In our work with students in our CPL course, we often give them a case story that helps them contextualize the theological concepts that they are learning. Using Princeton practical theologian Rick Osmer’s four questions, they reflect on their own leadership and how God is active in the scenarios that we provide. As we are leading communities whose micro and/or macro cultures may be different than our own, it is important to be reflective and strategic about our approach. Here is a case story that we used recently that proved to be very fruitful for conversation. Read this and reflect on how you might respond in a similar situation:
You are a recent graduate of Luther Seminary who is now serving as a pastor at a white rural parish in Western North Dakota. You have learned a lot at seminary about God’s justice and love for all people. You are excited to share all that you have learned with the congregation. During your prayerful sermon preparation, you are convinced that the story about Zipporah would lend itself perfectly to a Womanist reading of the text. You preach a beautiful sermon that weaves together Zipporah’s marginalization as a black woman and the killing of Breonna Taylor. You connect Jesus’ marginalized body on the cross as a reminder that Black Lives Matter. You felt like this call to action was a hard but important truth for your congregation to hear.
A retired police officer in you congregation named Steve approaches you after the service and speaks these words: “My wife and I just lost our teenage grandson to suicide a few months ago Our hearts are hurting in light of what is going on in the world and in our own lives. We came to church today longing to hear some comfort from the Gospel. All you gave us today was the law. All you gave us today was your own personal politics. It felt like a personal attack on my profession. That is not what we needed today. We can’t have a pastor who puts her own agenda in front of the spiritual needs of her people. We come here to hear Good News.”You are passionate about the intrinsic connection between racial justice and the Gospel. However, you are aware that many of your parishioners do not make that connection as quickly as you do. You were warned before you showed up that your congregation is very polarized theologically and politically. You want them to trust you. You want to speak truth in a way that people can hear it. And you have another sermon to preach the following week. The country is on fire with upheaval connected to racial injustice. The biblical texts selected for next week seem even more connected to God’s justice and reconciliation. You believe that they could catalyze important conversations in your congregation in the midst of a nation that has been torn apart. You are also mindful of members like Steve who are struggling with their own grief and longing for comfort. How will you proceed?
We invite you to use Osmer’s 4 questions and apply them to this situation.
- What is happening? (Much of this has already been answered in the story)
- Why is it happening? (Drawing on theories of the arts and/or sciences to explain these patterns and dynamics that are occurring)
- What should be happening? (Using theological concepts to interpret particular episodes, situations, or contexts, constructing ethical norms to guide responses and learn from “good practice”)
- How should I/we respond? (Determining strategies of action that influence situations in ways that are desirable and entering into a reflective conversation with the “talk back” emerging when they are enacted)
How would you respond to this scenario? We know you do not necessarily have all of the information in the story, but hopefully there is enough to give you a good start. Don’t forget to think about the language you used in the Intercultural Development Inventory as well as other theological tools that might be helpful. We would love to hear your thoughts about this scenario. Have you been in a similar situation before? What has been helpful to you in framing conversations about race in your context?