calendar March 17, 2021 in anti-racism

Carrying the Cross

Lutherans are the least racially diverse denomination in America.  This is not an accusation, but a fact.  There are some legitimate historical reasons for that reality.  Our denomination was historically established as an immigrant church. When our congregations were created they preserved, not only the theology, but also the culture of “the old country.” Many congregations can identify themselves as historically “German” or (not just Scandinavian) “Swedish” or “Norwegian.” Even without an awareness of our cultural expressions, we continue them and pass them through the generations. Celebrating our church traditions often involves celebrating “our culture.”

So what is wrong with that?

There is nothing wrong with celebrating individual heritage. Our personal ethnic identification is part of who we are.  But it is clear that when we intertwine our ethnic identity as descendants of Northern Europeans and our congregational life it becomes a barrier to the gospel.   Jesus sent his disciples to ALL nations. Good stewards of the gospel remove anything that blocks God’s Word from finding its way to the human heart.

Culture is “the way we do things.”  We experience culture on an emotional level. Our culture is what feels “normal” and “comfortable” to us. Like water for fish, culture is always around us.  Culture can be hard to discern. But if our congregations are to be truly evangelical we need to recognize our cultural expressions, and disentangle them from our church life.  If we want others to hear the good news that God has placed in our care, we need to hold our traditions in an open hand, and include unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable ways of being church.

This doesn’t mean that we must eliminate Northern European customs, music, and traditions from our church life – but it does mean that we extend God’s welcome when we expand our worship and fellowship to include images, music, food, customs and traditions that we are not accustomed to experiencing in the church.  We become a more useful vehicle for bringing God’s love to the world when we lift up other cultures, and incorporate a wider vision of the family of God.

The problem with being the least racially diverse denomination in America is that it reveals a dangerous, if unconscious, tendency to put our comfort before the spread of the gospel. If grace is truly what is central to our Lutheran identity, we must accept the discomfort of the unfamiliar for the sake of the gospel.  If our church is a comfortable place for us, it is time to begin asking if it is as comfortable for all the people that God loves.

– The Rev. Serena Sellers, a member of the Anti-racism Team, is pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kulpsville

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