On May 31 George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.  Seventeen minutes later he was dead.  Police camera showed that a police officer had kept his knee on his neck for more than 8 minutes, even after Floyd complained he could not breathe.

His death sparked protests all over the country against police brutality and racism. The protests led to new conversations about racism in the United States.

Amid this, the ELCA observed the commemoration of the murder of the nine people shot and killed on June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

These events provide opportunities for ELCA congregations to reflect, study, and take action to combat racism.   The Northeastern Iowa Synod Racial Justice Advocacy Network has resources to help. Following the ELCA Commemoration of the Emanuel Nine, they hosted a zoom discussion.

I asked the members to reflect on why they are part of the network.

Pastor Hillary Kite Burns, St. Peter, Garnavillo, and Peace, Clayton, is the facilitator of the network.  She became interested in joining the network after returning from the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.

“What I really took away from the experience at Churchwide, and what has stood out in my memory the most was the celebration of and intentions made for progress in acknowledging racial injustice and working towards a greater sense of equality; while at the same time having instances of our sins of ignorance and complacency glaring back at us. For me, the experience of churchwide showed just how far we have not come, as a church and a nation; we have blinders on.”

Pastor Daniel Hanson, St. Paul, Hampton reflects:

“Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.  I believe the church’s mission includes joining Jesus in this work so that abundant life might not be experienced for a select few, but for all God’s children.  Racism is sin and robs many of the opportunity of abundant life.  I participate in the Racial Justice Advocacy Network to repent of my own participation in racism, and to learn, how as follows of Jesus, we might more faithfully repent of our own prejudice and work toward creating a more just and equitable world.

Reg Green, member of Bethlehem, Cedar Falls, curates Hidden Heritage, a virtual museum to combat racism.

“About 12 years ago it was said we now have a post racial society, but nothing significantly changed. Gun reform, violence against women, school safety all has seemed to come and go.  The Racial Justice Advocacy Network is an opportunity to have a sustainable structure in the Synod to deal with this country’s original sin.  Closing the racial divide is not just at the individual level but also the social, institutional, and systematic levels.  The network can play a role in closing the gap for many people as well as congregations.”

Retired Pastor Tom Jones remembers the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

“As revolutionary as the movement was, the crime of racial injustice continues. What bewilders me but does not surprise me is that we continue to think tweaking the law and plugging loopholes in the laws will somehow change bad human behavior.  It seems like whatever we despise in ourselves we despise in others.  We see the speck in another’s eye but not the log in our own eye. If Grace hasn’t changed our hearts, then laws, although necessary, don’t stand a chance of changing us. At best they might control behavior for the moment. If we haven’t knowingly experienced Grace, we surely won’t let others, who are not like us, experience it either, especially through us.

Why is it important for Christ’s church to have a Racial Justice Advocacy Network?  Simply because that is what all who belong to and follow Jesus become.”

If you or your congregation would like ideas of how you can play a part in continuing the work of Racial Justice Advocacy, feel free to contact the network.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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