+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
On Friday night I watched the parade of hundreds of torch-bearing people stream through Charlottesville, VA. Later, I read reports from a colleague in a church surrounded by people with torches seeking to intimidate and scare them. I saw images of people carrying Nazi flags and shouting slogans that I will not repeat. Eventually I realized I was soul sick. The anger in the faces of mostly white men, young and old, shouting their resentment and terrible slogans struck me. We all are soul sick in different ways and times, but I felt especially sick to my stomach as I prayed for God’s help and guidance. That was before the events on Saturday unfolded with more advocacy for racism and white supremacy. Eventually it lead to the deaths of three people and the injury of many others. I still feel soul sick.
The photographic image of people being thrown into the air either injured or killed by a car seeking to hit protesters made me want to scream out, “Stop!” When I saw the bodies on the ground, I could not help but remember the months of recovery for our son after being run over by a driver. I remembered the long walks of grief as a pastor with people whose loved ones were killed in car accidents. But this was not an accident, it was terrorist behavior. All those people’s lives and their families have been changed forever.
Bp. Jim Mauney had been to Charlottesville on Saturday. I shared that we would hold them in prayer and our thoughts but that we would also do what we can here to fight racism and white supremacy. The Virginia Synod is our Partner Synod. I will keep that promise. Here is their statement: http://www.vasynod.org/virginia-synod-elca-statement-august-12th-rally-charlottesville-virginia/
I encourage you to consider how you will engage and discourage the sin of racism and challenge white supremacy. The fight against racism begins in our hearts and minds. It moves to action. This work is something we do in an ongoing way in ourselves, in our homes, in our extended families, in our friendships, in our congregations, in our communities, in our country and in our world. But it starts with us. It may be more about listening and inviting empathy than attacking according to this article. https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/11/15/13595508/racism-trump-research-study
Pr. Yolanda Denson-Byers preached a sermon that you can watch or read about showing up and engaging in this work of confronting racism as a mostly white church. If you don’t know Pr. Yolanda she is a hospice chaplain in the St. Cloud area of our synod who is out preaching many Sundays a year. https://wetalkwelisten.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/what-are-you-doing-here-rev-dr-yoland-denson-byers/
We are soul sick people. These events, and those like it, remind us of our broken-ness as a people and of the broken-ness inside of us. I have always found this lament powerful and helpful.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.
… But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah; and his servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall live in it.
To fight the sin of racism and white supremacy, we have to face the deeper reality of sin as a condition. Sin is complex. It is slippery. When you fight it, it can twist back on us. It is important to remember that, ironically, in attacking the sin of others we can also fall into other sins. This is a social statement of our church you might read to deepen your own or your congregation’s work. https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture
One of the better books I have read to deepen my self-reflection against racism in myself, our church body and our world is The Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Sees Racism by Drew Hart. In his conclusion he talks about seven steps we can take to engage
“The Trouble I Have Seen
- Share Life Together
- Practice Solidarity in the struggle – Join with groups who are racially oppressed – practice
- See the world from below – like our Crucified Christ
- Subvert racial hierarchy in the Church
- Soak in scripture and the Spirit for renewed social imagination
- Seek first the kingdom of God
- Engage in self-examination.”
I find myself wanting to tell stories about my racism and encounters with racism. I want to share my history of encountering white supremacists and my deep disagreement with their theologies and philosophies. I want to go off on a theological tirade about the ways the use of Jesus and Christianity to justify racist and white supremacist behavior is heresy and makes an idol out of skin color and the historic European cultural values. But, I think the most important thing is to simply ask how will you be engaging in this important work in the days ahead of fighting the sin of racism? Let’s keep talking and sharing what we learn.
A few years back I wrote a prayer that a friend kept and shared on Saturday on Facebook. It was written for another time…but it speaks to our realities today. I wrote this prayer after a day of discussing racism at a gathering of all the different communities of theologians in our church body. I want to share it with you after Surekha’s reminder of this prayer I offered at worship that night.
Lord God we gather to pray knowing that we have much to lament in our church body and in our lives when it comes to the matters of injustice.
• We confess our personal and communal involvement in the sin of promoting inequalities.
• We lament the ways racism damages men and women.
• We lament the structures of the world and the church that contribute to the racialization of our relationships.
• We lament the ways racism has damaged the lives of black people, other people of color and white people as well.
• We lament the overt behaviors and the covert forms of racism.
• We lament how the issues of class ripple through all issues of race in our life and culture.
• We lament how urban, suburban and rural people end up divided in this conversation.
• We lament how it is common for people to make jokes or statements about Lutheran’s difficulty in changing.
• We lament all the teachers and candidates for call who are waiting, we fear because of racism, to share the gifts you have given them…
• We lament our failure to see, acknowledge and challenge evil.
• There are so many things we lament dear God. Hear our prayers
• Lord God hear our prayers – (Silent Prayer)
Lord in Your Mercy – Hear our Prayer
Lord God we give thanks for your deep longings for all of creation and for all your promises.
• We give thanks for your creating love and your ongoing creation.
• We give thanks that you continue to open our eyes to see all our relatives.
• We give thanks for your redeeming work in our lives and world.
• We give thanks for your ongoing choice to draw near to us and make us holy in your presence and grace.
• We give thanks for how you send your Spirit to call us to turn around and become all you imagine and long for us to be.
• We ask you to throw out of us personally and communally the evil that afflicts us.
• We give thanks for the ways you make us holy – guiding us and making us whole and calling us towards your justice.
• We give thanks for the ways your Holy Spirit calls us each to our vocations to love this creation and all our neighbors.
• We give thanks for your call to remember that we are called to participate in life for all, not to simply participate for the sake of our selves.
• Lord you promise to be with us always and hear our prayers.
• Lord God hear our prayers – (Silent Prayer)
Lord in your mercy – Hear our Prayer
Finally I want to conclude with a text from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the third chapter.
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”