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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Black Lives Matter: Reflections for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

“There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)[1]

Days after the Jamar Clark shooting, my heart was aching as my city was boiling over with racial tension. I thought that I should do something but my feet weren’t moving. So instead I sat there wallowing in shame and despair. I lounged in my sweatpants and drank herbal tea while I read reports of my friends being sprayed with tear gas. I played with my kids on the playground while one of our church members mourned the tragic death of his cousin Jamar. It felt horrible. I needed to hear a word of comfort and challenge from a faith community, and I needed it soon.

My wife and I visited a different church than we normally do that Sunday. I wasn’t sure how this unfamiliar church would address the tragic situation. Would it be just in the prayers, or would it show up in the entire sermon? I wasn’t sure. I waited as the prayers went by. Nothing. I sat through the sermon convinced that he would touch on it. Still, nothing! There was not a word mentioned in that whole service about Jamar Clark, the five protesters shot or #blacklivesmatter. Not one. Sitting in that church, I was so angry. How could they ignore this injustice so blatantly? How could they turn a blind eye to this suffering?

Dr. King warns that if churches do not take a stand against injustice that we will become an “irrelevant social club”[2]. Sometimes when I see Pew Research studies (such as this July 2015 study, which highlights the ELCA as one of the least racially-diverse church communities in the United States), I wonder if Dr. King's warning has come to fruition.

How will you speak about Black Lives Matter in your congregation? Will you preach with “the Bible and the newspaper”[3] as Karl Barth implores us to do? Will you stand for justice with our sisters and brothers who are struggling? Will you be a thermometer only, or will you be the thermostat that changes the unjust conditions in our communities? These are haunting questions. The good news is that we are drawn in by the One whose compassion knows no bounds. We are led by the One who has experienced injustice and suffering on the cross. It is He who compels us to stand with and for others in the family of God as we embrace the vision that Dr. King has for this nation:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty”.[4]

Dave

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

[2] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

[3] Karl Barth interview with Thurneysen on 11.11.1918

[4] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

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