A Theological Statement in Response to the Murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd From the Faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
June 12, 2020
From the Faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Beloved children of God,
Our siblings’ blood cries out from the earth, and God answers. This is the theological thread woven throughout recent events across the United States. The murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers, the protests that rose up in response, the escalation of those protests by aggressive and violent police responses, and the sustained pressure placed upon public officials to commit to the renewal of their communities take on a call-and-response rhythm, demanding that all people of faith lift their voices to join in this chorus. The faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, as theological educators committed to the work of fostering leaders for a public church, offer this theological statement in hopes that it will both amplify the cry of our siblings’ blood and attune our hearts to God’s grace-filled response.
At the heart of antiblack violence—from the brutality of police officers to the aggressive neglect of black communities by private and public services—is sin, but to name this sin as racism is to miss its full character. The demonic driving force behind antiblack violence is the construction of the very concept of whiteness itself, and the valuing of people with lighter skin and European origin over others. Where racism is unjust action motivated by racial difference, encoded in economic and social systems, whiteness is the corrupted understanding of humanity of which racism is a symptom. Whiteness is a form of idolatry, the attempt to replace the image of God that defines human beauty and goodness with a Eurocentric fiction, fashioned through centuries of dispossession and exploitation. Whiteness is the attempt to replace Jesus’ invitation into a world of abundance grounded in God’s grace with the false promise that respectability, prosperity, and security can be earned through the proper performance of whiteness. There is no guilt or shame in being born with one color of skin, rather than another. But to accept on any level the assignment of values to that skin color—to believe even on a subconscious level, for example, that black teens are inherently dangerous or deceitful, while white police officers deserve the benefit of the doubt—demands repentance.
As we endure this pandemic, whiteness offers us temptations like those Satan offered Jesus in the wilderness. Whiteness whispers to us, hoping to distract us from the cries of our siblings’ blood…
- “If you will accept that many of God’s creatures are to be exploited that others may prosper, bread will line the shelves of your grocery store.”
- “If protestors simply place themselves at the mercy of the police, they will not dash their heads upon a baton.”
- “If you will worship whiteness as your savior, we can fulfill this nation’s destiny—whether a return to a nostalgic time that never was, or a quest to extend the blessings of whiteness to all, regardless of their skin color.”
To accept the exploitative capitalism that has left so many vulnerable during this pandemic, particularly our black and brown siblings…to insist that peace is to be found in simply giving way before unjustifiable police brutality…to cling to the promise that a white supremacist society can make room for all of God’s children…to accept any of these lies is to heed the tempter’s call.
How, then, is God’s grace being offered, responding to spilled blood and saving us from temptation?
- Against the temptation to secure prosperity through exploitation, God works through efforts at mutual aid. Across the country, people are caring for one another’s material needs and refusing to accept the idea that healthy food or quality healthcare belongs only to those who can afford it. People are supporting locally-owned businesses through the difficulties of the pandemic and any damages incurred by recent looting. People are comforting one another through their fear and hurt, strengthening the bonds of community and forming new relationships in a time of isolation and widespread insecurity.
- Against the temptation to place our trust in inherently violent policing, God works through the protestors who refuse to surrender our streets. Faced day after day by police who consistently escalate confrontations and by public officials who call for peace when there is no peace, protestors don their masks and take to the streets, taking care of one another where the police reveal they have little capacity to offer such care.
- Against the temptation to seek our salvation in whiteness—whether we’re white people clinging to privilege that should not exist or people of color trusting our ability to navigate white-dominated institutions—God inspires renewed imagination. In the midst of a crisis for the white supremacist institutions and systems that have structured the United States’ economy, we are offered glimpses of the Kindom. Calls to abolish police departments in favor of restorative justice programs and community investment are gaining traction. There is growing attention to the particular dangers faced—and gifts offered, today and throughout US American history—by black women and black LGBTQIA+ folx.
We witness God’s powerful grace at work in the world right now. As disciples following where that grace leads us, and teaching theologians offering encouragement to our fellow disciples, we lift up four dimensions of the work of a public church in this moment:
- Offer space for lament, to attend to losses and wounds suffered in this struggle between the inbreaking of the Kindom and the long-entrenched empire of whiteness.
- Highlight the offer of repentance that is inherent within protest, and encourage those who desire it. In receiving God’s grace, all are empowered by the Spirit to cast off the shackles of the sin of whiteness and to be welcomed into the community of those in, through, and with whom God is working for justice.
- Amplify the work of mutual aid and protest through proclamation, participation, and prayer.
- Witness to prophetic imagination, refusing to accept that the society we have had is all we can hope for, and faithfully seeking a foretaste of the Kindom of God.
Go in peace, serve the Lord.
Dr. Esther Menn Dean of Academic Affairs firstname.lastname@example.org