Pastoral Message on Race

Date posted: Monday 03 August 2015

In a pastoral message a few days after the killing of nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I urged all of us in this synod to engage in the soul work that would help us see how matters of race and racism need addressing in our own lives, our congregations and in the communities where we live. One of you asked me what I meant by “soul work”.


As Christians, our deepest values and our daily activities are grounded in the saving grace given to us through Jesus Christ. In Christ we have been set free to see our neighbors as God sees them. In Christ we are able to examine our own lives – our attitudes, our actions, our hidden and unexamined prejudices and biases – to discover where we fall short in our relationships with others, as well as the ways we silently tolerate injustice.


We are at an opportune moment in this country’s history for such self-examination, repentance, forgiveness and new learning. That is particularly true for those of us who are white citizens. But the cry for justice and godly respect between people extends across races and embraces all ethnic, cultural and economic groups.


I don’t know all the actions we will take as a synod to address racism and cultural prejudice but I want to state clearly my own commitment to entering this opportune time for learning and transformation with the confidence that Christ Jesus will lead me – and you – to even more just and rich ways of interaction and understanding within our congregations and in the communities where we are located. As your bishop, count me in on the work we have to do.


There are several steps we can take in every congregation. These include a commitment to prayer, reading, shared learning experiences and congregation-wide engagement with other communities of faith. As a synod we will promote these endeavors including sharing resources to guide honest conversations on race and racism. You can find a link on our website with recommended books, study guides, workshops and events that will help you navigate this time of self-examination and change.


I recently asked an ELCA pastor in Charleston how her congregation was responding to the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, as well as other violent actions against the black community. She described for me a plea within the South Carolina Synod for all predominantly white congregations to commit to meeting at least four times a year with a congregation that is predominantly black. I invite us to do the same, here, in the Saint Paul Area Synod. These engagements are meant to build durable relationships through worship, music, prayer and common service. Who could be your partner this coming year?


Finally, I have asked the adult leaders who were in Detroit for the Rise Up Together ELCA Youth Gathering to lift up the names of high schoolers to serve as an advisory group for me. Witnessing the commitment, the honesty, and the courage of that generation as we engaged in hard conversations about race and justice, I want to ensure that their best wisdom and passion informs what we do as a synod. If you know of a youth, who was not in Detroit, but who could help us address race and racism as a synod, please see that their name is sent to me.


Prayer. Reading. New experiences. Real relationships. Are those enough to break down the misunderstandings and fears that divide us in this country? Will those activities help us live in new and more just ways? By the power of God’s grace at work in us, they are a good beginning.


Thank you for taking seriously this as a time for us to mature into the fullness of our common humanity in Christ.


Yours in God’s service –

Patricia Lull, Bishop