The week of October 7th our NT-NL Leadership Convocation focused on confronting systemic and institutionalized racism in our churches and communities. It was a powerful and challenging time of learning and listening. In particular we listened to the testimony of our siblings of color as they related their feelings of hurt and anger and told us firsthand experiences of their treatment, both by the church and by our governmental agents, including law enforcement.
In the context of having heard those stories, the killing of Atatiana Jefferson in her home by a Fort Worth police officer called to her home by a neighbor resonate with these themes of marginalization and unequal protection. Members of the black community in Texas and our nation disproportionally have been victims of these breaches in law enforcement protocol; this history reinforces very real concerns regarding systemic (not just individual) racism and unequal protection. It creates understandable distrust and anger. We need to listen to the voices of marginalized communities and work for meaningful change.
We grieve for the family of Atatiana Jefferson, and we have a right to expect our civic leadership to act. Our communities need to be able to trust that law enforcement officers are trained to first and foremost protect citizens. As Lutheran Christians, we understand this role theologically as a part of the duty of the state, as Dr. Robert Smith of our Briarwood Leadership Center has written; I commend his reflections to you and your communities: A Lutheran Response to Police Shootings and Systemic Racism. Law enforcement officers are in our communities, members of NT-NL congregations; they also deserve to know exactly what happened and how their leadership will work to prevent this in the future.
I am grateful for Mayor Price’s stated commitment to such action and for the Star Telegram’s editorial board calling for an open and transparent investigation. As I write this, an ecumenical and interfaith group of clergy (including myself) are formulating plans for how we will also act to ensure meaningful change comes from Atatiana’s death.
We live in challenging and divisive times. Into this division and chaos, we as Lutheran Christians are invited to speak a word of hope and life. We proclaim that God can and does work in the midst of death. That civic engagement is part of our duty and calling, and that in baptism, we are called to serve our neighbor, particularly those who have been historically marginalized and forgotten. In this difficult time, I urge our NT-NL communities to listen closely to their neighbors, particularly those of color. Hear their stories, listen and learn, and then act to hold our civic leadership accountable for the sake of all people.