Message from Bishop Mark Holmerud

If I were to create a “Word Cloud” for the feelings I am having these days following the murder of George Floyd, there wouldn’t be a lot of “cheery” words in it: Shocked. Saddened. Angry. Heartsick. Fearful. Inadequate. Unprepared. Grieving. Frustrated. Disbelieving. Wondering. Weary.

And really, what it comes right down to is this — none of my feelings matter. Not one damn bit. Not now. Because what matters is Black lives. Black Lives Matter. Black lives that are being taken by murder at the hands of the police. Black lives that are being disregarded through judicial, legal, economic, voting and social policies that seek to minimize the voices and needs of people of color in this country in order to perpetuate white privilege. Black lives that are in danger every day because white supremacy, of which white people are a part through having benefited from a system that empowers and enables them at the expense of others, is alive and well in this country. Black lives that are threatened by personal and systemic racism, which permeates every part of society in this country. From local police departments and schools and courts, to the highest governmental offices of the land – racist polices and laws exist to perpetuate white supremacy. What really matters at this time are the feelings and voices of Black People who are speaking out. These are the voices of people who are spilling out onto our streets crying for justice. Crying for justice even when the police are acting more like warriors than guardians. Crying for justice in the face of tear gas and blinding rubber bullets and horses and Billy Clubs. Are we listening?

For as long as Black Lives have been in danger in this country Lutheran Christians have been largely silent. We have been silent for far too long. A few years ago during my report to our Synod Assembly, I asked “Why is it that Black lives in Rwanda matter more to us than Black lives in our own cities?” This is a sad legacy we must first acknowledge and then move to change. Yes, we passed resolutions at our most recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly condemning white supremacy and racist rhetoric and offering a public apology to People of African Descent (see links at the bottom of this article). Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. One hundred and fifty years after Jim Crow Laws were enacted. Four hundred years after the first slaves were brought to this country. Yes, we have begun showing up at Black Lives Matter gatherings since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Was the death of George Floyd finally hideous enough to awaken us from our slumber? Will it be a month from now? I pray so.

Black Lives Matter. Black voices matter. I’ve been listening to those who can share from their experience how dangerous, challenging and fearful a place America has been for them and for their families — for a long time. I want to listen so I can speak when called upon to do so. I want to speak because I believe it is crucial for all people to add to this conversation. Yet I feel inadequate (see words above) and unprepared to do so. Thankfully, I have been blessed to read words of Black colleagues and friends who are opening to me the world of their experience that I only thought I knew. Links to two of those voices are below. I encourage you to read the words of Bishop Yehiel Curry of the Metro Chicago Synod and Elena King-Garret, a longtime friend and co-worker of Debbi’s. They embody words and feelings that I can barely begin to understand. And so I read and re-read their words. Please take the time to read what they are saying.

It is also important for us to acknowledge that Black voices cannot be the only voices that are calling out for justice. That is the job of all of us who say we live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel that was first proclaimed as good news to those who were living on the margins, to those whose lives were relegated to the lowest places of society by those who enjoyed power and prestige. A Gospel that calls us to see everyone is made in the image of God and how that unites us to stand with those who are being killed because of the color of their skin. Can there be any doubt where our voices need to share that Gospel now? One way that might happen is offered elsewhere in this newsletter by the Racial and Ethnic Ministry Strategies Discipling Team – resources for commemorating the Emanuel 9 who were murdered at Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. There are many ideas in what has been shared that provide an opportunity for listening in our communities. There is also a link to the resolution (below) that was passed at our Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee and a link to the resource page on the ELCA website that could assist you in planning a commemoration service in your community. It would be a helpful beginning if we connected with other leaders, especially leaders of multi-ethnic and ethnic-specific congregations, leaders with whom we perhaps not have connected before, to plan such a service together. And not to stop there. To continue the conversations – hard conversations – that will lead us to keep speaking, to keep advocating, to keep working until true equality is realized in this country. To work for reform in local police departments and other agencies that will end the killing of people who are black and brown.To keep saying Black Lives Matter.

Come Holy Spirit, Come.
Call us.
Empower us.
Enable us.
Wake us.
Move us.
Cause us to be your justice, mercy, peace and hope.

Bp. Mark