Just a Few of Us: Being Black in the ELCA and SC Synod

First appeared at Love Sees Color

I came back to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2012 after having a conversation with a professor that would later become a mentor. At his prompting, along with many others, I made a decision to enter into the ordination process of the ELCA. For me that brought mass levels of trepidation because of the horror stories I heard about the process. It became another process in my life that would become a part of my redemptive story. I knew the commitment would be stringent and I decided to make that plunge.

My journey was completely different because I already had pastoral experience and two master degrees- one from Liberty University and the other from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (the seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University). It was a step into a world that was foreign to my world – the “Black Church.” Yes, we serve the same God but my experience in life was vastly different than most of the Lutherans that I had met. Then on June 17, 2015 my life and work was flipped upside down as 9 black bodies were massacred while attending a Bible Study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. Honestly, my quest to finish the ordination process almost came to a squelching halt as I debated becoming a pastor in the AME church. I wanted to show my solidarity with the good people of the AME and the black community in general, and being a part of the ELCA seemed counter-cultural.

Yes, I wrestled with how can I be a part of a denomination that would produce a murderer of beautiful black people? How would the ELCA respond to such a tragedy? How would the SC Synod respond to such an atrocity? These are the existential questions that pummeled my mind daily. The queries that stood as constant reminders that as much as I try to ignore it…color does matter.

My being a part of the ELCA in the SC Synod heightened my awareness of the lack of cultural competency that we have in America. I watched as white Lutherans tried to make sense of this terrorist act and to find answers. I watched as black people mourned yet again, wrestling with the constant reminders that there are no safe spaces; tired of forgiving white folks for their senseless hate at the expense of their black bodies. And, here I was in the beginning stages of being a part of this denomination.

Reflecting on the past three months has brought me to strange places in my faith. I wish I could say that I have it all figured out and I am comfortable in all the confines of the ELCA and SC Synod but I can’t. I see the stares, not sure if they are disbelief, utter rejection or simply shock, but they are noticeable. I still feel the overcompensation because of the overtly racist atmosphere that is cultivated in the south. It is understandable, but it also resonates with my soul that we still have so much work to do. There are many beautiful people in the SC Synod of the ELCA that I have met in the last three months. We have talked and broke bread as well as visited with each other during a Sunday service, but, I state again, we have such a long road ahead.

I have been asked, “Why would a black man decide to become a part of the ELCA –the whitest denomination in America.” (according to Pew Research) Then on top of that become a part of a synod that has only ordained one black clergy member.

How does one really reconcile that in their mind?

God is up to something a lot bigger than me…

What if Front Lines by Stevie Wonder was a hymn of the Church?

This aught to be a hymn of the church- Dr. Mack King Carter

Front Lines – Stevie Wonder

I am a veteran of the war
I up and joined the army back in 1964
At sixteen I just had to be a man at any cost
I volunteered for Vietnam where I got my leg shot off
I recall a quote from a movie that said “who’s more a man
Than a man with a reason that’s worth dyin’ for”

They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
But now I stand at the back of the line when it comes to gettin’ ahead

They gave me a uniform and a tiny salty pill
To stop the big urge I might have for the wrong kind of thrill
They put a gun in my hand and said, “shoot until he’s dead”
But it’s hard to kill when ‘please your friend’ echoes through your head

Brought up in church taught no man should take another’s life
But then put in a jungle where life has no price

They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
But now I stand at the back of the line when it comes to gettin’ ahead

Back in the world the paper reads today
Another war is in the brewing
But what about the lives of yesterday
And the many happy families that have been ruined

My niece is a hooker and my nephew’s a junkie too
But they say I have no right to tell them how they should do
They laugh and say “quit bragging” ’bout the war you should never have been in
But my mind is so brain-washed I’d prob’bly go back and do it again

I walk the neighborhood parading my purple heart
With a fear of agent orange that no one will stop

They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
But now I stand at the back of the line when it comes to gettin’ ahead

Late Night Reflection of the Gospel

The implicit search for truth is an uncanny presentation of courage. One must muster the power to see past their own myopic point of tension in order to develop a plan of change. It is change that we struggle with not difference. Change requires a total rebuilding of what we have held on to for so long while difference recalls upon past or present realities that will inform. Change calls for reformation instead of acceptance. For most it is easy to accept people but it is hard to change ones heart about what they have done. The old cliché, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is parenthetically used to soften the ugliness that we harbor within our Christianized hearts.

The body of Christ has mangled the relational aspects of the Gospel and pawn them off as cheap jewelry. We have forgotten how to love with unadulterated, fierce intensity but replaced it with rhetorical sidesteps of utopia – “skubala.” The Gospel presents love with a captive freedom that harnesses beauty. It invites us all to the table of the Eucharist/Communion with the intention of robbing us of our pride, misconduct and hatred in order to pollute us with sharing, honesty and love. It is the Gospel that renders us to places where we may not understand but allows us to wrestle with the Spirit of God to unpack our confusion.

The body of Christ has conflated the Gospel with self-righteousness only to find that they are violently incompatible. The Gospel is only suitable for a perichoretic situation that represents community with high awareness. The importance of self is lost in the push to secure love for all. There is no self-identification due to the overshadowing pursuit of community –no one is free until everyone is free. If we lived within that frame of thought greed, hunger, and racism would be wiped out by the next day.

That is the Gospel –the anomaly of the church.

This is what a new church looks like in my heart…

How does a church that loves God look? (at least for me)

…a place where God is___
…a revolutionary church that unpacks your soul,
…a place where radical love is the challenge of the day…everyday
…a fellowship where authenticity and diversity merge
…prayer becomes the weaponry of a submitted people
…folks have an unmitigated joy in serving Christ
…where worship is embodied and not performed
…where giving is purposed and unbridled
…intellect, humbleness and care interpenetrate to produce a transformative ego-people who make a difference in the community through service
…a place where broken people, love broken people, who help to mend broken people-a functional love

Producing an emblematic love for God where my heart designs….