Pastoral Letter regarding Charlottesville

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

At the very core of Christian teaching is the imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of Luke, when someone asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan – whose race and faith are that of the hated “other” – helps an ailing Jew, at great risk to himself.

My friends, the events we have watched unfold in Charlottesville since last Friday are entirely contrary to this central message of our faith. White supremacy, racism, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, white nationalism – call it what you will, but as Christians who proclaim Christ crucified and risen, who abide by Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we must call it what it is: an evil that is contrary to the Gospel.

This is not a partisan or political issue, and it is destructive to point fingers at the “other side.” This is a human issue, and it is certainly a faith issue. People who proclaim Christ cannot stand by silently while our neighbors, fellow humans created in the image of God, are degraded, dehumanized, attacked, and killed, simply for differing in race or creed. As Luther says in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, we must not call evil good and good evil, but we must call a thing what it is. And racism, whether overt as angry, torch-carrying white supremacists, or covert in our daily life, is a sin. As a pastor of Christ’s Church, I condemn the racist oppression and violence we saw in Charlottesville last weekend, and that which we see around the world on a daily basis, and I hope you will do the same.

But quick as we may be to call racism the sin of others, we must also be willing to confess our own part in it. This October, we will remember that 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door. The first thesis states, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” With this in mind, I have been praying for God to help me use this week’s events as a mirror, helping me to look into what darkness lies in my own heart.

So in addition to denouncing hatred and bigotry and embracing love and diversity, I hope you will also join me in a time of prayerful repentance. Pray that God would open your eyes to times you have fallen short of defending your neighbor of a different race or creed, times you have found yourself making judgments of someone (even unconsciously) based on their skin color, or times you simply remained silent, ignoring or avoiding the racism and bigotry around you. Silence is complicity, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said regarding the resistance to Hitler and the Nazis: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Let us speak and act, brothers and sisters, out of love for our neighbor. Let us listen to the stories of those most affected. Let us repent of our role, however big or small, and change our ways accordingly. Let us pray, for victims, perpetrators, leaders, and for ourselves. If you would like to talk, pray, confess, or cry with me, I welcome you. My door is open.

In faith and hope,

Pastor Johanna

 

Note:

If you would like to talk in person about the events of last weekend, please join me at Bethlehem at 9:30 on Aug 20, this Sunday morning. We have our joint worship and potluck at 11am on that day, so I will be available for conversation prior to that.

If you would like to do further exploration of systemic racism, including personal reflection, or see our Lutheran church body’s perspective on systemic racism, please check out the ELCA’s Social Statement on the topic: Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture. This 8-page document can be read individually, but is well-used as a study resource with a group. If you are interested in such a study, I would be very interested in having a group engage in this important topic in this way. The statement can be found here: http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture