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)


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.

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.

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.

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.


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

More information on our clergy gathering:


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.

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.

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]


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]

“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).

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.


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. 


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]


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 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


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.

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. 

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.

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: 


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”.


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.”


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.




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.)


We Journey Together: Pete Pero from the Classroom Seat – Abel Arroyo Traverso

Picture 002The next installment in our hommage to Dr. Pero is the following piece by Abel Arroyo Traverso, a student at the seminary where I teach – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. A Candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Abel’s piece is both a moving tribute of one of Dr. Pero’s former students, as well as a potent addendum to the ELCA’s current conversations on race. Read, enjoy, and share!

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


Here’s that smile I remember so well.

As I walked into the classroom two things were clear to me – I had a marginal idea of what this class was about, and I wasn’t doing it out of some kind of theological curiosity. I signed up for a class on “The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.” mainly because someone I liked was in that class.

As you can see, I would never claim to be a paragon of virtue.

As I waited for class to start and texted the person I had literally signed up this class for, in came Doctor Pero. I immediately dropped the conversation, primarily out of respect for this man I was seeing for the first time. But by virtue of his presence in the room I had an immediate realization. I had no idea there were scholars of color in the ELCA.


Me getting ready to preach.

Being a first generation immigrant in the ELCA for me means that you are kind of stuck in – sorry, intrinsically belong – in certain circles and read certain books and hear about certain authors and last names. One KNOWS there’s people of color in the ELCA because, well, I’m here, and I’m not the first nor the only one. But thus far my experience with people of color in church was that we’re great for mission development and task forces. You know, we’re “voices” and “perspectives” – great to enrich the discourse of the larger church.

The man in front of me was loud and outspoken, loving and relatable, cheeky and truthful. With his laughter and constant challenge to not think about how we can love but to love, was probably the most revolutionary concept I have heard so far in my seminary career. It was hope for me.

Now please don’t get me wrong, we were not close. We never shared martinis and talked about his journey (Doctor Pero was fond of martinis). We never talked about his experience as a scholar of color. We never talked about any of that. Do I regret it? Yeah, but as I look forward in my own career, call, and ministry, as I look back and recognize the shoulders on which I stand, I feel honored to have meet him.

As the semester unfolded this man not once lectured. Rather, he shared his journey with the students, as if sharing the most precious thing he could offer, and I actually started paying attention. I poured through the Revered Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermons – and as I started to grasp his idea of the “Beloved Community” I found similarities to my understanding of comunidad.

When I speak of comunidad  (Spanish for “community”), I speak of a space where the common experience is one of liminality, not of ends. A space where people can embrace in the fluidity of their journey, and know that even if we distance one another – be it through moral or ethical stands, socio-economic realities or ideological discourse – one can still acknowledge that growth is possible and belonging is unquestioned.


I believe this understanding of comunidad as a communal journey rather than an established end echoes the concept of “the Beloved Community” where transformation is key, and establishing new bonds between the ones who once only related as oppressed and oppressor is possible.

Through Doctor Pero’s stories in that classroom not only did I learn about African American theology, but also was inspired to articulate my own theological voice, not as an ELCA Lutheran, but as a Latino, an immigrant, and a Lutheran who is part of the ELCA. Doctor Pero’s example, examine one’s life as a completely valid resource of theological reflection, was a breath of fresh air for me – to look deep into one’s own story to recognize the Holy Spirit being active throughout the whole thing.

As a Latino, one of the stereotypes we are faced with is that we feel our feelings, and we feel them unabashedly. So I started to deal with my own story and my own feelings as resources for theological reflection.

Mama, me, and papa.

I learned from Doctor Pero to recognize plurality within myself, and learned how every label I carried, self-imposed or otherwise, could not and should not exist in a vacuum. That one can’t separate feelings and thoughts, which closely shape one another, so that every experience we have has the potential to shape our understanding of the world and the divine.

Thanks to Doctor Pero now I know that I am not an asset to the church, I am the church.

That my story is not tangential to the church, but integral to it. That I hold within my journey both privilege and oppression. That my voice and the voice of every person of color in the church is necessary to grow, to upset the status quo, to reclaim and to lift what the dominant culture is not willing to engage or is blind to. 

A baptism at one of the sites of my internship. Baptism was crucial to Doctor Pero.

My stepping into that classroom may have started as anecdotal, almost an afterthought, but as I keep going through my journey as a seminarian – and as a person of color called to the ministry of word and sacrament in the United States – Doctor Pero was the one who challenged me to look at my journey not only as my own, but as part of the journey of the communities of color and our faith journey in the United States.

