Racism, Dealing with It

Editor’s note: in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, a word on dealing with racism from Professor Leo Sánchez.

In a sinful world, racism will not go away. Every so often, it raises its ugly head in public. But rather than merely stating what seems so obvious—racism is a sin—here are some practical ways to confront it head on and deal with it.

Repentance

Public displays of racism offer an opportunity for repentance. Not merely calling for someone else to repent, but for my own repentance. Which is actually more difficult than condemning racism in general because it makes racism my personal problem. Here we sin by commission and omission.

Our sinful flesh gladly finds ways to avoid people of other races or paint them in a suspicious light. Or it simply fails to acknowledge racism as a real problem in our society, or the pain people who have suffered discrimination because of the color of their skin go through on a regular basis. The appropriate response to this state of affairs is neither claiming to have “no racist bone in my body” nor appealing to one’s innocence or ignorance about America’s so-called original sin. Nor will winning an argument about whether racism is a personal or systemic sin save anyone either.

The sinful flesh finds all kinds of sneaky ways to avoid dealing head on with racism and ethnocentrism. So the best first response is simply to repent: “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” And then to wait for God’s response, trusting in his mercy: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this cyclical rhythm of repentance, of contrition and absolution, Christians learn to live daily under the sign of their baptism into Christ, drowning the sinful flesh so that a new creature may rise every day.

Vigilance

Public displays of racism offer an opportunity for vigilance. Sin is not only a corrupted state but an actual way of being in the world. This is why we do not simply confess that we are sinful by (corrupted) nature, but also that we sin specifically in thought, word, and deed. Accordingly, racism is not merely about people acting out their racism in public, but much more often people thinking and speaking in subtly racist and ethnocentric ways.

To be watchful is not to turn a blind eye to racism, pretending it does not really exist among “good” people like us but only among a few “bad” apples out there. Instead, Christians openly acknowledge life is a rough pilgrimage in the wilderness, where we are constantly vulnerable to the seductions of the evil one, including the idea that we are superior to others in some way. If having a superiority complex were not a perennial human problem, why would Christians have to be reminded to put others before themselves? We must, therefore, be careful not to become overly confident about our own power to resist the lure of supremacy, lest we become an easy prey to it without even noticing it.

Another common seduction we are vulnerable to is the idea that if we fight against flesh and blood, and kill our enemies (either literally, or more likely with our words), then we will do our part to eradicate from society the perpetrators of racism. Yet we know hatred only breeds more hatred. Here Christians must avoid the seduction of imitating the language of the world, the violence of words (even in the name of freedom of speech), which parades monsters while neglecting the potential harm to their own spiritual lives of an unchecked fear of and distance from people who look different from us.

It is easier to go after evildoers. And indeed, when we see evil, we must call it what it is. But let’s face it. It is more difficult to be accountable to others for our manner of speech, so as not to slip into attitudes toward people of different races and ethnicities based on stereotypes and myths perpetuated by sensationalist media. No one is immune from these seductions. So the proper response to racism is not to deny our vulnerability to it, but simply to be watchful and pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”; and “May your holy angel be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.”

Sacrifice

Public displays of racism offer an opportunity for service. Contrition and forgiveness bear fruits of repentance. Grafted onto Christ the Vine, Christians bear the fruit of his Spirit in their lives. Racism, on the other hand, bears plain signs of the works of the flesh. It promotes enmity, strife, anger, selfishness, dissension, and party spirit. Amidst such sinful passions and desires, Christians dare to live and walk by the Spirit. Doing so is never easy. It entails sacrifice.

Where there is hate, Christians show love. Where there is sorrow, joy; where conflict, peace; where anxiety, patience; where rudeness, kindness; and so on. There can never be too much of these things in a sinful world. Walking in the Spirit is not without personal sacrifice. In showing love, we become the objects of hate; when sharing joy, we hear of the other’s grief; when preaching peace, conflict comes our way; when teaching patience, we bear other’s anxieties; when we show kindness, people rudely dismiss us.

Racism is an expression of egocentricity. It is a love of self which only loves those who look like self. It is a form of what Luther called our being curved in on ourselves. Service takes us outside ourselves, away from a misguided love of self and into the realm of neighbors who are different from us. We begin to see life in terms of the pain of others, including those whose race and ethnicity makes them the object of hurtful words and acts, and dare to speak on their behalf and defend them when they are portrayed in the worst possible light or their lives are threatened in some way—even if we suffer for it. No one said being a Christian is easy.

Hospitality

Public displays of racism offer an opportunity for hospitality. Racism is a form of exclusion and aims at alienation, a sin that seeks to destroy the human hope for acceptance and belonging. It teaches that humans can justify their lives—their worth and value—before others on the basis of the color of their bodies and the privileges accompanying their racial identity.

