Friday, May 5, 2017

Letter to Bishop Tiemann & Response

Response, sent and received on May 8, 2017
(after the conclusion of the assembly in question, at which the litany mentioned below was used in worship)
Addressed to the first four names on the author/co-signer list, the only names included in the original email. Additional names were added over the following day and a half.

Pastors Ouchakof, Lovick, Rice, Fisher, et. al.  

Thank you for voicing your concern about the “Thanksgiving for our Heritage” litany at our synod assembly.  Allow me provide a little background.  The assembly’s Planning Team wanted to use the observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation as a basis for a “progression” in worship.  The Saturday service was called “Formed for Mission,” and they asked our synod archivist, Pr. Luther Oelke, to provide a glimpse at the synod’s Lutheran history.  Interestingly, he wrote a poem to convey that history, giving expression to the 95% of our congregations who have German heritage, with a few other Scandinavian Lutherans moving into Texas from the Midwest.  His intent was to give thanks for the Biblical witness, the Reformation history’s witness, and those Lutherans from Germany who came to settle in Texas beginning in the 1840s.  While those early settlers tended to create close communities of faith, they also reached out to their Spanish-speaking neighbors, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, which also gets reflected in the poem and in many pictures in the archives of the synod.
As your comments and those of others in our synod were voiced, it became clear that good intentions were not enough.  Some persons felt excluded because they did not share this ethnic heritage.  That started multiple conversations at the assembly that will continue.  However, I trust that the Southwestern Texas Synod will not get judged on this one litany.  I commend you to watch the Facebook Live posting on our synod’s page on Sunday morning worship that began at 8:30 a.m.  That service was entitled, “Reformed for Mission,” where we celebrated our faith today and into the future.  The language switches to Spanish, our primary mission field today.  One of our Latino pastors, Pr. Nelson Velazquez, presided at the meal in Spanish.  Songs and the Lord’s Prayer were particularly heard in both languages, a practice which has been in place in our synod for years. 
Combine this worship with a number of other items:  two resolutions were approved, one in support of the AMMPARO Initiative (which passed by a 98% vote) and one welcoming refugees (which passed with an 85% vote); an evening of conversation and participation around portions of the film, Harvest of Empire, which was led by our PEACE for Racial Justice team; a Strategic Planning process which reflected a clear call to become a more diverse and multicultural synod; a fine sermon by Pr. Herb Beyer at Saturday morning’s worship that reflected his experiences and our opportunity for outreach among our Latino brothers and sisters; and over $58,000 raised in our assembly offering to support his year’s Global Church emphasis of the ELCA Campaign (YAGMs, International Women Leaders, Missionaries, and Global Ministries).
As I brought my report at the close of the assembly, I apologized to those who were offended by Saturday’s litany.  I promised to listen to any and all who wished to have more conversation, a process which has already begun today.  There are also specific persons with whom I will initiate those conversations.  Then, as we look to the planning of next year’s assembly worship and other synodical events, we will be incorporating an intentional process of including a broader perspective of persons to review content and form that is more inclusive and welcoming.

I encourage you to watch our final plenary session on Facebook Live to see firsthand my words of apology, which are preceded by our Vice-President’s report who echoed our synod’s commitment to address racism.  Those all happen about the last thirty minutes of the recording.

Please keep our synod and our whole church in your continued prayers.

In Christ,

Bishop Ray Tiemann

Original letter, emailed on May 5, 2017

Dear Bishop Tiemann:

We are appalled by the order of worship planned for the Southwestern Texas synod assembly this weekend. The “polka” worship service scheduled for Saturday includes a Thanksgiving for our Heritage that is racist and reeks of white privilege. It actively alienates any mixed-race or people of non-European heritage who may be clergy or lay voting members at your assembly. Given the ELCA’s stated commitments to increasing diversity, there is no place for this racially exclusive “thanksgiving” in our church. This litany is diametrically opposed to the action at the most recent Churchwide Assembly to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and is inconsistent with the ELCA’s social statement on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. Please, we beg you, do not use this litany in your worship this weekend. It is unfaithful, un-Lutheran and un-Christian.

The litany in question refers to “landing… to incredulous faces.” This glorifies the arrival of European settlers to the region, and dehumanizes the Native Americans who were already settled there. The subsequent reference to “our synod’s holy ground” implies that the land was not holy before, and needed the blessing of European settlers to be made holy. As Lutherans and Christians, we affirm that God made all of creation, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). The land you currently occupy, and all its previous inhabitants, were certainly holy before your synod was there. Additionally, the naming of failed Scandinavian settlements, while omitting the names of Native nations that occupied the region before the arrival of Europeans, perpetuates this church’s history and complicity in the oppression of people of color.

The line in the litany that calls Scandinavian countries “a more civilized north” is completely unnecessary, and additionally, doesn’t make any sense. Unless you are claiming that Scandinavian people are inherently better than the rest of the world (a belief that would be the most basic example of white supremacy), what purpose does that description serve? As a church that believes all people were created in the image of God, from Scandinavians to Asians to Africans to Native Americans, what possible reason could there be for calling one region of the world more civilized than another? There is absolutely no theological, historical, or biblical reason for doing so, aside from promotion of Scandinavian people as a superior race to all other humans. Since our church does not believe this, the line has no place in a litany of any organized body of the ELCA, much less a synod assembly.

