• Jo Page

Strawberry Fields. Maybe Never.

I am an ordained pastor in the whitest denomination in the United States that was founded by a medieval church renegade whose late-in-life writings display shocking anti-Semitism. This is all the more reason why repentance and redress should never, ever be empty concepts for Lutherans.

We have made some progress, though slowly:

A Lutheran pastor in Germany was hanged in 1945 for his involvement in the last assassination plot against Adolf Hitler. And a group of Lutheran pastors (not a big group, mind you) formed the German Confessing Church in opposition to the Fascist and anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich.

The Lutheran Peace Fellowship, founded in 1941, has an agenda that includes priorities ending hunger and poverty, opposing war and militarism, climate change and advocating for gender, race and economic justice.

In 1970, the largest branches of Lutheranism in the United States started to ordain women--and yep, I've been ordained for a full 50% of that time--which makes me a second-wave pioneer, I guess.

In the nineteen-eighties, Lutherans were key agitators against apartheid in Namibia and advocated strenuously to divest from holdings in South Africa.

In 2009, the largest branch of Lutheranism made the (too-late-arriving) decision to ordain LGBTQ+ persons into rostered ministry.

But we are hardly done and dusted.

(Case in point: last year I was told by an older, white man that I didn't "look old enough or big enough to be the Conference Dean. Sorry, Charlie, you're stuck with shrimpy me for a while.)

Today, though, a patronizing crack like that is not what grieves and devils the soul of our nation. And this is just a small story, but it speaks volumes and hurts like hell:

A colleague a few states west of where I am wrote to me that she had put "Black Lives Matter" on her church sign. A passing motorist--not a church member--contacted the pastor to say that he would not be attending their annual June Strawberry Fest in a few weeks if that sign were not taken down.

The executive committee called a governing board meeting because of the passing motorist.

Discussion at that meeting was hotter than strawberry shortcake biscuits fresh from the oven. But then the vote was called.

Four people wanted the sign to stay as it was. Ten wanted it taken down. Ten.

The nays had it.

What do you do with that? How do you process that?

I can assure you that I and every single colleague I know want our church signs to say "Black Lives Matter" (as my own church sign does) not because we are into slogans, but because it is a call to action. Or should be. Or must be.

Eric Barreto, professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, writes, "Witness is a bodily act. Witness walks alongside the oppressed. Witness marches on the streets. Witness votes with love. Witness says 'Enough,' but then does something about it with the power some of our hands wield, the persuasion some of our voices are given, the places where privilege lets some of us stand without the threat of state violence.

Such witness is necessarily costly. Such witness makes demands upon our lives."

Today is Independence Day, which meant next to nothing to those enslaved (or women, by the way). The day that matters was two weeks ago, June 19th, that day in 1965 when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and of slavery--even though the Emancipation Proclamation had come more than two years earlier.

Since slaves had access to neither newspaper nor literacy, many slave owners simply continued to hold their slaves captive.

That is why Juneteenth, not the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, is the symbolic date of African American freedom--a freedom incomplete, a fuller freedom still to fight for.

Of my colleague's drive-by racist, hell-bent on boycotting the Strawberry Festival? Will he crack a tooth on a burned biscuit, asphyxiate on fake whipped cream? Who knows?

But the sweetness of strawberry shortcake will dry bitter and poisonous in all our mouths if we dispute for one single second that Black Lives Matter.


© 2018 Jo Page

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