That black lives matter should be obvious but unfortunately it is not. Black Lives Matter is not simply a rhetorical expression coined by a few. It is in fact an existential cry with deeply spiritual roots. Born from the depths of centuries of collective oppression (remember slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow,) it is an expression of the groans of the Spirit of which Paul spoke, the collective prayer of a people demanding their right to exist, their inalienable right to be.
Historical amnesia, personal guilt and (un)conscious bias often get in the way of helpful conversations about the issue of race in the United States of America and elsewhere. In order to understand the plight and tactics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement it is indispensable to have a clear view of the historical roots of the issue. It is a curious phenomenon that oppressors and those who have benefitted from oppressive arrangements often want to move on from the past and get exasperated at the victims’ (no, survivor’s) need to constantly remember the past. But as we should have learned by now from the example of South Africa and our own civil rights movement, among so many others, without truth there can be no reconciliation. So we must dare to explore the past, we must be humble in understanding our own feelings of guilt or anger or self righteousness, and we must place it all under the cross of the One who died to redeem us from our own self-destructive ways and to open up a new way, a way of peace, reconciliation and true justice for all.
We dedicate this issue of the JLE to BlackLivesMatter in honor of those who have died untimely deaths, as victims of an unjust system that seems to predestine some for peace and relative prosperity and others for constant vigilance, strife and sometimes “accidental” deaths at the hands of scared neighbors or the misjudgment of law enforcement officers who are rarely made accountable for their tragic mistakes or in some occasions blatant abuse. It is dedicated to the tears of mothers and fathers who have had to bury their beautiful black children while seeing the reputation of that same child tarnished by the media and their parenting questioned by experts who know nothing about their reality but nonetheless do not hesitate to sell their expert commentary to so-called news shows. And, finally, we dedicate this issue as a humble gesture of solidarity and commitment to those who have been embodying the presence of Christ as the church in the midst of such struggles while themselves wondering, where is the church in times such as these? You are the church! And we thank God for your leadership and your boldness to call the rest of us to wake up and join you to proclaim and embody the gospel hand in hand with those who keep yelling: blacklivesmatter!
This issue opens with a poem by Nicole Newman, a Lutheran young adult woman who lives out her faith as a black activist and community organizer. Through the alchemy of poetry she transforms the anguish she has to face daily into painfully beautiful words that make it possible for the reader to feel, if just for a moment, the world as it might be felt from where she stands as a black young women in the USA today. Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane then offers us a reflection of how he led the church in responding to the riots in Baltimore triggered after the unjustified death of Michael Brown while in police custody. He writes of how the theology of accompaniment of our church guided him through that process and how it can be a helpful compass in the ELCA’s bold intention, stated by our presiding bishop, to engage the issue of racism in honest and constructive ways. Finally, Rozella White, opens for us a window into the hearts of black and brown young-adults in our own church who yearn for a word from their church signaling serious commitment to their struggle of dismantling racism (in our society and in our church) and building alternatives that are in line with Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God.
My hope and prayer is that this edition of the JLE will inspire or provoke serious conversations across our church about the issue of racial justice, and the many other issues interconnected to racial justice. These conversations will be painful at times and often divisive; but if they are inspired by genuine love and guided by the desire to follow Christ, they will bear abundant fruits that will serve for the healing of our society.