By Tessa Faust
Last week, The Lutheran Center started reading Dear Church by Lenny Duncan—a book which addresses racism in the church—and started talking about why the ELCA is the whitest denomination in America. One of the main discussion points was how we change this and how we can serve BIPOC communities. Yes, we would love to have diversity because everyone has a seat at the table. One of the ways we talked about making people feel welcomed is going out and serving communities.
The problem lies with our reasons for helping them. Are we doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do or because we think helping them will bring more diversity to the church?
Matthew 6:1 tells us that we shouldn’t do good acts for our glory. “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” If you expect praise or a reward for doing the right thing, then you aren’t serving others; you’re seeking employment.
Looking at the motivations churches and the ELCA church might have to help people made me think internally about my own motivations. I can say that I am not seeking a reward or praise for this, but I am not selfless. The truth is that I am afraid. I am scared of what will happen to my family and myself. I worry that my mother will be called racial slurs, that my brother will be shot by police, or that I’ll hear that one of my cousins has been killed or is missing.
The Department of Justice found that Native American women face murder rates at ten times the national average. As of 2016, there were over 5,700 cases of missing Native women. We know the numbers are much higher due to under-reporting and a lack of data collection. These numbers are significant to me because of a study at Urban Indian Health Institute. Omaha was ranked 8th out of 71 cities for the most missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the study.
The church is a place of refuge. A place where we can feel safe and feel God, and yet for so many, this isn’t the case. Racism doesn’t start or end outside of the church walls. Racism is a sin that sits in people’s hearts, and people enter and exit the church as they please. taking their ideas with them.
Just like any sin, it isn’t so simple to stop. Most of us aren’t Confederate flag-waving racists, but the kind that contribute to the systems of oppression in our idleness or through smaller micro-aggressions. We have to get used to this fact and sit with the discomfort it brings.
In Dear Church, Lenny Duncan writes, “White discomfort is not worse than experiencing racism as a black person.” We’re going to have to get used to discomfort. It will be uncomfortable to look at ourselves and our community and acknowledge the harm we may have caused. It will be uncomfortable to change and lovingly call others out when they say something unacceptable. In the end, all this may not be enough. All of this discomfort won’t stop racism, and it won’t make our church diverse overnight. But it is a start, and more importantly, it is the right thing to do.