Benjamin Taylor is the first contributor, and his post does something quite wonderful: he gives 1) a good overview of common male-centered oversights in Christian theology while simultaneously 2) providing the reader with a wealth of information on feminist theologians and their works. It is worth a good, careful reading, even three or four readings. So dig in, and don’t forget to 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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My act of writing a piece for “We Talk. We Listen.” on feminist theology [1] must begin with a personal recounting of my own experience, a telling of how I journeyed into the present. I am a white man—more precisely, I am a white heterosexual man, and even more precisely I am a white, heterosexual man with relative privilege. Each of these qualifiers are important to who I am. Each of these qualifiers afford me a set of protections and advantages over against those who do not identify as male, or who is not white, heterosexual, or privileged.[2]

Although many women theologians self-identify as “feminist theologians,” it is crucially important to point out that the contexts, methodologies, insights, projects of feminist theologians vary from individual to individual. In this sense, we should be wary of the tendency to generalize “feminist theology,” or “feminist theologians.” Also, it is important here to problematize the identification of “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian” with “white women.” While myraid women of all races and ethnicities self-identify as “feminist,” in the USA context the term usually signals “white women.” That said, it is also important to note that “feminist theology” goes far beyond white woman. For example, some Latina theologians identify themselves as “Latina feminists,” while some self-identify as mujerista. This point is important for reasons of representation. To identify “feminist” as “white woman” is to deny the agency of and the voice of Latinas, black, queer, Third Word, etc. theologians and theorists who identify as feminist. Also, at the same time, it is important to note both intersectionality and the interdisciplinary nature of feminist and contextual theologians who are women. The incorporation of diverse voices and backgrounds as “feminist” allows for the diversity of voices, overlapping experiences and shared concerns to be heard.

A few weeks ago in her piece for “We Talk. We Listen,” Dr. Wenderoth wrote about how way that the language we use shapes the way we see the world. Likewise, MDiv student Allison Bengfort reflected on the ways in which society teaches both men and women to objectify women—men to objectify women sexually and women to objectify themselves for the benefit of men. Rev. Julie Ryan witnessed to the rich mosaic of work that is the ministry of clergywomen within the ELCA. And Marissa Tweed reminded us that even though women are ordained in the ELCA, clergywomen continue to face the struggles and challenges that come with being a clergywoman in a deeply partriachial culture, both within the church and in the society at large. These powerful and diverse reflections reveal both the interdisciplinary nature and intersectional approach within the study of feminist theology.

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Feminist theologians,[2] by and large, start from the premise that men have maintained a monopoly on God-Talk throughout the history of Christianity. In other words, feminist theologians argue that men have exercised their power to tip the theological scales in their benefit as they shaped the Christian tradition. These androcentric (male-centered) theologies work hand in hand to create and sustain partriachial societies. In explaining the patriarchal nature of these societies, feminist theologians have looked at the way power has revealed itself in their own societies.

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As often as power is exercised explicitly, it is often exercised implicitly. In Feminist Theory and Christian Theology, feminist theologian Serene Jones writes about the experience of giving birth in a hospital.[3] Upon giving birth to her baby, the hospital staff placed a pink cap onto her newborn, thereby assigning her newborn the gender identity “female.” Jones uses this narrative as she explains the theological construct of original sin: “In the first ten seconds of her life, my daughter had been placed in a web of social meanings that shaped expectations about her. My daughter’s being ‘born into sin took form of a pink cap, a set of hospital rules, and the complex web of social interactions they initiated.”[4]

As we are born (“fallen”) into sin, we are also born into a set of sexual, cultural and political constructs that condition our lives and our self-expression.

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by Kimberly Peeler-Ringer

Jones’s example illustrates the perniciousness of power in our society. Power not only oppresses the one it deems to be Other, it also represses the one it considers to be Other. Power shows itself by hiding itself under the banner “this is the way things are and this is the way things must be.” Many feminist theologians argue that men have hijacked the symbols and narratives of the Christian faith to legitimize and exercise their patriarchal oppressive power over women. Some obvious examples within the Christian tradition are I Timothy 2, in which the male writer of the letter warns women to be silent in church, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s decision not to ordain women on the basis of their sex. Instead of viewing these examples apolitically through the lens of “tradition” or “custom,” it is important to name it for what it is: a manifestation of the patriarchal society in which these decisions were made.

