Lutherans from across the country seeking to rout out white supremacy in the church assembled March 1-3 in Minneapolis for the triennial gathering of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice. Meeting under the theme “Building Power Together,” the group participated in worship, reflection, connection, action and strategic decision-making.

To better clarify the organization’s purpose, the assembly voted to rename it the ELCA Association of White Lutherans for Racial Justice. “We wanted to be clear about our name and our work,” said Desta Goehner, whom the assembly elected as the association’s new president.

“In accountable relationships with the ethnic associations and the ELCA director for racial justice, Jen De Leon, we will be focused on dismantling white supremacy in ourselves, reducing the harm of racism in our ministries and congregations, and working toward the liberation of all people,” said Goehner, an ELCA spiritual director and program director of Thriving Leadership Formation at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. “We will follow and support these leaders of the global majority in the work they have already been doing.”

“We wanted to be clear about our name and our work.”

This group is one of six ethnic-specific associations of the ELCA. Established by the ELCA Church Council in 2006, the association was constituted and named the European American Lutheran Association in 2008. In 2015, it changed its name to the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice.

The association’s purpose, according to its bylaws, is to “dismantle racism, white privilege, and white power by recognizing and confessing our individual and corporate sin and addressing institutional racism in the church and society.”

The assembly met for an opening worship service and ceremony March 1 at the offices of 1517 Media. In opening remarks, outgoing association president Shari Seifert introduced herself as bi-vocational: “I sell houses, and I dismantle white supremacy in the church.” A real estate agent and a member of Calvary Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Seifert invoked the gathering’s theme by asserting the importance of dismantling before building. “You’ve got to undo some things in order to make it beautiful,” she said. “Nothing’s going to get better until we deal with that foundation.”

Remembering and resisting

On March 2 the assembly met in working teams over breakfast before a panel discussion with George Floyd Square (GFS) community members at Calvary, which is one block from where Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in May 2020. Panelists Angela Harrelson (Floyd’s aunt), Jennie Leenay, Linda Taylor, Marquise Bowie, Kia Bible and Georgio Wright shared their stories and encouraged the assembly members to act in their own communities.

“We already have a Savior—we don’t need other saviors,” said Leenay, a community leader, fashion designer and organizer of the People’s Closet clothing donation center in GFS. “We need resources and opportunities. We need people who want to make a friend, to know our names. People who want to have a conversation.”

The discussion was followed by a community member-guided pilgrimage through GFS, now a living memorial where individuals and organizations can gather to remember and resist racial injustice with victims and their families. The assembly then visited the urban art installation Say Their Names Cemetery, which commemorates victims of police brutality and other violence.

From the cemetery, GFS-based musicians Brass Solidarity led the assembly in a procession past the intersection where Floyd was murdered to Calvary for a worship service.

Jia Starr Brown, a pastor who received her doctorate in social transformation and serves as anti-racist accountability consultant for the association, preached the sermon. “In Micah 6:8 the prophet reminds us that God requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,’” Starr Brown said. “The Hebrew word used for ‘mercy’ is hesed, which translates to a deep, loving relationship, loyal and unfailing.

“We already have a Savior—we don’t need other saviors.”

Hesed requires time, energy, commitment and investment. ‘Doing justice’ is a critical part of that. I do not enter into a hesed relationship with anyone who does not actively work for my overall good, defending my character and advocating for my justice when it is questioned, compromised or stolen. And neither should you.”

The day ended with an author event at Aloft Minneapolis, facilitated by Dawn Rundman of 1517 Media. The author panel included Starr Brown, Seifert, Angela T. !Khabeb, Kelly Sherman-Conroy and Jenny Sung, who have all authored books or book chapters published by 1517 Media that call white people to bear witness to racial violence and collaborate for racial justice.

On March 3 the gathering concluded with a business meeting and closing ceremony. In the meeting the assembly elected new board members and officers. In addition to Goehner new officers include Michael Wilker, vice president; Jennifer Thomas, treasurer; and Dawn Roginski, secretary.

“Leaders like Shari and the other board members have shown up for racial justice in our church,” Goehner said. “They created this strong foundation and trustworthy relationships for us to keep building. The work they have done has set the tone for us to increase our capacity, network and impact.

“The board’s goal is that, by our next assembly, we will have grown this network to hundreds of people, and that our impact for good is felt and recognized.”

John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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