I hope that as the years go by I don’t forget that my journey, as well as everyone else’s, is a God given gift that makes up the complex and multi-layered tapestry that is the church.

And if all else fails, I will at least know that a martini will not solve anything, but it will give you space to think.


Abel Arroyo is a student at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Originally from Perú, his journey has taken him to explore almost all of Central and North America (No love for Canada yet). He has spent parts of his journey in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico as well as living in Washington state and California. A bona fide wanderer who struggles with linear time as an absolute, he is currently doing a pastoral internship in Phoenix, Arizona where he journeys with the Queer, Latino and Homeless communities of Central Phoenix – as well as the occasional suburbanite. All are welcome.

Toward the Liberation of White Middle-Class Churches – Rev. Dr. David Lowry


Picture 002The passing of the Rev. Dr. Albert “Pete” Pero threw a wrench into the works at LSTC. He challenged many, angered many, and inspired thousands of seminarians for the better part of 40 years. His challenge was simple – live into your baptismal identity in ways that deepen your love of God and undermines the evils of racism in our country.

So in tribute to Dr. Pero, as well as a compliment to the MLK Celebration and discussion at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this  morning (sponsored by the center that bears his name – The Pero Multicultural Center) today’s post is the first of a series of reflections on Dr. Pero’s life and witness. We hope you enjoy, and as always – share!

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


Then-Pastor Pero in the 1960’s.

We have been giving thanks to God for the life of the Rev. Dr. Albert “Pete” Pero, Jr. who passed from this life, November 18, 2015. It is with grateful remembrance of his contributions to the life and mission of the church as a pastor and theologian and civil rights leader that I share these thoughts. One of the last times I had a conversation with Pete was at his house. He had several seminary students over (a regular occurrence), my daughter being one of them, and we all experienced his and Cheryl’s ready hospitality and his humor. At one point in the conversation we moved from politics to theology and he talked about the importance of context for worship and theology. If we take away the concrete experience of who and where we are, theology and even worship is an abstraction removed from human reality.

Dr. Pero with his wife, Rev. Dr. Cheryl Pero in 2014.

I was called to be pastor of St. Thomas Lutheran Church on Chicago’s southside in 1986, a white pastor serving an African American Lutheran Church, shortly before Dr. Pero’s essay, “Worship and Theology in the Black Context” was published. This essay spoke to issues of the time and still speaks. Among other things, he wrote of “whitenized” black churches that must “immerse themselves in a black theology and a black worship” before they can “perform their critical and reformatory role in relationship to the total culture”  including the white church. With these words, he was describing the situation of St. Thomas and other Lutheran churches on the southside at that time. In those first years at St. Thomas, a number of young African American pastors took calls to churches on the southside, some who had been mentored by Dr. Pero. For me, these pastors were a God-send (along with pastors of other denominations in the community); they guided and helped me with the kinds of changes that our churches needed to undergo. They were actively engaged in “immersing themselves (and their churches) in a black theology and a black worship.”


Crucial Text: Theology and the Black Experience

Dr. Pero’s essay has implications for white mainline churches, as well, as he briefly considers the “critical and reformatory” relationship of black churches to white churches in predominantly white denominations. When Dr. Pero writes of “whitenized black churches,” he is referring to churches that have come into a white middle-class denomination that offers a white middle-class Christianity that provides little for dealing with the realities of daily life in an oppressive society. This kind of Christianity also has little to offer whites in the way of taking up their cross and following Jesus, becoming salt, light and yeast. Pero writes of the “suburban captivity of the white church” which suggests to me a church that seeks to isolate itself from the world’s troubles, values its security and that of its property and possessions, its comfort and convenience.
In contrast to (white or black) churches captive to middle-class values, Pero writes of the roots of the black church in a faith and hope that, while still enslaved, was able to sing, “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.” He sees such a church as a “contemporary theological model” of first century churches in Rome—“urban, hidden, scorned, persecuted.” Such churches are sustained by the good news of the deliverance of God and the power of the Spirit and therefore by praise and thanksgiving in the midst of all kinds of circumstances. It is this kind of church that is a critique of the middle-class (think values, not income) captivity of the church.


In white “suburbanized” churches, it is often personal crisis that opens individuals to the power of the gospel: the death of a child, the breakup of a marriage, addiction and the twelve steps. Life itself often speaks a word to us, and we may begin steps outward. But the problem is that our white middle-class church may not be able to support additional steps into an ever widening freedom to serve, to hear the cries, to enter into the suffering of others, to be change agents at a societal level. We may find that we do not even have a theology that supports us. In the theology we receive, grace may mean God’s acceptance but not necessarily our transformation.