In a world where our churches and communities often remain de facto segregated, we begin to get comfortable with those who look and speak like us. We have a hard time crossing racial, ethnic, cultural, and social borders to meet neighbors on the other side. Perhaps we are afraid of the unknown. Perhaps we are too comfortable. We can call it whatever we want. But whatever the reason, we are missing out. What if God surprises us on the other side of the border and richly blesses us our lives with neighbors who look and speak differently?

Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee, where nothing good comes from. Due to their proximity to Gentiles, Galileans were seen as less than pure and wise. Yet God surprises us and works out his salvation through a Galilean! And it is out of suspect Galilee that Jesus sends out his Galilean disciples to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Here again, God defies common human expectations. In his own ministry, Jesus crossed into the lives of Samaritans, strangers and foreigners of mixed race and religion considered enemies of God. The Spirit of Jesus moved Philip in Acts to cross into the land of the Samaritans, where the evangelist welcomed them into God’s kingdom through baptism in the name of Jesus, and the Samaritans received the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s house is wide and all races have a place at the table. Through these stories of divine welcome, we learn that justification before God is not by race but by grace.

We also learn to reach out to neighbors outside our comfort zones. One deals with racism by inviting people of different races to share life with us in our homes, churches, and communities. A welcoming attitude moves beyond merely being aware of the other while remaining in parallel universes. Hospitality crosses borders to learn from and collaborate with new neighbors. Got time for coffee?

Devotion

Public displays of racism offer an opportunity for devotion. When people of different races fight against each other, or more likely (and perhaps problematically) keep their distance from each other, we have all lost respect for God’s creation. We no longer acknowledge that when we stand before another human being we stand before God’s own creation. Since worship includes faith and its fruits (love), racism gets in the way of the proper worship of God. It dishonors both the Creator and his creation.

True worship gladly receives God’s gifts of creation and redemption. When do we make time to revel in such gifts? The day of rest was just the time to do so. God’s people kept the Sabbath not merely through the cessation of labor, but by thanking God for the work of his hands and for saving his people through the Exodus. The broader point of the day of rest, however, was to make time any day in the midst of busy lives to behold the awesomeness of these divine gifts with thanksgiving and praise, joy and celebration. Today we are so occupied that we no longer stand still to soak in the beauty of God’s work, including the gift of neighbors, and to celebrate it.

Racism gets in the way of proper devotion to God because it denies the beauty of his creation, which comes in no other way than in many different colors. It also denies the gift of the church into which God has gathered unto himself, through his Word, a people from different nations, races, and languages. By resting in God’s promises of creation and new creation, Christians learn to look once again at neighbors of different races through the eyes of faith and love—namely, as God’s own precious creatures for whom Christ gave his life. They also learn to give thanks and praise to God for the lives and gifts new neighbors bring to them personally, as well as to the church and our world. And yes, they learn to rejoice in each other’s company and play together.

Come, Holy Spirit!

How then do we respond to racism, whether crass or subtle, not only in public but at all times? By looking in the mirror with the eyes of repentance, at our spiritual lives with the eyes of vigilance, outside of ourselves with the eyes of a servant, toward excluded neighbors with the eyes of welcome, and toward the Giver of all gifts with the eyes of devotion. This picture of life is, of course, quite a burden for any person to fulfill on his or her own. Inevitably, we will come up short when dealing with racist and ethnocentric impulses.

Yet Christ’s grace is abundant and he gives us his Spirit to provide what is needed along the journey. If lack of repentance, the Spirit will kill the sinner in us to make us alive. If lack of vigilance amidst the seductions of evil, the Spirit will make us watchful and accountable to one another in our thoughts, speech, and deeds. If lack of service and hospitality, the Spirit will warm up our cold hearts toward the strange other and bear his fruit in our lives, leading us to engage in sacrificial and welcoming acts on behalf of marginalized neighbors. If lack of devotion, the Spirit will give us rest in God to stand back and behold the colorful beauty of his creation in the face of our neighbors. So come, Holy Spirit! We need you!

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38 Comments

  1. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    Pastor Sanchez,

    Thank you very much for the challenging and thoughtful post. When you say, “What if God surprises us on the other side of the border and richly blesses us our lives with neighbors who look and speak differently?” and “A welcoming attitude moves beyond merely being aware of the other while remaining in a parallel universes. Hospitality crosses borders to learn from and collaborate with new neighbors. Got time for coffee?”, I can only say “Amen!” as I know from much personal experience that you are right….

  2. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    …And what you say here certainly correlates well with what I heard you say when you visited Concordia St. Paul when you came to speak to us on this topic. This year our book of the year is “A good time for the truth : race in Minnesota,” and I am looking forward to making the time to read it this year. I read about it: “In this provocative collection, sixteen of Minnesota’s best writers provide a range of perspectives on what it is like to live as a person of color in Minnesota.”

