Racism, Justice, and Mercy: For Congregational Discussion

[1] One of the hardest things for congregations to do is to talk about race.  It is the hope of JLE that the following ideas for discussions or study sessions based on the articles in this issue can provide a helpful direction.

[2] Ted Peters and Timothy Hoyer both wrote articles that claim that the first step in overcoming racism must be to let go of self-justification.  The urges to defend ourselves, to prove our worth, or to wallow in guilt are urges that keep us from listening to our neighbors and working with them to help our communities.  Remembering that we are God’s beloved children called to hospitality and friendship with all others can help us when we hear difficult words so that we might listen and act in mercy and kindness. After reading these two articles, the following discussion questions might guide conversation.  1. What is the role of confession and God’s promise of forgiveness in your life?  2.  Name an experience in which the desire to defend yourself or your feeling of guilt kept you from moving forward to an action that promoted well being for yourself and others OR name an experience in which you were able to hear criticism, admit it, and move forward with a new action plan.  3.  In your opinion, what is one small way towards equity, diversity, and inclusion that you can see yourself taking.

[3] Congregations are in different places when it comes to conversations about race.  Some congregations may be well integrated and diverse but want to foster conversations about how each congregant might better serve and be served by the community.  Other congregations might have not yet considered racism as an issue in their communities.  Despite these differences, Vincent Evener’s article asks that all readers consider modeling images of beloved community that offer a counter balance to images of violence and brutality.  After reading Evener’s piece the following activity might guide conversation. Consider having members bring photographs, drawings, or other images of friendship that might be a starting place for discussion about community.  Have members present their images.  Perhaps have the group work on designing an image together for a bulletin, poster, or piece of framed art for the church.

[4] After reading Parry and Robinson-Hunsicker’s article consider a discussion about what members of a community believe their community is missing.  How might the members in the community and the neighbors of the community be better served?  Consider having members of a discussion group bring drawings, images, or reflections of their vision for a future for the community where more people are served with kinship and love.

[5] Because racism is a particular and specific problem that rends communities and harms individuals, readers might consider how to engage anti-racist practices that work systemically to empower people to work together for the well being of all.  This difficult work might begin with members of a discussion group sharing specific problems that cause oppression of people of color in their communities.  Sometimes the act of naming the problems is itself a process of healing.  Sometimes solutions to these problems and action plans for these solutions can be named and implemented. As the reflection by Amy Parry suggests, working to end racism is different than working on many other types of projects.  The process requires constant learning and re-evaluation.  And yet, we are called to this process as Christians who are called to serve those who face oppression. A discussion of William Wood’s article might center on two questions:  Why ought churches be socially and politically involved? How can churches be socially and politically involved?

[6] The tributes to Rev. Dr. Cheryl Stewart Pero tell readers about a remarkable woman who built community across the globe.  Members of a discussion group on race, friendship, and peace building might consider bringing forward names and stories of leaders and friends who have helped build communities that empower and inspire.

[7] Other resources in the ELCA are available for congregations to engage in thinking, praying, and discussing about issues of racism.  Please visit the resources page on the ELCA website. https://www.elca.org/Resources/Racial-Justice




Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.