A Pastoral Message After Charlottesville

Date posted: Monday 14 August 2017

Over the past two years I have written several pastoral messages and spoken at conference and synod assemblies about the soul work we need to do to address issues of racism and racial justice as people of faith. The killing of the nine persons at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, the disproportionate incarceration of young African American males across this country, the shooting death of Philando Castile a year ago, violence toward recent immigrants in our state, threats against the Jewish Community Center in Saint Paul and the recent bombing of the Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington reflect the same violent and hate-filled activity that fueled the gathering of white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.


Our country’s strength is reflected in the rule of law in which free speech and the expression of divergent opinions are undergirded by a common respect for every racial and ethnic group within this vast nation. When hate-filled speech is borrowed from the Nazi and fascist movements of the 20th century and parades of protesters armed with clubs and torches and other weapons march through a college town as an intimidating show of force, we are far afield from the principles of our nation’s democratic ideals. White supremacy is wrong. Anti-Semitism is wrong. An Islamophobic attack on the Muslim community in this country is wrong. Ignorance of and disrespect for the Native American community is wrong.


But all these are more than wrong in the sight of God. They are sinful and evil. As people of faith we know that every one of our neighbors is created in the image of God. Any political ideology which places one race as superior to others is a form of idolatry.


I speak of our call to soul work because we do need to reckon with the roots and fruits of the increasingly brittle divisions in our country. Addressing racism, recognizing white privilege, standing against intimidation and violence is work we each must do. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nationally recognized leader in addressing hate crimes, has pinpointed 10 active hate groups right here in Minnesota, several in the Twin Cities.


What can we do? We can begin in our homes and families. Our children and grandchildren deserve to grow up with a deep understanding of the dignity and beauty of all people. Not just people “like us” but all people. Talk to your children. Let them know why you are disturbed by events like those in Charlottesville. Talk to your adult siblings and in-laws, especially when racist or bigoted comments are made within your family gatherings.


Every congregation in this synod is a venue for deepening awareness, repentance and learning. I am confident that prayers have been voiced in all our congregations, decrying violence and calling for healing of our nation. Prayer is the right prelude to honest conversations about racism within our faith communities. Learning through book studies, or field trips, or partnerships with other faith communities not just like our own, all lead a congregation to greater maturity. The wider community needs the faithful, public and clear witness of us Lutherans and all that we have learned about the sin of silence in the last century.


The places where we work and the places where we enjoy our leisure hours also need to be places where our deep, Christian commitments shine forth. If we can’t say aloud on Monday morning what we have lifted up in our prayers on Sunday, we certainly have more soul work to do. There is nothing easy about the call to life in Christ. But there is everything life-giving in following the way of our crucified Lord.


As a bishop of the ELCA, I am grateful that other people of faith were present as peacemakers in Charlottesville this past Friday and Saturday. The three ELCA bishops who were there represented the deep convictions about the human dignity of every race and ethnicity that we share across this church body. It now behooves us to be as clear in our convictions and our daily actions in Minnesota as others were in Virginia.


Yours in Christ’s service,

Bishop Patricia Lull