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Pastor Kurt’s Blog

1 Aug 2020

Living Christ through Reparations

Siblings and Friends of Living Christ,

Recently, our Wednesday book study group has been reading the book Dear Church. The author, Lenny Duncan, is a Black queer man and a pastor in the ELCA. His basic premise is that the ELCA is dying, not because of sociological reasons (demographic and generational changes), but theological reasons. He loves our basic Lutheran theological identity – that we are save by grace through faith apart from our good works for the sake of Christ – and that we are the first denomination that actually accepted him for who he is – a Black queer man. At the same time, he sees that we have allowed our Lutheran theology and practice to become corrupted by white supremacist ideology, toxic masculinity, and nationalism/empire by our acquiescing to American Exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is the greatest country there has ever been, but ignores or whitewashes our history of enslavement, genocide of indigenous people, militarization of the police, imperialism, oppression of women and LGBTQIA, and unabated capitalism.

I am not going to lay out his arguments – you can read his book to understand his points – however, he does lay out a path for how we as the Church can address our part in this system of sin. It begins, of course, with repentance, acknowledging and owning our part in the sin and seeking God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Historically, we have then sought reconciliation, which is good; however, we have skipped the intervening step: restitution or reparations.

In the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, when Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to his house, Zacchaeus announces that he will repay all the people he has cheated 5 times what he stole. (The Law required 3 times, but Zacchaeus offers 5 times as a sign of his true repentance and his generosity is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.) This is a form of reparations: financial.

Another form of reparations is public acknowledgement of past wrong. In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – countries that also have a history of genocide of indigenous people – every legislative session begins with words that bring to memory the past wrong. In Australia, it goes like this:

“I begin by acknowledging the people, Traditional Custodians of the on which we  today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.”

Many churches in the aforementioned countries begin their worship services with similar words.

In many ways, we at Living Christ have begun the process of reparations. By adopting a welcoming statement of people of all races, sexual orientation, and gender identities, joining the RIC, and being a sponsor of Flagstaff Pride in the Pines, we have made tangible steps for reparations.

We can take further steps through our hymn choices, liturgical word choices, and liturgical colors / banners that are respectful of peoples’ gender, race, and language. 

Another option would be for us to adopt a similar opening greeting as used by churches elsewhere. Perhaps, after the Words of Invocation (We begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), we could add our own version as follows:

“We also begin by acknowledging the Diné [Navajo] and [Hopi] peoples who
are the traditional custodians of the Flagstaff area on which we meet, and paying respect to the elders, past and present, of all Indigenous peoples of Arizona and the United States. We extend this respect to Navajo and Hopi peoples here today.”

In addition, just as we are a sponsor of Pride in the Pines, what would it mean for us to provide a similar reparation in support of the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Church and improve our connection with that indigenous church? (Historically, mission churches directed toward people of color have been underfunded and neglected in preference of white churches.)

What are your thoughts on these proposals? Do you have other thoughts or suggestions that you would be open to sharing? These are items that we can discuss in preparation for as well as at our December congregational meeting when we adopt our mission plan for 2021.

While we did not steal the land, our church is currently built on, we have benefitted from the sins of our ancestors. Moreover, our faith in Jesus calls us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and our neighbor. In the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and our own efforts at redevelopment, I hope you will give these thoughts and questions serious, prayerful consideration, as an act of faith active in love.

In Christ's service and yours, Pastor Kurt
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