ELCA Seminary Leaders Respond to Open Letter Call To Action
February 1, 2015
ELCA Seminary Leaders Respond to Open Letter Call To Action on Matters of Race and Social Injustice
Responding to a national call to action from African American leaders in theological education, ELCA Seminary leaders pledged to speak out and act on current issues of racial injustice. In a statement released February 2, 2015, the presidents and deans, representing all eight Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) theological schools, recognized the continuing racial oppression and injustice, and made a commitment to publicly confront lingering examples of injustice “in vigorous and prophetic ways in our schools.”
The statement is a response to the January 15, 2015 open letter to Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools in the United States, calling attention to “the current state of social justice in the United States of America,” signed by more than 30 African American Presidents and Deans of theological schools in the United States.
ELCA leaders acknowledged that their schools are populated by predominantly white constituencies, and marked by failures to keep racial and social injustice at the forefront of their lives and work. But “in the face of such a call, we cannot keep silent,” they wrote. Despite the uncomfortable nature of the topic and progress, the ELCA seminary leaders continued “we recognize that our efforts need to be more consistent among all that we do throughout all our theological education institutions.” And that remaining “silent when we should speak” is failure.
The ELCA Seminary Leaders struck a note of hope, grateful for African American colleagues “who encourage us and call us back to faithful proclamation of the gospel,” as well as those institutions and churches “who have been and continue to be prophets for racial justice and freedom.”
The full text of the statement may be found at http://www.LTSG.edu/about-us/news/2015/elca-leaders-for-racial-harmony and carries the signatures of all presidents and deans of the eight ELCA schools, 18 in total.
The ELCA Leaders’ statement concluded “colleagues, we have heard you. Your words have not fallen on deaf ears. We recommit ourselves to the prophetic work to which you call us, and promise anew to raise our voices with yours, and make the work of racial harmony and inclusive love a work with share together in strength and joy.”
Full text of the ELCA seminary leaders’ response:
On January 15th, 2015, a large group of African American presidents and deans in theological education posted “An Open Letter to Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools in the United States on Huffington Post. The text of that letter can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alton-b-pollard-iii-phd/an-open-letter-to-preside_19_b_6492328.html?utm_hp_ref=religion.
Our colleagues’ statement was a “call for action in light of the current state of social justice” in the United States, a recognition that even as many things have changed, many things still remain the same: racial oppression and injustice still exist, only in different forms—a prison industrial complex, not plantation slavery, for example—and wearing different masks. The call was broad, and extended to civic leaders, government officials, and indeed “all freedom loving Americans,” asking us to recommit ourselves to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a beloved community where all citizens experience liberty and justice, not just some.
Our African American sisters and brothers also issued a very particular call to theological school presidents and deans. They wrote, “We invite our colleagues— presidents, deans and leaders of all divinity and theological schools—to arise from the embers of silence and speak up and speak out as the prophet of old, ‘let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). We encourage you to endorse this statement by responding in your own particular context to our theological call to action with curricular programs, public forums, teach-ins, calls to your congressional leaders, writing op-ed pieces, and more.”
In the face of such a call, we, the undersigned, cannot keep silent. We want to make a public response, both acknowledging the justice of that call and also confessing our failure to live into it as we ought. As leaders of primarily white institutions, which serve primarily white churches, we recognize that all too often we are blind to our own privilege. While we confront racism in a variety of vigorous and prophetic ways in our schools, we recognize that our efforts need to be more consistent among all that we do throughout all our theological education institutions. We confess that the fear of being uncomfortable or making others uncomfortable has contributed to render some of our efforts inadequate. There are times when we are silent when we should speak out. There are times when we avert our eyes, and stop our ears.
And yet, in this Kairos moment, we find reason for hope. We are grateful for our African American colleagues who encourage us and call us back to faithful proclamation of the gospel. We are grateful for all those in our institutions and churches who have been and continue to be prophets for racial justice and freedom. And, most importantly, we are grateful for the presence of Jesus Christ in the world, who, through the power of the Holy Spirit has led us this far by faith, and continues to show us visions of the kingdom of God, empowering us to work to make those visions a reality.
Colleagues, we have heard you. Your words have not fallen on deaf ears. We recommit ourselves to the prophetic work to which you call us, and promise anew to raise our voices with yours, and make the work of racial harmony and inclusive love a work we share together in strength and joy.
The Rev. Dr. Ginger Barfield, Associate Dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University
The Rev. Dr. Rick Barger, President, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
The Rev. Michael Cooper-White, D.D., President, Gettysburg Seminary
The Rev. Amy Current, Dean for Vocation, Wartburg Theological Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Diane Hymans, Acting Academic Dean, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Craig Koester, Academic Dean, Luther Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen, Interim Dean, Gettysburg Seminary
The Rev. Dr. David Lose, President, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
The Rev. Dr. Esther Menn, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
The Rev. Dr. Craig L. Nessan, Dean, Warburg Theological Seminary
The Rev. Dr. James Nieman, President, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
The Rev. Dr. Stanley N. Olson, President, Wartburg Theological Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Winston Persaud, Acting Academic Dean, Wartburg Theological Seminary
The Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian, Dean, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
The Rev. Dr. Clay Schmit, Provost, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University
The Rev. Brian Stein-Webber, Chief Administrative Office, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Robin J. Steinke, President, Luther Seminary
The Rev. Dr. Alicia Vargas, Interim Dean, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary