Scripture speaks of one humanity, created by God. It recounts our rebellion and enslavement to sin. Scripture tells of a diverse people reconciled to God through the blood of the cross, a people set free for the work of reconciliation. It heralds a new freedom and future in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
The Church confesses Christ, who has broken down the dividing wall (Eph 2:14). Christ, our peace, has put an end to the hostility of race, ethnicity, gender, and economic class. The Church proclaims Christ, confident this good news sets at liberty those captive behind walls of hostility (cf. Luke 4:18).
With all Christians everywhere, members of this church live in a time of crisis (Rom 2:1 ff.). We are torn between the freedom offered in Christ, the new Adam, and the captivity known by the old Adam. We are torn between becoming the people God calls us to be and remaining the people we are, barricaded behind old walls of hostility.
Racism--a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice -- is sin, a violation of God's intention for humanity. The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God's creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity. Racism fractures and fragments both church and society.
When we speak of racism as though it were a matter of personal attitudes only, we underestimate it. We have only begun to realize the complexity of the sin, which spreads like an infection through the entire social system. Racism infects and affects everyone, with an impact that varies according to race, ethnicity, or culture, and other factors such as gender or economic situation.
Racism, however, infects and affects everyone. It deforms relationships between and within racial, ethnic, or cultural groups. It undermines the promise of community and exacerbates prejudice and unhealthy competition among these groups. It robs white people of the possibility of authentic relationships with people of color, and people of color of the possibility of authentic relationships with white people.
Racism also can lead to the rejection of self, as when white people internalize guilt or people of color internalize values associated with white culture. It hinders us from becoming who God calls us to be.
When we confront racism and move toward fairness and justice in society, all of us benefit.
We expect our leadership to name the sin of racism and lead us in our repentance of it. Although racism affects each one of us differently, we must take responsibility for our participation, acknowledge our complicity, repent of our sin, and pray God will bring us to reconciliation.
Our world is one where racial and ethnic lines are drawn and enforced. Our world is one where hostility festers along those dividing lines, often bursting out in violence. Our world is one where power and prejudice combine in bitter oppression.
But God has not gathered the Church as yet one more example of brokenness. The Church exists to proclaim Jesus the Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection mean freedom for the world. The Church also exists to teach the law of God, announcing that the God who justifies expects all people to do justice.
Participation in public life is essential to doing justice and undoing injustice. Only when people affected by racial and ethnic division speak publicly of painful realities, does there emerge the possibility of justice for everyone.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America received from its predecessor church bodies a solid foundation upon which to build advocacy for justice and opposition to racial and ethnic discrimination. We will listen to our advocates as we examine our own institutional life, and will model that for which we call.
© October 2013
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 13, Issue 6