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Recognizing Racism and Privilege
By Bishop Steven Delzer
This may be one of the more rambling pieces I have written. My goal in this reflection isn’t to be a wordsmith; my goal is to be open and honest about my own experiences. This piece reflects my growing awareness of racism and white privilege.
Experience #1: Rev. Wal Reat
When I began mentoring Rev. Wal Reat in the TEEM program (Theological Education for Emerging Ministries), one of the first topics we discussed was the biblical creation stories. A key question was, “When you talk with people about the creation stories in the Bible, how do they challenge or respond to those stories?” My first thought was that their response would have something to do with the theory of evolution. That was not Wal’s response.
Wal’s response was a series of questions: “Why did God create you white and me black? Why did God allow you to be born in a land with rich resources and me to be born in a land with few resources? Why did God allow you to be born in a nation where the government cares for its people and me to be born in a nation where the government tries to kill some of its people?” Those questions from Wal forced me to begin thinking much more deeply about the great disparities that exist among the nations and peoples of the world.
Experience #2: New England Synod Fall Theological Convocation
Last year Bishop Jim Hazlewood from the New England Synod (our domestic companion) invited me to attend their Fall Theological Convocation. The topic was racism. We watched a video about “redlining” in Detroit following World War II. As soldiers returned from the war, GI loans were made available to them to buy new homes, complete with appliances, at very low interest rates, and at a cost of less than $100 a month. Of course many of the returning veterans took advantage of that opportunity. Returning African-American veterans also wanted to take advantage of that opportunity, but they were told that due to government policy, those options were not available to them. Years later, one of the white WWII veterans who had benefitted from those options said, “I think we missed an opportunity.” The video went on to describe how significant this was since the ability to buy a home is often the first step in building equity. That video and the following conversation forced me to begin thinking more deeply about white privilege and the great disparities that exist between the races here in America.
So, what’s the point of this discussion? It is this: Our Southeastern Minnesota Synod Mission Statement is “Equipping congregations and leaders to follow Jesus into a changing world.” One of the most significant changes/challenges that faces us is moving away from racial disparity and moving toward racial equity. And that’s just one aspect of God’s desire for justice for all people. One of the things that can most effectively help that to happen is equipping our congregations and leaders to develop the skills to facilitate conversations about difficult issues and topics. I know it can be done. I have seen it done. A resource to help us begin that difficult conversation around racism is available from Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Minnesota. It is called “And Who Is My Neighbor?”
I pray that we will enter into this shared journey of conversation about difficult issues and topics, trusting that we will be led by the Holy Spirit to embrace God’s vision for us as described in Revelation 7:9:
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, and from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
Editor’s note: This is an adaptation of a piece Bishop Delzer wrote for the fall edition of River Crossings. The entire magazine is available for download at http://bit.ly/rcfall2016.