    With that said, let me ask you what seems to me a very difficult question with, I hope you understand, with a bit of fear and trembling. First though, I need to go to Scripture….

  3. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    In the Scriptures we read “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” A few points come to my mind here: a) in the past, one’s family, or household, was not usually limited so strictly to the nuclear family ; b) though we are to love all persons and certainly should not see our families as objectively superior to others, it does seem that, all things being equal, our first obligation is to love our own families by providing for their basic natural needs — even if these members are unbelievers when it comes to the household of God ; c) Paul is dealing with the natural law here – if we as Christians fail to uphold things like this as we should, it, presumably, will make us odious to pagans, and not because of the cross, our glory.

  4. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    …Cicero noted that “Nature produces a special love of offspring,” and Epictetus asserted that “Natural affection is a thing right according to Nature” (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 96, 99).

    I note that even if many ethnic and racial groups do not claim superiority in any sense, they do, in general, prefer the company of those who share their familial and cultural (and perhaps religious) heritages (and this, presumably, is more true in some countries than others: Japan, China, South Korea, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria come to mind). Even as I look forward to the time in the book of Revelation when all the tribes on earth will, in the close presence of one another sing to the Lamb, it seems to me that the passage above from I Timothy, gives only one reason, besides racism and egocentricity, that this might be the case.

  5. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    Given that there is some level of agreement on the points above regarding the interpretation of the 1 Timothy passage, how are we to think about this in conjunction with matters concerning racism/ethnocentrism, etc.? I am looking for guidance on your part when it comes to better understanding how we should navigate these, understandably, difficult waters. I am sure I am not the only one, as article like this one from the Federalist indicates: http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/14/new-right-not-pack-neo-nazis-james-damores/

  6. Nathan Rinne August 15, 2017
    Reply

    These are indeed challenging times for us as Christians. And for all of the family of Adam and Eve, “God’s offspring.” One blood (Acts 17), scattered (Genesis 11 – and yet, redemption!: “Racism gets in the way of proper devotion to God because it denies the beauty of his creation, which [now] comes in no other way than in many different colors.”), who, in Christ, will be fully united again (Ephesians, Revelations).

    +Nathan

    (btw, I broke up this post because I was only permitted to post a little bit at a time…)

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 15, 2017

      Dear Nathan,

      Thanks you for your comments. I would distinguish between vocational responsibility toward our closest neighbors in our family kin (home) and spiritual family (church), and the notion of a natural inclination (arguably based on natural law) towards people with whom we share commonality or sameness (particularly, if this means racial/ethnic homogeneity). The former falls under God’s command to love the neighbor, which is fulfilled in our specific vocations, and often includes neighbors who are different from us depending on one’s sphere of influence, social location, etc. The latter appears to be an observable reality (as some philosophers would argue), but it is not–I would further argue–a racially or ethnically homogeneous reality or, more important, binding as the commandment is. On the first point, family kin itself often includes people of many races and ethnicities, and the coming together of these through marriage, intergenerational history, and so on. Family kin is not as homogeneous a racial reality as we are used to thinking. Of course, the same observation applies to the Christian church, which is definitely made up people of all races and ethnicities. My point: Vocational priority towards family (and church neighbors), and the idea of natural attraction towards those who are like us (specifically, due to racial/ethnic bonds) do not have a necessary affinity with one another. If anything, at some point in our lives, and especially in an increasingly globalized world, commitments towards church families will necessarily take us outside of our own race, ethnicity, and geographical boundaries. That’s just because the church is a multiethnic reality.

      Second, attraction towards the same is not commanded by God or binding on Christians. This for at least two reasons, a negative one and a positive one. Of course, not all natural attraction towards those with whom we share things in common is bad. However, due to the corruption of human nature, natural inclination towards the same should give us pause and is actually suspect. And in the context of the lure of supremacy, this is an outright dangerous notion, leading to sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. More important, in Christ, the wall of separation between ethnic groups is broken down. The new creation in Christ has ushered in, and we are called to walk the path less traveled. To love enemies, strangers, etc. Moreover, the church is sent out to make disciples of all nations, ethnicities, languages. In this church catholic, people of different races and ethnicities–to paraphrase theologian Nanko-Fernandez–are not really the church’s “diversity,” they are actually the church. Christians live today in light of that beautiful vision of Rev. 7, which is our actual reality as God sees it. This catholic vision, I’d argue, shapes our attitude towards those who are different today. Here the Spirit has a role in bending our natural inclination, whether sinful or not, towards God’s purposes in Christ. Which often means looking outside ourselves. In his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther called this evangelistic path less traveled the love of the cross, and he does so, interestingly enough, in opposition to some Aristotelian concept of natural attraction. Here is what he had to say, from his thesis 28, which I quote in its entirety for our common reflection and edification:

      The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.
      The second part is clear and is accepted by all philosophers and theologians, for the object of love is its cause, assuming, according to Aristotle, that all power of the soul is passive and material and active only in receiving something. Thus it is also demonstrated that Aristotle’s philosophy is contrary to theology since in all things it seeks those things which are its own and receives rather than gives something good. The first part is clear because the love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are »attractive« because they are loved; they are not loved because they are «attractive»: For this reason the love of man avoids sinners and evil persons.
      Thus Christ says: «For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners« (Matt. 9:13). This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.» It is more blessed to give than to receive» (Acts 20:35), says the Apostle. Hence Ps. 41:1 states, «Blessed is he who considers the poor,» for the intellect cannot by nature comprehend an object which does not exist, that is the poor and needy person, but only a thing which does exist, that is the true and good. Therefore it judges according to appearances, is a respecter of persons, and judges according to that which can be seen, etc.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Leo Sánchez

  7. George Zehnder August 15, 2017
    Reply

    Sadly, a The Missouri Synod is in practice racist. Historically, Walter said Scripture is neither for or against slavery? The Confederate flag flew over Walther’s Concordia Seminary. The St. Louis Lutherans came up through New Orleans to settle in a slave state. Why is the name Missouri synod and other states? Because Walther was for “state rights” and was opposed to the Federal Government because Walther didn’t want to be told what to do. Why Missouri Synod has not there been Black District President? The few Black pastors in the Missouri Synod Pastors are regulated to low paying black congregations. Any Black pastor is given token responsibility. The white flite mission movement moved Synod’s HQ to Kirkwood.
    The Lutheran Church has never had affirmative action for the few blacks in Synod. President Harrison surrounds himself with the white CTCR. In practice Synod is racist!!!!

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 15, 2017

      Dear George,

      Thanks for your comments. The common response to a wholesale criticism (historical, theological, or otherwise) of a church body in its entirety is to find ways to defend its founders and so on. I could, of course, find ways to understand Walther in his context both historically and theologically. The same can be said, for instance, of Luther’s mix bag of comments on the Jews of his day. However, I will not do so.

      Instead, in the spirit of my post, I will go the more painful route. Every Christian tradition has skeletons in its closet. From an institutional perspective, the whole Christian church (including the Lutheran church), is a disaster and a scandal. As a blessed saint once said, “the church is a harlot, but it is still my mother” (paraphrasing Augustine). The church is a family, and at least in my family nobody is perfect. We are saints and sinners. We do not always like each other, but we are patient with and love one another anyway. It should not surprise us, therefore, that Christian founders and leaders of all stripes have often sinned by commission and by omission in the face of the evils of racism and ethnocentrism. Those who have great power, of course, have the capacity to influence others by their words, actions, or lack thereof. This reminds me that in the Christian church only Jesus is Lord, and therefore, we need to hold each other accountable under the light of God’s Word in order to discern where we have sinned and how to move forward in our dealings with others.

      My post suggests a way forward, beginning with repentance (individual and corporate). Your comments seem to hint at the corporate consequences: What might change not only personally, but perhaps institutionally as a result of dealing with racism through repentance, vigilance, sacrifice, hospitality, and devotion? In other words, as a colleague of mine used to say, what does the church look like that believes this stuff? And that, I think, is not only a fair question but a work in progress.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Leo Sánchez

    • N August 15, 2017

      Hi George,

      For what it’s worth, it should be said that your post does perpetuate some Civil-War-era rumors about Walther and the Seminary. While it’s true that Walther did say that Scripture does not forbid slavery (and it doesn’t, but it does provide strictures for how it ought to be practiced which the American system violated), he was not in favor of slavery as it was practiced in America. Walther had issues with the ways in which northern abolitionists spoke about slavery as being inherently evil because God Himself gives guidelines for the behavior of both slaves and masters in Scripture. (pt. 1)

    • N August 15, 2017

      (Pt. 2) Walther felt that if God allows for it and speaks to it, then it is a system which He allows in certain forms–he believed the abolitionists went too far in their rhetoric because if slavery in all its forms is inherently evil, then God was approving of evil. For him, then, slavery as a concept could be allowed if carried out in a God-pleasing way. He did not believe, however, that American race-based slavery with its inherent cruelties was moral. He tried to cling as closely to what Scripture said on the matter as possible.

    • N August 15, 2017

      (Pt. 3) This more nuanced position also meant that Walther’s politics were more nuanced. He himself was a Democrat, which would have put him more on the side of pro-secession under normal circumstances (he was not a fan of Union conscription), but he was also a committed loyalist given that he believed that one must “be subject to the governing authorities.” In his May 21, 1861 letter, he states emphatically, “we are for union.”

