Standing with Those Who Stand for Racial Justice

In recent months the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, has become a rallying point for groups on the farthest right reaches of American religion and politics (Newsweek article). Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and alt-Right groups are protesting the decision by the Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. This weekend a rally is scheduled in which these racist groups will converge. Religious leaders from various traditions, both local and national, are also gathering in Charlottesville this weekend to stand with those who are the intended victims of such bigotry and hatred and to provide a counter-witness in the name of the God of justice, mercy, and equality that we have come to know in Jesus. A number of ELCA bishops, pastors, deacons, and members of congregations will be a part of this counter-witness. In support of them, this morning I wrote the following prayer. Please join me, and invite others to join us, in prayer for them and solidarity with them and with all intended victims of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.

Just and merciful God, we give you thanks for our sisters and brothers – bishops, pastors, deacons, people of God – who this Saturday walk the way of the cross in Charlottesville, Virginia. On this day and in that place, they join other courageous and faithful people across time and space to stand against bigotry, hatred, and violence; to stand with those who are intended victims; and to stand for justice and mercy, peace and equality for all people.

We stand with them in prayer, asking you to empower them, protect them, and use their witness as hopeful sign of your resurrection reign afoot in your beloved and troubled world. By your might, break the bondage that bigotry, hatred, and violence impose on their victims and their perpetrators. May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven. 

And, we pray, empower us in our own communities to follow their lead as fellow servants to your dream of a community in which all people and their gifts are welcomed and honored, cherished and celebrated as beloved children of a just, merciful, and loving God; through Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world. Amen

This prayer can also be found via the web page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The 8th Commandment as Lenten Discipline

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
(8th Commandment)

As we move through this 500th year since the beginning of the Reformation, many of us are renewing our acquaintance with various writings and resources from and about that medieval movement that changed the church and impacted the world. A great place to begin is with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. A great time to begin is the season of Lent.
Local faith communities might shape Wednesday worship around sections of the catechism or add a brief time for exploration and discussion of the catechism before or after worship. Families could briefly read and discuss parts of it once or twice a week before saying grace at dinner. Individuals might slowly read through, meditate on, and journal about the catechism in devotional time two or three times a week.
However we engage this important booklet, it won’t take long to realize that its content is not just for memorization by kids or catechism classes and it’s wisdom is as relevant today as it was the day Luther wrote it five centuries ago. Take his reflection on the eighth commandment, for example:

What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

If there was ever a time and place when this understanding of that commandment has been needed it’s here and now, in this country, in social media and public discourse, and in our churches. Scan through your Twitter or Facebook feed. Listen to ten minutes of a news program. Reflect back on your own conversations over the last week. How many lies or unverifiable false claims have been made about others? How many times has someone been betrayed or slandered or their reputation sullied in some way?
The answer? Too many. Too much of our conversation (and thinking) about others these days blatantly breaks the eighth commandment. It’s one thing to disagree, even vehemently, or to not understand another person’s choices. But, it is another thing altogether to use the disagreement or lack of understanding as an opportunity to lie about, betray, slander, or seek to destroy the reputation of a fellow human being created in the image of God.
Every time we catch ourselves in or supporting this sort of sinful behavior it’s time to repent, trust the forgiveness offered in Christ crucified and risen, and to lean into and offer to others the new and abundant life of Jesus by taking every opportunity to instead “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”
Now there’s a Lenten discipline that, empowered by the Spirit and by God’s grace, will not only change us, but will transform our churches, our communities, our country, our world.
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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.