Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God. [Romans 2:25-29]
Yesterday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a statement, through its Asian and Pacific Islander Association, addressing the increase in violence directed toward Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The statement can be found by clicking HERE. I would encourage you to read it before continuing on with the rest of this reflection.
I will come back to the statement, but first I must lament.
The fact that a church needs to issue a statement speaks to the state of affairs of our country and our world.
By way of reminder, when the Coronavirus began to spread in the United States, there were those who, instead of seeking solutions, quickly pointed fingers of blame at China, contributing to a rise in xenophobia, scapegoating, and increased violence against anyone who looked Asian.
While it would be easy to lay the bulk of the responsibility at the feet of the former U.S. President and his racist rhetoric, this country has a long history of hostility against Asians, going back as far as the late 19th Century. Laws have been written to exclude Chinese from emigrating to this country. One of this nation’s ugliest episodes was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The sins of the past have now resurfaced in this latest rise of verbal harassment and physical attacks against those who “look” Chinese.
I am pleased that the ELCA, and its bishops, have decided to speak out against this racist abuse.
But before heaping too much praise on our church, it is also important to mention that the ELCA, as well as all other church bodies in these United States, are great at issuing statements and declarations condemning racism, injustice, oppression, and other actions that go against what God commands and asks of us: to love one another as God loves us.
Living into those statements is another matter.
To paraphrase a well-known saying, the road to hell is paved with social statements that are written in beautiful prose and elaborate theological language and then are placed on a shelf to die and never be read again.
I say that as one, who along with 15 other of my sisters and brothers of color, labored for nearly two years to develop a Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in our church. For all the fanfare surrounding its adoption in August of 2019, the implementation of that strategy has been thwarted by a lot of foot-dragging.
In his book, Speaking the Truth, theologian James Cone once wrote:
“The task of the church is more than preaching sermons about justice and praying for the liberation of all. The church must be the agent of justice and liberation about which it proclaims. A confessional affirmation of peace is not enough. The church must represent in its congregational life and seek to structure in society the peace about which it speaks. When a congregation does not even attempt to structure in its life and in the society the gospel in preaches, why should anyone believe what it says?”James Cone, Speaking the Truth (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), p. 125.
Cone’s words echo the appeal that Paul made in his letter to the Roman Christians. What good does it do to say you’re circumcised if you don’t live by what that circumcision demands of you? It appears that Paul has borrowed language here from the prophet Jeremiah, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts.” [Jer. 4:4]
Another old saying comes to mind. “If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
I invite you to re-read the Statement on Anti-Asian Racism, specifically the six action steps that it calls us to take. Write them on your hearts. We serve a God of justice. Let us strive to give witness to the God that we serve.
No one should be a victim of violence, for any reason.
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