Race, Racism, Culture, and Ethnicity

What does the ELCA teach about… Race, Ethnicity and Culture? You can read the entire social statement on the ELCA Webpage.

The ELCA is one of the most racially homogenous denominations in the United States.  The reasons for this are varied and include a lot of nuances and unconscious expressions of congregational culture, but it remains true that a large majority of our membership is white/Euro-American.  Because of this, it is appropriate for us to examine our behaviors, attitudes, and values around race, ethnicity, and culture.

The primary statements within the ELCA social statement on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture (adopted in 1993) are things that you may expect.  The ELCA confesses that racism is sinful – an outgrowth of the brokenness of our relationship with God who created us to be “very good.”  All people of all races and ethnicities are created in the image of God and should be loved and respected as reflections of God in the world.  The ELCA supports and advocates for practices and policies that encourage equity for all, including recognizing that there are those in our world who have distinct advantages due to their race/ethnicity while others have been disadvantaged.

Since 1993, additional dialogue has happened within the ELCA and, indeed, wider culture.  Something that the ELCA is still attempting to contend with includes the unconscious and systemic racism embedded within the structures of our denomination and our world.  While many of us will not see “outward racism” or racial hatred/white supremacy in our congregations, the often-subtle culture within congregations can sometimes exclude our siblings of color.  Many Lutheran churches celebrate their German or Scandinavian roots, which is not “wrong” in and of itself, but can unconsciously mean we exclude others.  Our congregations (particularly in larger cities) that have found themselves in a community that no longer reflects their own racial/ethnic background neglect to extend outside their walls and serve those in their neighborhood.  Our leaders and members of color are often encouraged to assimilate into the culture of the ELCA rather than our congregations working to expand and understand the culture of those who join us.  These are things that are much more challenging to change – but like all things, change begins with the Holy Spirit working through us.

It is the responsibility of all of us to identify ways that we may inadvertently exclude people who may look, think, or come from a culture different from ours.  The day of Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago included faithful people from so many places, languages, and cultures.  How can we as a church in 2023 extend that kind of radical welcome?

In Christ,

Pr. Sharilyn