FAQs

#decolonizeLutheranism
An Accomplice’s Guide:
Frequently Asked Questions about the Movement so you can join us in the Revolution

 

“When did this movement start, who started it, and in response to what?”

Hear the story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZabPNVsRpM

 

“What does it mean to ‘decolonize’?”

To be colonized and to decolonized is ultimately about cultural power dynamics.

Colonization happens when one group of people wields power over another.

This group of people is called the dominant culture.

Colonization sometimes happens as part of an invasion of space, a taking over of land.

This may or may not be part of our narrative in the ELCA, depending on our local histories.

But the effect is currently the same — that people in power in our church are part of a dominant cultural group that wields the power to establish and maintain cultural norms. These cultural norms define what it means “to be Lutheran.”  This dominant culture is one of European-American heritage, of Lutheranism brought over mostly from Germany and Scandinavia. But this is not the full picture of what Lutheranism is, locally and globally.

When we say “#decolonizeLutheranism”, we are seeking to point out:

– Who holds the power in the ELCA.

– Who limits the access to power.

– Which group of people has control over the norms that define Lutheranism in the United States.

If you do not feel this experience in the ELCA, it may be that you are part of the dominant culture, and so participating in our denomination feels normal and accepting. This experience is called “privilege.” What our movement is sharing with the ELCA is that those of us without this privilege are experiencing oppression.

What we are lifting up are the stories of people who are not part of the dominant culture, but who identify as Lutheran and who want full inclusion without forced assimilation. Lutheranism is a global phenomenon, not simply a tradition of European-American heritage. Lutheranism is a theological lens on the gospel that informs how we live out the life of the church together. This can take on many cultural forms and still remain Lutheran.

 

“So are you asking us to give up our heritage? Our identities? To stop being who we are?”

No! It is important to celebrate our heritage, our traditions, our cultural songs and cuisines.

We simply are lifting up that there are Lutherans in this country with other heritages, other traditions, other songs, other cuisines. And they are no less Lutheran than those from the dominant ELCA culture. But this is how they are treated. Our siblings in Christ. Treated like second-class members of the church. Seen as not fully Lutheran. And this is oppressive.

 

“How broad is it? (Just about colonialism? Racism? Sexism? Heterosexism? Cissexism? Ableism?)”

We know that as children of God, we are bound together in the knowledge that we are all created in the image of our Creator.  Systemic sin and institutions of oppression work together, across identities to oppress.  This is why we must all work together for the sake of freedom for all as part of God’s plan for salvation.  We are siblings in Christ, we belong to one another. None of us can be free unless all of us are free.

So yes, this is an intersectional movement! We are committed to liberation from all of the above isms, and more! As we say on our beliefs page: “The time has come for marginalized communities to lead our church into the 21st century –  people of color, the disabled, all genders (women, trans, and gender nonconforming), sexualities, ages, incarceration or immigration or citizenship status, and others.” We welcome your thoughts and feedback when you notice that we fall short in this commitment.

 

“What would it look like for the ELCA to be decolonized?”

For us to be a community in which all people are treated with equal respect.

It’s the vision of the church. Of the Reign/Kin-dom of God.

It’s what a lot of us think that the church tries to do and sometimes does do.

But what our stories are lifting up is that it is failing, both personally and structurally.

And that these failures are experienced as death, cutting off, non-belonging, murder to us.

We are not welcome in the church when we act like ourselves — we have to conform first.

And that ain’t right.

We want to conform to Christ, not to a certain dominant culture.

We want a church of acceptance and transformation in Christ.


If you check out our beliefs page you will see that we have broken this down to #decolonizeJustifiation, #decolonizeLeadership, #decolonizeTheStory, and #decolonizeEvangelism. Imagine what decolonizing these aspects of church might look like in your context.  Listen to the voices of marginalized people in your communities. Dream together about how things might be different.  

Decolonizing work is about sharing power, recognizing that often times the dominion that the dominant culture has over institutions like the Church is not God-given power but a power stolen from those most vulnerable among us.  For people with privilege, decolonizing work means learning, listening, amplifying voices, and also getting out of the way.

Decolonizing work has to happen WITHIN the church (like in the liturgy, in our models of evangelism, in the way we lift up leaders) but the Church also is called to be a light in the world for decolonizing work in the community.  This means contributing public theology, speaking truth to power, and leading the way on conversations about things like reparations.

 

“You aren’t saying anything new. What’s different about #decolonizeLutheranism?”

Exactly!

We aren’t saying ANYTHING new.

People have been doing this work for centuries, millenia, and for 28 years in the ELCA.

But just as the printing press sparked the revolutionary spirit of the Reformation into a continental movement, social media has made this conversation more accessible recently. The Holy Spirit is moving, and Facebook/Twitter are our printing press.

 

“What’s at stake?”

Nothing really.

Just the future of our church.

The fact that we the ELCA are still 96% white after 28 years as a denomination, when the goal of the church was that “within 10 years of its establishment its membership shall include at least 10 percent people of color and/or primary language other than English.” (5.01.A87, up for amendment this summer)

If being consistently 96% white doesn’t bother you, ask yourself why it doesn’t bother you.

For information on why it bothers us, read our blog posts. Our stories.

One thing you will notice is that #decolonizeLutheranism is not a “how-to” manual.

#decolonizeLutheranism is people in pain raising their voices together for amplification.

We also believe that decolonizing work is a Gospel issue.  God has tasked us as co-creators of a Kin-dom come, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Justice work, both within the confines of the Church and out in the world, is a charge God gives to all of us. The way that white Lutherans have often hoarded Lutheranism is sinful and gets in the way of sharing God’s good gifts with everyone.  

