ELCA Prayer Vigil Speech

These words were shared, on September 2, 2020, at a Prayer Vigil organized by the ELCA Clergy that serve in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was held on the front lawn of Grace Lutheran Church.

Good Afternoon.  Pastor Lenny Duncan wrote a book called Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. – that is us ELCA.  This feels like a Dear Church moment for me.  An opportunity for me to speak truth as a black pastor in the ELCA to the church that I do love. 

In 1968 when MLK Jr. was assassinated his approval rating among white Americans was around 25%.  Please let that sink in.   Today he is seen as a hero and is a beloved figure, but when he was speaking the truth in love, when he was trying to get white Americans to see that the consequences of racist ideology that made slavery possible in the 1600’s, were still alive and well in the late 1900’s, he was scorned. 

Today, in the midst of what people are calling the most consequential racial justice movement in a half-century (my life time of 50 years), around 37% of White Americans support or approve the push for change.  So in about 50+ year there has been a 12 point gain in White Americans seeing that the consequences of racist ideology that made slavery possible in the 1600’s, is still alive and well, in our country, and as we have seen clearly, over the past 10 days, right here in Kenosha. In 50 years only 12% more of White Americans have had the scales fall from their eyes to see the suffering and pain of BIPOC.   

So can you see – everything is not okay.  Everything didn’t get worked out with MLK Jr. Black and Brown people are still fighting to be seen as fully human.  We want so badly to say all lives matter, but as a country we have not yet lived into the belief that Black Lives Matter, that Poor Lives Matter, that Indigenous Lives Matter.  We have work do to before we can say the word All.  We are set free to do that work.  

Here is the thing my Lutheran brothers and sisters, and everyone standing here.  We started this time with confession.  We were honest about our brokenness.  We have heard words of forgiveness.  We were/are set free, through the grace of God, to do the hard work of healing.  We are set free through the grace of God to take an honest look at the ways we participate in the status quo of white supremacy without even knowing it.  Dear Church, know that this evil is so woven into the fabric of our way of life that we can’t even see it.  You are set free by the love of God to see the evil and to call it what it is.  That is what it means to follow a theology of the cross – we call what is evil – evil and what call what is good – good. 

So I’m calling on you, Dear Church, to live in your freedom and be a part of healing this community by letting the scales fall from your eyes to see the racism that is all around us.  What are steps you need to take?  I’m glad you asked. 

  1. Educate yourself about race and racism.  It is not my job to teach you.  It is our job to walk together, to accompany each other as we work to build the capacity for conversations around race and change. Watch a documentary (13th). Listen to Podcasts (Code Switch). Read Books.  
  2. Read books – Read Dear Church and discuss.  Read White Fragility and discuss.  Read How to be an Antiracist – Discuss and Act.
  3. Come out to protests if you can.  They are peaceful.  I have been in downtown Kenosha several days in the past week and a half, mask on, working towards the words we pray every Sunday – ”On Earth as it is in Heaven”.
  4. Understand how policies around transportation, education, housing, banking, the judicial system, and in our church are rooted in racism.  You can’t be involved in it all, so pick the system that calls to you the most, and learn the FULL history of how we got to where we are today. Then find the group that is doing the work in Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee or wherever you are from and become a part of the change.
  5. Get uncomfortable. Changes in the systems listed above will make you uncomfortable.  You will be shocked that things white people experienced as normal were rooted in white supremacy. You will push back and say no way.  When that happens – please ask yourself, “What am I protecting when I react this way?”
  6. Be open to a change of heart.  I started these action steps with education yourself.  This is a head activities.  The heart and the mind are connected.  Learn and be open to a change of heart to more deeply love God and to more deeply love your neighbor as yourself.  “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.”    

I have already gone by the 3 point sermon that we are used too.  It is a lot to take in.  These days have been overwhelming and we are all tired.  But Dear Church, we are called to Love God and to Love Neighbor.  Dear Church, we are set free to Love God and Neighbor.  Let the scales fall from your eyes, see the depth of racism that is all around us, because only if we are honest about what is happening can true change come for all us.  Amen.                            

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