Dear Beloved of God,
Today is the Tuesday after Pentecost. And Spirit? She is swirling! Now, as then, we stand at a tense moment in history: hearts burn and protesters pray and unexpected preachers preach and a spirit of change blows with hope. Those who serve the status quo watch, smirk, and ask, “Aren’t you just drunk, foolhardy, angry, entitled, or all of the above?”
I am a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, the whitest denomination in the United States. I serve the Oregon Synod, perhaps the whitest synod in the ELCA. I have been long marinated in my privilege. So as I light a candle and pray for racial justice and the long-deferred dream of wholeness, I have more questions than answers:
- How do you kneel on a human being’s neck for nine minutes?
- How many precautions are needed before a brown or black bodied person can jog unarmed down a street?
- How can the dignity of entire groups of people, in a nation, a church, a region I love so much, be so willfully overlooked for four-hundred years and counting?
- How have I benefited from silence, and what does truly liberating action look like?
- What would it look like for the ELCA to “take a knee”?
I don’t know. But I do know some things:
- White Supremacy reigns, and it isn’t simply about individuals, it’s about systems and institutions which consistently privilege one race above all others.
- Racism and white supremacy are sins. Though I am committed to an anti-racist life and learnings, having been marinated in the white supremacy of my culture and, by virtue of the color of my skin, I am racist.
- All people are God’s beloveds and to be able to see that we need to help center the experiences of those who’ve been marginalized and silenced for eons.
- The violence we see all around us is dangerous, and yet is a response to a culture which violates, and has violated, black and brown bodies for centuries.
- It’s time I learned to listen. It’s time the institutions I love learn to be open to radical transformation.
- None of this work toward justice, peace, and transformation, which is God’s work, will be easy.
Christ’s redeeming, liberating love will lead the way if we are truly open to its capacity to be a light, set on a hill, making visible what has not been visible – the dignity of black and brown bodies, the sins of past and present racism and the transformational work ahead. Please join me in responding out of that divine mandate to courageous love in difficult times.
I ask you consider giving one month’s worth of your congregation’s mission support which would otherwise go to the Oregon Synod and donate it to a trusted local organization working toward racial justice and the dismantling of white supremacy.
This will impact the synod office, yes, but it will also be sacramental; body and blood, given for the world. Pray for your neighbor. Educate yourself. Challenge racism wherever you see it. And believe in the power of Spirit to change this world.