By Maya Mineoi, Nicole Newman and Rozella White
This reflection on race, faith and justice was written by the 2015 team leaders of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE), a pre-event of the ELCA Youth Gathering that empowers young people of color and those whose primary language is other than English to claim their story as a part of God’s story, in order to move toward healing and wholeness as transformational leaders in the church and in the world.
Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As we write this, our hearts are breaking. The events of the last few months, the extreme responses from some and lack of responses from many have left us questioning. For such a time as this, we are uncertain about the role of the church and our own roles as women of color within the church. When some people are left thinking that our social patterns of hate and fear are the only way and others know of more life-giving ways but are paralyzed from realizing them, how do we speak hope to all? How do we speak out against injustice? How do we address the issue of racism? How do we use our prophetic witness of the gospel to not just speak out but live out our commitment to transformational justice in this world?
As the women who are leading the planning of the 2015 MYLE, the largest gathering of people of color within the ELCA, we must ask the question of how this church, our church, leads young people with a God-given thirst for justice to enact change. We represent a constituency that is plagued by racism and fear from our society and even from our own church. To not speak out is a disservice to the community we have been called to serve.
There are those who think today’s young generation is apathetic and disengaged from issues of injustice. To the contrary, we have experienced God’s passion for social justice in the hearts and voices of the youth and young adults of our church. We know that young people are leading change, and we also know that we need an intergenerational movement that owns both the hurtful and beautiful aspects of the legacy of our church. Many young people are hesitant to claim the gospel because they have at times experienced Christian communities to be hypocritical and irrelevant.
We know that large-scale social movements have never happened without a broad-based response and widespread involvement from the faith community. We write this letter with the hope that our voices will spark the church that we love to use its platform and its voice in a way that promotes justice, healing, reconciliation and wholeness. We not only have worldly influence as a church, but even greater, a promise of redemption and restoration from the God whom we collectively worship.
Too often, the church neglects the powerful narrative of Christianity for the rules of the world. We support reducing each other to titles and labels that we have adopted from society. It’s much easier for us to demonize or idealize each other than it is to live as humans together. It’s time that our decision making, our ways of being, our language and our actions reflect that we actually want to live in the equitable and beloved community that we profess to desire. As of now, it sounds like our Christian communities are content in the power of our privilege and the weight of our oppression. To the world it must seem that we are willing to wait until Jesus comes in Revelation to experience any sense of balance in the world.
Issues of mass incarceration, HIV and AIDS, immigration, access to health care, hunger, poverty, lack of affordable housing, and police profiling and brutality all stem from the same root – our nation’s original sin of racism. As a church we constantly advocate on these issues, but until we address the root, we will continue to be an unhealthy community serving an unhealthy world.
We have never done the hard and necessary work of reconciling ourselves to one another. We don’t see the common humanity within us all. Until we address the fact that we are living out stereotypes and deep-seated myths that have divided us, we will continue to demonize each other and kill each other.
At a time where it feels like there is no room to breathe, we can remember Mother Teresa’s wisdom, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” In order to deal with the realities of systems and structures that promote White supremacy, the church has to remind the world with its words and actions that we indeed belong to each other.
As people of Christian faith, we often use the image of the body to talk about how we are to be in relationship with one another. Parts of our body are dying, and when one part suffers, the entire body suffers.
Our body is aching. Our blood is hot with rage. Our bones are in despair. We acknowledge that all of these feelings of those who have been affected are valid. We must commit to a time of discernment, prayer and action as we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As a church, we should be praying for the families of those who have died, for the ones who are responsible for their deaths, and for each other as we continue to try to live out love.
We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering prepares to enter Detroit, which has had a significant racialized history, we must be mindful that our faith calls us to uncomfortable places in ourselves and also to uncomfortable places in the world. Our Lutheran ancestor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, alludes that we are not simply to have sympathy or awareness from afar for those struggling daily in our society. We are to change our own lives and our own society so that we all may experience justice in relationship together. We must do the work of figuring out our own privilege and our own oppression so that we can be authentic and relevant leaders for change. This is God’s work in the world.
When fear-based responses to hate cause disorder, tension, rapid change or personal discomfort at the cost of human dignity, we often hear a destructive focus on the individual: My work, My hands.
We as a church get to profess and deeply live out an alternative:
“Gods work. Our hands.”
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We invite you to these opportunities to come together:
- Commit to reading and studying the ELCA social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.”
- Connect with ELCA Advocacy and the Dec. 13 National March Against Police Violence.
- Chat with ELCA Young Adults on Twitter on Thursday, Dec.11, at 8 p.m. CST for a conversation on faith, race and culture with the hashtag #coloringfaith.
- Create time for ongoing prayer for healing, wholeness and reconciliation.
- Connect with someone who looks different than you, because we belong to one another.