PLTS faculty statement regarding George Floyd, racism and white supremacy

We are in the season of Pentecost, and this has turned out to be a Pentecost like no other. Not only have we been disrupted by COVID-19 requiring the seminary to do everything virtually, but we have witnessed the killing of yet another black man at the hands of the Minneapolis police force. The nation is convulsing in grief and lament in response to the murder of George Floyd, and in anger and rage at the structural racism that perpetually puts black lives and communities at risk. This pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on black and brown bodies and exposed the inequities of a system that continually puts black people at risk. There is not a black man in this country who doesn’t live with the fear of being pulled over because of the color of his skin. There is not a parent of a black child who doesn’t live with the fear of what they will have to suffer.

It seems like we are at a make-or-break moment much like the first followers of Jesus who were huddled together in fear behind closed doors after the trauma of Jesus’ execution. The cause of death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Empire was asphyxiation. Jesus died because he could not breathe. Literally and metaphorically, black people can’t breathe! Black theologian James Cone has written extensively about how black people have always identified with the crucified Christ because he identified with their suffering. He compares crucifixion to the lynchings that forcibly reminded blacks of their inferiority and powerlessness. The lynching tree, he says, is a metaphor for white America’s crucifixion of black people. We know that is hard to hear, but we need to let that sink in.

Jesus was crucified for subverting a Roman imperial order defined by control and exploitation — for inspiring a movement guided by a vision of the Beloved Community that embodied Divine love, mercy, compassion and an alternative justice to that of the Roman imperial order. The crucifixion was supposed to put an end to the uprising he initiated, but that’s not what happened. Instead his followers encountered the crucified Jesus as the risen One who fashioned them into a resurrection people empowered by Spirit. That’s what Pentecost is about. In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus, who died because he couldn’t breathe, breathes on his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Acts, the activity of Holy Spirit is associated with power and witness: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Witness to the new order of restorative justice inaugurated by his resurrection.

The Pentecost reading from Acts 2 describes a transformative moment when Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem are infused with this Spirit power to understand one another, each in his or her own language. It marks the birth a new intercultural community characterized by mutuality and equity.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:32-33)

The other amazing thing that happens is that the same Spirit power that unites them as one heart and soul  then propels them out into the public sphere to bear witness to the God who brings life out of death and calls into existence the things that don’t exist. Remarkable is the metamorphosis of people like Peter, who cowered in fear when Jesus was arrested and then is himself arrested and stands before the council to proclaim, “We must obey God rather than human authority.” People were amazed by their boldness and recognized them as companions of Jesus.

At PLTS, we teach community organizing as a spiritual practice that is focused on clarifying your core values and acting on them with others in the public realm to effect social change. It is a way of living out our baptismal vocation of “following the example of Jesus to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” This is a time for us to show up boldly in public spaces as companions of Jesus in solidarity with our African American sisters and brothers to do our part in dismantling structural racism.

There are a lot of practical things we can do. There are a number of good books we can read and discuss to gain a better understanding of the history of racism and the black experience. Listen to and support African American friends and colleagues who have to expend a great deal of psychic energy in just living in this world. Find ways to get involved with groups in the community that are doing this work. We need to make this dismantling racism a priority in the church. Let’s devote ourselves to this work in the coming days and months.

 

Signed,

Rev. Dr. Raymond Pickett

Rector

 

Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan

Professor of Homiletics

 

Dr. Carol Jacobson

Associate Professor of Practical Theology

 

Dr. Julián González

Assistant Professor of Old Testament

 

Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda

Professor of Theological and Social Ethics

 

Rev. Dr. Moses Penumaka

Director, Theological Education for Emerging Ministries [TEEM]

 

Rev. Dr. Kirsi Stjerna

Professor of Lutheran History and Theology

 

Rev. Dr. Alicia Vargas

Dean

 

Dr. Leslie Veen

Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs

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