For many the word “salvation” may itself be a hindrance. It has become a religious word that for some means little more than going to heaven when I die; for others, God’s forgiveness and love, but often without repentance, and therefore often leaving the middle-class captivity of the church intact. We might find ourselves understanding New Testament texts differently, if every time we came to the word salvation, we read deliverance or liberation, fitting translations of the Greek. We would then have to ask what we need to be delivered from. We might comLooking up to Him.jpge to see that the deliverance of God has to do with every aspect and dimension of our lives—personal, social, global. We might begin like all addicts (and idolaters) to acknowledge that we are powerless in and of ourselves. We might rediscover how much our Scriptures talk about power—social power dynamics and the power of God. In white Lutheran churches, we often hear much of God’s grace and acceptance, in black churches, God’s power—“the gospel; it is the power of God for liberation to everyone who has faith (Romans 1:16).” By God’s power, we are liberated to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily; by God’s power we are set free from values that do not come from God and that bind us, keeping us from being the people of God for others—especially for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized. The gospel of liberation is a gospel of transformation, not only of ourselves and our personal relationships but of our society and its institutions, as we become light, salt, yeast.
I will speak personally here. I often tell others that the two earthly realities that have most contributed to my becoming and growth have been my marriage to Elly (almost four decades) and St. Thomas (almost three decades). St. Thomas and the black church have formed and reformed me, my wife, and my children who grew up in a black church and community. We were members of a body of Christ where those who gathered for worship often included professionals and homeless, people in the corporate world and those living financially on the edge, people juggling multiple part-time jobs, working poor, abused, addicted, pressed down, people who had lost children to gun violence, children in crisis.

The man in his element – teaching “The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.” – The Rev. Dr. Albert “Pete” Pero, 1936-2015)

We experienced together the joy of praising God in the midst of the struggle, ministry to each other in prayer, rejoicing in God’s work among us and through us in providing spiritual and material nurture and sustenance. We were moved outward to share the gospel in word and action in our neighborhood with other broken people in a variety of ministries including joining others in actions addressing systemic racism and oppression in governmental and corporate institutions.

At the heart of our life was worship; it was the Word and Spirit without which there would be no body of Christ, no abiding support, no change, no sense of call, no sending with power, no witness.


We were, at one time, not so economically and socially inclusive. We had to acknowledge our classism, or using Dr. Pero’s word, our “whitenized” Christianity and by the grace of God and the power of the gospel of liberation be delivered from this bondage and continue to be delivered. That same gospel of liberation must address the captivity of the white church to middle-class values and self-satisfaction and comfort. There are witnesses to that liberation in the black church who will help us if we humble ourselves, turn from our complacent ways and be open to the voices God provides.

Dr. Pero was one of those witnesses. What he has said about the importance of context for worship and theology remains.


3ab8092.jpgThe Rev. Dr. David Lowry most recently served as pastor of St. Thomas Lutheran Church on Chicago’s South Side (over 28 years), a church with a strong outreach to children in crisis and a ministry to recovering addicts. He has been involved in lay
leadership training, faith-based community organizing and served as a revivalist in the ELCA. Pastor Lowry received a Ph.D. in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology
at Chicago in 1986. His doctoral dissertation, entitled, The Prophetic Element in the Church As Conceived in the Theology of Karl Rahner, was published in a revised version by University Press of America (1990) and focuses on the timely word of God.

Marginalize Yourself: Against ‘Widening the Circle’ of the ELCA – Adam Braun

Picture 002Last week Adam Braun presented some very thoughtful commentary on the nature of whiteness and the way it impacts society. In this next reflection Braun now proposes a rather simple but revolutionary way to offset the hegemony of institutional white privilege – specifically within the ELCA. His thoughts are timely and inspiringly shocking. So as usual, please read, continue the conversation, enjoy, and share.

And also, don’t forget that the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago will be hosting an open conversation on how the public church can and must address this most crucial issue: “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 joining us. 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.

We hope to see you there.

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

Riffing off of Bishop Miller’s earlier post  I would like to share his skepticism that racial issues can be dealt with from within the ELCA.  Yet, I would also like to offer a starting point for those who wish to try. 

Bishop Wayne Miller
Bishop Wayne Miller

The image Bishop Miller uses, the widening of the circle, is part of the problem of institutional diversification.  There is a center.  Diversification, then, involves bringing those on the margins into the circle, a circle created by the center.  By its culture, privilege, and universalisms.  By contrast, would it not be better to stand on the outside of a circle, a doughnut perhaps (to keep the circle metaphor), and engage with others as if they were the source of wisdom and knowledge, as if they were the insiders who we hope will let us in?

