A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2012

View more articles in the Fall 2012 issue.

Students cultivate anti-racist, multicultural identities

by Erin Schmidtke, M.Div. Junior

Andrew Twiton, M.Div. intern, and Martha Schwehn, M.Div. middler, participated in the Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circle.

The Luther Seminary campus can be quiet in the summertime, but not for Benjamin Cherland, a non-degree student; Martha Schwehn, an M.Div. middler; and, Andrew Twiton, an M.Div. intern. Since spring, the three have planned and implemented activities to improve the school's anti-racism efforts.

Each developed an interest in race issues while serving in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, an organization that unites full-time volunteers with nonprofit and Christian groups to work "for peace with justice across the nation." The Lutheran Volunteer Corps incorporates anti-racism training sessions throughout the volunteer year.

"Addressing racism is really important to think about as we become leaders in the church," Schwehn said.

Last spring the three students, along with Luther staff members Elizabeth Flomo from the Global Mission Institute and Cross-Cultural Education offices, and Judy Hedman from Student Affairs, participated in a study dialogue through the St. Paul Area Synod called the Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circle®.

Dismantling Racism

In the ASDIC course, anti-racism refers to "a conscious intentional effort to eradicate racism in all its forms—individual, cultural and institutional." The work of anti-racism is about not only dismantling internal and external structures of racialized mindsets and dispositions. It's also about building community based on bonds of affection and mutuality for the sake of the whole world.

As part of the 12-week course, Cherland, Schwehn and Twiton created an action plan for fostering discussion about race on Luther's campus, inspired by regular anti-racism community discussions organized by Mary Hess, associate professor of educational leadership.

Their plans became reality through a book discussion they created. In June, members of the student body, staff and faculty read "The Cross and the Lynching Tree" by James Cone, which compares the crucifixion of Jesus with lynching in the United States.

Luther Seminary's Student Affairs office helped provide books for the discussion. More than 40 people participated in the book study.

"White Christians worshipped a crucified God on Sunday and lynched on Monday. We have to grapple with that," said Twiton.

Further Book Discussions

Cherland, Schwehn and Twiton followed that book study with another discussion, this time choosing "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander. The book explores the expansion of the criminal justice system and the war on drugs as the newest system of racial control in the United States. The Cross-Cultural Education office provided some books for this study.

During the second book discussion, they also examined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's draft social statement on criminal justice, which analyzes and critiques aspects of the U.S. justice system. The statement was written in part by David Fredrickson, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary.

The statement is open for critique until the end of October. It will face a vote at the next ELCA church-wide assembly in 2013. If adopted, it would offer official moral guidance for communities in the ELCA.

The trio intends to continue promoting anti-racism discussions at Luther Seminary, including dialogue surrounding the 150th anniversary of the United States-Dakota War.

Just as cultivating a personal anti-racist identity takes time, so too does transforming an institution. "No one book discussion will make Luther Seminary an anti-racist institution. It's step-by-step. It takes a long time, a lot of work and long conversations," Twiton said.

The Race, Church and Change Award is an annual event held at Luther Seminary. This award recognizes individuals who have significantly impacted society through multicultural ministry, race relations and reconciliation. The public is invited to campus for this year's presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 24, during chapel at 11:00 a.m., as well as an afternoon forum with the recipients. www.luthersem.edu/rcc

About ASDIC: As a community dedicated to mending the brokenness of racism, the purpose of the ASDIC Partnership is to foster wholeness, spin webs of relationship, and untangle knots of oppression. ASDIC is devoted to reducing racism by bringing people together across racial and cultural boundaries to explore the very thing that divides us—the structures of racial domination that create our differing life experiences and that deeply shape us individually and collectively. After participating in the ASDIC experience, Circle members move outward into the community, possessing the equipment and resources to work with others to dismantle the institutional and systemic racism that are embedded in their particular contexts. www.asdic-circle.org