“But God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
This week we have the opportunity to participate in two important times of listening, lament, encouragement, and worship with our African descent communities in NT-NL. This is a vital time for us as synod to come together with our siblings of African descent and listen and learn together. To give thanks for the proclamation of the word that came to Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865, that President Lincoln had freed the slaves (a word 2.5 years delayed).
Zoom links for services can be found here: Emanuel 9 and Juneteenth flyers
You are also invited to come for a time to recognize the sin of racism and violence that led to the martyrdom on June 17, 2015 of Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson (The Emanuel 9). Martyrs because they welcomed a young white man into their midst during bible study as an act of faith. A young man with roots in an ELCA congregation whose mind was twisted by the sinful ideology of white supremacy and subsequently murdered them in cold blood.
These are two vitally important days for us as church to observe. Juneteenth because for too long it has been ignored by the majority of Americans and not received the national recognition it deserves. June 17 as a Commemoration for the Emanuel 9 because these martyrs are witnesses to the cost of Christian hospitality and welcome. Additionally, it is a day for us in the ELCA to commit ourselves to speak boldly against the ideology of white supremacy, to listen and learn from our siblings of color, so that those we are called to shepherd will recognize it for the sin and lie it is.
Listening and learning are critical for us as people of faith and as members together in the NT-NL synod. We come from different experiences and places, and we each have a story to tell. But if I am honest, and I pray you understand this as well, there are many amongst us whose stories have not simply been overlooked but institutionally and systemically marginalized. The church, and particularly majority white churches like the ELCA, have too often participated in this silencing or stood complicit in our silence while others suffered. That is what Dr. King convicted the white moderate Christian of in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”
In recent weeks, I have heard many proclaim their personal innocence from the sin of racism and complicity to systems of institutional racism. I understand that urge and desire. In a culture of individualism, you and I are inclined to self-justification, to point to the “other,” and to proclaim our innocence. This is the divisiveness of our time, our desire to be righteous, and a product of the “old Adam” caught in sin. However, the Apostle Paul reminded us in our Epistle text for last Sunday that Christ died for us not because you and I are righteous but because we are sinners, caught in a state of sin which goes beyond our individual actions and infects our common lives. We are sinners, and as such our systems and institutions create sinful separations, give privilege to some, and oppress others.
Christ’s redemption has no need for and takes no heed of our self-justifications and proclamations of innocence. And that word, instead of convicting us, calls us to repentance, to turning around, changing our lives, and listening and learning from others, particularly those who have been marginalized. In listening closely to their stories, we are invited into the work of de-constructing the systems our sinful selves have created.
To do this work of listening and learning, we are blessed to have siblings of color who invite us to these commemorations and into this work. This week, we focus particularly on our African descent communities, and we also know and must acknowledge our Latinx and Indigenous communities and their particular part in this story. These siblings invite us because as synod, we are a part of them, and they of us. And in this time of physical distancing, they open their online doors to us for these services of worship. I implore you to participate, to hear their words and by listening carefully, learn in humble Christian love.
Additionally, to facilitate you and I in learning how to participate in such challenging conversations, last Thursday night our Briarwood Leadership Center hosted the first of what will be many, “Conversations at Briarwood.” These are opportunities for us to come and learn from presenters and one another how we as the church can have difficult conversations about important issues of our time. They are opportunities for us to learn and listen to presenters who will share from their perspective and invite us to listen deeply to their stories and ask questions to deepen our understanding. The presenter for July 18 will be Taurean Webb, who was our presenter last fall at the 2019 Leadership Convo: Embracing Anti-Racism for the Wholeness of the Church. This is a wonderful gift from by our leadership center at Briarwood to help us to continue to engage and learn the stories of others.
Christ, the Living Word of God, died so that all people might know the joy of freedom. Not only the freedom from bondage that the word of Juneteenth brought but also a freedom from sin and death that invites us to love our neighbor and give our freedom away for our neighbor. To do this well, we must listen and learn, and so I invite you to please join your African descent NT-NL community this week as we engage these two vital days in the life of our church.