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But it is also important for us to go beyond these common examples. Feminist theologians note that male theologians have long taken their particular experience of being male (and usually, white, heterosexual and privileged) to be the universal experience of all people. When this happens, the experience of being a woman in a partriachial society is negated. As a result, many feminist theologians have incorporated their own experience of being a woman in a partriachial society as a way of subverting this androcentric tradition. In addition, many feminist theologians look to other resources within the Christian tradition to subvert the sexist, racist and homophobic power structure in society.  A few examples, from both feminist theologians as well as from the wider field of contextual theologians, help to show the diversity and the wealth of voices that challenge androcentric theology.

I am the youngest member of my family. I have two older brothers, and when the family discussion (finally) gets to me and what I “actually do” with my time, I often utter the words “feminist theology” or “black theology.” When they ask further questions, they assume that the qualifier “feminist” or “black” means “other.”

In reading and engaging with contextual theologies (feminist, womanist, black, Dalit, queer, mujerista), it is crucial that we do not understand “contextual” to be “other,” which so often is interpreted to mean “less-than.”  We must remember that Western theology, from Augustine to Tillich, is just as contextual as the theologies that we live into and envision in our constructive theology classes. It is merely that constructive or contextual theologies are more honest about their identity and more open to the experience of difference than are other “traditional” theologies.

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Early, and often ignored, women leaders of the church.

At times, judging by our slate of courses, our community does not always acknowledge the bountiful gifts brought by diverse theological voices. It can be difficult. The acknowledgement of different voices is fraught with tension. In my own experience, I have struggled with this tension as I came to read these theologians very late in my academic journey. That is a tension I still carry within myself. The engagement with voices that differ from my own offers me a chance of reflection and of self-examination along the journey.

And in this, I invite you to come along.


beneditedBenjamin Taylor is a PhD student at LSTC, where he studies systematic theology and continental philosophy. He enjoys reading, traveling, writing, playing golf, and walking his playful—if, slightly misbehaved—dog, Riley. He also works as the Graduate Research Assistant in the JKM Library and serves as the Sittler Fellow in the Joseph Sittler Archive. Ben completed his qualifying examinations on feminist theology in March.


 

[1] Although many women theologians self-identify as “feminist theologians,” it is crucially important to point out that the contexts, methodologies, insights, projects of feminist theologians vary from individual to individual. In this sense, we should be wary of the tendency to generalize “feminist theology,” or “feminist theologians.” Also, it is important here to problematize the identification of “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian” with “white women.” While myraid women of all races and ethnicities self-identify as “feminist,” in the USA context the term usually signals “white women.” That said, it is also important to note that “feminist theology” goes far beyond white woman. For example, some Latina theologians identify themselves as “Latina feminists,” while some self-identify as mujerista. This point is important for reasons of representation. To identify “feminist” as “white woman” is to deny the agency of and the voice of Latinas, black, queer, Two-Thirds World, etc. theologians and theorists who identify as feminist. Also and at the same time, it is important to note both intersectionality and the interdisciplinary nature of feminist and contextual theologians who are women.

[2] My own experience living in Hyde Park is an experience of negotiating this privilege—realizing it, struggling with it, speaking to it, hiding behind it, coming to terms with it, being embarrassed about it—sometimes all within a matter of hours.