Again, we beg you, do not use this litany in your worship at synod assembly this weekend. Any attendees who are non-Scandinavian will be relegated to second-class status. Any attendees who are themselves non-European, or who have loved ones who are, will be hurt and will know, without a doubt, that this church does not want their participation. This is not true. Our denomination is richer when it is filled with people from all variety of ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. A worship service like this can alienate hundreds of people from the ELCA. Please, for the sake of the ELCA, for the sake of humanity, and most especially, for the sake of Jesus, remove this litany from your worship service at synod assembly this weekend.

In faith and struggle,

Rev. Katya Ouchakof, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Brenda Lovick, Cambridge, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Kristin Rice, Burlington, WI
Rev. Christa Fisher, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Carolina Glauster, ECLIC, Vancouver, BC
Rev. Dorothy Cottingham, Oregon Synod
Rev. Matthew Ploeger, PC(USA), Cottage Grove, WI
Ms. Rebecca Redman, Monona, WI
Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, Minneapolis, MN
Rev. Stephen Marsh, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Jennifer Chrien, Southwest California Synod
Rev. Gretchen Wagner, Montana Synod
Rev. John Thomas Sipf, Central/Southern Illinois Synod Rev. Kimberly M. Sterner, Grand Canyon Synod
Rev. Beth Pottratz, Mahtowa, MN
Rev. Deborah Andersen, Southwest California Synod
Rev. John Stirewalt, South Carolina Synod
Rev. Raymond J. Hand, Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Torben Gordon Aarsand, Delaware-Maryland Synod
Rev. Donna M. Wright, Southeast Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Sandra Carlson, Delaware-Maryland Synod
Rev. Kathryn Irwin, New Jersey Synod
Rev. Rachel Laughlin, Bridgeport, MI, North/West Lower Michigan Synod
Rev. Dr. Shirley Guider, Southeast Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Michelle Sevig, Metro Chicago Synod
Rev. Kathryn Nolte, Metro Chicago Synod
Rev. Stoney Bowen Weiszmann, Grand Canyon Synod
Rev. Carmine A. Pernini, Rahway, NJ, New Jersey Synod
Rev. Kyle Mark Jackson, St Paul Area Synod
Rev. Alex Darling-Raabe, Southwestern Texas Synod
Rev. Chris Heller, Rocky Mountain Synod
Rev. Lisa Nelson, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Ms. Sarah Bengtson, North Liberty, IA
Rev. Steve Jerbi, Greater Milwaukee Synod
Rev. Jessica Scholten, PC(USA), South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Beth Schultz-Byrnes, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Minna Bothwell, Des Moines, IA, Southeast Iowa Synod
Rev. Emily Elizabeth Ewing, Peterson, MN
Rev. Ryan Chaddick, Southwest California Synod
Rev. Shawn Brooks, Western Iowa Synod
Rev. Rick Reiten, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Peder Johanson, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Bre Roberts, Albuquerque, NM
Mr. Tim Hughes, Madison, WI Ms. Krista Nelson, Verona, WI Ms. Sara S. V. Bishop, seminarian, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin Rev. Dr. Deborah Johnson, Upstate New York Synod


  1. I planted a mission in the Austin/Buda area during the late 1990s and rejoiced in Texas' magnificently diverse population. I thank you for your letter.

  2. Yes, yes, as we publish our liturgies, we need to be more aware of our global audience. However, let me share the good news of this litany in question:

    As "more civilized North" was read, the Assembly broke into laughter! It was a civil protest during worship that called everyone's attention to this microaggression.

    When the pastor preached, he shared wth vulnerability and spoke about his racial identity development. Sure, he is just beginning. But I am grateful for his willingness to remind us that we all are on a journey to be allies. Nothing will change until the unaffected are as bothered by racism as this who are affected.

    1. Thank you for sharing the update from worship.

  3. Feel free to add my name:
    Rev Ryan Chaddick, Southwest California Synod

  4. Thanks for your letter. I let it be known that I could not participate in this liturgy and sat outside until it was over.

    1. Thank you for your witness through your absence.

  5. First, I am not Lutheran and I am responding because this is now public all over the internet and causing harm to the Church.

    While I see many of the comments are in support of calling out the TX Church, I would like to point out making this a public spectacle that is being shared all over the internet (as a joke at the ELCA) for the world to view is doing far more harm than good. Many outside the ELCA see such public hostile aggression towards your TX brother in Christ, whom you accuse of a microaggression, as a violation of the love you proclaim as your foundation for the protest; why publicly humiliate your own brother in Christ?

    Would it have been better to be offended in silence, than to allow the Church to be made fun of by the World in public? Shouldn’t we follow the command of Christ when dealing with the body, instead of making it public so Christ is maligned by the world?

    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”