What is one word that captures how you are doing? This is the word cloud from our rostered and lay ministers meetings from the last two weeks. What I notice is that these have been two challenging weeks. I am thankful for your ministry and grateful that I know you are also working to find time to be refreshed and renewed. Re-creation – may you find some space and ways to be re-created. God is for you and with you. I trust God has given you everything you need to proclaim the Good News and invite your community of faith to follow Jesus and love your neighbors.
An Anti-Racist Synod
+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
A few months ago I told someone on a plane sitting next to me that our church body and I have been in active repentance about my/our racism since the shooting of nine people by a young Lutheran in Charleston. I shared about visiting the Mother Emanuel Church about four years ago.
Throughout my life I have tried to not be a racist person. During our visit to Charleston, we had been to the museums and learned more than I wanted to know about slavery. I began to understand the depth of the problem before the Civil War, after the Reconstruction failed and the Jim Crow era was unleashed.
I had studied racism and the need for racial justice in our country and communities before we made the trip as a continuing education event for the Conf. of Bishops. But it was when I walked into the slave trading sales barn, where they sold human beings, that something deeper started to break open in me. It became a tipping point for me.
When we heard the elder of Mother Emanuel explain the events in the church on that tragic day, God’s steady calling intensified. I needed to not just avoid racist actions or words. I realized I had to be a person, parent, pastor, citizen, neighbor, etc. that actively sought to work against the systems and structures of racism. I am far from perfect at this, but I want you to know that one of my deepest dreams is that we might grow deeper in our understanding of this sin. I dream that we might become more widely competent as the baptized ones and rostered ministers of Southwestern Minnesota as we live out our love for all people in our more and more diverse communities. Our neighbors are gifted creations and children of God. Differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, and skin color are gifts from God.
The more I studied the more I knew how this sin was deeply twisted into me in ways that still show up and that brown and black people are being hurt in ways by the racism of a personal and structural kind. Battling this sin calls for direct, ongoing, listening, learning, acting, re-correcting and speaking even though I know we will not always get things right.
On the plane, we talked the whole way home from Chicago. It was a profound gift to have ended up in this odd and deep conversation. The Spirit of God placed an angel next to me. She was a messenger who challenged me, was curious and shared her journey as a person of color living in the midst of things I want to deny but can’t anymore.
It all started because I wore my clergy shirt. She asked me a question that led to my statement that set off our dialogue. It turns out she was an evangelist in the Church of God in Christ, a historical Black Pentecostal tradition.
What is the next step? That is what we are talking about with our rostered and lay ministers as we move forward in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and all that has followed. I dream that our synod would become an anti-racist synod that actively works to engage the sin of racism in each of our lives and in our communal life. Racism sets loose waves of damage and cascading consequences in the lives of our neighbors. I know we need to work to reduce the structural and systemic ways racism shows up to derail God’s longings for our lives and more importantly for others.
This week has been chaotic and hard. That cause me to go back and read in the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther. The fifth commandment, the seventh and eighth commandments particularly in Luther’s Large Catechism are powerful. For example, from the fifth – “We should not harm anyone, either by hand or deed. Next, we should not use our tongue to advocate or advise harming anyone. Furthermore we should neither use nor sanction any means or methods whereby anyone may be mistreated….this commandment is violated not only when we do evil but also when we have the opportunity to do good to our neighbors and to prevent, protect and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury but fail to do so. (Book of Concord, Kolb and Wengert p. 412) It is not surprising it speaks to our time.
Yet, it was the Seventh Commandment’s meaning that cut into my heart. I know some are concerned about looting, but I started to think about how racism has stolen people’s gifts, potential, futures and even their life as I read it. “Enough has been said about what stealing is. It should not be narrowly restricted, but it should pertain to anything that has to do with our neighbor….First, we are forbidden to do our neighbors any injury or wrong in any way imaginable whether by damaging, withholding or interfering with their possessions and property….In addition we are commanded to promote and further our neighbor’s interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share and lend to both friends and foes. “(p. 419-20)
Please take some time to think about how you will use the opportunity of the Commemoration of the Mother Emanuel Nine (June 17) to remember and recommit to this important work.
- Commemoration of the Emanuel Nine — June 17 (ELCA Resources)
I invite you to join me in holy stewing about all this. Let’s listen, look deep inside, hear God’s call to turn around and God’s call to love all our neighbors. Let’s keep actively working on our racism as one of the ways we respond to God’s unstoppable and resurrecting love that will not let you and me or our neighbors go.