Lutheran Voices on Racism

Concordia Seminary Professor Leopoldo Sánchez engaged with two African American Lutheran pastors, Warren Lattimore and Micah Glenn, on how they have processed the events of the past few weeks since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, what are some factors that make it difficult at times for Lutherans to talk openly about racism, in what ways Lutheran theology contributes to our responses to the sin of racism, and what might be some practical ways of making a difference in these troubled times.

Warren Lattimore is pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Orleans, LA, and president of the LCMS Black Clergy Caucus. Micah Glenn is director of recruitment at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Both are also alumni of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.


Warren Lattimore’s recent statement as president of the Black Clergy Caucus, which has also been translated into Portuguese:
UPDATE: The statement has now been translated into Spanish by Rev. Germán Novelli Oliveros, president of the LCMS National Hispanic Convention:

Micah Glenn’s presentation to the 2019 LCMS Youth Gathering:

Leopoldo Sánchez’s blog essay, available in English and Spanish:

The conversation discusses the 1966 documentary film A Time for Burning:

About the film, Concordia Seminary Provost Douglas Rutt writes:

What first piqued my interest in the documentary, A Time for Burning, was that it featured a young Lutheran pastor, L. William Youngdahl, of Augustana Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE. If you grew up in Minnesota in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the Youngdahl name was well-known. Pastor Youngdahl’s father, Luther Youngdahl, had been governor of Minnesota from 1947 to 1951. Moreover, Pastor Youngdahl’s uncle, the Reverend Ruben K. Youngdahl, was pastor of the well-known Mount Olivet Lutheran and hosted a nightly devotional program, Live Today. I grew up watching those short television devotionals, broadcast at the end of the day, and somehow the name is engraved in my head.

A Time for Burning documents the efforts of Pastor L. William Youngdahl to establish a relationship with an African American Lutheran church in North Omaha, Hope Lutheran Church. Hope is an LCMS congregation now pastored by a former student of mine. Augustana, on the other hand, was previously LCA and is now a member of the ELCA.

This documentary was nominated for an Academy Award and has been selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress. What it tells me is that things have not changed much in the intervening years, unfortunately. I recently participated in a webinar sponsored by the Association of Theological Schools, and the feelings expressed in this movie persist. I pray that God will grant a breakthrough to the barriers of race and ethnicity that continue to plague the human race.

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  1. Scott Jonas June 18, 2020

    Thank you Leo, Micah and Warren for the conversation. I just watched “A Time for Burning” and was mesmerized. I’m showing it to my congregation starting Sunday.

  2. Matthew Bouley July 8, 2020

    I think one of the reasons this isn’t talked about or speak their feelings about this is because if we have internalized an acceptance of people of all colors and if we are not making stereotypes we do not see this as a racial issue. I see this as an issue of the rampant disrespect for the police and a violent response that occurred as a result of a sinful man giving in to sin. This very type of crime has happened across the board and not just to people of color. I am not going to assume every black person wants to have a conversation on race or has experienced racism themselves. In fact I’m of the opinion that since we are all sons of Noah,race is not real. To me the fact that some people of color think they have more in common with George Floyd because of his skin color than they do with me for example makes as much sense as me believing that people with blue eyes will have more in common with me than those who don’t. Even if you take culture into the picture… you can’t assume people of a given skin color share a culture… they don’t. Now to be sure racism exists, but it’s not based on any factual or actual race differences but rather it’s a misguided construct held by hateful people. My point is, if you judge people on the content of their character and not the color of your skin… you are not going to see this as a race issue. The more race is discussed the more people point out differences and say that it’s race, even with the best of intentions , the more they add to the false belief that we are not one but separate.

  3. Delwyn X Campbell July 29, 2020

    To not see this as a “race” issue might be valid. To fail to see this as a “sin” issue is to be blind. To fail to recognize that this sin has impacted the social, economic, and political institutions of this nation, that American citizens have been negatively impacted because of their lineage, and that those institutions have not been fully redeemed, cleansed, or purged, but only that the legalized practices have ceased, is to be willfully blind. It is possible to be willfully blind and to wish nothing more than that people would just stop talking about it. Many of the people whose lineage I share have been doing that for almost 250 years, since 1776.
    The reason that George Floyd’s death sparked this was not because of George Floyd or because of the particular heinousness of his death. It was because it was just more of the same, “just another brick in the wall.” When his death is the last of its kind, then we can say, “it is well with my soul.”

