A Statement on Charleston and Racism in America – Sunday, June 21, 2015

Note: I prepared a statement in advance of this Sunday’s service to comment on the events of this past week in Charleston and the enduring legacy of racism in our country. On Sunday, I decided to discard that statement and speak more freely. What follows is a transcript of was actually delivered to our community during worship; it isn’t perfect, but it is heartfelt, and I pray that it will be just the beginning of a conversation in our community. 

+ Pastor Andrew

This isn’t something I do very often, but sometimes things happen in our world that require comment. So I just want to spend a couple of minutes talking about what happened in Charleston this past week. If you haven’t been watching the news, on Wednesday evening, nine people were murdered at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A young man went into a Bible study, was welcomed with open arms, and sat with them for an hour while they studied Scripture and enjoyed fellowship with one another, and at the end of it he stood up and murdered nine of the people there in cold blood. The only motivation he gave for doing so was the twisted logic of racism and white supremacy.

I think sometimes we like to imagine that racism is a relic of our past – that it’s something we don’t have to deal with in the present any more – and then something like this happens that shocks us into the recognition that racism is still very much an open question and an open conversation. The harder part of that conversation is that racism is not just about the overt acts of violence and oppression like what happened in Charleston on Wednesday. It’s about the insidious way in which racism and prejudice work their way into all of our lives and keep us from having authentic relationships with people who are different from us.

On Thursday evening, our presiding bishop put out a statement in which she revealed that the shooter at Charleston is a member of an ELCA congregation. We also found out that two of the victims of that shooting were graduates of our Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, one of our eight seminaries. So this is not a tragedy that is distant from us; it is a tragedy in which we share pain, because we recognize that the person who carried out this heinous act was one of us, and that two of the people he killed – all of them, of course – are our brothers and sisters, united with us in Christ.

There is still a divide in our nation… and we have work to do. I know that Falls City is a very generous, loving, and generally tolerant community… Well, I’m seeing some people shaking their heads, maybe it’s not the community that we wish it was. But each of us, if we’re really honest with ourselves, can point to prejudices and feelings we have about folks who are different from us that we need to own, to work on and  work through in conversation with others.

So, that’s what I want to propose to you. I think that in some intentional way, as a community of faith, we have to grapple with the reality of racism in our country. We’re coming up on the Fourth of July, and we always laud the Declaration of Independence and those wonderful words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Those are laudable things for us to celebrate, and yet far too often we know that we don’t live up to our nation’s highest ideals. So we need to talk. It may be in a Sunday morning forum that I’d love to invite more of you to be a part of, but… For too long, our churches have remained silent in the face of racism and prejudice and hatred, and it’s time for us to say “no more.” It’s time for us to be part of healing our nation and healing this world of the hatred and prejudice that has been a part of it [America] since its founding. So, I invite you to be in prayer for the people of Mother Emanuel AME Church, for our ELCA as we grapple with what it means to be so intimately connected to this tragedy, and for us and for our community as we do the hard work of thinking about these difficult issues that touch at the very core of who we are and who we want to be as God’s people in Christ.

Let us pray.

Lord, you have created all of us in your image, and you teach us to love one another as we love ourselves. And yet, all too often, our nation is marred by the reality of hatred and prejudice, by the demon of racism that continues to haunt us. We pray that you will give us  reflective hearts and minds, that you will give us the willingness to engage these issues openly, so that we can contribute to the healing of our nation, to the healing of our church, to the healing of this great sickness that is part of our national heritage, so that it does not remain a part of our nation’s future as well. We ask your forgiveness for all the times that we have contributed to the sin of racism, and we ask for your forgiveness and grace on us and our nation in the days and weeks and months to come. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

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