By Rev. David Rommereim
It is hard to talk about race, racism and the institution of racism in all sectors of America. It rears its ugly voice in forms both known and unknown, verbal and silent. As a man raised on the institution of White Privilege I am fully aware that race can only be overcome through building strong relationships across racialized boundaries.
I know how hard it is to talk about our institution of race in America. I know there are people who do not want to talk about racism--which tells me there is a serious spiritual dilemma--one that only God's Holy Spirit, God's healing balm of inspiration can heal.
Last week, Rev.Tony Rose and I represented the Good Shepherd congregation at a Faith in New York public meeting on Race. It was at St. Francis Church in Manhattan on January 14, 2016. The session comprised about 60 persons from four boroughs of our City--all persons of faith seeking to regain the justice needed to live in our racially torn city. Four National PICO Staff were there to witness this two hour seminar on Race, Relations, and the subtleties that that system plays on our subconscious. We laughed; we prayed; we were scared to say the wrong things; we were deeply hurt; we were angry; and we were powerfully, wholly, loving.
I should also say that it was a massive group of Christians, Muslims, and Jews with various skin tones, cultures, languages, and nations of beginnings (Haitian, Trinidadian, Guyanese, Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Norwegian, German, and Eastern European). We were the huddled masses and products of "Lady Liberty."
For two hours, Rev. Alvin Herring (National PICO Staff member for Race Relations and Racial Economic Justice) allowed us to play and climb the massive tree of disparity that is many colored. We scaled and climbed this tree of racial disparity, even thought most of our community says, "No Tree Climbing Allowed!" when it comes to race. Our culture simply does not want to talk about it. We think everything will be alright if everyone just works hard. We do not know the systemic dynamics of that historic disease in America, particularly when it does not impact us personally, and that is why we were there last week together climbing this tree of life. The Commons, the playground, the neighborhood, the soul of America, and our personal souls are at stake.
Last Monday, at another public event the New Bay Ridge gathered on 86th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. It was a Rev. Dr. M.L. King, Jr. National Holiday rally in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors in the wake of hate crimes. The action was in response to the woman who was kicked and verbally accosted at that 86th Street Bus Stop because she is Muslim. It was time to take a stand against such un-American behavior.
The grassroots community march was a beautiful display of our new multi-colored Bay Ridge. After the march, we convened at Salam Lutheran Church on 80th Street and 4th Avenue for warmth, refreshments, and to hear words of individual voices from the neighborhood, including those of children. Our Children's Chorus of Bay Ridge sang peace songs, and over 300 attendees listened! We are grateful to the local organizers who planned this event. I was honored to participate in the gathering with local residents, and am continuously honored to be part of a larger church community of faith which provides hospitality for these difficult conversations.
So, I invite you to read this note (below) from our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton. She also calls the church to do the right thing. She invites us to practice the spirituality which takes our voices into public life to stop the barbarity of economic disparity caused by the institution (known and unknown) of race.
Pleases note: "In 2013 the median wealth of white American households was 13 times the median wealth of black American households, the widest gap since 1989." (NY Times: 12-31-15, Paul Kiel.) Also, 40% of the collective wealth African Americans was completely lost in the 2008 crash. It has not been recovered. Such statistics say a lot about the words "racialized economic disparity."
ELCA presiding bishop urges church to have 'difficult conversations' around racism
Jan. 20, 2016
CHICAGO (ELCA) - The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has called on its 3.7 million members to "be the church that models for the rest of this country what it means to have these difficult conversations" about racial inequality. Eaton made her remarks during a Jan. 14 live webcast, "Confronting Racism: A Holy Yearning."
Eaton and co-host William B. Horne, a member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Clearwater, Fla., presented the one-hour webcast, which addressed the complexities and implications of racism in the context of the criminal justice system. This was the ELCA's second webcast focused on racism.
Joining Eaton and Horne for the one-hour conversation were: Judge Yolanda Tanner, an ELCA member who serves as an associate judge for the Baltimore City Circuit Court; Leonard Duncan, an ELCA member and student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; and Charlene Guiliani, an ELCA member and former police sergeant who is a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
During the webcast Duncan, Guiliani and Tanner shared their experiences and careers in the criminal justice system. A portion of the webcast was also dedicated to answering questions submitted via email, Facebook and Twitter.
Eaton said that, although the webcast "serves as a way to keep the conversation going, it provides an opportunity for members and congregations to go deeper in our listening and in building relationships. We must commit to looking for ways to continue the conversation in our own congregations and communities."
"But it's not going to work if we don't, if you don't, if all of us don't see that we are inextricably bound to each other, and as Paul says, 'When one member suffers, all suffer and when one rejoices, all rejoice.' When we can see that our story is the same and intertwined with everyone else's story, and, more to the point, that it's God story for us, then I think we might see not only the urgency but the beauty and holiness of this moment in time," she said.
"Why can't the ELCA be the church that models for the rest of this country what it means to have these difficult conversations?" Eaton asked. "And trusting in our baptism, also believe and understand that we will never be snatched from Christ's hand. I challenge us to do that."
The webcast and resources about this church's ongoing racial justice work are available at ELCA.org/webcast.