International Year for People of African Descent
A letter to rostered leaders from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson
For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall…
September 7, 2011
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is living into its future as a church in mission in a multicultural society, committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination and welcoming cultural diversity. The 2011 Churchwide Assembly voted overwhelmingly to commit the ELCA to stand with the United Nations in commemorating 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent. This is who we are as the ELCA, a church called to do God's work in the world, restoring and reconciling community.
In 2001, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance recognized people of African Descent as a specific victim group who continue to suffer racial discrimination as a direct result of the historic legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In addition to raising awareness, this emphasis of the United Nations calls for the celebration of the accomplishments, cultures and heritages of people of African Descent throughout the diaspora as well as the elimination of racism that thwarts the full social, political and economic inclusion of people of African Descent.
Not only did the trans-Atlantic slave trade rip enslaved Africans from their homelands, families, history and culture, but it also deprived the African continent of its youth, human resources and talent. The lasting effects of European colonialism and the exploitation of its people and natural resources are the root causes of Africa's instability, poverty and marginalization in the current global economy. Presently, Africa is the poorest and most underdeveloped continent in the world. Many nation states are burdened with economic debt, its people are ravaged by AIDS and other diseases, and genocide, ethnic conflict and guerrilla warfare continue to plague the continent.
As affirmed in the ELCA social statement "Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture," we acknowledge the sin of racism and its living consequences that keep God's children divided and communities broken. Among the most important challenges in today's society is the disproportionate number of people of African Descent affected by mass incarceration rates in the criminal justice system and denied access to quality education, employment, health services and housing, often due to structural racism that is embedded within American society.
For more than 350 years, people of African Descent have been part of the history of the Lutheran church in North America. The ELCA today includes approximately 48,000 members of African, African American and African Caribbean Descent, most of whom are active in the 252 congregations with at least 25 percent African Descent membership. At present, there are 242 African Descent pastors and 83 African Descent leaders preparing themselves for the ordained ministry. Their call to serve this church affirms the spiritual gifts and talents of these ELCA members of African Descent. As we seek to grow as an authentic multicultural church, we recognize additional opportunities among the more than 2000 ELCA congregations in areas with majority African American populations.
Therefore, as a church committed to eradicating racism by examining the factors inhibiting all people of color from experiencing the fullness of leadership and inclusion in this church and society, I invite members of the ELCA to join the worldwide community in celebrating the rich history, diverse cultures, vast contributions and gifts for ministry of people of African Descent within the ELCA and throughout society. As we enter into new mission partnerships with our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, let us also hold in prayer ELCA clergy, congregations and leaders of African Descent ministries. Let us pray for ELCA synods as they accompany partners in Africa and throughout the world. Let us also pray for those who fight to end all forms of racism and discrimination both domestically and internationally.
As affirmed by our 2011 Churchwide Assembly, let us acknowledge the United Nations' proclamation as a means to lift up and affirm the gifts of people of African Descent throughout this church. You will find a list of resources below that should be helpful with plans for ministry, forums and presentations.
In God's grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America