EDIT -( Please remember I’m speaking about the specific ELCA context on the campus and not the incredible Urban Theological Institute or the folks who are part of it)
Well let’s start with some basics. What is the #decolinizelutheranism movement? Well we as members of this fledgling movement have put up a website. You can find it here. #decolonizelutheranism.
Next question. Haven’t great folks been doing this sort of work for years and years in the ELCA? Yes. Yes they have.
Why is this movement gaining so much steam now? The difference between John Huss and Luther was the printing press. The difference for the #decolonize movement is social media. It’s our printing press. With the right group of emerging and established leaders who know how to leverage it. Well you get stuff like this. You get an insurgent movement calling for reform.
Why am I doing this? It is grounded in my deep and abiding love of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and fueled by my rather hopeful view of our future.
That’s my disclaimer. My disclaimer is you won’t put a lid on this. You can’t “shut me up” in my own comment section. The way social media works you are just giving me traction.
Today I want to address seminary education. Dear Church: #decolonizetheseminary. Let me tell you about things here at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Or LTSP/LTSG. Or as I have been calling it the merger-not-merger-new-school-not-new school-new venture school of theology. My family and I are deeply invested in this community. While others are considering leaving and there is a high level of anxiety on campus we are moving here. This week. In fact, I just carried up a ton of stuff to the third floor of Reed building. I’m told this is Claudio’s old apartment and that it’s ironic I’m here.
I’m one of two Black ELCA Mdiv students that just finished our first year here. One. Of. Two. Let that sink as you think about diversity in our Church. My first time I was in a Chapel service here a student asked if she was my sister. A future leader of this Church. He didn’t fail me in this moment, the ELCA seminary system failed him. He couldn’t fathom two ELCA persons of color in one class here.
Now don’t let me pretend that my story isn’t unusual. Felon. Long term recovery. Couple decades homeless. I mean brokenness abounds, mine is just exposed because I choose to share all of me. I’m vulnerable in front of you brothers and sisters because my story is unusual. It shouldn’t be.
Seminary should be the one place where a God of second chances can practice the art of grace in the lives of the marginalized. We should be literally recruiting folks like me actively. I mean it. People who know what Grace is not because of the confessions, but because a loving Jesus incarnate disrupted systemic evil and laid them before the cross.
Seminary education is designed so straight, single, white young men can come here. Live on campus. They do their first year. They go to CPE to actually experience trauma even if its third person. To make sure they see brokenness. Then they comeback as a middler. They are a leader in the community. Then they go on internship, fall in love, get engaged, get married by the time approval comes. Then they are ordained and sent to the dystopian nightmare of strip malls and soccer games that trump the sacraments.
This was a system created for a bygone era. It is broken.
You think LTSP/LTSG is a going through a lot? Theological education everywhere is facing the same challenges. Our model is not engaging the world. Like our churches (of course not all of them.) Like our liturgies.
I have one Black ELCA faculty member. One.
He is amazing and has become a role model whether he knows it or not. I have one.
I face systemic racism all the time. Its subtle and my peers actively engage in it unconsciously because they have been steeped in the culture of this church. Like Dylan Roof was. How would they know that when we engage in debate theologically, politically, or culturally that I have to use sarcasm and humor as a shield? They don’t know what they said is deeply hurtful. How many times do you correct someone? How many times until you are just another angry black activist pastor. How long until they pick you apart?
They are victims too. They are trapped in cycle of sin for the most part they don’t even see. Systemic racism and systemic evil oppresses all those involved. Liberative models free the oppressed and the oppressor. We are both locked in the satanic chains of white supremacy in a hell that was designed way before we answered the call to ministry.
I’m a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA. I have been anything but silent. Every time I write a post like this I risk my career. I run the risk of being told enough is enough. You don’t believe me? Call your local Synod office and ask them what the average time is for a person of color in your Synod to get a first call. Don’t believe me. Ask. I dare you. Ask them about women of color. You will weep.
I’m lucky. We have the Urban Theological Institute. Almost half my seminary consists of persons of color. They are from other traditions, but they are here speaking into my life. We are the exception in many ways. Ecumenical. Blessed with tons of LGBTQ leaders and theologians. We aren’t enough.
We will never have a diverse church if we don’t have diverse faculty. We will never have diverse ELCA candidates if we don’t have diverse faculty. We will never have a diverse church …….
You get the picture.
If we continually only teach Eurocentric models of theology too our white seminarians they will always refer to white contextual, and hermeneutical resources. We are the problem.
We are afraid to face these questions while we stare at shrinking endowments. Our largest tithing family just showed up to a picnic with a “Make America Great” hat. My sisters and brothers and everyone in-between who are in parish ministry; I get it. Its hard enough to lead a flock and then I’m asking you to willy nilly throw gasoline on the fire. But we are running out of time.
I’m a Fund for Leader. I’m unusual. I shouldn’t be. We need to be investing in more people with the talents and gifts for ministry who most folks wouldn’t give the time of day to. Because the marginalized are the only ones with the cultural experience to take a Church that is increasingly marginalized culturally into the 21st century.
I shouldn’t be the only one who has done a year in solitary in the room when we discuss the prisoner.
I shouldn’t be the only person of color in the room when we discuss abolition and reparations.
I shouldn’t be the only one who knows what its like to cop heroin when talk about recovery ministries.
I can’t be the only example of amazing grace.
Dear Church: #decolonizetheseminary