But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:29

A week ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a Mexican restaurant near our seminary campus. Six men were arrested and placed in detainment. They have families. Kids in school. Seminary students, faculty and staff frequent this place almost daily. It never occurred to me that staff might be working under expired visas or no visas at all. It never occurred to me that with each passing day, they could be dragged out of their workplace and detained and/or deported with little or no legal recourse.

This is what it means to live in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “dream.” Those of us who identify as white can float above it all. We can enjoy enchiladas and margaritas served by others who live in silent terror. “Go in peace and serve the Lord,” we merrily say at the end of worship. Then we complain when our favorite restaurant is closed because of an ICE raid. This isn’t just white fragility—it’s deliberate blindness.

I’ve realized it’s not enough to simply teach about white fragility. I must also act and leverage my white privilege to help those who are disenfranchised and marginalized. I cannot ignore the cry of my neighbor. I cannot rationalize this away by assuming the guilt of people who are innocent, of parents who want the same opportunity for their children that I provide for mine.

We who identify as white must recognize that people of color—our siblings in Christ—are suffering because of the privilege we take for granted.

If we take a hard look at ourselves, we must recognize our Christian aspirations of a beloved community are often nothing more than an unholy ambition of self-service. Our congregations look like exclusive clubs for people like us. If Jesus showed up at our house of worship on a Sunday morning with his Palestinian skin, we’d be uncomfortable.

And wanting to justify ourselves, we ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

As this series concludes, I leave you with reflections from the students in my course. Their words encourage us to see our neighbors around us and get out of the pews and into the reality of a suffering world.

“The Jesus of the Gospels is different from the one [depicted in] our stained-glass images. He is not always pretty, not always white, not always timid and polite. The real Jesus always goes there—into the places of hurt, separation and exclusion … [he] gives name and voice to that which polite society will only whisper. He goes there. But not how we as [white] people so often go there. He goes and brings healing and hope.” – Pastor Sean Ewbank, serving in the Southeast Michigan Synod

“As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we are part of a denomination that is 97 percent white (citing Pew Research Center). Since we belong to a church that is monochromatic, we need to the come to the difficult realization that white privilege gets in the way of our ability to truly love our neighbor.”  – Dan Purtell, Master of Divinity candidate serving in the New England Synod

“If we are changed by our encounter with Jesus, we will work to end violence and divergent levels of access. We will work to stop violence against people of color …  we will be honest about the need for reparations to help fix the balance of sins of the past.” – Tim Rosenberger, Master of Divinity candidate serving in the Northeast Ohio Synod

“The effect of Palm Sunday is to snap us to awareness so we can find our place in that story. In the crowd. As bystanders. Onlookers. Indifferent, or worse, ignorant. Are we powerless victims? Are we privileged citizens that can afford to look away? If we have not grieved the death of Stephon Clark who was murdered by Sacramento police, if we have not grieved the murder of school children, if we do not grieve the death of Syrian children, what have we become? Fragile avoiders of pain? Parade watchers? But if we find ourselves marching with Jesus on Palm Sunday, then it is not too late. We can become protest marchers, hoping against despair that the world changes: that the gun fight ends, that the wars cease, the nonviolence prevails, that love wins and peace comes to earth. May we march with Jesus and that reign of peace to come. May we shout hosannas and march on until the God’s peace prevails.” – Pastor Matt Lenahan, serving in the Lower Susquehanna Synod.


Martin Zimmann
The Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmann is an adjunct professor of church and society at United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg campus. He holds a Ph.D. in American culture studies.

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