Challenge & Blessing:
An Invitation to Read in Community
Next month I invite you to read Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US with me and with others at New Joy. In this short book Pastor Lenny Duncan, a Black Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), speaks of his love for our church and its Gospel, grace-filled Good News. As a one who has spent time homeless, in prison, and bound by addictions, he has a compelling story to tell of transformation and of the vitality of a church that revealed the love of Christ to him. His message is deeply personal and prophetic.
Pastor Duncan is an unlikely pastor in the ELCA. He is a black pastor in the least culturally diverse denomination in the country. This lack of diversity is in part a function of our church’s history, as American Lutherans are largely descendant from German and Nordic immigrant communities that maintained a significant degree of cultural insularity long after arriving in this new land. That cultural insularity shaped our church’s sense of mission, resulting in an experience of church that was narrowed by a cultural worldview which didn’t have a driving impulse to reach beyond its cultural comfort zone.
Indeed, all churches struggle with the intersection of culture and mission. Yet, it is clear that our church – the Lutheran Church – has struggled more than most. Indeed, our church has failed when it comes to embracing diversity. Since nearly its founding in 1989, the ELCA has set goals for diversity that it has continually failed to meet. To what extent is this simply a function of cultural inertia? To what extent is this an unacknowledged resistance to the lives, faith, cultures, and experiences of people of color? As a church we are sadly not divorced from the culture and history of our own nation, and its shameful legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. We’d be foolish to say that our overwhelming whiteness as a church is not problematic, or that it is simply a function of our ancestry. Racism comes in many hues along a spectrum from overt and explicit to subconscious and implicit. We are not immune from its evils.
Our faith is ultimately a faith that speaks good news to all people (Isaiah 25 tells of the promised time to come when all nations will gather in God’s presence). The Kingdom of God is a matter of God’s justice, promise, and grace for this world that God so loves. Our mission must not be limited by the culture of our Reformation-era ancestors or of the immigrant communities that brought our traditions to the Americas 150-300 years ago. Instead, rooted in these traditions and the Good News given to us, let us strive to be citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), encounter our Lord’s presence in the story and experiences of those different than us (Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 15:21-28; Ruth 1; etc), and dare to listen to the truth they have to tell.
Beginning Sunday, November 1 on Zoom
So I invite you to read with me. Read a book that promises to be a blessing and a challenge – indeed, the challenge is likely where we’ll find the richest blessing. We may not agree with everything we read in it, but Christian learning is not about agreeing – it is about growing in the promise of God as proclaimed by faithful voices. Pastor Duncan’s voice is faithful. Pastor Duncan speaks with truth faith, a compelling personal testimony, and a power that demands our attention. Let us read and listen to what God has given him to say.
We’ll gather on Zoom on Sunday evening, November 1, for an initial discussion and check-in on how the book group will work. If you would like to participate in the GroupMe text messages throughout the month of November reflecting on the book, please contact Amber Janes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, we’ll gather again on November 30. For full details, login links, and more, check out our weekly emails, or reach out to Amber Janes at email@example.com.