Me and White Supremacy

Some time ago, a challenge popped up on Instagram, calling on white people to engage with a book by author Layla F. Saad. This book is titled “Me and White Supremacy.” I don’t go on Instagram very often, and when I do, it’s usually just to share pics I’ve taken and to look at pics friends have posted there, so I wasn’t even aware of the challenge until just the other day. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of Layla Saad or her book. However, I learned that several members of a “Building Bridges” group I sometimes attend in my Synod (a geographically gathered group of ELCA congregations) are doing The Work of reading this book and doing the deep, personal, emotional engagement with its subject: How has the concept of White Supremacy affected me; how have I benefitted from it (whether I wanted to or not, whether I realized it or not); how can I help dismantle it?

Here’s a 16-minute piece that NPR ran on Saad’s book. I’ll let you do your own research on this, but this hard work of looking in the mirror, recognizing our own complicity as white people in perpetuating the idea that “white” is “superior” or simply “the norm.” N.B. This holds true whether our families ever “owned slaves” or not. That’s immaterial. The outlawing of slavery was NOT the end of racism in this country, but rather, we moved on to different types of enslavement of Black human beings, including Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, systemic and systematic disenfranchisement from critical political and economic arenas, popular de-humanization of African-descent people, and the list goes on. The very fact that we’re still arguing whether this is true points to just how true it is.

This week I attended a press conference at All Souls Unitarian Church here in Tulsa, where several white pastors and I unveiled a plan for our congregations to have a “Black Lives Matter” message painted on our parking lots (though ours is going on the retaining wall facing 13th street, both for higher visibility and for durability of the message). I suspect there will be backlash, because white people STILL seem to be rejecting and resisting the acknowledgment that, in addition to OUR lives mattering, BLACK LIVES also MATTER! Why is this hard to comprehend? Racism. That’s why. Fear, perhaps. Because to SAY that Black Lives Matter as well as white lives and … dare I say it? … ALL lives … seems to trigger the thought that whiteness will no longer be centered, and that white people will somehow lose as a consequence. Lose what? Lose preferred status? Well, good! We don’t deserve to be singled out for good treatment. And that’s all Black people are asking for: not preferred status, but equal status.

But the spectre of white supremacy continues to stand in the way and needs to be eradicated.

This is a major task for the church right now, especially for mainline protestant churches like my beloved ELCA. We are THE whitest denomination in the country. It pays to ask why? As Lutherans on the world stage go, whiteness is a minority. The global South is bursting at the seems with Lutherans of color. But not here in the US. Isn’t that odd?

It may not be too hard to understand why, given that Lutheranism in North America was founded by immigrants to the US from the countries in Europe with Lutheran state churches. But why does it REMAIN that way? Is there something about us that fails to speak to BIPoC in our context? Is there something about the way we do things that fails to draw more than a handful of Black, Indigenous, and other PoC to form congregations that fit THEIR contexts? It’s worth exploring, and if you’re interested, I would point you to Pr. Lenny Duncan’s excellent first book, “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in America.” It’s an important read.

So, this post is really to let you know that this anti-racism work is white people’s work. There is something that lies within each of us that needs to be examined and exorcised. I am doing the work that Saad is leading me through. I’m re-reading and re-reading Pastor Duncan’s book, and we just finished reading it as part of an online study group through the church. I invite you to join me on the journey. It’s going to be arduous, but it’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is compelling us white church folks to do right now. Listen and watch for the movement of the Spirit, and you’ll see it’s true.

If you’re a regular at First Lutheran, Tulsa, and you need assistance purchasing any of these books, please let me know. There’s a little money in the library fund that we can use to help you out. I see us as a learning community and a transforming community, so this would be money well spent.

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