Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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September 2016 Archive for Steps towards racial justice

RSS By: MNYS Anti-Racism Task Force

Our Anti-Racism Task Force members will be taking turns in writing posts that shed light on issues surrounding racial justice work in our church and society. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors.

How Much Would You Pay to Become White?

Sep 12, 2016
By Pr. Marcia E. Parkinson-Harrison
Pr. Marcia E. Parkinson-Harrison, born in London, England was raised on the islands of Jamaica, West Indies, and Long Island New York. She served as Vicar in Zimbabwe before her current call at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Saint Albans, New York. She received her Masters of Divinity from New Brunswick Theological Seminary with post-graduate work at Princeton, New Jersey and The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Anti-Racism Task Force. 

As an adolescent, I found myself in the pulpit on many a youth Sunday. My go to text was, and still is, John 4; the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Far from being the image of the sacred, she knew that she was profane. In this encounter, Jesus filled this woman’s brokenness. She became the first preacher when she turned around, went home and said: "let me tell you about a man!" The account of this woman struck a resonate chord within me. Like me, this woman was blessed, broken and used for the glory of God. She proclaimed the story of the living Christ to the uncircumcised, untouchables.

La Samaritaine, Philippe de Champaigne (1648)

Somewhere and sometime between the pulpit and the table, I received "the call" to represent the family of God. Theologians of the great councils of the early Christian church agreed to call it the Triune God or the Holy Trinity.  Our world is changing faster than our eyes can blink. How we articulate our experience of the sacred in these rapidly changing times is the challenge for the continued life of the Christian church. Those of us who lift the life and light of our great redeemer, Jesus, are faced with the challenge of keeping the context of our doctrine relevant. In this new millennium, communication has been reduced to a staccato conflagration of acronyms. Having come of age in the twentieth century, I need younger persons to translate this newspeak for me. Fortunately, the community that I serve is multigenerational. Together we bridge our communication gaps. Jurgen Moltmann once said something like "progress is a mythical bird flying backward into the future watching the heaps of carnage, some smoldering, some blazing, left in its wake." In other words, we spend all our time dissecting the past (to no avail) while not considering implications for the future. We don’t anticipate the next tragedy, yet our memories are refreshed almost daily by the latest epic event. By the time this article is read, there will be more. Reinhold Niebuhr taught us that a preacher should exhort from the pulpit with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The life and witness Dietrich Bonhoffer provided a Christian moral pulse in the immoral society of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. These voices, within the former dominant discourse, inform my faith.


As an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my sense of knowing is deeply rooted in the reality that we must speak the language of the people. When Martin Luther penned his theses’ it was not to have the spirit of the reformation bound by the inertia of tradition. It was to serve as a benchmark for the continued reforming of Christian fellowship. Now, at the waning dawn of a new millennium, our witness and proclamation of the resurrected Christ are being pushed to the margins again. In spite of the onslaught of the forces of unseen powers and principalities, Christianity continues on a path of gender bias, cultural separation, and intolerance of our increasingly diverse sexual identities. The renowned Cornell West, Ph.D. has written an arcane book simply titled Race Matters. White men know that their numbers are dwindling. White men spare no effort to maintain and preserve their entitlement. Diversity workshops in the corporate sector (the last bastion of white male power) abound. There is an exercise where the white participants are asked: "if you had unlimited resources and were a person of color, how much would you pay to become white"? Without fail, the longer the question is on the table, the higher the number gets. When I was in seminary, the son of one of my European American colleagues wasn’t shy to tell his story of driving his mother’s car while smoking marijuana, without a driver’s license. When stopped and questioned by the police, of course, it was only natural for them to return the ‘wayward son’ to his ‘worried mother.' A friend told me about a man who was of age during the Vietnam draft era. He worked as an orderly in a hospital in the city where he lived. There he met and was befriended by black men who were his co-workers. He was a pacifist then, as now, and he knew he could file for and receive conscientious objector status. While he and his workmates lamented their destinies to be shipped overseas, he was aware that they had no legal recourse. So his act of resistance was not to register. At that time, his uncle was the federal district judge who was in charge of penalizing draft dodgers. The young pacifist was one of his grandmother’s favorites; she ordered her son (the judge) not to touch her grandson, his nephew. The young idealist never received a summons from the courts.


