We are living in historic times. Two African Americans,
Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice are serving in high profile political positions
within the Bush administration. I'm glad their expertise is being
called upon to resolve conflicts around the world. Powell and Rice,
through their highly developed skills, pry one more nail out of the
box that limits African American contributions to music and
athletics. In the vernacular of the African American community,
"they do us proud."
 Yet, we are also living in some confusing times. Many people
have been lamenting a tragic incident that occurred on Chicago's
south side several weeks ago. It was another case of African
American-on-African American killings. Three African American women
were sitting on a porch. A rental truck suddenly veered into the
porch, sending all three women to the hospital. Then a crowd of
African American men pulled the driver and passenger (both African
Americans) from the truck beat them to death. Subsequently, one of
the young women died. Seven or eight men are now in jail on charges
of murder. The police chief, ministers, and others immediately
spoke out against this crime.
 These two events in the life of the African American
community reveal a host of significant questions: Who bears the
responsibility for shaping moral behavior of African American
people? What role does the family play in shaping responsible moral
behavior? In what ways was the church helpful in transmitting
values that enhance the life of African American people and the
human race generally? Does the community, in this case the African
American community, bear any responsibility for shaping
 One of the fundamental truisms of life is this: to be a
human is to be a social creature. And to be a human is to be a
moral creature. It is near impossible for a human to be amoral;
that is, without some value system that guides who one is, who one
is to be, and how one is to act. It is possible, however, for
humans to be immoral. For example, in the second event mentioned
above, one of our judgments would be that the men acted immorally.
That judgment is based upon standards or actions we consider
appropriate for relationships between people. The men are immoral
because they behaved in a manner outside our conceptions of right
and wrong, justice and injustice, the common good and rank
individualism. The question, though, is how does one decide what is
moral behavior and immoral behavior?
 I have always understood that the "we" is greater than the
"I." Deep in the sensibilities and ethos of the African American
community is the moral principle of uplifting the race. That is to
say, all moral actions are judged to be moral when they honor,
support, and enhance the race. To be an African American means one
belongs not just to one's immediate family (i.e., nuclear family).
One belongs to the African American community because it is
presupposed that we have all been shaped by a context of racism and
racial discrimination. Thus, one is expected to know and understand
the history, beliefs, values, rituals, and strategies for survival
of the community. The goal of morality is always what is being done
to build the community.
 I may be more of a traditionalist these days. Many
sociologists, ethicists, and political types contend that many
problems in society are due to the disintegration of the family.
They may be right. However, it seems to me those views depend on
the worldview they bring to the analysis of the family. If one
begins with understanding the family as being a "nuclear" family,
there may be moral disintegration occurring.
 My own opinion is that when we investigate the African
American family, a broader view needs to be taken. That is, family
or more precisely the extended family and community are the same.
The responsibility for teaching morality resides not just with
parents. All members of the community: grandparents, aunts, uncles,
brothers, sisters, ministers, teachers, police officers, barbers
and beauticians take responsibility for shaping moral behavior.
When parents for whatever reasons become dysfunctional, the
community takes over.
 How does the African American community nurture the
transmission of moral behavior? The concept of "communion of
saints" which we regularly confess each time we gather as a
worshiping community is useful. This phrase points to an important
motto so prominent within the African American religious and
theological tradition, "the kinship of all people." Kinship, like
communion of saints and the extended family, reminds us that we are
all related to one another. Both concepts convey that our ancestors
and our living kin play an important role is shaping who we are,
who we will be, and how we are to act. There is a sense of
 This is one of the gifts of the African American community
to the world. It is best captured in the proverb, "I am because we
are, and since we are, therefore, I am." There is a sense of
mutuality between how the community shapes the individual and how
the individual shapes the community. From an ethics point of view,
the individual can be formed only in community in its broadest
understanding. And that means having conversations with each
 It may well be that the specific mission of the Lutheran
church in its ministry with and among African American people has
to be more than introducing and inculcating the Lutheran ethos. It
may well be the mission of the Lutheran church to reintroduce the
folks to their cultural, religious, and ethical heritage. And that
means being grounded in the moral wisdom passed on through the
elders, songs, sermons, poetry, and proverbs. The "We" is greater
than the "I." What do you think?