A Word About Not Knowing What To Do

I am not writing this to elicit any responses. I honestly don’t want anyone to feel shame or guilt. I am not writing to receive recognition. I am not writing to piss anyone off. I’m writing because I don’t know what else to do. I’m writing because I value the process of reflection and meaning-making that comes through words.

I’m struggling. And you know what I do when I struggle dear Shadow Lovers. I write.

A recent study was released by the Pew Research Center on the most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups. Some have commented on the lack of broad-based religious diversity that this study covered and it’s lack of focus on some pretty significant nuances that define some religious traditions. However, for me as a Christian, this study proved to be quite enlightening. And this enlightenment has been profoundly troubling…

My broken, albeit beloved church was second from the bottom in terms of racial diversity. We only beat out the National Baptist Convention and even came in below our estranged cousins, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Many of us think that we are so much more evolved in our religious interpretation then they are and this study just proved that we are more alike than different.  If I’m honest, laughter was my first response to reading the results. It was the type of laughter that bubbles up and over. The type of laughter that one might call hysterics. It was also the type of laughter that comes after one receives clarity that one wasn’t even looking for. What in the world am I fighting, working, serving for?

Once the laughter subsided, a deep sense of sadness set in. My church is not going to be any different. I’ve heard it shared by researchers in my denomination that statistically speaking, my church won’t reach the kind of racial and ethnic diversity that we have hoped for. I continue to serve in a church that is not for me or for people who have ideals like me. As one of my sister friends and fellow leaders of color in this church so eloquently put it, “This church is not FUBU.”

In the past I’ve wondered and lamented about the history of schisms within the Christian faith. My heart breaks as I think about the constant fracturing of the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much but I know that God never intended for people of faith to be so fragmented. However, for the first time in my life, I am beginning to understand why people broke off from traditions and formed new ones. I am beginning to understand why reformers of the Christian denominations sought out a new way of being. I don’t know what to do.

Another friend and colleague of mine who happens to be a white female pastor asked me, “Rozella, why do you stay in this church?”

My response: “I’ve been asking myself that more and more, everyday. And I honestly don’t know why. But when I think about it, I then wonder, where am I going to go? Other mainline denominations aren’t much better when it comes to issues of racial justice and the dismantling of white supremacy. Many historically black denominations don’t recognize me as a woman in ministry. So what do I do? Leave the church? Start another church? Stay mad? I seriously don’t know what to do.”

I’ve recently written about my disillusionment and pain in the face of modern day realities and the church’s response. The past few weeks have continued to be a struggle as people of color have continued to die senselessly. Seeing the Pew Study’s results in light of modern day occurrences and a lack of coordinated efforts among faith communities makes me wonder, what am I even doing? Many have probably been asking this of the church for much longer, but I feel like scales are falling from my eyes and I honestly don’t know what to do.

My livelihood is currently wrapped up in an institution that will never be for my people.

My identity is intertwined with a denominational tradition that has almost no racial diversity.

My call is to Christ’s church and I’m increasingly wondering what that actually means.

I honestly don’t know what to do.

11 thoughts on “A Word About Not Knowing What To Do

  1. Serena says:

    Hi Rozella,

    I can’t tell you about your call to serve God – but I thank you for your service in the ELCA. I am a white pastor who is struggling with the lack of diversity in the church and my community. I am so frustrated by the Pew statistics. I am working to speak a word of challenge and hope in my community – and I appreciate the resources that I have learned about from YOU.

    I don’t know how we can transform the church to be more diverse – or what words will break open hearts and unlock the dams to justice in our in our congregations – but I know the frustration of trying and seeing so little progress. I know the effort it takes to keep pushing anyway.

    Dr. King said “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I hope that the trickles of change that I have seen are a sign that the dam is weakening – that some day it will burst so that justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. I pray that persistence will make a way where there is no way, even in my church. I hope you will keep helping us to continue the struggle.

  2. Bob Rainis+ says:

    My livelihood is currently wrapped up in an institution that will never be for my people.
    Holy Revelation….You mean the Resurrection was about “Who’s people” to begin with…?….”My people”….the marginalized, the poor, the lonely, the naked, the sick….the black, the white, yellow and brown…the SINNER ????

    My identity is intertwined with a denominational tradition that has almost no racial diversity.
    Identify first with your Baptism…it all becomes clearer through the water….Your “tradition” is the Catholic Faith as pronounced in the 3 Creeds, the CA, Holy Scripture……”diversity” it has to begin somewhere and YOU are part of the 2%’ers….Bless you as your journey goes beyond yourself……

  3. I left a rambling and inarticulate response on twitter and I apologize for that – trying to be coherent in 140 characters or less just isn’t do-able for me. I think we are seriously handicapped in our ability to become more diverse because of our overwhelming European heritage and more liturgical/sacramental liturgy. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just VERY hard. But it’s never going to happen without leaders like YOU. The ELCA needs you! I can’t pretend to know the turmoil and frustration you must feel. All I can do is offer you encouragement and let you know I am praying for you. And when ordination comes for you, make sure you make your need to be in a racially diverse area known. I’m in NJ and I’m blessed by wonderful clergy colleagues of color, and by many congregations that are diverse – we’d love to have you here! Please stick with it. Like I said in one of my rambling tweets – you’re a MISSIONARY. And God bless you for challenging us!