[3] In using the verbiage “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian(s),” I follow the crucial distinction between “gender” and “sex” that is largely assumed in feminist theological discussions. By this, I mean that sex refers to one’s own biological makeup, while gender refers to the set of cultural meanings and social designations that society ascribes to one’s performance in society. See Linda E. Thomas and Dwight N. Hopkins, “Womanist Theology and Black Theology: Conversational Envisioning of an Unfinished Dream” in A Dream Unfinished: Theological Reflections on America from the Margins, Eleazar S. Fernandez & Fernando F. Segovia, eds., (Marynoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 2001), 72-86. On “sex,” Thomas and Hopkins write, “By sex, we signify the biological designation that human beings receive at birth. Thus, sex is a biological construction based on genitalia (78).” On “gender,” Thomas and Hopkins write that “Gender is a socially constructed category. By this we mean that it is not a biological category…Gender is not formed overnight, nor even is it a finished product; it is dynamic and subject to the ongoing formation of human culture (77-78).”  Heteronormativity has long portrayed gender as a binary: either one is male or female. This binary needs to be problematized. Gender is a performance that does not need to fall into traditionalist determinations of what is male or what is female.

[4] Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 117.

Why Gender Inclusive Language is Essential – Dr. Christine Wenderoth, Ph.D.

Picture 002Our Women’s History Month focus now switches to gender inclusive language. Dr. Christine Wenderoth – Director of the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick (JKM) Library in Hyde Park, on Chicago’s south side – gives a solid, simple history lesson as to the origins of gender inclusive language, as well as a rather potent illustration as to why it will always be “a thing” – at least until everyone finally appreciates it.

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


My undergraduate school [Oberlin College] was the first college in the world to admit women [1837] alongside men, so the first coeducational college.  It is no surprise, therefore, that inclusive language was a part of my college experience, part of the requirements for academic assignments during my years there. All papers had to use gender inclusive language, or be penalized a full letter grade. 

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Oberlin College

 

 

I graduated from Oberlin in 1971, 45 years ago. I mention that only to indicate that gender inclusive language is not a new thing.  It is so not a new thing that it was the topic of the 1745 publication, A New Grammar by Anne Fisher [she, alas! advocated using “he, his, him” to stand for personal pronouns of all genders].  What may be new today is the struggle to get away from binary gender indications in all our language, but wrestling with language and the gender power it conveys has long been with us.

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Gender-inclusive Wordle 🙂

Yes, for us old timers, it can be demoralizing that gender exclusive language is “still a thing”.

Why does it matter? 

Back in 1989, hymn writer Brian Wren in his What Language Shall I Borrow? God-Talk in Worship: A Male Response to Feminist Theology [NY: Crossroads Press, 1989] told us clearly why it matters: 

If

Every naming of God

Is a borrowing from human experience,

And if

Language slants and angles

Our thinking and behavior,

And if

Our society

Makes qualities labeled “feminine”

Inferior to qualities labeled “masculine,”

Forming women and men

With identities steeped in these labelings,

In structures where men are still dominant

Though shaken

And women still subordinate

Though seeking emancipation…

Then it follows that

Using only male language

(“he,” “king,” “father”)

To name and praise God

Powerfully affects our encounter with God

And our thinking and behavior.

Wren, p. 1

Words control, words wield power; language, thought and action are inextricably connected and therefore language is always a political act. To speak and write in exclusively male language is, whether intended or not, an exercise of patriarchy, an exercise allowing men to keep holding the power, an exercise excluding women from that power.  Contrary to Ms. Fisher’s 18th century recommendation, “he” means male. Psychological tests have shown again and again that the use of male language translates in people’s minds into images of male persons and culturally conditioned masculine “attributes”.

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Inclusive language is not exclusively a matter of personal pronouns, of course—it’s about the power of all language to shape, to hurt, to control, and to encourage. And the power of language is still with us. Just this week in an article in Inside Higher Ed, it was reported that a respected listserve for scholars of [city and regional] planning, geography and related fields has been embroiled in a debate about and begun by a [supposed] joke posted by one of its senior participants.* Some participants objected to the sexist joke; other participants objected to the objections. 118 professors ultimately issued a joint statement and left the listserve, in large part because they “were as outraged over the reaction (or lack of reaction) to it [the joke] as by the original attempt at humor. While some members of the group were quick to condemn the joke, many others accused those of taking offense of overreacting and some defended the joke.” The statement of the 118 went on:

“All those who have signed below (and perhaps many more) have been truly astonished and disappointed by the overt contempt that has been launched by a vocal few at some of our colleagues who have been brave enough to call out sexism where they see it. It started with a sexist joke, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The defense of the joke, the hostility toward those who were offended, and the need to shut down the conversation by telling those objecting to the joke to leave the Listserv is unacceptable in a forum that is supposed to serve the planning community as a whole. We agree that [the listserve] has become an ‘old boys club,’ where most women, younger scholars and other marginalized groups are not, and perhaps never have been, welcome. We have essentially been shouted down.”

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Our language keeps on betraying us.  What is “just a joke” to some is just as clearly an indication that “most women, younger scholars and other marginalized groups are not, and perhaps never have been, welcome.” The call for respectful, inclusive speech and thought that has been issued and explained for over 45 years [and more!] has not yet “taken”. For so many of us, this call to be included in the conversation and in the very speech of public life is not something new and cutting edge.

It’s not something surprising.  It’s not something radical. It is common sense, a signal of the speaker or writer’s attempt to be at least aware of issues of inclusion and exclusion.

This is why it’s so crushing to sit in a worship service [for example] and hear the same old patriarchal vocabulary that I heard in 1970, and then to hear the same old “oh, get over it” from people upset that I’m upset.  We know from so many discourses—the current political debates, the Black Lives Matter movement, the pleas of trans people to honor their pronoun wishes—that words are not “just” words.  Words are not something to “get over”. Language carries assumptions and power and history.  The fact that 45 years after my first encounter with inclusive language it still hasn’t taken root is a sure signal that feminists and womanists still have so much gender work to do…and that the work is going to take a long time to come to fruition.


 

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Dr. Christine Wenderoth joined the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in 2004 as Director of the JKM Library. She also serves as associate professor of ministry. The JKM Library houses one of the largest theological collections in the United States and is operated jointly by McCormick Theological Seminary and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.


 

*(The joke goes like this: “Judy married Ted; they had 13 healthy children. Sadly Ted died. She married again, and she and Bob had seven more lovely children. Bob was tragically killed in a terrible car accident, 12 years later. Judy remarried a third time, and this time she and John had five more fine children. Judy finally died, after having 25 wonderful children. Standing before her coffin, the preacher thanked the Lord for this very loving woman and said, “Lord, they are finally together.” Ethel leaned over and quietly asked her best friend, Margaret, “Judy’s had three husbands and 25 children. What do you think he means by saying they’re finally together?” Margaret replied, “I think he means her legs!” As told by Scott Jaschik, “When a Joke Isn’t Funny”, Inside Higher Ed, February 29, 2016.)

 

On Whiteness – Adam Braun

We Talk. We Listen. is now moving to arguably the implacable foe of diversity advocates: white privilege. White privilege is often the most sinister root of all that plagues United States. The student uprisings taking place at the University of Missouri, Yale University, and many other institutions of higher learning, not to mention the recent protests of Moral Mondays in Illinois and the way that white privilege relentlessly skews  public policy to the detriment of people of color – all of these point to the fact that if we are to truly build a more just and beautiful society white privilege is something that we must understand – lives are at stake.

The massacre at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston on June 17 of this year made this need as clear as it ever was. There was also a tragic poignancy to the shootings – as not only were both Mother Emanuel’s senior pastor and assistant pastor alumni of the Lutheran Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, but even the shooter was a baptized and confirmed ELCA member as well. The ELCA’s Presiding Bishop – Elizabeth Eaton – issued a candid epistle in response to the revelations, as well as sponsored a special web-cast (#ELCAConfrontRacism) calling upon parishioners in the ELCA to be a catalyst for the hard conversations about race that are so desperately needed in our country. This then culminated in a special initiative, “Commitment to End Racism,” an effort by both the ELCA and AME churches to worship, pray, and discuss the legacy and effects of racism in churches across the country.

