Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, have cooled but the images from last weekend continue to burn hot: images of Nazi flags parading through the town, angry mobs chanting white supremacist and anti-Semitic slogans, Christians trapped in a church and threatened by a pepper-spraying crowd outside. These are but a few of the scenes that endure from a weekend of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured, and indirectly led to the deaths of Virginia State Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates.
As people who bear the name “Christian,” we are called and empowered to stand up and speak out against the intolerance and hatred obscenely on display in Charlottesville. As our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, reminds us, “White supremacy has no place in the kingdom of God, only the love and healing of the reign of the Prince of Peace.” The kingdom of God is not some far-off reality, waiting for us when we leave this earth; it is right here and now, for those who allow themselves to be claimed by it and commit themselves to live according to its values. We either follow Jesus, or we follow someone and something less.
It is important to call a thing by its right name. Racism is not simply a “problem.” In the ELCA’s social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture,” we are reminded that “Racism – a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice – is sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity. The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God’s creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity. Racism fractures and fragments both church and society.” (You can read the full social statement here.)
As Lutheran Christians we acknowledge that we are both saint and sinner at the same time. So even as we who are white are honest about our own racist tendencies, we can also allow what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” to spur us to action against those tendencies. The kingdom in which we live will benefit. Sometimes, intolerance is a good thing: we can refuse to laugh at the racist joke, we can refuse to pass on the email containing the Islamophobic rumor, we can refuse to stay silent instead of confronting the teller of the homophobic story. We are who Christ has made us, and he has not made us to remain quiet in the face of hate.
And I ask you to do more. Don’t simply celebrate the idea of diversity; cross whatever boundaries define your life and seek out someone who qualifies as “other” and actually get to know them, because they too are people for whom Christ died and as such are our brothers and sisters. Loving those who Christ loves is truly God’s work, and it’s in our hands. Let’s get going, Church.
Rev. Roger Gustafson, Bishop
Central States Synod