    • N August 15, 2017

      (pt. 4) Furthermore, the Confederate flag never flew over Concordia Seminary. As best as can be figured, it was a rumor started by those in the city who had a beef with the seminary faculty’s desire to take a middle road in the crisis–many of the North Side Germans who had fought in the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany thought Walther et al. were quietists or weren’t fully committed to the Union cause. There’s a quote from Col. Heinrich Boernstein, who led some of the St. Louis German regiments, where he laid a hand on a cannon and threatened to fire upon the seminary because he didn’t like Walther’s more conscientious-objectionist stance, but the Seminary never flew the “Stars and Bars.”

    • N August 15, 2017

      (Pt. 5) The fact that the seminarians formed their own Union division during the fighting in St. Louis ought to be proof enough, but to put a finer point on it, the Seminary was three blocks away from the Union arsenal. To fly the Confederate flag would have been a stupid move. Besides this, Walther attested in an interview that the Union flag flew above the Seminary between 1861-1865. While Walther was more nuanced about slavery, it should be said that pretty much all of the LCMS and related congregations in the 1860s were pro-abolition and pro-Union and were majority Republican (which makes sense for a Synod based in the northern and border states).

      I cannot speak to your other concerns–I think part of the issue might be that the Synod was and is very German, and that kind of cultural change takes a long time to make.

  8. Justin August 15, 2017
    Reply

    @Nathan – Yes, you have a duty to God to care for your kin, who are also your neighbors. That seems to be something that is missed here. Your fellow citizens are just as much your neighbor as the person halfway around the world. Where Mr. Sanchez goes wrong, which may be a symptom of his career focus on hispanic and latino theology and missions (often directed at social issues like immigration) is that he places the neighbor from another civic country above the neighbor in your own country. An example of this is his post on the immigration paper put out that creates a position on illegal immigration that is rooted in whether civic law “deals adequately, fairly, justly, or reasonably with” immigrants without a proper appreciation of dealing adequately, fairly, justly, or reasonably with our neighbors who are citizens.

  9. Justin August 15, 2017
    Reply

    2 of 2
    I’m concerned that overall there is a push to unnecessarily moralize social issues and misuse Scripture as a cudgel to guilt Christians into supporting social issues based on specious theology developed to address the issues of the day. It is what feeds those and their views above from George Zehnder that call LCMS racist because they don’t discriminate in favor of one ethnic group and against another ethnic group. We should be careful lest LCMS becomes like Google where we are conducting witch hunts to purge the James Damores that don’t toe the line of acceptable social doctrine.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 15, 2017

      Thanks for your comments, Justin.

      I am not quite sure how to reply, since your observations are not addressed to me personally. As to your comments to Nathan and about George, I will leave it up to them to reply if they see fit.

      As to your comments about me or my work, I agree with your acknowledgment that a significant (though not exclusive) aspect of my vocational identity is to work among and with Hispanic/Latino (mostly Lutheran) neighbors and at some level the communities they serve. I disagree with you, however, that this vocational aspect of my work necessarily has to place some neighbor over another. I would argue instead that adequate, fair, just, or reasonable immigration law in the left-hand realm should include a number of factors such as family unification, economic/labor issues, national security, etc. Having said that, I have also stated in my writings that Christians might have different ideas as to how this should play out in the left-hand realm and even have polite disagreements about it. Here I actually agree with you that the church is not to be equated with a social cause, since we can disagree on left-hand causes/issues and still celebrate the Lord’s Supper together and proclaim the Gospel in the right-hand realm. In general, I agree with the notion of vocational priority, yet I add that such priority is defined not merely by national identity but a whole bunch of other factors (e.g., family, work, church, etc.). And again, vocational priority does not necessarily have to mean neglect of other neighbors.

      Where I think you go wrong, however, is in the implication that my God-given vocation to which I am bound by God’s command should be likened to a disease or illness–a symptom of which is my advocacy on behalf of immigrants. If so, then, you seem to be putting into question one of my divine vocations and my work among an important set of neighbors whom God has put in my path to serve. Come on, brother, it’s not like I had a choice! Vocation is God’s business.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Leo

    • George Zehnder August 16, 2017

      In the 60’s Martin Luther King stated “That Sunday Morning is the most segregated hour in THE United States.” In the 50’s and 60’s the United States Army was integrated. The US Army is fully integrated and many officers and general officers are in leadership positions. In 50 years nothing has changed in the Missouri Synod! There is 99% White leadership. I served in an intergraded US Army during the Vietnam Era. The first conflict where blacks and whites fought as equals, that progress! That’s what Affirmative Action is, you call it selective discrimination. I served and I’m a citizen of the United States not an individual state. This country believes that all men are created equal.

