I had been in Ferguson since Mid August. I showed up not knowing exactly what I was doing or what my role was, but I felt compelled to show up anyways. I would like to say that I have always felt the urge to fight for Black liberation. I would like that to be true, and in some ways, yes, I have always felt a certain whisper urging me towards solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed.
But things were different now.
Now I was the mother to a Black daughter.
Now my responses were less driven from a theoretical or academic headspace. My response was less a measured response to an ethical or theological dilemma and more a lump in my throat, a brick in my gut, an inner scream that won’t stop.
A visceral response that Black mothers for centuries have known all too well.
But for me, it had only recently become real as I tucked my daughter into bed at night, and looked at her luminescent, dark skin and wondered desperately how to keep her safe in a world designed to destroy her. So I just kept showing up in Ferguson, kept tucking my daughter in at night, kept praying, wondering what my role should be in all of this.
October 13, 2014 was the final day in a weekend of organized resistance protesting the death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. Some of you knew that weekend as Ferguson October. Thousands of people came together from all over the country to demand answers for Michael Brown and an end to racist policing. There were several actions that weekend and all of them were powerful in their own way. But the action at the Ferguson Police Department that Monday was clarifying for me.
The action was an ecumenical and interfaith ritual led by hundreds of faith leaders. In the pouring rain in the Ferguson Police Department, we confessed our own complicity in a racist system and invited police officers to do the same.
We came at 10 am, unarmed, many dressed in collars and stoles and other symbols of faith. We were of many races, backgrounds, and traditions.
We were unarmed.
We were praying.
And we were greeted with riot gear and violence.
I witnessed my friend, a 19 year old Black man, have his glasses knocked off and being choked by a police baton next to me as I scrambled to grab his glasses so that they wouldn’t be crushed beneath the officer’s boots and pleaded with the officer to stop. My friend couldn’t even touch the baton to relieve the pressure from his throat out of fear for his own safety. I still have scars on my legs from when the officers pushed us down onto the wet concrete.
It was facing down that riot line that I felt the Holy Spirit speak. In the ritual confessing our own complicity, we named that the police officers are only part of the system of White Supremacy. They are the muscle, the frontline, but they are protecting interests that are much broader and wider than just that of policing. And so while it is good, and important, to show up to ask for accountability in policing and in the criminal justice system, there is more work to be done.
White Supremacy is a system, and a system has many parts. It is not enough to point out the poison “out there” in its most obvious manifestations. I must also search myself. I’m white. This system is set up to benefit me. These police officers are protecting my interests. They are acting on my behalf. What else has been infected with White Supremacy? (Everything).
It’s easy to call out racism “out there.” It’s harder to look at myself, my own clubs, my own social gatherings, my own neighborhoods, my own beloved institutions and to hold them accountable. Yet justice demands it. White Supremacy is sneaky and insidious and it infiltrates every corner of our society. No institution is exempt. And that includes the Church.
Especially the Church.
In the Movement (where I have learned more about community than in any official church), we talk about how everyone has a role in this work. Everyone has a role in liberation, and everyone’s role is vital and important. We need each other.
It is not unlike the concept Paul talks about with Spiritual Gifts and the Body of Christ. And one easy way to find your role in the movement is to look to your own spheres of influence, and to make them movement spaces, spaces of liberation. So yes, show up “out there” for the movement, in the streets. But bring what you’ve learned from the streets to your boardroom, your kitchen table, your school board meeting. Wherever your sphere of influence lies, there is work to be done to eradicate White Supremacy, to work for liberation. And for me, as a seminarian and faith leader, my sphere of influence includes the Church.
So often when we talk about racism, the Church looks outwardly, to the world, as if the problem is only “out there.” But #decolonizeLutheranism demands that we look internally as well. It asks the Church to reflect on our own complicity in racist systems inside the Church, to repent, and to make it right. #DecolonizeLutheranism demands more than surface level discussions on multiculturalism or diversity and instead pushes us to examine the very real power structures at play, to recognize that for white Christians, oftentimes the very power we hold is stolen power, and that for the sake of Christ and because of His example, we must empty ourselves of that power by giving that power away. We must do as Christ did and center the voices of the most marginalized among us. We can’t just have “dialogue” about “diversity.” We have to dismantle and deconstruct. We have to #decolonizeLutheranism.
That’s why I am so excited about #decolonize16.
In other words, the folks at #decolonizeLutheranism are inviting us all to come together.
But it’s not a conference, exactly.
At least, it’s not in the traditional sense.
Instead, it is an experiential, embodied experience centering the voices of the marginalized inside our tradition, framed in the context of the liturgy and through the lens of the Lutheran Confessions. In an environment full of testimony, worship, reflection, and community, grounded in the confessions and driven by the Spirit, we will wrestle together with the task at hand: Decolonize Lutheranism.
Ferguson showed me what the Gospel taught me: that when people come together in the struggle for justice and center the voices of the most vulnerable among us, it is transformational.
Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to be transformed.
To sign up for lodging for #decolonize16 at $25 a night, including linens, call 773.256.0725
YES THERE WILL BE LIVESTREAM at #decolonize16 for those of you who cannot attend and informational material to follow up with your congregations and faith communities. For more information, watch the #decolonize16 Facebook event page.
#decolonizelutheranism aims to be an intersectional movement. To let the #decolonize16 leadership team know about any accommodations you might need or to make us aware of something we are missing, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.