At We Talk. We Listen, we have then decided to take the initiative and contribute PhD student Adam Braun’s trenchant commentary and observations on white privilege. We hope you enjoy his reflection, and share it with friends and colleagues.

We are also presenting his reflection to “prime the pump”, so to speak, for an important public conversation taking place at LSTC in the coming days – Facing White Privilege as a Challenge and Opportunity for the Public Church.”  The presidents of both Chicago Theological Seminary (Alice Hunt) and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (James Nieman) will be having an open conversation on how the public church can and must address this most crucial issue. The discussion will be held Tuesday November 17, 2015 between 2 and 4 p.m. in the East Conference Room at LSTC (click here for map/directions). Admission is free and open to the public.

Picture 002And, as always, thanks again for reading.

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


Baby Suggs…. the afternoon of the last day of her life when she got out of bed, skipped slowly to the door of the keeping room and announced to Sethe and Denver the lesson she had learned from her sixty years a slave and ten years free: that there was no bad luck in the world but whitepeople. “They don’t know when to stop,” she said, and returned to her bed, pulled up the quilt and left them to hold that thought forever.Toni Morrison, Beloved.

The white man has enjoyed, the privilege of seeing without being seen; he was only a look…. The white man—white because he was man, white like daylight, white like truth, white like virtue—lighted up creation like a torch and unveiled the secret white essence of beings. – Jean-Paul Sartre, Black Orpheus

I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance. I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am, fixed.Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks

When I began my time in seminary, I did not know that I was white. Even after three years in Korea. Even having been in an embrace with my (Korean) wife, and she said, “I never understood why white people said I was yellow. But when my skin is next to yours I can see it.” Sure I knew my skin tone was different. But whiteness is not skin tone. “Whiteness is a chosen (though socially conditioned) way of being-in-the-world.” (Birt, 55)* It is a set of cultural values, often invisible to those who possess these values. In this post, I aim to explain my new critical awareness of my whiteness and the whiteness of LSTC/the ELCA.

Me and my son, Desmond Wonjae Lee Braun
Me and my son, Desmond Wonjae Lee Braun

The world is not made up of diverse races. The world is made up of diversity. Period. Race only becomes a category in the moment of exclusion. But the most important thing to notice historically is that the race-concept is developed by its relation to whiteness. Think particularly about the history of the accumulation of resources through Western colonization, industrialization, and neo-liberal globalization. The white center is essential to the concept of race. And anytime the concept of race is used, it invokes the privileged, powerful position of whiteness. For this reason, some scholars recently prefer to name racism as “white supremacy.” Therefore, any white institution that wishes to fight racism/white-supremacy must divest itself of its power and resources that are gained through its whiteness and invest in that which has been deemed non-white** by whiteness.

Privilege

Below are some of the critical steps that have helped me develop a counter-whiteness logic:

  1. In much the same way the category of religion developed to describe social phenomena that was other-than-Christian, the category of race developed to describe peoples who were other-than-white.
  1. As such, it is possible to say that “white-skinned” is not a race, but the feature whose absence defines all other races.
  1. The world’s wealth and resources are mostly in the hands of those who are considered white. Even if spaces (land, nations, etc.) are not predominantly white, many of their resources have been acquired and/or exploited by lands that are predominantly white through colonialism, industrialization, and global capitalism.
  1. These attributes of whiteness, make white the center, and non-white the margins.
  1. White-centeredness creates a power dynamic where whites can more easily hold positions of power over non-whites. This results in White Supremacy.
  1. It is incomplete (and incorrect) to think that race is the color of one’s skin and racism is personal bigotry against people who have a different skin tone than one’s own. All races do not start off on equal footing. All races are always already beholden to whiteness. Personal bigotry related to skin tone is a symptom of racism. Institutional racism and systemic racism are RACISM, that is why it ends in an “-ism.” Other racially charged individual thoughts and actions are the products of racism.
  1. There is no line where one starts or stops being white, pink, yellow, brown, black, et al. But these terms are socially configured around whiteness and its relationship to the allocation of resources.
  1. Characteristic: Whiteness is privileged. Privilege is often blind to itself. Therefore, whiteness is blind to its own whiteness. For this reason, it is always easier to point out characteristics of non-white groups than it is to locate a cultural attribute of whiteness, particularly for those who are white. In addition, the people who most often say (altruistically), “I don’t see race,” are white.
  1. Characteristic: Since whiteness is often unaware of itself and its privilege, white culture is often thought of as that which is universal to humanity. We can find this readily within the discipline of Theology. There is Systematic Theology. And then there is that which is not Systematic Theology: Contextual, Postcolonial, (Feminist) Womanist, Black, Liberation, Muerjista, Ajuma, (etc.) theologies. As such, theology done by whites is Systematic and comprehensive. The implied meaning is that the other Theologies are not.

