Dealing with institutional racism
Building off my Facebook post, I would like to explain what is behind the troubling words I posted. I have lived in the inner city ever since my freshman year in college. My experience is that too often people who do not live in the inner city are the decision makers for the inner city. As we deal with police reform in the wake of the homicide of George Floyd, I’m sure we will see non-residency emerge as the major contributing factor to police brutality. Whether we will fix it is another matter.
St. Olaf Lutheran Church is an inner city church located in a community of poverty, and not coincidentally over 50% African-American. As a member church of the ELCA actively engaged in inner city ministry, St. Olaf should receive funding from the ELCA; but it doesn’t. The reason it doesn’t is because the funding decisions are made by people who don’t live in the community and are driven by their commercial instincts, which don’t often coincide with the activity of the Holy Spirit.
The funding decisions are made by the Minneapolis Synod and a representative from the ELCA.
The Synod established a North Minneapolis Area Ministry Strategy in 2013 which was supposed to give a voice to the churches involved, which included St. Olaf. However, we soon found that decisions in the strategy were coming down from the Synod and its Council and St. Olaf was not a favored site. Then all hell broke loose. The Synod intervened in what was not only our major ministry, but also our source of self-sufficiency –the St. Olaf Residence. As a result of their intervention, the Residence was lost. Over 100 vulnerable adults were forcibly moved from their homes, around 100 employees laid off, the community lost a major economic engine. To make matters worse, the Synod refused to help St. Olaf and has denied it funding since that time. They Synod did forgive an $8,000 loan, but the church lost over $65,000 on the failed sale and subsequent mortgage foreclosure.
Twice St. Olaf attempted to gain a hearing with the Synod, but were shut out. Another two times, St. Olaf attempted to bring its grievance to the Assembly of the Synod. The first time it was shut down in the Conference meeting. The second time was last February at the Conference meeting. The Conference effectively sidelined the resolution, but we were able to move it forward to the Synod Reference and Counsel Committee for approval to be aired on the Assembly floor scheduled for May 2020, which was postponed (canceled?).
Several years ago, the Synod established a Racial Justice initiative. Our racial justice representative (Rumen, my son) and I attend periodic meetings to move the agenda of racial justice forward in the Minneapolis Synod. But, this group is infected with the same cronyism that the North Minneapolis Area Ministry Strategy, now the North Minneapolis Parish, was infected with. At the last meeting, we were given another dose of medication to heal us of white privilege. After the meeting, Rumen and I went to one of the presenters, the Synod Vice-President, an African-American woman, and asked her, “When will the conversation move from exposing white privilege to dealing with institutional racism.” “Soon, I hope,” she replied.
So, when that happens, it would be nice to have more people, especially people of color, available to advocate for and with us. If you have a desire to help the ELCA look at the issue of institutional racism within itself from the perspective of a discarded, worthy inner city church, please join our team at St. Olaf. We cannot count on the stones to cry out for us.