    • Justin August 16, 2017

      @George-I’m not sure you were responding to me, but apparently the website thinks you were, so a few words. “Integration” is not “affirmative action”. The US Army should rightly do whatever will make it a more effective fighting unit. Affirmative action has no place in the Army. But “integration” also carries with it the tone of forced integration, including in the example you’ve given. I’m going to assume you aren’t advocating that LCMS members go to Trinity United Church of Christ and herd its black members over to LCMS pews or for LCMS members to abandon its churches to go to non-LCMS churches in the name of integration. What then are you advocating? Have you personally evangelized in black neighborhoods? Are you advocating for a black theology chair and center? Or just hurling invective? It is easy enough to shout unfounded claims of racism at individuals and groups, but it is unjust, unwarranted, and misguided.

  10. Salem August 15, 2017
    Reply

    “What might change not only personally, but perhaps institutionally as a result of dealing with racism ( my addition: separatism, white supremacy, nationalism, sexism, superiority, unkindness, ego-centrism (edge God out)) through repentance, vigilance, sacrifice, hospitality, and devotion? In other words, as a colleague of mine used to say, what does the church look like that believes this stuff? And that, I think, is not only a fair question but a work in progress.”

    I agree that we are a work in progress, wish we would ask the fair question more often. We either walk the walk as the Body of Christ or end up in the dustbin of denominational history. The daily discipline of forgiveness and reconciliation would go a long way toward forgiveness when we live this stuff.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 15, 2017

      Thanks for your comments, Salem.

      You make a fair point. All churches need to look critically at their history past and present. That means asking tough questions when needed to discern if we have missed the mark, erred, and/or sinned. There is much to be learned from a good look in the mirror in light of God’s Word. But we do not stop there. At the same time, churches look at that history constructively and rediscover those aspects of their rich theological traditions that are firmly rooted in God’s Word–and in His commands and promises–and can thus move us forward towards repentance, reconciliation, faithful teaching and witness, and renewed vocation.

      Blessings in Christ.
      Leo Sanchez

  11. Nathan Rinne August 16, 2017
    Reply

    Dr. Sanchez,

    Thank you for your kind response. I certainly find myself agreeing with *a lot* of what you say. As I noted originally, nothing fires me up like the picture in Revelation of all tongues, tribes and nations singing together with the Lamb. I myself have been blessed to have many cross-cultural relationships. What I think I must continue to wrestle with, though, is the following points: a) Even though we have examples of things like interracial marriage (which, btw, strikes me as a pretty cool thing when it can work), this is still relatively uncommon – should preferences towards ethnic/racial groups be construed as a “supremacy” or one kind or another? And how do we disambiguate — or can we even — a sinful “comfort zone” vs a good and salutary natural connection (again, logically, why stop with the nuclear family – its atomization of it is an aberration in world history, right?)?

  12. Nathan Rinne August 16, 2017
    Reply

    …b) Is it reasonable to postulate (observe?) that nations do not avoid serious conflict unless the ethnic group in the majority not only works to re-assure its majority status but enforces its culture and requires assimilation from any immigrants? Or is it reasonable to associate this, in some fashion, with the notion of supremacy? If so, what is the argument?

    It seems to me the discussion overall is more fruitful when we try to look beyond our own context as a nation, and to look at other nations, history, etc.

  13. Nathan Rinne August 16, 2017
    Reply

    …And it seems to me that if I were going to immigrate to another country, I should expect to adopt their culture as fully as it is possible for me to do so as a Christian. And I should expect to be lonely, not living in communities of just my own. After all, it is their home and I should remember that. And that I should be willing to die for the people who I live among — even vs. my own people from whom I have come. Finally, I believe what happened in America with the Indians was wrong. But what is done is done as well. Retaliation is at times reasonable, but after a while, what’s done is done, and should be accepted. Otherwise, we have a neverending cycle of violence and unrest.

    Willing to consider I might need to re-think some of this. If you would continue to work with me, I would be thankful and consider it an honor.

    +Nathan

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 16, 2017

      Dear Nathan,

      So many interesting questions. Theologically, I think some of your questions might benefit from a framework such as Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment where he argues that everyone has trust in some god. The question is not whether one is a believer, but rather what kind of god one believes in. He then begins to speak of common gods that we put our trust in such as possessions or good works. Notice how these things in and of themselves are not bad but are gifts from God. And yet they can also become idols, objects of misguided sinful trust. Perhaps the idea of attraction to those with whom we have common bonds can be placed in this framework. They are a gift from God. At the same time, if and when the gift is used in such a way that it replaces God and his command or promises in some way, then, it has become an idol. Racial supremacy would be an example of idolatry for reasons I have already stated in my post. Yet there are other kinds of bonds, not limited to race but inclusive of it, that do not have to be seen as sinful. Here we simply need to discern the abuse from the use, the gift from the idolatry, in light of God’s Word.

      I would add that attraction itself is a richer reality that may include racial, ethnic, cultural likeness, but is also so much more. Would you agree that when we fall in love, for example, we fall in love with the person in the concrete, and not with the race or ethnicity in the abstract? It’s the whole package. Isn’t it. A person is not reduced to his or her race, though this is also a gift from God. And then there is the attraction of a common faith in Jesus, and so on. So this is something we might want to throw in the analysis simply as a way to think about the idea of attraction more broadly.

      But when speaking of attraction in the more narrow sense of ethnocultural and racial identity, it seems to me again that the diversity of God’s human creation and the catholicity of God’s church moves us in the direction of considering as normal (not as odd) cross-cultural and intercultural forms of life in world and church. These forms of engagement are not limited to marriage, of course, but include friendships, working relations, and other interactions with neighbors our vocations take us to.

      The U.S. is rather diverse racially and ethnically, and we certainly see more miscegenation here than even twenty years ago. In other countries, miscegenation has been the rule rather than the exception, such as countries in Latin America where mestizaje and mulatez has been the reality since Spanish Colonization. Racial discrimination has also been a problem in the history of Latin America, and yet one cannot escape the intersectionality and mixing of races, ethnicities, and cultures that make the region what it is historically. The Hispanic church in the U.S. reflects this diversity and has also accommodated to including other types of ethnic diversity in its identity over time. Notwithstanding the complex history of racism in the Americas, since Hispanic is not a race, it does not de facto see mixing or mestizaje as something odd in the same way that some in the U.S. might. Case in point: At our home, we are the Sanchez Von Behren family. This kind of life together is more common in some parts of the U.S. than others, but it is becoming less and less the “minority report.” So perhaps we do not have to go that far to see salutary examples of inter/cross cultural, interracial, multilingual, attraction (and in our case, also catholic attraction, since we came from Christian churches in different parts of the world!). There are also bad examples of violent encounter between cultures, and the history of colonizing powers gives us many examples of that. But as you say, there are things we cannot undo. We can only try to move forward with God’s help.

      Thanks again for your questions and engagement.

      For further conversation, you are welcome to contact me via e-mail at the Sem.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Leo

  14. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    Dr. Sanchez,

    First of all I rejoice in the gift our Father has given us – our reason – that we might engage in a manner that is fruitful and enlightening. Thank you so very much for the kind response and the respectful manner in which you are taking my questions. I agree fully with what you say about idolatry. National socialism, for example, is in my view, an attempt to move closer towards a tribalist paganism (e.g. I just tweeted the following this morning: In U.S., Nazis, i.e. pagan tribalists, # in 1000s among idiots. Comm[unists] # in the millions among *elites*. Why killed vastly more in 20th c?)….

  15. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    I think that the heart of the issue is tied up with this comment:

    “…when speaking of attraction in the more narrow sense of ethnocultural and racial identity, it seems to me again that the diversity of God’s human creation and the catholicity of God’s church moves us in the direction of considering as normal (not as odd) cross-cultural and intercultural forms of life in world and church. These forms of engagement are not limited to marriage, of course, but include friendships, working relations, and other interactions with neighbors our vocations take us to.”

  16. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    I fully agree. Fully. Definitely. How can we who have that picture of Revelation in our heads think anything less? How can we, who would be horrified if our spouse favored one of our own children and treated them as superior (however “justified” in a worldly sense it might seem due to that child’s qualities!), not be horrified by anyone who would claim the name of Christ and did the same?

  17. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    All this said, let me add a level of nuance that I think complicates the picture. Here is my point: if I have a neighbor who I love dearly and is a Christian brother and we attend the same church, should I be upset if he puts a fence of some kind up? One might say “Yes”. Another: “Maybe. But maybe not!” A third might say: “You really should not worry about this, but simply see it as going along with a natural, and not sinful desire, for appropriate space.” I think the first response is unreasonable, the second reasonable, and the third, the best (and yes, maybe the kind of fence influences our evaluation here!)

  18. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    “In other countries, miscegenation has been the rule rather than the exception, such as countries in Latin America where mestizaje and mulatez has been the reality since Spanish Colonization.”

    Right – but isn’t this generally, historically speaking, what happens when one people utterly conquers another through the greatest of violence? I.e. the conquerors/conquistadores take the women they want and have children by them? In order to make them all theirs so to speak? In other words, I’m thinking that a lot of that initial miscegenation took place without much free choice or consent on the part of the women (not to mention their previous men!). Or am I wrong about the particular historical circumstances here? I mean, after all, you use the word “intersectionality,”…..

  19. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    ….a definition of which is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. Focusing on that “overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage,” this does point to the aspect of force present in the Spanish *conquest*.