privilege

Takeaway: Whiteness is socially constructed, not an essence based on skin tone. Whiteness is the privileged center of the category of race. Whiteness expresses itself through the accumulation and hoarding of material resources and through the universalization of its human experience, eliminating the differences of non-white experiences.

Critical questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. When did you first realize you were culturally white?
  2. What are the cultural attributes of your own whiteness?

* Robert E. Birt, “The Bad Faith of Whiteness,” from Yancy, George. What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. New York, N.Y. ; London: Routledge, 2004.

** “Non-white, Non-whiteness”: Dear White People, in our context it would be inappropriate to use this term normatively in conversation. I use it here, in particular for us whites, that we may be unsettled by an awareness of the marginalizations that are caused by the very presence of our skin in coalition with our white-centered culture. In addition, there is no “reverse” racism against whites, since racism is always determined by whiteness. In conversations, it may be more appropriate to use “People of color,” but more accurately, to describe others the way they wish to be described.

Resources

A animated short that vividly illustrates the systems and processes that create white supremacy, “The Unequal Opportunity Race.”

A simple web comic by Jamie Kapp explaining what white privilege is and the ways we can actually measure its impact.

“Calling a Thing What it Is: A Lutheran Approach to Whiteness” – a powerful paper by Deanna A. Thompson, a professor at the Religion Department
Hamline University.

AdamSelfieAdam F. Braun is an aspiring feminist, anti-white supremacist, as well as a PhD student in New Testament Christology at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. A former facilitator at Boston Pub Church, he describes himself as a general radical who looks for radical potential in radical Christian gatherings – prefering darkness to light, and solidarity to love.

Widening the Circle – by Bishop Wayne Miller Metropolitan Chicago Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Like many in our Church, I am deeply grateful to our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, for raising the challenge to re-engage on questions of race and privilege in our society.  This is work in which I have been personally involved for many years now, and frankly, one that continues to challenge and sometimes to frustrate me at every turn. Dr. Linda Thomas has asked me to offer some reflections on how the ELCA might actually rise to the Presiding Bishop’s challenge and what resources the ELCA might bring to bear in this effort.

So I begin with a bit of brutal honesty in confessing that despite nearly 30 years of intentional effort and high profile discussion, the ELCA does not appear to be making much headway. FT_15.07.23_religionDiversityIndex-1

We have done fairly well in diversifying leadership structures on a denominational level and in many of our schools, seminaries and social service agencies, where discretionary choices about employment allow us to be disciplined and intentional in creating leadership employment opportunities.  Similarly our representational principles for governance structures have helped to diversify some formal leadership roles.

Nonetheless, the sociological profile of the ELCA is overwhelmingly white, middle class, and comparatively well-educated.  And the Conference of Bishops (elected in general assemblies) reflects this demographic pattern in that the vast majority of us (including me) continue to be white, middle class, well educated, male and straight.  So how might we respond now, to make some difference that we have not been able to make in 30 years?  It seems unlikely to me that doing the same thing we have always done, the same way we have always done it, is likely now to yield a different result.

Dr. Linda Thomas - Professor of Theology and Anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Dr. Linda Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

And though I certainly would never claim to have a solution to this vexing, complex, and persistent problem, I will say that my thinking on the subject has been deeply influenced by Dr. Thomas herself.  Several years ago I heard her, in a presentation at LSTC, voice the perspective that Faith and Culture are inseparably linked.

Since culture is the medium through which faith is received and shared, there is, in fact, no meaningful way to talk about religious truth independent of the cultural context that mediates that truth (I pray, Dr. Thomas, that I am grabbing the nub of your position accurately!). 

When I heard it, this was a startling assertion to me.  Like most people swimming in the aquarium of a dominant culture, I had been taught, and had come to accept, that we were proclaiming a religious truth that transcended cultural relativism.  What would it mean for our whole concept of “the way, the truth, and the life,” to view it through the lens of, “the medium IS the message?”

I suspect that an idea like this will be challenged and debated in many ways in academic and non-academic circles alike.  But I, for one, have been convinced of its alarming truth through the evidence of actual experience.

If it is, in fact, an accurate insight, the implications for our work on race and privilege are enormous.  Even though the ELCA can in no way be considered “a culture,” in any monolithic sense, we are most definitely held together by certain value assumptions, languages, and behavior patterns, that range from worship values to our constitutions, to the way our boards and corporations are structured, to the application of GAAP accounting principles, to our attitudes about time, to our way of making decisions… all of which, are rooted in the conscious or unconscious framework of white, middle class, well-educated North American dominant culture.

Every organization, of course, must choose SOME rules as the glue that holds them together, and our cultural rules, in and of themselves, are not better or worse than other cultural rules.  But if we only talk to each other inside the ELCA about race and privilege we are never going to make progress, because we will never be able to get past the cultural blinders of seeing our own values and patterns as universally normative.  And because those cultural values and patterns are part of the general social structure of privilege, we will always have the choice of dropping the conversation and not troubling the waters by experiencing or engaging with the fresh air on the other side of our aquarium wall.

All of this has led me to the conviction that our thinking, our feeling, our speech and our action related to race and privilege are never going to appreciably change until we force the conversation and the work outside of the Church Council or synod councils or seminary faculties or ELCA assemblies; in fact outside the ELCA altogether into active interfaith and ecumenical engagement on a local, relational level.  Even though there is still an important role for structural leadership in driving that circle of engagement wider, in the end, it is in that local interfaith arena that “the other” is re-humanized into personhood, that the “I-It” relationship is transformed into an “I-Thou” relationship, and the struggle against systemic racism and social privilege becomes an expression of solidarity with someone I love from a different culture, rather than an ideological debate or a seminar topic.

Many People, One World --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Many People, One World — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

It may very well be that the best single resource that the ELCA brings to this work is our long history of interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural relationship building. And as one leader from our culture and tradition, I will, among other things, be looking for ways in my new role as President of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, to see if we can widen the circle of work in this way.

Resources

This past July, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA Church Council Member William B. Horne II held a special webcast/conversation on racism.

Readings, videos and other online materials from the racial justice ministries ELCA.

6a00d8341c60fd53ef0120a68c68a9970cBorn in Chicago in 1950, Bishop Miller and has lived most of his life in the Chicago-land area. He holds an undergraduate degree in music, and for a time was a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. He has been married to Pamela Miller since 1980, and has two grown sons.

In addition to his previous parish duties, Miller was a member of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Council. He has been an adjunct instructor of Christian Thought at Aurora University, a founding board member of Suicide Prevention Services of the Fox Valley, and a member and presenter for a special judicial commission on Domestic Violence in the Faith Community. 

Prior to his election, Bishop Miller served as the Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Aurora, Illinois, from 1994-2007. During this time worship attendance grew from 250 to 550. In addition, he facilitated social outreach and community involvement. Since his installation in 2007 he preaches and teaches regularly in the synod’s congregations and shares his perspective and insight in his column in the synod supplement in The Lutheran. He is a member of the ELCA Conference of Bishops Task Force on Immigration Reform, and chair of the committee on Ministry Among People in Poverty.