Therefore, we can begin with this counter-intuitive staement:

The ELCA does not need to become more diverse.

Instead, the ELCA needs to recognize the world is diverse and the ELCA is part of that diversity.  In doing so, it must recognize and come to terms with its whiteness.  It can do this in two ways: First disperse its members, existing in the non-ELCA diaspora, being itself marginalized in non-white communities, essentially not existing as the ELCA anymore.  When hell freezes over, perhaps.  Or, second (more likely), to recognize itself as racially, and therefore culturally, white, and recognizing its very whiteness is a hindrance to the gospel it proclaims.

[I anticipate push-back at this point against my claim that the ELCA is a white denomination.  Rather than deal with the complexities of this assertion, I’d like to deal with this in the comments, or perhaps a separate post, and move forward with the assumption that, at the least, I am addressing whites in the ELCA.]

The next step is to recognize how its whiteness weakens its gospel message and challenges its own humanity.  While holding on to a critical awareness of its privilege, the ELCA must also recognize that its own liberation has been bound up and is tied to the liberation of other far more marginalized than itself.  A recent t-shirt by the Lutheran Volunteer Corps has this quote on the back:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland, 1970’s

multicolor-hands-leadershipThis quote is as good as any as a place to start, if for the very reason, that an ELCA organization has already begun here.

Just as one’s sexuality does not determine all of a person, neither does one’s race.  Even in the whiteness of the ELCA, traditions and stories of liberation abound.  Luther’s resistance to Rome.  Thomas Müntzer’s resistance to the princes. German and Scandinavian Lutheran churches’ resistance to the Anglican/Puritan hegemony found in the U.S.  White feminist liberation from white patriarchy.  White poor liberation from exploitative capitalist practices.  But no white in the ELCA can simply claim a liberation apart from understanding that non-whites must be liberated from my whiteness.  And that as long as my white privilege is oppressive, my liberation and non-white liberation will be tied together in my divestment of my white resources.

Furthermore, Lutheranism has the possibility for recognizing diverse voices in interpreting its tradition.  One could argue the founding event of Lutheranism contains a rejection of the hegemonic hermeneutic of its day, opening up the possibilities of reassessing one’s own tradition, by letting the Text speak for itself.  While Luther believed Scripture must be interpreted on its own terms, and that the nature of Scripture must be determined by Scripture, we may want to push luther-nailing-theses-560x538him further.  Still, this initial hermeneutical move by Luther can be seen as a democratization of the text, a democratization that can be extended, not simply essentialized.  Thus, the ELCA, in its whiteness, must listen to the other non-white interpreters of the Gospel, and we must let their interpretations unsettle our whiteness.

Both Lutheran forms of liberation and democratization give ample examples and opportunity for the ELCA to critique its whiteness.  If the ELCA is to use diversity as a tool, and not an end in-itself, then it must use these forms and structures as a basis for self-critique, and not as a way of widening the ELCA’s circle.  Even if that circle is a “circle of engagement” rather than a “circle of influence.”  For, if the ELCA is a perpetuator of whiteness, then its circle of engagement is always a circle of influence.  The ELCA must marginalize itself while recognizing its very whiteness is still the hegemonic center of power.  Here are some questions to consider along these lines:

  • Does your congregation charge rent to non-white congregations/organizations that use its space?
  • Does your congregation spend more money to send white missionaries to non-white locations than it does to bring non-whites into its congregation to teach them about their own whiteness?
  • Do ELCA institutions fully fund all non-whites that make up their so-called desired “diversity?”

How this happens is up to the congregations and administration of the ELCA.  But until it happens, the ELCA cannot claim it is committed to ending white supremacy in the U.S.A.


A recent article focusing on diversity among mainline protestant churches in the United States, of which the ELCA is the least diverse.

An intimate reflection on the experience of racism, in both seminary and the parish, of African-American Mission Development Pastor Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney.

An essay on the connection between Luther’s theology of the cross and anti-racism, written by LSTC PhD student and “We Talk. We Listen.” blog manager Francisco Herrera.

A lecture given by ELCA pastor and Assistant Professor of Church and Society at Union Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz, on how white privilege injects racism into interfaith dialogue and cultural/religious cross-understanding.

Adam with his son, Desmond Wonjae Lee Braun
Adam with his son, Desmond Wonjae Lee Braun

Adam 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.