Week of the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
The remaining Black Lives Matter banner on our church property continues to generate controversy within our congregation, with some members of the congregation passionately supportive of this public witness, and some members passionately opposed to its presence, and others somewhere in between.
At the July Council meeting, President Glen Mason and I were directed to form a working group tasked with developing protocols and criteria to guide discernment and decision-making about the kinds of public witness we make as a congregation, which would include the question of signage on church property.
That working group, more fully described in President Mason’s article for the coming issue of Steeplelight, convened on August 18. As a result of a heart-felt and thoughtful conversation, I made several recommendations which summarized the sentiments of the working group’s conversation, and offered these ex officio as Pastor to the Council for its September meeting. Here are the recommendations:
- That the signs expressing stances related to social issues be removed from church property.
- That the removal of the signs be accompanied by communication overseen by the Pastor to the whole congregation clearly expressing the rationale for removing the signs as well as stating a commitment to engage in intentional inclusive community building initiatives in our congregation.
- That the Council be directed to make plans for activities that serve to repair, renew, and deepen our communal life together as a congregation.
- That the Council furthermore be directed to make plans for activities that also serve to make our congregation more inclusive of the wide variety of races, ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities increasingly represented in the greater Arlington area.
- That the Pastor and others engage in teaching in the congregation about the nature of the relationship between church and state from Lutheran perspectives rooted in scripture, the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions.
- That all of these efforts would be inclusive of the widest possible representation of congregation members reflecting and honoring the diversity of opinion that exists in our community.
- That amidst and informed by these educational and formational efforts, a policy/protocol statement be drafted in due course that outlines criteria for moral discernment and decision making about the nature of our congregation’s public witness to our moral commitments.
Council members were generally quite supportive of recommendations 2 through 7, but there continue to be sticking points on the first recommendation to remove the Black Lives Matter banner. The Council desired more time to thoughtfully consider these recommendations, especially the first one to remove the banner. The Council also, in a spirit of transparency, wished for me to share this outcome of the September meeting to the wider congregation membership – hence this topic as focus for this week’s Midweek Message.
I believe it is important to state again why the Council decided to put up the Black Lives Matter signs in the first place. To summarize the Council’s rationale, here is a salient paragraph from a letter sent to congregation members in the autumn of last year:
“The Council views the Black Lives Matter signs as a Christian statement that while all lives matter, at this moment Black lives are most at risk. The BLM movement was spurred on by the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and has grown into an organization with chapters in cities across the US. As stated in the ELCA Black Lives Matter document: ‘The movement seeks to help people recognize that Black lives matter no less than other lives, and to expose how Black people have been and continue to be dehumanized and considered insignificant, expendable prey in our society… When we say Black lives matter, we are promoting and protecting human rights and living out God’s commandment to love our neighbor.’ We know that we will never reach absolute consensus about sensitive decisions like these. In this time of Black people’s vulnerability to prejudice and harm, we feel called by Christ to announce our support publicly for Black safety and security, and our opposition to racial injustice.” Here is a link to the full text of this letter.
The Council will take up again the proposed recommendations at their October meeting. In the meantime, I invite you to pray for and engage in conversation with members of the Council, Resurrection Church members whom you elected to exercise leadership on your behalf. I also invite your conversations with me and with Council President, Glen Mason.
Even if the banner is taken down, the issues of racial injustice and other social concerns are not going away. Nor is the church’s call to make public witness advocating for a vision of God’s justice in which all people are honored, respected, and given full opportunity to thrive in communities of holistic well-being. Thus, we as a congregation, one way or another, will continue to engage the pressing issues of our day in Jesus’ name, informed by the scriptures, and the theological sensibilities of our Lutheran tradition, along with the commitments of our wider church.
Occasions of actual engagement with each other in our congregation about all of this thus far in my experience have been thoughtful, passionate, and, so importantly, respectful. My prayer is that such a tone would continue as more and more people in our congregation engage in discourse so that the widest possible variety of views may be shared, heard, and honored. Such engagement will make us stronger as a congregation, and will enhance the faithfulness and integrity of our gospel witness to our wider communities.
May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us all in the power of the Holy Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman