Why am I in the ELCA?

The road to integration is an unforgiving assault on the hearts and minds of black clergy that serve in predominately white denominations. The continuous reshaping to make one’s authenticity fit into another’s warped shape of the Gospel becomes a perpetual task that tries to hijack one’s sense of being. The tragedy of being present, in spaces, where my humanity is only confirmed by my acceptance to assimilation is a solidarity to injustice, which I refuse to accept.

It is clear that the many within the ELCA camp voted for Donald Trump. (Lenny Duncan wrote a good piece about it) I am left to wrestle with this problem, “Why I am in the ELCA?” Why do I continue to connect with people who are so opposed to equality, equity, and justice? I used to say it was a sense of calling to the mission fields of whiteness but now I stand bewildered beyond reasonable thought. The constant awareness of having to explain your presence is insulting. I was assisting with the officiating of a funeral at the church. It was a very small funeral so there were no ushers. I took the liberty to greet friends and family as they arrived. Well, as I was opening the door, a lady comes to the door and says, “I almost ran when I saw this big, black man standing at the door.” Why am I in the ELCA?

Every day, it feels like the very essence of my being is sucked out of me. There are a lot of good people in the ELCA but there is no emotional safety. The task of naming and eradicating racism has been co-opted as racial reconciliation: the place where Black and Brown must become like us (white) instead of us becoming like them.

There were moments, when I thought that being in the ELCA was an honorable journey. I understood that it would be a hard road ahead, but I never considered the theological racism that masks itself as legacy and doctrine to be such a high mountain to climb. My faith has run out of faulty forgiveness that amounts to more opportunities to be dehumanized. I am tired of hearing that this is just how Lutherans are…The truth is that a Lutheranism that is still steeped 1517 rhetoric and liturgy never really had me in mind from the beginning.

Why am I in the ELCA? Well….

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9 thoughts on “Why am I in the ELCA?

    1. Some years ago, while pastor of St. Paul’s Church (ELCA) in the Bronx, I attempted to visit a member who lived a few blocks from the building. I had not met Heidi Z. before, so I had the secretary phone ahead. Heidi Z. was waiting at the door. Dressed in clerics, I rang the bell and heard movement behind the door. Yes, Heidi Z. was there, but she was not letting me in. I identified myself as pastor of St. Paul’s, but still no answer. When I returned to the church office, the secretary told me that Heidi Z. had called and reported that a Black man was trying to get into her apartment. This breach was never repaired, as no White or Black person in the congregation would accompany the new pastor on a visit to an elderly White woman’s apartment who was terrified by my blackness.

      Many are the indignities and humiliations visited upon me serving as a pastor in the ELCA, while being black. I am never surprised at the manifestation of white racial animus toward Blacks who serve in this church. As a young pastor serving at Advent Church (ELCA) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I answered a knock on the door one morning, and a gentleman introduced himself as a Minolta salesperson. He asked to speak to the pastor. I told him that I was the pastor. He asked to speak to the senior pastor. I told him that I was the only pastor. He asked me was I just “playing” He expressed surprised to see a Black man in such a position in a Manhattan Church. This was 1983-84.

      I am not surprised by the reception I have received. There is a “always-ness” about some of this. The presence of Blacks in White churches in America has always been difficult for many. I was reminded of this recently when my class at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary on African Descent Religious Traditions reviewed the experience of former African slaves at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1786. As black attendance at that church increased due to the preaching of Richard Allen, so too did race prejudice. When the ruling body at St. George decided that blacks should be segregated and seated in a newly constructed balcony, Allen and his followers decided it was time to leave and start a new church.

      Brian, Richard Allen and those who formed Bethel Church did not keep their all their focus on White people. Nor did they allow what White Christians were doing to obscure their view of God. Today, we can speak of Richard Allen and those who went with him as a liberated company, who by the grace of God came to terms with situations that had destructive potential.

      I have been thinking about the churches they built, the boys and girls their educated in the schools, the colleges and the universities they established, the intellectuals sent forth, the lawyers, doctors and politicians they raised up. Their experiences were not easy. They came to symbolize courage, determination and strength. One other thing, those men and woman met Jesus in a most intimate way.

