“He was a son. He was a brother. He was an uncle. He was a father. He was a grandson. He was so much more, and he did not deserve this at all….I need everybody to know that he is much more than this…..He had a smile that was angelic. He lit up the room. He was funny. He played. He was an amazing son. And I can never get that back.” – Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries denounces and laments the murder this week of Daunte Wright by Brooklyn Center law enforcement, and the murder of Anthony J. Thompson, Jr. by Knoxville law enforcement, along with the lives of the at least 33 Black people and 23 other people of color killed by law enforcement so far this year. Every time Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives are ruthlessly taken by the hands of white authority, the wounds of the world grow deeper and their cries resound in God’s ears.
In the Gospel, Jesus names the love of God as central for the work of justice, and teaches that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. By linking love of self, love of neighbor, and love for God, Jesus calls us to refuse a self-love that is rooted in supremacy and death. The white members of ELM’s board and staff name our own culpability in the ways we have not lived up to this Gospel call to uphold Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives as not only beloved of God – but also made in God’s image and worthy of life in abundance. We join our voice in naming and repenting of those ways we have clung to dehumanizing systemic powers that offer security for some while producing death and suffering for many. We renounce the idols of white supremacy, the demonic forces of racism, and the death-dealing violence that come as a result.
ELM recommits to an anti-racist identity at every level of the organization and implores white members of Proclaim, those who support ELM’s mission, and predominantly white communities of faith to the following calls to action:
Donate to BIPOC activists on the ground in Minnesota and Knoxville:
*Check in with and care for your siblings of color. DO SOMETHING: call them, send them a care package, pay for their dinner/groceries. Make specific offers to redistribute resources and ask what support they need.
Commit to reparations in the ELCA: Click on the following link to make a contribution through Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle to the 66th Synod fund. The 66th Synod Fund is named in memory of the Alpha Synod and Jehu Jones and is devoted to helping elderly Black ministers survive after years of serving congregations without the ability to have adequately paid their pastors. The endowment is led by a Board of Black women in the ELCA.
Sign up for and take action in the Movement for Black Lives: https://m4bl.org/Movement
Get mobilized on the nearly 300 local and state pending bills designed to keep black and brown people from the polls: track them through the Brennan Center, support the ACLU’s work, and get involved with the League of Women Voters’ efforts.
We pray for Black, Indigenous, People of Color experiencing relentless racialized trauma, and its ensuing exhaustion and grief, especially for those who are also LGBTQ2SIA+, disabled, or members of other marginalized communities. We pray fervently for the families of Daunte Wright and Anthony J. Thompson, Jr. and their communities. We, the white members of the board of directors and staff of ELM, ask God to give us the strength and wisdom we are lacking to start removing the sin of white supremacist thinking and ways of life from our hearts and minds. We, the BIPOC members of the board of directors and staff of ELM, pray that white people do more – stand up stronger, fight harder, and find the mettle to scream at the top of their lungs that Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian and POC Lives Matter, and are beloved. We pray that the sacred divinity of Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies be given the honor and reverence that our Christian faith demands.
Image Description: Over a black background, the scripture verse from Jeremiah 6:14- They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
My husband and I imposed a strict routine during quarantine. Some might say that we went monastic, with a rhythm of activity and rest. We were so concerned about COVID-19, the only way we’d meet up with friends was in the park. We’d lay out a blanket, and sit in the shade, talking, eating and drinking. We scheduled three daily walks in our neighborhood, visiting the two closest parks on a daily basis, with the occasional further walks to other parks in our area.
During our daily walks through the parks near our home, we closely observed the life of the plants in the park. In the spring (two springs now), we eagerly awaited the appearance of crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips. Before we knew it, we were seeing the full bloom of purple, pink, yellow, before everything eventually settled into a luscious green for the summer. We watched the process reverse in the fall, seeing leaves start to turn the golden yellows, oranges, and browns, before noticing that the trees were bare for the winter again. And during winter, we watched the positioning of the sun, looking for hints that spring might be returning again.
Had I been rushing to work, there is no way I could have noticed the tiny hints that told me that the seasons were progressing, instead only noticing macro changes well after they were underway. Our continued return to the park, coupled with a hope for what was coming, made my eyes observant.
Now that our world is opening back up a little more, I am worried that I’ll return to my old routine of rushing places without ever observing what is happening around me. I think of that for all of us. How can we keep a faithful recognition of the beauty of God’s creation all around us? How do we recognize the hints and signs that God is constantly doing a new thing in the world around us…and in our lives?
One way that I’ve done that is through The Naming Project, an LGBTQ-youth ministry and summer camp. Church camps have easily incorporated God’s creation into their communities and programming. At The Naming Project, campers walk among the trees, play on the grass, get bitten by the bugs, and swim in the lake. Even when the focus isn’t on nature, it’s infused into what the program is about.
