The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at its constituting convention in 1987, adopted the following goal: “It shall be a goal of this church that within 10 years of its establishment the membership shall include at least 10 percent people of color and/or primary language other than English” (ELCA continuing resolutions 5.01.A87).
In 2015, a Pew Research Center Study on The most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups shows the ELCA to be one of the least diverse denominations with only 2% membership being people of color or those whose primary language is other than English. (See below)
It seems that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remark “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning,” is as true today as it was fifty years ago.
Recent events, particularly the shooting of nine African Americans at a bible study in church, committed by an ELCA member has forced us to face the hard truth that racism is still alive and well in this country.
Last Thursday evening Bishop Eaton invited us to join her and William B. Horne II, a member of the ELCA Church Council from Clearwater, Florida, to discuss the complexity and implications of racism. If you missed it, you can watch the webcast here: Confronting Racism
In the webcast, Bishop Eaton notes that we live parallel lives. We may grow up in the same eras and even the same locations, and yet have completely different experiences depending on our race and economic class. In order to bridge those differences, we need to share and listen to each other’s stories.
Last summer I went Ferguson in the midst of the protests in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. I did not go so much to protest as to witness and to listen. One of the things I did was go door to door to encourage people to register to vote. This gave me an opportunity to talk to many people in the area, white and black, because the neighborhood I canvassed was integrated.
And this is where I saw the parallel lives. Whites and blacks lived in the same neighborhood, the same block and had totally different views of what it was like to live in Ferguson. Every black person told me stories of being harassed by the police because they were black. Mothers expressed fear for the safety of their sons. One said about her 10-year-old, “I wonder if I need to dress him in a suit every day so the police won’t assume he’s a gangster.”
White people, on the other hand, were totally taken by surprise by the protests. They had no idea their neighbors were experiencing this and were so angry. They thought that because the neighborhood was integrated, everything was fine. They had friendly cordial relations with their black neighbors so they thought everything was fine.
It was not fine. They were living parallel lives and their black neighbors did not feel safe sharing their experience with their white neighbors.
Recent events have made those of us who are white wake up to the reality that everything is not fine. And in order for things to get better and for us to be the nation and church we claim to want to be, we need to listen to each other. The church needs to be a place where it is safe for those who are not part of the dominant culture to share their stories and experiences that may not reflect the way we see things.
The webcast is a beginning. I encourage you to show this in your congregations and begin some conversations around it. But if your congregation is like most in the ELCA, it’s probably not that diverse.
What are some ways we can reach out and begin listening to those of different races and cultures? What are some ways we can merge our parallel lives so that we are one body in Christ? We need to begin asking ourselves these questions and look for ways to begin to intersect our lives with all of God’s children.
- The Church and CriminalJustice: Hearing the Cries
- Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture
- Talking Together as Christians about Tough Social Issues
- Talking Together as Christians Cross-culturally
- ELCA Resources on Racial Justice
- #CharlestonSyllabus These readings provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general. They also offer insights on race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance.