Pastor Miller’s commentary: “We share the pain”
I’ve been reflecting on the news and commentary surrounding the shooting last week at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. I see a fair amount of posturing, righteous indignation, fear, anger, twisted logic and empty assessments of blame.
“The solution begins with individuals grappling with the reality of racism and prejudice in private and public life.”
Several of my clergy friends have remarked that Sunday was “difficult” as they tried to deal with the assigned readings in light of the Charleston tragedy. The pastor where I attended worship recently mentioned the events, and we prayed for the victims and the congregation, but largely, it was a dance around the realities of racism, hatred and violence.
Many, me included, would like to imagine that racism is a relic of our past that we don’t have to deal with in the present. Full disclosure is that I’ve had the “not that again” feeling about the anti-racism workshops recently offered in the Sierra Pacific Synod. Then this event comes along, and a whole series of events preceding it. They shock us into realizing that racism is very much alive and well. It isn’t just about overt violence and oppression. It is also about the sneaky, unconscious and silent ways in which racism and prejudice work their way into our lives. It is about our world views that prevent us from entering into truly authentic relationships with people who are different from us.
Our nation remains divided. We have work to do as a nation, as a church and as individuals. Whether we want to acknowledge it, we must recognize our own prejudices and feelings as it relates to those who are different from us.
You’ve probably heard that the alleged shooter in Charleston is a member of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation. He grew up and was taught in one of “our” congregations. You’ve probably also heard that two of the victims were graduates of “our” Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, one of eight ELCA seminaries. So this is not a tragedy that is distant from us here at PEACE Lutheran Church; it is a tragedy in which we share pain, because we recognize that the person who carried out this heinous act was one of us, and that two of the people he killed – all of them, of course – are our brothers and sisters, united with us in Christ.
How can we be part of a solution? That’s a difficult question. But, I do know that it begins with individuals grappling with the reality of racism and prejudice in private and public life – from our slang language to the jokes that we tell; from our attitudes toward public policy to our rhetoric in the public forum. And it continues in congregations and in the churches, where we are called to not remain silent. We must have faithful conversations to become part of healing this world and overcoming the hatred and prejudice that continue to exist.
If you haven’t already done so, please visit the ELCA website and read Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s statement. I know you will be blessed by her words.
“It isn’t just about overt violence and oppression. It is also about the sneaky, unconscious and silent ways in which racism and prejudice work their way into our lives.”
And, please be in prayer for the people of Mother Emanuel AME Church, for our ELCA as we grapple with what it means to be so intimately connected to this tragedy, and for us individually and for our community as we do the hard work of thinking about these difficult issues that touch at the very core of who we are and who we want to be as God’s people in Christ.
I share (with permission) this prayer, offered by Pastor Andrew Chavanak, of Nebraska, with his congregation:
“Lord, you have created all of us in your image, and you teach us to love one another as we love ourselves. And yet, all too often, our nation is marred by the reality of hatred and prejudice, by the demon of racism that continues to haunt us. We pray that you will give us reflective hearts and minds, that you will give us the willingness to engage these issues openly, so that we can contribute to the healing of our nation, to the healing of our church, to the healing of this great sickness that is part of our national heritage, so that it does not remain a part of our nation’s future as well. We ask your forgiveness for all the times that we have contributed to the sin of racism, and we ask for your forgiveness and grace on us and our nation in the days and weeks and months to come. In your holy name we pray. Amen.”
In hope and faith,
The Rev. Tom O. Miller
Interim minister, PEACE Lutheran Church