Week of the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
If you were at church on Sunday or have driven or walked by our church building, you have noticed that the Black Lives Matter banner has been removed. At its meeting on November 11, the Congregation Council voted to approve the removal of the banner to be replaced with a set of three new banners (currently in the process of final graphic design) which features the message of Micah 6:8, “Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God.” In addition, the banners will herald the name of our congregation, since there is no visible sign for our church on that side of the building. Moreover, the new banners will include the website addresses for our congregation, our synod, and the ELCA Churchwide organization, along with colorful logos related to each.
But it is essential to state that the Council decision is not just about the removal of one banner for the sake of a new set of replacements. The decision about this iconography is but one of several recommendations that the Council also approved. The Black Lives Matter signage fulfilled a purpose of provoking conversation about the persistent problem of racism in our culture and society. While the placement of the BLM signs on church property resulted in division within our congregation among those for and against such explicit public witness, it is also true that all of this was accompanied by conversational engagement in a small group setting with a book by a Black Lutheran pastor’s struggle with racism in the ELCA, statistically the whitest denomination in the nation. This group met monthly for a year via Zoom, becoming ever more willing and able to talk openly about the problems of racism in church and society. For the past year, there has also been Friday movie nights which featured films which opened up discourse about racism.
All of this is to say that our work concerning racism and our commitment to becoming a more open, inclusive and anti-racist congregation will continue. In keeping with the Council’s other recommendations, therefore, you can expect in the coming months further educational offerings and initiatives which seek to result in Resurrection Church becoming an increasingly open and diverse congregation with a more genuine embrace for all people. A Black Lives Matter sign was just a first step toward a much more involved and ongoing effort.
It is also clear from the experience of the division within our congregation that resulted from the Council’s decision well over a year ago to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property that we have work to do to nurture a deeper sense of community within our congregation. Some of this community building will involve improving the trust the wider congregation membership has in the Council. Some felt that the decision to place BLM signs on our property was of such a controversial nature that it called for wider consultation with the congregation before the Council’s decision. So, one of my intents as Pastor going forward is to establish occasions for and avenues toward wider conversation and consultation in the congregation, especially when it comes to controversial matters. Beyond that, we will be well-served to schedule community building events that bring our people together to restore and deepen relationships with each other as members of our congregation.
Another thing we have learned amidst this challenging year is that our congregation would benefit from more educational events which seek to elucidate particularly Lutheran understandings of the relationships between church and state. You can expect to see such educational opportunities in coming months.
All of these efforts will end up serving our aspirational commitments to live what the prophet Micah proclaims, namely, to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This simple phrase is profound, and it is precisely the kind of message we want to communicate to the wider world even as we seek to embody this same message in our actions, practicing what we preach. For I suspect you would agree with me that there are many injustices in our world that seek redress even as there is a distinct lack of loving kindness in much civic discourse these days, along with a significant absence of godly humility.
For your information and thoughtful consideration, I am including the full set of recommendations that our Council voted to approve at its last meeting. May God in Christ lead us faithfully to live convincingly into these commitments via the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Recommendations approved at the November 11 Congregation Council Meeting:
- That the Black Lives Matter banner be removed and replaced with a three-panel banner with our congregation’s name, statements from Micah 6:8, the logos related to our congregation, synod, and churchwide organization, along with these entities’ website addresses.
- That the removal of the signs and placement of new signage 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.