Lutheran bishop calls for anti-racism work
In the last few weeks we have watched our country (and much of the world) explode in protests following the death of George Floyd while in custody of officers from the Minneapolis Police Department. Three of the five synod staff called the Twin Cities home for at least a portion of our lives, so we have watched this while seeing familiar landmarks & neighborhoods burn, while hearing of congregations we were once a part of stepping in to support those whose lives have been shattered by the violence, & keeping in contact with friends and family still living in the area. This is not simply happening in a city. It is happening in our hearts.
Mr. Floyd's death (along with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor & many others) has reignited conversations around racial inequality in our country, often in ways that cause white people to react defensively. The existence of systemic racism is not up for debate. The existence of white supremacy is not up for debate. Our neighbors of color are impacted in ways that white people cannot see—not because we are bad people, but because the systems in our country were designed to prioritize & preference white people. We cannot see all the places the system is repressive because the system does not repress us.
This is not to say that the lives of white people aren't difficult. But it IS to say that our skin color doesn't make our lives more difficult.
Our synod encompasses the area in Northern Idaho that was once the headquarters of white supremacy in the United States. It is naive to believe that white supremacy ended when the headquarters was taken away. It is naive to think that white supremacy exists only in Northern Idaho. It is naive to think it is the responsibility of people of color to adapt to the white system. I believe it is critical for white people to begin to educate themselves around things such as white privilege, systemic racism, inherent bias & complicit racism. It is vital for the Church to take Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself" seriously. From my perspective, this commandment is non-negotiable. And while yes, Jesus advocates for peace, he was also not above flipping a table or two in his day when people were being oppressed by those in authority.
In the years since my election in 2017, God has been speaking to me about anti-racism work in our synod. When I have brought it up with others, I have been told "No, the synod is not ready for that." and I have gratefully accepted that excuse, because I know how hard the work will be, and how much conflict it might kick off. I confess that I took shelter in my white privilege. God has placed teacher after teacher in my path. Guiding me and encouraging me to engage this work. My excuses might sound familiar. I am a nice person. I have never used the "n word". I believed that people of color had all the same opportunities & resources that I did growing up—and the fact that they didn't achieve as much as I did said more about them than it did about the systems that surrounded us both (but, I have come to learn, treated us very differently). It has only been through work begun before the call to bishop was even a consideration that I am able to see that the system does not work. I can't always identify where it does not work, that is part of my continued learning. I am still learning. I am still making mistakes. I am still asking forgiveness. I try very hard to show up. Especially when what I really want to do is slip back into my privileged life and let others do the hard work. Because for our siblings of color all too often showing up and doing the hard work looks like death. For me, it looks like a hard day. For them, it can look like the last day. That right there is what I hope you can begin to understand about inherent white privilege. Not only can we choose NOT to do the work of racial reconciliation, if we DO choose to do the work: it most likely will not cost us our lives.
Even then, racial justice work can be terrifying. We are afraid to ask questions we feel expected to know the answer to. We don't want to expose our ignorance, or we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. We are uncertain how to engage this work, or reluctant to engage this work because it makes us angry or embarrassed or depressed. We may be tempted to say "All lives matter!" because lifting up black lives at this time seems wrong to us, and we may not understand why that elicits the response that it does. Perhaps we are afraid of what will happen if true racial equality comes to pass—what will it be like to be on an actual level playing field? Maybe, as a friend of color once suggested, we are afraid that if racial equality becomes reality that we will be treated as people of color have been treated for far too long. Maybe we aren't even sure how to begin figuring out what we don't know. Or maybe it's a little bit of all of that.
That's OK. We don't have to be fearless to start. We don't have to know where to start. We just need someone to point you in the right direction.
To that end, I have invited the synod staff to join me in developing an anti-racism program for the Northwest Intermountain Synod. Ready or not: it's time. Beyond time. We will begin to share resources that you can utilize on your own, or in congregational or cluster groups. You will begin to hear synod staff lifting up this issue, asking questions about it, engaging you around your response. It's OK to be angry. It's OK to not know. It's OK to ask us any questions you have. We will answer what we can, and find the answers for you when we don't have them. We will be bringing in people who will help us learn. We will challenge one another, we will learn from one another, we will make mistakes together, we will ask forgiveness together. Because yes, all lives matter. But white lives have mattered most for hundreds of years. We've benefitted from that, without asking for it. We have not only the ability but the responsibility to use what those centuries have given us to help others around us. It is my fervent prayer that you will join me in this work of learning together.
For an easily accessible resource, I encourage you to visit https://sites.google.com/view/buildingbridges This curriculum was developed by retired NWIM pastor, the Rev. Alex Schmidt. He has facilitated this training with the Synod Council, in addition to congregations and secular organizations around our synod. The work that Pastor Alex does is work best done when we can safely gather together again, but the website can function as a good starting point. The ELCA also offers wonderful resources around racial reconciliation work at this link: https://www.elca.org/Resources/Racial-Justice
We can begin this reconciliation work right now, and here are some books I've found helpful in my own education around this topic:
Revolution of Faith: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others by David Livingstone Smith
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S by Lenny Duncan
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Race by Robin DiAngelo
Fear+Less Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice by Gregory C Ellison II
RACE: Are We So Different? by Alan H. Goodman, Yolanda T. Moses and Joseph L. Jones
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart
Please be aware that many of these books are in high demand right now, and might be several months away from renewed availability. I encourage you to consider an e-reader version if you can, library or friend if you cannot. These are also just a beginning. As the Synod staff continues to broaden their knowledge on the subject, we will share other resources—podcasts, social media accounts, articles, movies, documentaries.
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June 9, 2020 - Bishop Kristen Kuempel – Northwest Intermountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2020