Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC
Every so often the church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, #decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.
“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about, anyway?”
I get this a lot.
My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not children of God.
Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…
“You’re not a real Lutheran.”
“You black people may clap in church, but not us!”
“That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”
…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.
Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader, who is LGBTQ and you hear…
“How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?”
“They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!”
“We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”
…at some point you start to believe the lies and the devil rubs hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.
And women pastors and seminarians?
“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.”
“Your husband approves?!”
“You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.”
“What does your husband think?”
So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United States, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.
And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.
All day long.
We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.
Then there were stories.
My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.
And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folk had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.
Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.
But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.
And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.
So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.
All day long.
And it was glorious.
And that’s what we’re all about.