Monday, November 14, 2016

To what is God calling the North American progressive church in this moment?

"The role of progressive clergy and nuns in creating sanctuaries and in demanding accountability from the new administration cannot be overestimated." (Lisa Corrigan)
I will resist white ethno-nationalist fascism with every thread in my body. And I'll be damned if I watch Lutherans repeat their past. (Eric Worringer)
There's a lot of noise, and many conflicting voices, in this transition period between the election of a ethno-nationalist presidential candidate and his inauguration into a seat of power. Even if he offers some ameliorating words (Stop it!), the flood-gates have already been opened by his campaign rhetoric, and his current slate of nominees to influential positions and cabinet seats illustrates quite clearly the "alt-right" direction he intends to lead the country.

And let's be completely clear: Trump was elected by white Christians. They made up the largest block of his supporters, and the percentages of white Christians who voted for Trump were, as he says, "Yuge!"

Since white Christianity played such an important role in the election of such a candidate, in the process blessing ethno-nationalist sentiments (notice the major uptick in hate speech post-election), it is now the theological and moral responsibility of those of us who lead white Christian congregations to take clear and decisive action, offering a clear and compelling voice and vision in this moment.

But what, exactly, should we do, and what should we say?

I think we might try at least the following:

1. Admit complicity.
2. Listen to and amplify marginalized voices.
3. Stand with.
4. Articulate a clear and compelling vision of the kingdom of God.
5. Don't wait and see.

Admit complicity

If I look at a map of the country, and see which counties and states elected Trump, that map by and large matches another map, a map of where the majority of ELCA churches are located. We are a rural church, by and large, and much of our membership lives in majority white communities. Even if the Christian perspective of the leadership of our denomination emphasizes some of the classic liberal emphases on diversity, inclusion, valuing multiculturalism and racial reconciliation, our makeup and practice falls far behind our ideals. 

The truth is, we've been failing at this. We think we are above the fray, and can judge communities who are more transparent in their racism and ethnic profiling, but we are complicit. We haven't done the work of reparations. We're been far too influenced by the theology of whiteness. 

We need to confess. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I/we have not done enough of the work myself, and we are now reaping what we have sown, by our neglect and indifference. Lutherans in particular have been here before, and we didn't do that well. But we have some examples of how to do better. We should learn from them.

To all those affected by the results of an election like this, I say, I am sorry. I am working to do better. I take full responsibility.

Listen to and amplify marginalized voices

I am hearing so many movements that are starting that are going to attempt to do the work of creating sanctuary, holding our government accountable. I want to amplify what they are doing. Here are a few:

An open letter to Our Nation from 100 Woman of Color Leaders

The American Civil Liberties Union

Southern Poverty Law Center


I stand ready to amplify and share more. Tell me who you believe is doing the best organizing work.

Stand With

This week I plan to attend a community cohesion forum here in our Northwest Arkansas community. I believe bringing diverse people together to hear their voices and find common cause is essential. This doesn't solve everything because getting to the shared table isn't as easy for everyone, but if communities work on such community organizing, and work hard at repairing the breach, offering special space for the ostracized voices, even amplifying them, good work gets done.

I plan to attend a listening event for the Latino community Thursday, and hopefully participate in an anti-racism walk over the weekend. The point is to get out, be with, stand for, stand with, stand strong. Get organized, run for office, visit your congresspeople, march on Washington.

Articulate a clear and compelling vision of the kingdom of God

Many of us have been intuiting that we need another Barmen Declaration, another Darmstadt Word, to boldly proclaim that there's only one thing that centers us as Christians, and it is Christ and him crucified, not whiteness and itself asserted. We are increasingly aware not only that racism and misogyny are influential in our culture, but that they are alternative theological narratives that have so inhabited our worldview that we have confused whiteness with Christianity, and the kingdom of God with patriarchy. 

It is going to take a lot of work from diverse voices to condemn the heresy of whiteness. It is going to be a very long journey dismantling patriarchy. And tied in together with those heresies, we have significant doses of other false religions, chief among them being consumerism and capitalism.

I don't list these because of the politics or the identity issues, although those are there. Significant critiques of all of these things can be and are expressed in secular terms. But for Christian communities, the problem is even more problematic: these structural sins have become so entangled in our theology that we confuse them for Christianity itself. 

So one part of the theological work is critique, and confession. But then an alternative vision needs to be written and lived in a post-critical phase. We need to be able to say two things: what the kingdom of God is not; and then what the kingdom of God IS.

Here, at this point, progressive Christianity has in fact done some good work, deserves some credit. We indeed already offer sanctuary. We tend to win the culture wars even if we lose some elections.

And frankly, because of the God we proclaim (one who is always found among the oppressed, whose Spirit rises up from the bottom, who lifts up the downtrodden and is made perfect in powerlessness), the church who will stand against the principalities and powers of ethno-nationalism is and will be at its best when it lives the alternative rather than beating the abuser at forms of abuse, playing power games just like the powerful (that is, we at least try to learn a bit about mimetic theory). 

Don't Wait and See

Some people be like, "Well, we really don't know what this administration will be like. We'll just have to wait and see." That's the worst strategy ever. It's what evil is always hoping for, good people who do nothing until it's too late, and then they can't do anything at all. Start imagining and acting now, living towards the future. Be an outpost of the kingdom of God now. Don't try to float only after everything has flooded.

In the end, I find forward movement on all of this challenging, on some levels disheartening, and on other levels incredibly energizing. As the pastor of a progressive Christian congregation, I feel like this is a kairos moment, an opportunity for us to confess the faith that is in us, and to find common cause with others. I am hopeful, in spite of the challenges; I'm mindful of the real threat many feel, and promise to stand with all those who are afraid.

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