  4. James says:

    Its easy to say the ELCA needs you. Yeah. Let’s face it. We’re more than one or two standard deviation from the mean! Which means what? For me…in my old age…I say, “Forget it.” Life is too short to worry about an Institution that simply cannot, will not and never be diverse. Yeah. They’ve talked about it for years, even deluded many of us that we will be a multicultural church. That’s ain’t ever gonna happen. So stop beating your head against a cold stone wall. There are other Christian groups to associate with. Others have found their Calling there. You will be happier there. No need to start another denomination! The Christian Witness does not need an organization to keep Jesus Alive in our hearts.

  5. Listen, many congregations in the ELCA are only three or four generations from having fights over worship in ENGLISH. Women were only recognized as clergy in my lifetime. I see us moving. It may be slow, painfully slow, and for that I confess my own part. Again, I can’t pretend to know your frustration, but I have heard the frustrations of some who’ve gone before you. I was honored to be taught by two fantastic men at seminary (Richard Stewart and James Echols) and mentored by two wonderful women (Gladys Moore and the late Michele Robinson – you won’t find much about her, she was just a parish pastor who died way too young). I can’t imagine the whole in my education and ministry had they not stuck with our “broken, albeit beloved” church.
    When Nadia Bolz-Weber was up for assignment after seminary she said something like this to her bishop, “You know, if you send me to some white middle-class suburban congregation that’ll be a disaster, so why not let me go out and do my own thing.” HFASS is now internationally known, as is Nadia – and makes me proud to be ELCA – – and so do you!
    I guess it all depends on how you view yourself. I can say you’re a missionary and a prophet, but if you don’t feel called to be a missionary or a prophet, then you need to be where YOU feel God is calling you. I do know the lack of your voice to guide us and push us will only hurt us in the effort to become the church we all envision.
    I will continue to pray for you in your obvious leadership abilities, no matter where the Lord leads you.

  6. Edmond Yee says:

    Ed says:

    The ELCA has not engaged the world nor has it allowed itself to be engaged by the world. So forget it as an autumn flower. Let its petals fall against the westering sun. Anguish no more!

  7. Fern says:

    Rozella, this and your recent blogs, coupled with conversations with long-time Asian American Lutherans, are putting me in deeper reflection mode, so here goes some rambling… The Pew study just opened the wound once again. Why am I in a church that has allowed this to happen? Why am I a member of a church in which I have to seek out folks who can grieve with me? Why does this all feel so despairing? Why are some in the majority postured in defense-mode (the reasons versus excuses mode)? But know that you, and others, are what I like to call “Pest-Prophets” — we become pests because we are trying to be faithful. We are pests to the church whether on the national scale or in our own congregations. Pests can be swatted out or dealt with because they are seemingly small. But there is a bigger picture. The ELCA is not the worldwide Lutheran church (http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=11968). We have a wider context — churches in Africa and Asia and globally that we are a part of — so in that framework, think of yourself as a purveyor of hope. When I watched President Obama speaking to a packed stadium in Kenya, I could see him energized. News reporting of those in the audience mostly responded with a renewed sense of “Yes, we can!” You are like that to many people. When your arms get tired, may we help you hold them up. And may God grant me your courage to continue being a pest.

  8. Justin says:

    Rozella, thank you for making plain what has been storming in my heart and mind for a while. I too am at a loss for what to do….

  9. Michael Linderman says:

    Rozella, thank you for sharing your struggles so openly and powerfully. As others have noted, you testify to a vision that we all look forward to, but aarre dismayed to find so distant from our present reality. I read the Pew report too, and my heart sank. However, I think it’s important to recognize something that spins off of Fern’s comment about the world wide Lutheran church. All these white American Lutherans (I’m white male) that you find yourself working with and on behalf of in the US make up a single national manifestation of a world-wide Lutheran expression of the church catholic. The thing is, look at any other Lutheran denomination in any other country, and you find an equally monocultural group, distinct even from other Lutheran groups in the same country or continent by tribal//ethnic/linguistic boundaries. It has to do with the way Lutheran missions worked in the 19th and 20th centuries. Two things more. First, the particular pain caused by iinjustice of particular groups living in these segregated church experiences is always rrooted iinn local context. So in the US, where we have a huge problem with unnacknowledged racism, black Lutherans are bearing a burden that many white Lutherans are ignorant of. In India, it’s caste discrimination, not racism, that certain Lutheran groups feel more than other Lutherans in thhe same country. IIn Tanzania, iit’s tribalism.. Second, the rest of those Lutherans represent the diversity that we need to feel and learn from. It is my hope that the world-wide expression of Lutheran diversity ccan minister to the needs of hurting “hot-spots” in various countries. I hhope you might dig into this and see if there is some healing and hope tthat you may find. I hope this isn’t too “explaining”; I don’t mean to disreegard or ddismiss the experience you are witnessing to. peace,
    (sorry for typos, my keyboard battery is running low.)
    Michael Linderman

  10. […] Rozella White shared an honest, powerful and moving reflection in writing, “A Word About Not Knowing What to Do.” […]

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