When Racism Boils Up Here

Racism is an insidious evil.

Humans have been tribal since the beginning.  And tribalism served a purpose.  Tribes protected each other, shared with each other, hunted together.  It became instinctual.  We gathered within the tribe and looked outside the tribe with suspicion.

That instinct still exists.  We spend time with those we are close to…those we like…those who are similar to us.  This is not, in and of itself, wrong.  It just is what it is.

But racism is tribalism turned wrong.  It judges the other.  It assumes that because of differences, the “other” is inferior…which automatically implies then that we are superior.  To be racist is to  diminish one another; it is to judge one another.

And we know what Jesus said about judging.

The events of this past week were like slamming your finger in a car door.  They were sudden, jolting, hard, unexpected and very painful.  And they were on public display.  So not only are we feeling the hurt, other communities, and the whole state of Minnesota are watching us as we go through this.  And there is a sense of shame and embarrassment.

The easy thing to do would be to avoid it, ignore it or to distance ourselves from it.  It is quick and easy to cast blame:

  • We could blame those who made the posts
  • We could blame the young people who responded with anger
  • We could blame the school, or the administrators, who were just making the best decisions they could at the moment, with the information they had.  (Personally, I think they have navigated this well…far better than I think I could have.)

But to jump to placing blame is really to avoid the issue.

The issue is not what happened this week.  That was the symptom; it was the tip of the iceberg poking up out of the water.

The incidents this week remind us that we have larger issues of race brewing below the surface.  They have been there for a long time, and we have avoided doing the hard work we need to do to come to some kind of understanding and resolution.  This week, it just bubbled up…and it surprised those of us who have just been going along, living our lives.

By the way, to be clear, this is not merely an Owatonna problem.  Every community deals with this.

“Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth; to every nation and tribe and language and people He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’”
– Revelation 14:6-7

I think it’s time (it’s probably past time) for us to have these conversations.  If we just move past this week…if we simply point the blame and discipline those who said or did these things…and then assume that we’ve resolved the issue, we will have failed in our responsibility to help bring God’s vision of “every nation, tribe, language and people”  living together in a caring community a reality.  And we will have missed an opportunity to bring healing.  And we will have failed our children, who are the ones reeling the most from these incidents.

We are going to work on this.  We are going to do so in a way that focuses on healing and wholeness.  I expect that it won’t be easy.  We aren’t going to focus on blame or anger, but on love and grace.

God’s vision is for all of God’s people living together.  This past weekend reminded us that we aren’t there yet.  Let’s make a commitment to work towards this vision.

It is God’s work.  It is in our hands.

Pastor Todd

5 thoughts on “When Racism Boils Up Here

  1. I’m being very careful in my comment here, as I’ve known some fine people who attend Trinity and made a small attempt myself at becoming a member. However, Trinity Lutheran Church has a past tied to very strong Republican, very conservative political power. Whether this hearsay is true or not, the political record stands. Vicki Jensen and Kory Kath not withstanding, this is a largely politically RED community, with Trinity being the largest castle on the mountain, so to speak. I also know of adults who tell of their youth experiences at Trinity whereupon several adults preached the evils of homosexuality, and other conservative political messaging that frankly, are not in keeping with WWJD and foster division. This same division crosses into racial and religious matters that, if Trinity truly wants to help lead Owatonna out of its very racist past, it will not only have to ACTIVELY cease to support conservative political messaging, it will also need to ACTIVELY PROMOTE the acceptance of everyone who is different from them. While this will surely throw the congregation up in arms, the safe thing to do for church leadership, is to do nothing. But to truly lead, it would be to include, in plain language, rather than Bible passages, frank, and possibly uncomfortable discussions and sermons that denounce, over and over, every Sunday, the past bad behavior of the church. Because its not enough to be non-racist. You have to be actively ANTI-racist. I know that’s a tall order for a German/Norweigian-based faith. But the fact is, this is neither Germany, nor Norway, and it’s time to adapt, as well as atone for past mistakes. As to when you stop apologizing and preaching for anti-racism? You’ll know when to stop, because you won’t hear about white cops shooting black citizens for no reason. You’ll know because schools will stop having the dust-ups like this, with overreacting white cops doing foolish and harmful things, with a Chief who backs them up. You’ll know because your congregation will no longer be as white as it currently is. You’ll just know. But until then, you have a lot to do. And if you don’t,, the history of this town will just keep repeating.

    1. Hello Ross,
      Thank you for your reply. I’m grateful for your thoughts and your willingness to share them.

      All I can really say is that the Trinity that you describe in your response does not resemble the Trinity that I know, love and work with every day.

      I also want to affirm our Mission Statement: “Through Jesus’ love, we welcome, connect, learn and serve.” Our welcome is unconditional. We welcome all, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, ability, economics or age. This is one of our nonnegotiables.

      And please know that we are an active part of the conversations about how our community might best respond to the broader issues of race that surfaced this past week.

      Lastly, I also want to note that I did make one minor edit before I “approved” your reply. In your note, you named individuals that you thought had joined Trinity only to advance their own political agenda. I know the people you named, and I’ve spoken with them about their faith and their political roles. I thought that naming them in the way you did was both unnecessary for you to make your point, and was a little unfair. In my time at Trinity, I’ve never heard anyone speaking this way. So I took that line out. I just wanted to be up front about that.

      If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to contact me directly at Trinity (507.451.4520) or ToddB@tlcowatonna.org.

      Pastor Todd

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