 

“#decolonizeLutheranism feels like you are just shaming us white folks. We are trying our best.”

The shame is not coming from us.

The shame may not even be shame, but guilt.

We are lifting up pain. We are not blaming you personally for it. We are telling our stories.

If you feel guilty for how you may have treated someone, or gained privilege unjustly, feel it.

Guilt is feeling sorry for actions committed.

Shame is feeling accused of being a bad person intrinsically.

We are all loved and valued by God.

We in #decolonizeLutheranism center ourselves on this gospel message.

We do not think that the church is full of bad people. We are all sinners and saints.

We just need some accountability for the pain we are feeling.

We need change so we are no longer dying as we participate as church leaders.

Reflect on these words from Ines Torres Davis:

“Good Lutherans are wildly confessant and minimally repentant – thinking the doctrine of grace gives them a pass…”

And now reflect on these words:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Martin Luther: Thesis #1 of the 95 Theses)

So, yes, we are asking for some repentance. But we are not actively shaming.

If you feel shame when we tell our stories of pain, explore that.

See if it is shame or guilt.

Know that you are loved by God.

Pray about how you are being called to respond to these painful stories.

Pray about how you are being called to respond to this movement of hurting people.

Also, shame comes from the idea that we “should” be doing something else.

That we “should” be something else.

This is not about us knowing exactly what we “should” be doing.

This is not about us telling you exactly what you “should” be doing.

This is us lifting up our stories and calling for repentance and transformation.

This is about us imagining what we “can” be together. What the church “can” be.

 

“How do we communicate the message of remaining distinctly Lutheran while adapting to an increasingly multicultural and pluralistic society to our congregations? What does it mean to be “distinctly Lutheran” without the trappings of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, etc.? In other words, how do we make sure this movement doesn’t water down our rich theological and liturgical heritage and make us generically mainline Protestant?”

This is the core principle of our movement. This is why we are not just leaving the ELCA.

We fully embrace the Lutheran lens of the gospel message, and root ourselves in the Augsburg Confession.

Our point is that we need to worry less about the movement watering down Lutheranism.

Let us worry more about cultural Lutheranism watering down the gospel.

In what ways is ELCA Lutheranism obscuring the full inclusion of all peoples in the body of Christ?

We ask this question specifically in the spirit of Martin Luther.

Luther asked that same question of his imperial church:

In what ways is church doctrine and tradition obscuring the access of all people to the gospel?

In what ways is the ELCA complicit with the empire instead of embodying the gospel?

In what ways can we reimagine justification by grace alone in our current context?

Lutheranism is a focus on bringing the gospel to the people and the people to the gospel.

Lutheranism is about bringing the word and sacraments alive in the people’s context.

Join us in the work of achieving our Reformation Goals to put these ideas into practice while remaining distinctly Lutheran!

 

“What are some ways other denominations/religions can be challenged by this movement?”

Other faith traditions can ask themselves similar questions about how cultural normativities intermingle with their beliefs.  Although #decolonizeLutheranism has a strong Lutheran identity, rooted in the confessions, many aspects of #decolonizeLutheranism are relevant to other faith groups and even to secular organizations.  An organization or faith might start by asking themselves about their highest ideals, asking themselves about where their true identity lies, and then exploring the ways that dominant culture has made these things less accessible to marginalized communities.

 

“Why use the word ‘decolonize’? Why can’t we just focus on diversifying our congregations?”

We use the word decolonize intentionally, in order to point out the cultural power dynamics at play in the ELCA. Decolonizing work is much more than diversification, it’s a quest for true liberation. Read this post for more detail.


“Is this just about listening and learning? Is #decolonizeLutheranism all talk?”

Listening is step one. Listening with your heart present. Listening as if it is you in the story.

Imagining what it must be like for people who don’t fit in to come into our churches.

Picturing how this could be happening in your local church context.

But there is no easy fix, because ministry is local and contextual.

It is up to YOU to figure out what this means for your context.

 

“How can I be an ally in the movement?”

Thank you for your offer of support! We are not simply looking for allies, but accomplices.
Accomplices don’t opt in and out. Accomplices are partners with us.
Accomplices take action. Accomplices are freedom fighters.

If you want to be an accomplice:

  • Help us spread the word.
  • Share posts on social media with the hashtag #decolonizeLutheranism.
  • Bring up #decolonizeLutheranism in wider Lutheran spaces like Synod Assemblies or regional meetings.
  • Check out our Reformation Goals and see which one(s) you want to work on.
  • Find and support local community leaders (such as a local chapter of Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and LGBTQ+ activist groups), and ask how your church can partner with them and support them.
  • Lead conversations about cultural power dynamics in your context. (Hint: several small groups have started by having their group read a #decolonizeLutheranism blog and discuss it.  Do this for a few weeks in a row and you have an entire series with minimal prep!)
  • Preach about #decolonizelutheranism in your parish or church community. And send us your manuscripts and videos when you do!
  • Write, draw, sing, dance about #decolonizeLutheranism, and share it with us!
  • Invite members of the #decolonizeLutheranism team to visit your church, preach, and lead discussion.
  • Connect with us! Tell us who you are!
  • Join us for #decolonize17.

 

For further reflection, here are some of our favorite resources:

  • The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb by Eric Law
    “‘A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community.’ This groundbreaking work explores how certain cultures consciously and unconsciously dominate in multicultural situations and what can be done about it.”
  • White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
    Begin understanding racism not individually, but structurally and systemically. How many things on this list of privileges can you see at play in your ministry setting?
  • Project Implicit — Implicit Associations Tests
    See your level of automatic associations and implicit biases on a range of topics.
  • What’s Faith Got To Do With It? By Kelly Brown Douglas