The message we are trying to send to the young LGBTQIA+ people is to challenge them to look around and see what God is doing around them. We try to convey, “God made all this,” along with the message, “God made you too.”
LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. These two realities cannot be separated from each other, even though humankind has often favored one over the other.
Just as I observed the changing of the leaves, I get the joy to witness young people grow into who God made them to be, maturing and changing over time. I think this is just as awesome as the sight of the first crocuses in the spring. I write in Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry that with some careful observance, and some nurturing, we all can see how young people are sending forth tentative shoots that will give us glimpse of who they are becoming.
Creation is both the natural world around us and the people God has placed in our lives. Let’s tend to God’s creation, making intentional choices that demonstrate we think about a future for God’s creation. And let’s take time to stop and notice the hints about what God is about to do next in the world.
Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Ross contributed to two books focused on LGBTQ Christian youth: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made and Welcoming and Affirming. His forthcoming book, Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry comes out in April 2021. Finally, Ross is a producer for the “Yass, Jesus!” podcast, a faith and sexuality affirming podcast that believes you don’t have to pick between gay and God. He lives in New York City with his husband, Richard Garnett.
I believed the women in my family thought Christianity meant serving cookies. My grandmother and my mother were quick to show up when they were called to do so by the church’s Fellowship Team. For one month each year, for four or even five Sundays, they dutifully and enthusiastically provided sugary treats in between our congregation’s two services. They delighted to pour coffee and fruit punch with a smile and a side of small talk, along with morning pastries. Then Grandma and Mom disappeared for the rest of the year, unless called upon again to serve as greeters. All in all, they did their part, and attended as a family for Christmas and for Easter. They showed up to church when asked. It was their way. Nevertheless, I, so quick to judge, thought them foolish. I thought their brand of Christianity insufficient.
Eager, earnest, as I grew up I sought religious and spiritual meaning, though it mostly escaped me, as the ineffable tends to do. Just like many other eager, earnest, and seemingly able-bodied, tall young men, elder members of my congregation encouraged me to go to seminary. It was an invitation I considered, and even felt called to accept, though I demurred. However self-delusional I may have been, I also knew I was gay, and even a little bit queer. My church had no gumption to support such a candidate for ministry, and I knew it. I was not so foolish as to accept their entreaties. The church’s brand of Christianity I suspected insufficient.
Yet, somewhere in the laughter of my heart, which beats with its own kind of power, I listened to another way. After years and years of a journey’s seeking, I did finally go to seminary. The walk has been and continues to be halting, laborious. It is my own faith I too often find faulty. Only fools rush in, I’ve told myself, as I have wondered if I am trustworthy for the call. Thanks to the church, and the teachings from which the church itself now begins to heal, I’m prone to judge my own queer self insufficient.
The sociable smiles of my grandmother and mother perhaps offered more trustworthy instruction, and more clearly so, than the church once did. When people expressed a need, my family’s women showed up. Women of perseverance who, like all of us, faced hardships, alcoholism and the death of children amongst them, I imagine they needed a bigger God than the church was ready to provide. They found God elsewhere most of the time, and found a way to smile anyway while serving cookies. We each needed a church not so small-minded as to judge anyone insufficient.
I lament on this Holy Week, this April Fools, that I was once the foolish one. What the church taught, I believed. I judged others; I judged myself. I left no judgment to God alone. Thankfully, I now embrace another foolishness entirely, and so does my church. As 2021 began, my baptismal congregation, Grace Lutheran–Wenatchee, WA, became a Reconciling-In-Christ congregation, affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. Easter came early this year, for it was a long awaited resurrection. My heart now laughs with a powerful delight that tastes like fellowship, with cookies at the ready.
As I prepare to lay my grandmother to rest on Holy Saturday, to say my goodbyes, my mother’s death waits not long behind. When the pallbearers carry my grandmother to her interment, I will read a poem of my crafting in her honor, an exploration of her faith life that had little to do with the church’s liturgies. I will bless her brand of spiritual witness, as I continue to envision and live out my pastoral work with the queer community of San Francisco. I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it.
“and everyone calls me
an old name
as i follow out
laughing like God’s fool
behind this Jesus”
from “the calling of the disciples” by lucille clifton
John (he/hym/hys) grew up on a wheat farm in North Central Washington State, far from his current home in metropolitan San Francisco. He’s a seminarian and works as LGBTQIA+ Program Director and as a chaplain with San Francisco Night Ministry <https://sfnightministry.org> alongside the city’s unhoused folk, and the street and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a proud oblate with The Companions of Dorothy the Worker. <https://www.companionsofdorothy.org> Prior to seminary, John completed his BA in Spanish and Performance Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the Executive Director of a regional legal aid program in Washington State. His favorite ministry experience to date involves offering spiritual care while in drag at a taco truck. Watch for the launch of Drag Church–San Francisco and the National Drag Church Network later this year.