    • Matt Bouley July 30, 2020

      Of course it is a sin issue, but what is the sin in question. I am saying that it is not a sin of discrimination based on lineage at all but a sin of failure to deliver safety, and aid to the poorest elements of our society. This is not a racial issue because people who are generationally poor are stuck in that cycle regardless of race. People who are in impoverished urban environments from which they cannot escape and whos schools and institutions are failing or offering insufficient help is a problem that affects us all as a nation. The remedies are remedies that will help everyone not just one group who happens to share a skin tone. School choice for example is a remedy that has been very helpful to everyone who chooses to use it regardless of their ethnicity. Its not the cure but its a part of the cure. There are many things we could be doing as a nation to prioritize helping those who need the most help. I believe it is urban culture and not color or ethnicity which contributes to the greatest amount of crime and elicits the violent responses most often seen from police (although of course there are exceptions). Urban culture contributes to violence in the following ways that I have noticed, (I bet you could name even more) : the effects of fatherlessness in the home, the destruction of the nuclear family, the protection, defense and idolization of criminals and of those who act the worst and are the worst elements of society, disrespect being encouraged by parents as being strength, saving face is more important than personal development (parents will side with children misbehaving over teacher trying to help them), a victimization mentality vs. self responsibility, the belief that color is more of a deterrent to employment than personal attitudes and work ethic and so many more.
      I think BLM is disingenuous as to why George Floyd has been elevated in the current cultural climate. When the biggest number of deaths in the black community is by far abortion followed by criminal/gang related violence its crazy to pick institutional racism on the part of law enforcement. I live in Milwaukee where Bernell Tramell (a black business owner with a good reputation)was just killed in a drive by for his pro Trump advocacy. No one in BLM cared to bring attention to this because it does not fit the dialogue of racial injustice. Officer David Dorn (a black former police chief)was killed defending a shop from rioters. This too BLM could care less because its not about black lives its only about “racial injustice” but when a black person is 93% more likely to be killed by another black person than a nonblack person shouldn’t this be a bigger priority? Why isn’t it? Short answer…its an election year. Its hard for me to even talk like this because i disagree with any distinction of race by government for any purpose because it only further divides. Discrimination based on color is never advantageous even when done with the best intentions.
      How anyone could think more unity and more equality can be better served by noting all the differences between so called groups is beyond me. Particularly when you consider that you could divide any group in a similar way and make them feel to be treated unfairly. If you were to take goths, or bikers, or suits and look at them as a group and pick out what they are lacking as a group and say how as a group they have been victimized you could. Imagine if added to that, on every government application and all crime statistics, this arbitrary division was given validity by making you state if you belong to that group or don’t. That has been what has happened with color. But to what end? To crate more unity and equality? I hardly think so. So the issue of institutional racism as it pertains to this is in a sense valid because there is this division by color. What is the cure? Not more division…not more us this and them that nonsense. The cure would be to destroy any division by color whatsoever be it “positive” or negative because it all encourages the idea of separateness.

    • Rob K. August 2, 2020

      Matthew Bouley clearly states ” a result of a sinful man giving in to sin” . George Floyd’s death will never be the “last of its kind” on earth. We can say “it is well with my soul” despite that reality of life on this fallen earth. For that wellness is spiritual not earthly comfort. There will be no paradise on this earth outside of Christ’s return. The beginning and the end is Christ. When that is the case, good works flow from that, not revenge. Let’s not confuse a brand of politics or elections with the Savior and His personal work in individuals.

  4. Delwyn X Campbell August 3, 2020

    Your answers reflect your position. You live in a society that was built to get us to where we are today, but you eschew any responsibility for how it is. You claim that more blacks are killed by abortion, yet we have historically celebrated all of our births while whites have worked assiduously to lower their birthrate to the point that Western Europe is not reproducing enough to maintain their population. If there are a lot of black babies being aborted, I suggest you find out who the fathers are, since abortions aren’t free. There aren’t that many young black males with enough money to afford one. There aren’t enough black doctors to staff the clinics. So who is killing all of these black babies?
    We don’t grow drugs, we don’t own weapons manufacturing plants. So where are the drugs and guns coming from?
    You want to blame the household structures, yet we managed to survive the splintering of families for the 200 years when our families were ruthlessly and systematically attacked. From medical experiments to the deliberate destruction of neighborhoods by zoning laws and bank financial practices, we have survived, not WITH the help of the dominant group, but IN SPITE OF its active hostility. So now you want us to take the blame for over 200 years of trauma?
    This is why we are where we stand today. And you are correct, George Floyd’s death won’t be the last, because the attitude that made that death come to pass still exists. That cop didn’t listen to George, and he isn’t the only one who has ears but cannot hear. You mention Christ, so I leave you with this:
    Matthew 25:41–45 (ESV)
    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

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