In the past few weeks, our Sierra Pacific Synod, along with Lutheran Disaster Response of the ELCA, has sent information to you about how you can respond to natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, earthquakes in Mexico, and fires throughout the western United States. Today, Hurricane Maria is wreaking havoc on Puerto Rico, and, in the next few days, possibly the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I ask for your prayers for Bp. Felipe Lozada and the people of the Caribbean Synod as well as the people of Puerto Rico who are still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. These disasters, individually and in their totality, have brought damage that is almost beyond our comprehension. The faces of the people who are living through these disasters, and who have lost everything, bears this out. Please, as you are able, continue to give to help alleviate their suffering and to help in the rebuilding of their lives.

I recently shared my concerns regarding another disaster that has been unfolding in this country. It’s a disaster that is reflected in other faces, faces that are all around us:

+      The faces of Dreamers and DACA families who are terrified by the proclamation of the Trump Administration removing the protections of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA.

+      The faces of people in St. Louis who are angry over yet another not guilty verdict in the shooting of a young black man by a white police officer. The faces of people in so many other cities and towns where similar shootings have taken place.

I don’t think it is hyperbole to compare these situations as “disasters.” Millions of people living in the communities we are called to serve are living in fear. Fear of the effect of devastating forces over which they have little or no control which can change their lives forever. Fear that ICE Officers can appear at their children’s schools to round up law-abiding parents and their children for deportation. Fear that a simple traffic violation can end up in the death of a Black driver or passenger in that car. Fear that good, Christian people are standing by while voices of White Supremacists hold demonstrations calling for racial segregation and the veneration of those who once fought to make slavery the law of this land.

All of this is happening now, in our cities and towns, in our neighborhoods. I hear people speak of comparisons of this time to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews and to times when ethnic cleansing was employed to decimate whole populations of people because of their race, ethnicity or clan. I have come to believe that these comparisons are valid, and that if valid, then it is time for followers of Jesus and others of good will to act as advocates, protectors and defenders of the rights of those who are being systematically oppressed. We cannot stand on the sidelines of this struggle, we cannot stand by and watch as Dreamers are rounded up, as young Black men are being killed. We of the ELCA — the whitest denomination in America – cannot again stand on the wrong side of history, as so many of our forebears in the faith sadly chose to do.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” wrote eloquently of this to the white pastors and religious leaders of Birmingham who questioned the methods in the movement for civil rights:

“We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws.

“I MUST make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”*

Many of you have chosen not to stand by but have shown faith, care and compassion for the victims of the natural disasters that have been much in the news of late. I ask you to stand now with the same faith, care and compassion with those in our communities who are suffering, and need our support, our advocacy, our protection. Contact your Congressional and Senate Representatives to act quickly to restore the protections for the children and young adults among us who are meant to be protected by DACA. Find out how you can connect with ecumenical and interfaith efforts in your community to end violence that is disproportionately directed to Blacks and other people of color. Go to the website of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of people who are looking to us for support. Learn about AAMPARO (https://spsammparo.org), an initiative of the ELCA to stand with unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America who are waiting for their time in Immigration Court. Our Synod (Resolution 2017-2) and the State of California have issued strong statements in support of the Sanctuary Movement – find out how you can get involved. Learn about the insidious effects of racism and white privilege

I don’t expect that everyone reading this letter will agree with what I have written. In fact, I am sure there will be some who take strong exception to some or all of this. Know that it is my intention to continue a conversation that I have been encouraging us to have for more than few years about Racism and the need to move our church from being the whitest denomination in America to one that better reflects the diversity of the communities we have been called to serve. My hope and prayer is that something of what has been shared here will move you and your congregation to consider how you can learn more about the Dream Act, Black Lives Matter, and the work of our Synod and the ELCA to raise awareness and encourage advocacy and action as you feel led to do. My hope and prayer is that we will look into the faces of those who are living in fear in our communities and see the face of Christ, and be moved to act with what Christ has taught us of offering God’s love and compassion to all — no exceptions.

Bp. Mark

*The full text of this letter can be found at: Letter From a Birmingham Jail  


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