Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Adopted by a more than two-thirds majority vote as a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by the third Churchwide Assembly on August 31, 1993, at Kansas City, Missouri.

Part of a series on the Social Statements of the ELCA.
A complete copy of this social statement can be found here.

There are few sins carried by our society as malevolent as the sin of racism. It is insidious in the way it permeates every level of society, acting on its members in ways we aren’t even aware of. In this social statement, the ELCA calls on the faithful to not only confront racism, but to intentionally expose themselves to the reality of the multicultural world in which they live.

Dual Confessions

Through Christ, Christians are freed from unwilling bondage to the power of sin and death. Christ, through the Easter resurrection, also sets free those in bondage to human sin and captivity.  The walls of hostility that separate us are broken down by the reign of God.

Yet Christians live in the “already/not yet” time between promise and fulfillment. The walls and barriers that Christ breaks down, we build back up. We are free, yet submit ourselves again to the power of sin that no longer has the right to own us.

Racism: Alive and Well

The Church has made a commitment to combat racism in its own midst by intentionally working to highlight, grow, and understand the cultures around it. Yet, even twenty years after this social statement was written, we still struggle, and haven’t made much ground. One of the stated goals was to have the membership of the Church be 10% multicultural in its ethnicity. Up until a couple of year ago, this number had reached 5%–recently, it has risen to about 8%. In twenty years, very little has changed.

We have to acknowledge our part in racism as well. Far too often, it is assumed that someone entering into a community–whether it is a church or a nation–must automatically assimilate into the dominant culture. “If you come to church with us, you need to learn how to worship like us!” We forget that we are descendants of immigrants who did not give up their culture, and rather, forced it on those they encountered in this land. We forget that Christians were a persecuted people because they would not adopt the prevailing culture. We forget that Jesus of Nazareth lived as part of an oppressed population who clung desperately to their heritage.

Yet, when we encounter another culture, we try to force it to change.

Racism is more than just personal biases, words and actions. We as the church must acknowledge that racism exists on the systemic level. We live in a society that, until relatively recently, had racism codified as the law of the land. Our fledgling economy was built on slave labor. This is our history, and it can’t be erased over night.

“Racism—a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice—is sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity,” the statement says. We need to continue to call it what it is. It breaks relationships between people. It is a powerful force of our own making that has taken on a life of its own, it seems.

I remember sitting in a seminary class, talking about racism, and arguing about the book we were reading. I can’t remember the name of it anymore (I got rid of it as soon as the class ended). I do remember that the basic premise of the book was that racism was here to stay, and there was nothing we could do about it. I strongly objected then, and I strongly object now.

No matter how big racism gets, or how powerful it is, we are talking about the Master and Creator of the entire Universe here. We worship a God who is making all things new, who is reconciling all of creation. We affirm and proclaim that the salvation made possible through the Emmanuel, the “God with us” in Jesus Christ is for everything and everyone. And you want to tell me that racism will always exist and there’s nothing we can do about it? My bullsh*t alarm went into high gear.

Human beings may not be able to eradicate racism on our own–we may have created something too big for us to handle. But no sin is so great and so devastating that God cannot squash it underfoot, strip it out of existence, and rekindle the spark of humanity left behind. This is the hope in which we live. I don’t know how we can fully get rid of racism. We (humanity) are trying, but without God’s help, reconciliation is a long way away.

Featured Image: “Handshake” by AK Rockefeller is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.



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