Discover more from a sorcerer's notebook
Dear ELCA: We don't believe you anymore.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church In America will most likely not exist after this summer. If not this summer then within the next year the ELCA will go through schism. It will come with incredible strife, turmoil, loss of membership, legacy, and the loss of what many assumed was a permanently ensconced place among America’s largest Mainline Christian denominations.
The symptoms of what ails the ELCA were easy enough to see. The now three year old removal of the ELCA’s first consecrated and installed Black woman to the office of Bishop, Viviane Brietfield Thomas, and the now obvious gaslighting and racist series attacks engineered by her own synod council or staff, but whom like a good Christian soldier fell on her sword, probably signed an NDA, and took three months severance apparently. The ignoble end of her career as the first consecrated Black Woman Bishop, in this church, history truly.
No explanation or comment form our Churchwide organization or the Presiding Bishop. If there was I missed it.
The tepid responses to Philando Castille should have been enough to warn us what was coming. You can throw a lefse in the Twin Cities without hitting an ELCA member in the face with it. Philando’s death and the activist outraged by his murder, got little to no local Bishop support, and our presiding Bishop made one visit. One visit. Maybe there was two?
We are a “sanctuary denomination” that wouldn't dream of hosting an undocumented political prisoner, or their family, in the main office in Chicago, the only building our “sanctuary status” that is actually bound by this great theological document.
Front page of the Washington Post for that? I dare you to ask the Office of Secretary to give you a list of churches actually doing that work. They have no clue. Why?
Because almost every one of the 65 members of our conference of Bishops immediately sent “pastoral letters;’ of concern to their racist members who went on tirades about us letting “rapist”, “murders”, and “crimnals” in this country and sheltering them in our churches. That part didn't make it in the Post.
You would think after Dylan Roof they would get it. The presiding Bishop said to the entire denomination at the time: “It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this ... the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism……..We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?”
Indeed Elizabeth. When will it end? Not Buffalo. And not in the ELCA. And certainly not after Day one of the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly.
Black leaders in the ELCA have been very clear over the years. My elders have been underpaid, put in hopeless situations with no support, all because of the redlining and white flight many of our fellow members of this church have participated in over the last 30 years. In congregations that can barely pay for our healthcare with only public assistance and medicaid to meet our retiree’s at the end and fill the gaps. Because a congregation that can't afford healthcare and basic programming can't afford to match your retirement. I couldn’t imagine giving 3 to 4 + decades of Black labor to retire worse off than when I started, and I’m sure Christ couldn't either.
But the disease is white supremacy and it will choke the life out of the ELCA this summer. With a growing Reformation Movement and hundreds of congregations, their leaders, are ready to demand radical change to the system.
After the 2020 uprisings while Black peoples had an existential crisis the ELCA hedged its bets the whole way. Overwhelmed and with the cultural competency of a drunken 5 year old the ELCA spectacularly failed to stand up to white supremacy because they weren't sure who was going to win.
Christo-fascism or the Gospel.
I mean almost immediately at the beginning of 2020, from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s insistence we enter the 2020 Golden Rule covenant with BP Micheal Curry and others, which was basically a calling to us: to play nice with the fascists.
Here let me summarize it for you:
“Look, we know they deny your right to be living or breathing, but as a Pastor, we respect your right to resist death but can you be more polite while you do it?”
I can't even give you all the context of my personal struggles with trying to get a church that invited me in, then asked me not pay attention to what they were actually serving at the table. It was not the heavenly banquet they thought it was.
The mealworms of systemic white supremacy, civil religion that had morphed into a virulent strain of Christo-facism that a thousand rainbow flags out front wouldn't spare me or any other Black Queer person from.
Which brings us to the current situation with the Sierra Pacific Synod, The Right Reverend and Bishop Meghan Roher, and the roiling controversy surrounding them and their ministry, and the removal of Rev. Nelson Rabell. The details have been scattered throughout the internet, and after all I told you does it even matter if the good Bishop followed the ecclesastical policy and polity in the proper forms to remove Rev. Rabell?
How could any BIPOC person after all we have suffered trust anything the ELCA, the Presiding Bishop, the Church Wide Offices, or anyone with the protection of the Conference of Bishops, and all the power that office infers, be trusted with this church, in these times.
This is an incredibly intersectional and complex situation of having our first Trans Bishop now pitted against the vast majority of the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA. Also completely predictable if you know how white supremacy operates.
The Synod council fell over themselves to support their Bishop. Of course they did. The system is designed this way, particularly the kind of “family systems” that become part and parcel of the byzantine maze of polity thrown together in the 90’s because three churches wanted to have an orgy and call it Lutheranism. The strains, formulas, creeds, a constitution that has only one real provision, we are one church or else, and budgets, which are theological documents, are all part of the thing thats in the rot of this church, the weird heteronormative white church culture that is the the ELCA.
Who is telling the truth? Does it matter? Not to me as Black Queer leader in this church. In fact to most BIPOC and or LGBTQIA+ leaders, BIPOC and or LGBTQIA+ ELCA faith communities, their accomplices, their allies, congregations committed to the work of casting out white supremacy, queer phobia, and actually make real change in a world begging for meaning makers and care givers, it doesnt matter.
I will believe the experience of Misión Latina Luterana. I will believe the experience of the listening team.
I will believe the victims. That's literally what the movement for Black Lives is all about, that is all the traumatized Apostles of Jesus Christ had to proclaim on Pentecost, and we to proclaim that we believe their victims report of what the empire had done to them, and how salvation, love, and liberation had overcome.
Believe the victims.
The ELCA, The Office of the Presiding Bishop, the Conference of Bishops, have all become part of the strange Rorschach test that is America now for BIPOC people, and we are all so weary of staring into the depths of this church to see if there is, or is there not, racism. A Soul. Hope.
For our wayward white siblings to finally repent and offer reparations.
I have looked into the abyss that is the ELCA and I find it broken, angry, vengeful in its systems, and spiteful in it’s tolerance of its BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ siblings who make up its only real spiritual life blood.
In a landscape of decimated membership numbers, failing seminary education, that is starting to resemble Mdiv mills, and a country that is on the brink, we see the churchwide gathering coming this August on the horizon, and the ELCA will be damn lucky to survive it.
Because Black People. Queer people. Trans People. Latino People. Indigenous People. AAPPI People. White anti-racist Leaders and members. Our faith communities. We dont believe you anymore. We have lost all faith in this Presiding Bishop and probably the next. Because they are in violation of our first provision in our constitution that matters. We are one church. We know that's a lie through our lived experience.
How will the ELCA survive that?
Written in Love and Liberation
The Rev. Lenny Duncan +