Just a Few of Us: Being Black in the ELCA and SC Synod

I came back to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2012 after having a conversation with a professor that would later become a mentor. At his prompting, along with many others, I made a decision to enter into the ordination process of the ELCA. For me that brought mass levels of trepidation because of the horror stories I heard about the process. It became another process in my life that would become a part of my redemptive story. I knew the commitment would be stringent and I decided to make that plunge.

My journey was completely different because I already had pastoral experience and two master degrees- one from Liberty University and the other from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (the seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University). It was a step into a world that was foreign to my world – the “Black Church.” Yes, we serve the same God but my experience in life was vastly different than most of the Lutherans that I had met. Then on June 17, 2015 my life and work was flipped upside down as 9 black bodies were massacred while attending a Bible Study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. Honestly, my quest to finish the ordination process almost came to a squelching halt as I debated becoming a pastor in the AME church. I wanted to show my solidarity with the good people of the AME and the black community in general, and being a part of the ELCA seemed counter-cultural.

Yes, I wrestled with how can I be a part of a denomination that would produce a murderer of beautiful black people? How would the ELCA respond to such a tragedy? How would the SC Synod respond to such an atrocity? These are the existential questions that pummeled my mind daily. The queries that stood as constant reminders that as much as I we try to ignore it…color does matter.

My being a part of the ELCA in the SC Synod heightened my awareness of the lack of cultural competency that we have in America. I watched as white Lutherans tried to make sense of this terrorist act and to find answers. I watched as black people mourned yet again, wrestling with the constant reminders that there are no safe spaces; tired of forgiving white folks for their senseless hate at the expense of their black bodies. And, here I was in the beginning stages of being a part of this denomination.

Reflecting on the past three months has brought me to strange places in my faith. I wish I could say that I have it all figured out and I am comfortable in all the confines of the ELCA and SC Synod but I can’t. I see the stares, not sure if they are disbelief, utter rejection or simply shock, but they are noticeable. I still feel the overcompensation because of the overtly racist atmosphere that is cultivated in the south. It is understandable, but it also resonates with my soul that we still have so much work to do. There are many beautiful people in the SC Synod of the ELCA that I have met in the last three months. We have talked and broke bread as well as visited with each other during a Sunday service, but, I state again, we have such a long road ahead.

I have been asked, “Why would a black man decide to become a part of the ELCA –the whitest denomination in America.” (according to Pew Research) Then on top of that become a part of a synod that has only ordained one black clergy member.

How does one really reconcile that in their mind?

God is up to something a lot bigger than me…

11 thoughts on “Just a Few of Us: Being Black in the ELCA and SC Synod

  1. Pingback: syncopated hustle
  2. I am so happy for your journey. You have been a amazing colleague and have opened my eyes to some of my blindness. Your involvement tempts me to stay in the SCSynod.

  3. Brian, WOW. Thanks for this gift. You are rigt, It will be a long journey. Our unknowing of each other is real. Our really knowing one another is possible, as we both know the love of God living within us. At this point, the one thing I KNOW for Real is: You are my brother!

  4. Dear Brian,

    I’m writing for two reasons. First and foremost, I’m writing to thank you for this article. I think it’s an important testament of personal experience, which is why I’m also writing as an editor of The Northwest Review. We’re a small publication currently soliciting contributions that grapple with important issues, including religion and color, through a uniquely human lens. I’m wondering if you’d be at all interested in writing an expanded version of this article further detailing your personal experience for the website.

    If you’re interested, please get in touch: contact@thenorthwestreview.com.

    If not, please do keep up the writing.

    Best,
    Alex

  5. Brian, the SC Synod and the ELCA need your presence and your voice as we make this journey together. I don’t know why progress is so slow and so tentative; I only know that we are called to be faithful and loving as we try to live out the gospel message. Please continue to walk along with the rest of us and let us learn from your personal experience. Your words are valued and we need to hear them. God bless and keep you as your ministry continues!

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