    “At our home, we are the Sanchez Von Behren family. This kind of life together is more common in some parts of the U.S. than others, but it is becoming less and less the “minority report.” So perhaps we do not have to go that far to see salutary examples of inter/cross cultural, interracial, multilingual, attraction (and in our case, also catholic attraction, since we came from Christian churches in different parts of the world!).”

  20. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    I do think this is a good thing. And another reason for us to uphold the definition of marriage! My concern, however, is to not be overly optimistic (utopian?) in our views of what can happen now or later in human history. Again, to the best of my knowledge, I do think that a lot of the relatively successful mixing of cultures, *resulting in a new homogenizing,* happened because non-Christian people and people who were basically Christian in name did not have qualms about using force do accomplish this goal (i.e. killing the defeated men and taking the women they wanted as their own).

  21. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    Furthermore, I’ll admit this: years ago, I had adopted the view that Adam and Eve were probably brown skinned, and the phenomena of “very dark” and “very light” (and the diversity of other prominent characteristics) were a result of Babel. Therefore, it would be idea if we would try to go back to Adam and Eve! But this, of course, would deny the redemptive aspect of the picture that we see in Rev as well (presumably, we are not wrong to appreciate dog shows than either : ) ).

  22. Nathan Rinne August 17, 2017
    Reply

    Again, thank you so much for the exchange of very difficult ideas, ideas, which I think touch on the deepest regions of humanity created by the mess that is our sin. Come quickly Lord Jesus! (He is the only one that can ultimately save us from this, and the only one who can give us the knowledge that we need now about one another to start the healing now….)

    I realize what I have said above (all of it) may likely offend many. I am so very happy and thankful however, that you, as a brother in Christ, have taken my thoughts and concerns seriously. I would be delighted to continue talking with you via email, and will contact you. In Christ, +Nathan

  23. Thomas Fast August 19, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for your thoughtful, helpful, and timely essay on a difficult topic, Dr. Sanchez.

  24. Ted Hopkins August 25, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks, Leo. I deeply appreciate these thoughts. The only thing I would add is, how does this catholic vision of church and world become concrete? What does a congregation DO and say that wishes to be faithful to Jesus Christ and the mission that he has entrusted to it? I hope your reflections can be part of the larger conversation of the faithfulness of the LCMS in the face of racial issues that needs to be a on-going dialogue in our synod and not, as I fear, a relevant but fleeting piece of casuistry.
    Also, the comments’ word limit is much too short to say anything on a substantive issue like this.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez August 25, 2017

      Thanks, Ted. I hear you saying, let’s move this talk from the personal to the congregational sphere. Perhaps we can think of three levels of engagement, namely, multicultural, cross-cultural, and intercultural. Multicultural is simply to help people acknowledge or recognize the existence of people of different races in their midst. One way to do that is, quite simply, to pray for perpetrators and victims of racism and discrimination, for God to change hearts and minds and offer healing and reconciliation, or to give thanks to God for people of different races and ethnicities in our midst. Another example, on the side of teaching, is to give people pictures from Scripture of the diversity of God’s creation and the catholic reality that is His church, so that they see these things not as odd exceptions but as the way God does business as usual. Now, you can promote these practices, but people of different ethnicities still remain standing side by side, without interacting with one another. This leads us to a second level of engagement, the cross-cultural one. This means someone now crosses into another person’s life and interacts with them. That could look, for instance, like setting up opportunities for dialogue with people affected by discrimination in the community (or across the railroad tracks), so as to learn from their struggles and hopes. This crossing over moves into relationship-building, a deeper knowledge of the other, and perhaps friendships. These are opportunities not only from learning, but also for hospitality and celebrating each other’s cultures. There are many ways of crossing linguistic, ethnic, and racial borders. Perhaps ESL classes, a church presence in the Annual Festival of Nations, a servant event in the new urban community garden project, or even that “mission” trip to Mexico. The question here would be the level of exposure. If it is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, then, you are back to multicultural awareness. If you are a consistent presence and relationships begin to flourish, then, you are moving closer to a cross-cultural vibe. A potential problem with the cross-cultural move is that it can often be one-sided. The congregation sets the crossing agenda, learns some things, builds some relationships, but there is no collaboration among partners. The third level is, therefore, the most demanding, the intercultural one. Here you move into two-way partnerships that are ongoing, dynamic, in which each side contributes. For example, how quickly does a congregation allow members of other ethnic groups to have a leadership role in the spiritual life of the community, or a voice and vote in the strategic plan of the congregation? Are there some joint projects in which a suburban and urban congregation with different ethnic compositions can partner? Pulpit supply? Pastoral formation? Putting together that Festival of Nations? These are only some ideas in the context of a framework that moves from awareness to crossing and finally to partnership. Each congregation will have to contextualize what this means for them where they are at. Good to hear from you, Ted. Peace. Leo

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