  1. Brian, I read your posts regularly in an attempt to understand the plight of living as a black man in white America. I don’t always engage in your posts, but I’m listening. I am building relationships with minorities where I live, not in an effort to be understood, but in an effort to understand.

    Tell me why you think it’s fair to characterize any white evangelical who voted for Trump as someone who is “opposed to equality, equity, and justice” (for the record, I did not vote for Trump or Clinton [voted third party]. Neither are fit for office and both lack the moral integrity to serve in the highest office of the United States). Your statement makes many assumptions, the greatest of which is the fact that you seem to believe a vote cast for Donald Trump is the same thing as a vote cast against equality, equity, and justice. That’s as unfair as saying that the person who voted for Hillary Clinton is an advocate for for murder (due to her extreme views of abortion).

    I believe the reasons people voted for Trump are complex, but that you would find that the many of the “evangelical” (a term now stripped of any meaning in my mind) voters who supported Trump did not do so because they support racism and misogyny.

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the only “electable” candidates in this election cycle. I do not believe either of them really care about minorities or equality. They care about themselves. I do believe its uncharitable to demonize people who voted for either candidate, and it’s unfair to assign motives for their choices. We may not understand their choices, but I cannot see any path towards racial understanding where we constantly label one another in the worst possible terms.

  2. Brian, I read your posts regularly in an attempt to understand the plight of living as a black man in white America. I don’t always engage in your posts, but I’m listening. I am building relationships with minorities where I live, not in an effort to be understood, but in an effort to understand.

    Tell me why you think it’s fair to characterize any white evangelical who voted for Trump as someone who is “opposed to equality, equity, and justice” (for the record, I did not vote for Trump or Clinton [voted third party]. Neither are fit for office and both lack the moral integrity to serve in the highest office of the United States). Your statement makes many assumptions, the greatest of which is the fact that you seem to believe a vote cast for Donald Trump is the same thing as a vote cast against equality, equity, and justice. That’s as unfair as saying that the person who voted for Hillary Clinton is an advocate for for murder (due to her extreme views of abortion).

    I believe the reasons people voted for Trump are complex, but that you would find that the many of the “evangelical” (a term now stripped of any meaning in my mind) voters who supported Trump did not do so because they support racism and misogyny. At least not any more than those who voted for Hillary support the brutality of partial-birth abortion (don’t get me started on how Clinton’s support for Margaret Sanger [a racist] and Planned Parenthood is implicit support for the genocide of black people).

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the only “electable” candidates in this election cycle. I do not believe either of them really care about minorities or equality. They care about themselves. I do believe its uncharitable to demonize people who voted for either candidate, and it’s unfair to assign motives for their choices. We may not understand their choices, but I cannot see any path towards racial understanding where we constantly label one another in the worst possible terms.

    1. Aaron, let’s be clear, that a vote for Trump was a vote for opposing equality, equity and justice. the man is unjust ,much the same as Hillary. That is a non-debatable with me. I do life with black, brown and white people not in a effort to understand but simply because it is the what we should do. it is not a systematic case study but the call of the Gospel.

      As you see that the reason is complex, I see as the exact opposite. It registers as a sing that we may not be racist, misogynist, or homophobic but we are alright with a president that is.

      There is nothing charitable in or with that decision. Even through your post, the people’s response was more about what they saw or see, discounting the very voice of those who believe that white evangelicals do not care. See therein is the missing of the intent of the Gospel. Also, therein lies the distrust. I have meet people who are terrified that their families will be deported. I am terrified for my children and friend’s children. This is real life scenarios playing out before their eyes. My friends are pastors and they are buying guns because they feel unsafe in a world that would elect a man with no political experience and displayed hatred for black, brown, and LGBTQI folks.

  3. I hear you, Brian, and I continue to listen and pray. I am trying to learn from my black and brown friends and colleagues and to take responsibility for my own blindness, while I pray for racial justice in this church and in this country. I admire your courage in staying with an impossible situation, and I pray that you will continue to preach the gospel to all of us who need to hear you.

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