I was installed as pastor at Trinity Church, Worcester on the day the Church commemorates the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This was no mere coincidence. It was the Holy Spirit revealing to me that my call to proclaim Christ is inextricably linked with my call to work for racial equality.
To add to the vows I made to serve the people of Trinity as pastor, here are my public vows to work for full racial equality in the United States of America:
I will be rooted in the scriptural vision of John. John looked into heaven and saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). John saw the world’s diversity gathered equally in one glorious community around the Prince of Peace. No walls dividing the people. No racism or prejudice separating insiders from outsiders. No hierarchies or classes. It was one assembly of the redeemed gathered together as fully loved and embraced equals in the worship and praise of the Lamb.
This vision will guide my work for racial equality here on earth. The sacraments I administer proclaiming one body of Christ and one communion of saints proclaim this vision. I will not see the sacraments, or faith itself, as private expressions of individualistic piety, but as public pronouncements of the inclusive grace of Jesus Christ breaking down every dividing wall and bringing together the peoples in love and grace.
I will acknowledge and confess privilege. As a person of Northern European descent in this country, I know that institutions and systems remain stacked in my favor, granting me respect, honor, and access while denying these things to others. A society that grants privilege to some and excludes others is not faithful to Christ’s vision of community. Starting with privilege is the necessary first step in working for full racial equality.
I will NOT assume a position of “white hero” in the work for racial equality. Well-intending liberals perpetuate racism when they see themselves as delivering racial justice to people of color. People of color do not need my help. They certainly do not need me to make them my cause. I need to be accountable for my own action and inaction in the work for racial equality.
I will NOT tell a person of color about their lived experience of racism. I will not tell a person of color that they have, or have not, experienced racism. I will let people of color speak for themselves. I will humble myself by listening and learning from them about their lived experience.
I will NOT turn a person of color into a spokesperson for their race. We objectify people of color by doing this. I do not speak for all white men, all ELCA Lutherans, or for all gay people. Neither does one person of color speak for all people of color.
I WILL stand up to racism first by looking inward. Before I go charging into the world to confront racism in others, I will honestly explore my own heart and home. I will take an honest look at my congregation and the ways it both knowingly, and unknowingly, grants privilege to some while excluding others. The work of racial equality begins at home.
I WILL identify white prayer and accountability partners. I will find other white people with whom to reflect on racism, and will not use people of color to do the work I need to do. The work of racial equality is community work. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself was just one man in a movement of both white and black people committed to racial equality.
I WILL be proud of my racial and cultural heritage. The work of racial justice doesn’t diminish my culture, but redeems it. It rescues my culture from the cancerous ways it attempts to position itself “over” other cultures. My culture is redeemed, and racial justice is achieved, when diverse cultures can be celebrated as equals.
I will NOT delay. The time to confess privilege, root out institutional racism, and respond to overt racism is NOW. I will receive the teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way that agitates me, makes me feel uncomfortable, and spurs me to action. My white skin color grants me the privilege to choose to deal with racism on my terms and my timeline. I will repent of this privilege by committing to this work as a central part of my call as pastor and identity as Christian NOW. I will commit to this path when it is not convenient, when it is not the best time, and even when other things seem to be important. My prayer and accountability partners will keep my grounded.
Indeed, may God who gives me the will to do these things, grant me the strength and courage to do them!