Why the ELCA Needs to Start a Reparations Process: Part 5

Reparations and Final Thoughts

Dear 66th Synod:

We did it.

We raised 1% of my overall goal of 32 million, and we did it in less than a week.

Dear ELCA: The people are ready; why aren’t you? Is propping up the institution more important than #BlackLives? 

By the time we reached Part 4 of this series, we had smashed the goal in five days with just a few thousand readers. 

It isn’t lost on me that readership dropped the closer we got to action. You know, once we started talking brass tacks, strategy, and, of course, cash. That is consistent with my experience of this church: flowery words; theological statements with no teeth to them; policies that compound systemic trauma. We love all of these things in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

That’s actually our bread and butter: a dusty tradition so focused on its intellectual prowess that it has lost the ability to test the Spirit. I am proof of that. How could the highest levels of leadership of this church know me and think this isn’t going to be a problem? Literally, since I was a child. I was fifteen years old when I first spent time in solitary confinement, how about you? 

I am the prisoner. 

Ever eat out of a trashcan because you were starving? Do you know which ones have the best food? Outdoor cafes.  I would sit for hours as a kid watching you eat decadent foods and drink wine, hoping you got full and lazy enough to throw it away at the trash can on the corner. 

I am hunger. 

Have you ever had a cop beat you for kicks, then laugh at how easily he covered it up as he drove you to the station? Has a sheriff tried to hit you with his SUV or pulled a pump shotgun on you? 

I am the bruises of America. 

One last question, ELCA. Have you ever waited on mail call in a cell every day for years at time, knowing no one was writing? Knowing no one cares, for young Black men have no nation. No rights. No hope of covenant with the land they live in.

I am the flaw in the founding fathers. 

The smartest minds in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met a field hand like me, saw the torch in my hand, and let me in the house. 

Maybe it was because I was white enough. 

My light skin gives me a proximity to whiteness that I will never underestimate. 

Maybe it was the lessons I learned hiding on your streets as a homeless dread-y Black kid in the 90’s. One was that white people always assume they are in control of every situation, even if they suspect you may be smarter than they are. 

They arrogantly pat themselves on the back for “centering” your voice. They found a “talented” one. They never once consider that you may actually have agency or plans of your own. Guess they know now. 

As of today, we have smashed the 32K goal. You can check that out here. My partners reached out to an attorney who can guide us through this process and possibility. They were kind enough to share some helpful information with us on next steps. I will share the summary of the notes I received from this dear friend. 

Also, shoutout to the dozens now helping me with this in some way. 

 Here are her recommendations of process. 

  1. Call together the group that might be the potential board over Zoom sooner rather than later to start expanding our network and to help create clarity on vision. Board members will also need to be listed on our state and federal filing information. 

  2. With the leadership team/board, work to find the following people who would be willing to give their time pro-bono or in-kind their time (this will look better for the start of a non-profit and will prevent startup funds to be use for overhead costs) to oversee the following tasks of identifying the following:

    Corporate Lawyer - will help with all state and federal filings 

    Bookkeeper - will oversee income/revenue and set up the endowment 

    Developer - someone who is skilled in estate planning and fundraising 

  3. Start working to draft a business plan which will be needed for all legal docs and filing. This will also help to create a timeline of tasks and deadlines as well as mission, vision, value, scope of work, and bylaws. 

This is an ask. If you fit the bill for any of these roles and are willing to volunteer a few hours a month, please message me on all the things. (Facebook, Twitter, Insta)

My goal is to gather a board of all Black woman leaders via Zoom and pay them well for their initial intellectual labor. Everything is on the table, and I won’t even be in the discussions. Why don’t we allow Black women to determine their own needs?  I will just provide whatever is needed to complete these goals. I hope to be able to share the endowment information, the board, and nonprofit info with y’all by January, then walk away and focus on my dope AF new book and other writing projects. I just want to write Black literature, y’all. 

Fam, please keep in mind, I have never done this before. 

It’s my first time calling for reparations and getting an actual response; give me a sec team. Once GoFundMe releases the funds (they are confirming that y’all knew this was for an endowment for reparationswhich was so unusual they are doing a second verification), I will park the money in a secondary savings account, and any donor can request a copy of the statement. 

I will open a ministry savings account with the ELCA Federal Credit Union ASAP and release those numbers monthly until the endowment is established and the board and nonprofit release the numbers in a way they determine. 

The whole point of this exercise is to trust Black people with money, but more importantly, self-determination, in white spaces. If you are going to hit me up because you are nervous about your 128 bucks, please cancel your payment by next week. 

I’m not trying to flex but me and mines is fine. This money represents a part time job for me that I am doing for free until January. Just keeping it real. 

I have never been prouder of the people of God. We can subvert Christian hierarchy and its love affair with white supremacy. We can face the rising ancient evil in this land. We will see the banquet of God that is set even before our enemies.  We will become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

For my spiritual and mental health, this will be my last post on this subject until the board is formed. I will update folks when there is news. Keep organizing. Keep talking to your councils. Keep holding our leaders in this church to account, including me. The hope is by January there will be a Reparations Endowment you can divert the mission support that would have went to churchwide, not Synod support, to the Endowment. Just the small percentage that goes to churchwide. 

That allows our Bishops to make faithful decisions in light of their ordination vows and the responsibility exercising of their offices as it relates to mission support and where it goes.

Thank you to Bree, the only damn real one in my life and the only one who has known me since I was teenager. You reminded me of two things, my love.

1.      I never owe anyone an explanation.

2.      I was never a careerist in the church. I am true believer, and my heart is broken. Fuck clericalism.

A few final thoughts. 

None of these posts have represented the good people of Messiah Lutheran Church, their views, their theology, nor in any way reflect the church I am called to. Nor do they represent Jubilee Collective or my co-pastors. No one asked me to say that; I just want to be clear.

They are written in the spirit to which this entire newsletter is dedicated. These are the unvarnished writings and occasional theological take of one Black queer writer. 

You can speak truth to power and love the people at the same time. Even if some of them are heavily invested in that power. 

Some people would say that is the essence of Christianity. 

The fact that I even have to say this shows you how far we have drifted from the shore as a nation. That good, decent, thinking believers can’t tell the difference in our current climate is actually pretty disheartening. People of God. Don’t make the mistake of the 60’s. Don’t mistake strategy for morality. Nor should you judge me by words on the internet alone. My theology is lived out incarnate in Vancouver WA. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

I can talk about dismantling white supremacy in the institutional church and love the people I serve in a mostly white denomination. I have been doing it for years. You should be more worried about our national leaders.

My last two questions for you, ELCA, are this:

Do you just believe that it is impossible to fight for Black liberation and be a loving pastor? 

Or is it that you just can’t imagine this church without white supremacy? 




I have the honor of being this church’s obedient servant

Lenny Duncan +