No person of color would dare to expect these reactions or treatments. We, who are judged by the color of our skin and the contour of our figures, have through the ages, embraced and celebrated the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. It has been legitimately asked; how is it that the religion that was fed to Africans in America to ensure joyful adherence to continued enslavement was embraced, cultivated, and cherished by the masses of the black people in the northern hemisphere? My answer: the redemptive power of a risen Christ, through the prodding of the Holy Spirit, transcends any small-minded presentation of a pigeonholed God. Some would say racism is a disease. It is definitely a compulsive behavior. Racists, although immune, are carriers of this aggressive and infectious condition. Past and present events indicate obsessiveness in maintaining the so-called status quo. All the while, population trends have already made a woman of color, like myself, the majority in the world. Attrition is rendering the so-called dominant discourse ineffective. It is quickly becoming mute and moot. The pandemic disease of racism has affected and infected the entire planet.

Foghorn Leghorn–Leghorn Swoggled (1951)

The old cartoon; Foghorn Leghorn (Rooster and the Chicken Hawk) is an appropriate comparison. It is the classic model of abusive relationships. Everyday, the rooster seeks approval and friendship from the chicken hawk. Everyday, Henerey Hawk plots, and schemes some diabolical plan to discredit and destabilize the Foghorn Leghorn. Everyday, the chicken hawk dutifully victimizes the rooster. Every time Foghorn Leghorn is outwitted or entrapped by the Henerey Hawk, Foghorn swiftly beats the barnyard dog. Such is the endless cycle of racism. Perpetrators of violence depend on a steady supply of uneasy, gullible, yet unwilling victims. The church mirrors our society. "If there had been no racism in America there would be no racial churches. As it is, we have white churches and black churches; white denominations and black denominations; American Christianity and black religion." (C. Eric Lincoln) In addition to this reality, we have black, as well as other ethnic groups, in separate congregations within the so-called mainline denominations. The ELCA is no exception. For more than twenty years what has traditionally been called "mainline" has been pushed to the margins. Non-denominational mega churches, Islam, and the rapidly growing unchurched community have overshadowed our mission…. " that we are freed to serve and love our neighbor. With our hands we do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus’ name throughout the world" If we are to be that bright shining light, we must be true to our faith in Jesus. We must be "Marked with the cross of Christ forever" so that "We are claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world." We must remember that we were created to love. The love that saved our sin-sick souls calls us to love without question. In Christ there is no Greek or Jew, there is no slave nor free. One of my members is an elder widower migrated from Jamaica. When asked about racism he said "It always been all over the world. We claim that we love, but we don’t know what love is." He went on to say "Me, I love everybody; everybody." This man is wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. He is remarkable because he is invisible. He holds have the keys to our church He opens the doors in the morning, fires up the furnace when it is cold outside. He cools off the offices from the sweltering heat and humidity of summer. He is an all round, welcoming presence; a true emissary of God with us. His gifts of stewardship, other than his widower’s mite are his abiding love.


This love was lacking during the great crusades. This love was lacking when Queen Isabella of Spain sponsored Columbus and his band of ragamuffins when they terrorized, tortured and massacred the inhabitants of the land that was named "America". This love was lacking when fine upstanding Christians murdered, kidnapped, raped, and enslaved God’s own creation with guiltless impunity. This love was lacking when evangelical missions yielded "the other" beside them in the pew, and whole worship communities raided the church coffers and assets (like stained glass windows), bought farmland, and ran to what became the suburbs. The love that Jesus commissioned with his dying breath must appear in our pulpits and pews. We, the Christian remnant in a post-Christian age, cannot stand divided. We must confess. We must repent. We must joyfully give the abiding grace that we have received. The blood of Jesus is sufficient.

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