All Church Eyes on Ferguson
Maybe We Should Be Looking
Closer to Home
There are many pictures of Jesus with little children. They dot Sunday School rooms across the country.
Seated at Jesus’ feet are children of every color.
Ahh! The Church as it was meant to be.
Easier depicted than done!
Diversity was/is a major stated goal of our denomination—Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Has been for years.
The question is “how?”!
One tactic for promoting diversity is to seek pastoral candidates that are diverse. Place pastors of color in homogenous neighborhoods of a different color. That’ll turn things around. Does it work?
Diversity is tough partly because we are unsure of why we want it.
- Is it to fulfill the image we grew up with—that image of Jesus sitting in a garden with beautiful children of every race?
- Is it because we want to address the social issues of race in our society?
- Is it because the mainline church is running out of white Christians to fund it?
- Is it for a feather in leaders’ caps?
Here is a post by a prominent black Baptist pastor, the Rev. Frederick D. Robinson. His thoughts are prompted by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. (A young, unarmed, black man was shot and killed by a white police officer. This sparked looting and rioting.)
The details about the shooting are still being sorted out. The racially charged anger that surely has been brewing for a very long time cannot wait.
Rev. Robinson discusses what diversity means to the Church.
He makes an interesting comment toward the end.
And a good place for that resistance to start is with a deconstruction of our theology, a theology that has been shaped more by the economic interests of America than by Christ.
I suspect there is something more going on and I need only replace one word to make the point.
And a good place for that resistance to start is with a deconstruction of our theology, a theology that has been shaped more by the economic interests of the CHURCH than by Christ.
Redeemer Lutheran Church in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia can speak to the Church’s emphasis on diversity. We grew from being a solidly white congregation in 1970 to a very diverse congregation by 2008. There was even great diversity among our newer black members. Over the decades we experienced great criticism for being primarily white—even when our neighborhood was primarily white. We experienced the church’s tactic of placing a black pastor—not of our choice—in the pulpit to promote diversity. This was not successful. But Redeemer was successful with subsequent pastors—both black and white—who were chosen by our community. But our regional body—still stinging from their failures—was unable to see progress when it wasn’t achieved “their way.”
“Their way” was largely motivated by “their needs.” Their need to place pastors. Their need to control property and assets. Their need to save face when their ideas bombed.
These needs were so overpowering that the Church thought nothing of locking out all the members of the church—black and white, man and woman, adult and child—to gain control of assets and disempower lay leaders who were leading successfully.
A painting of Redeemer’s membership would have looked like the old Sunday School pictures. But the economic needs of the Church created its own reality.
I suspect this is happening all over the Church today. Ferguson took to the streets. Redeemer took to the courts. Neither work very well.
We could try the gospel. Hmmm!
I stated earlier in the post that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is our denomination. The truth—they kicked us out, locked our doors, grabbed our endowment funds and sold our property. They had diversity. They preferred money.
We never voted to leave the ELCA, but we have been excluded for six years from any participation. Do we have to take to the streets for clergy to notice?