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Who Are the Arab Christians? By Guest Blog Writer Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

In observance of Arab American Heritage Month, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras to share her thoughts on this topic with our readers.

 

People in the West often assume that Arab Christians were converted from Islam to Christianity by Western missionaries. However, Arab Christians have always existed in the Middle East and have enjoyed significant influence in the Arabian Peninsula.

To understand Arab Christians, it helps to know the geography of the peninsula. Arabia, known as Jazīrat Al-ʿArab (“Island of the Arabs”) in Arabic, extends beyond present-day Saudi Arabia, encompassing the Arabian Peninsula (bordered by the Red Sea to the west), the Gulf of Aden to the south, the Arabian Sea to the southeast, and the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf) to the east.

Arabia was inhabited by nomadic bedouins who survived through hunting, mercenary work, trade and raids on other tribes. As noted in Acts 2:11, Arab merchants traveled to Palestine for business. Christian tribes such as the Ghassanids, Lakhmids, Banu Taghlib, Banu Tamim and Nabataeans were spread across the peninsula, originating from Yemen and migrating to the Levant after the destruction of the Marib Dam in the sixth century BCE. By the fifth century CE most of these tribes had converted to Christianity. Arab Christians in the peninsula spoke and prayed in Arabic, yet their liturgical and confessional writings were in Syriac.[1]

In 732 CE, Arab forces influenced by Islam conquered the Levant, a Greco-Roman region that had previously been part of the Byzantine Empire. Muslims spread their Arabic language with each conquest. The Levant was predominantly inhabited by non-Arab Christians, possibly descendants of various ancient civilizations. Christian communities in the conquered territories spoke Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Ethiopian languages.[2] Communities in Damascus and Baghdad were predominantly Arameans, using Aramaic for theology and liturgy, whereas those in Palestine, Jordan and Sinai utilized Greek ecclesiastically but Aramaic/Syriac locally. Over time Christians in the Levant and Egypt became Arabized through the imposition of the Arabic language. The Melkite Church was the first to adopt Arabic for worship.[3]

In the eighth century CE, Arabized Christian families in the Levant were drawn to Muslim power, leading them to convert to Islam. Christians held high positions and contributed to intellectual life under Muslim rule but faced pressure to convert. Muslim authorities imposed a poll tax on Arab Christians who refused to convert,[4] so they translated their religious texts into Arabic and developed apologetics to defend their faith. After the Crusades, Muslims imposed harsh policies on Christians, prompting resentment. Arabization accelerated through translation efforts and Islamic influences.

The Ottoman Empire’s occupation of the Middle East, which lasted from 1516 to 1917. led to “Turkification” efforts, and this cultural oppression provoked an Arab nationalist movement. Arab Christians revived the Arabic language and culture, but tribalism frustrated their efforts to form a unified Arab identity. Despite these differing identities, Islam’s influence remains strong among Arab Christians.

In sum, Christians in the conquered territories became Arabized when the Arabic language was imposed upon them. In other words, they are not Arabs by ethnic or race bound but by the Arabic language.

 

The Rev. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras was born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. She is the first Palestinian woman ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. Her passion for the Bible started through attending Sunday school at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation and attending Lutheran school in Bethlehem.

Hungry for a deeper knowledge of Scripture and eager to answer God’s call to ministry, Rev. Sarras earned her Master of Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., laying the foundation for her ministry of Word and Sacrament. Her academic pursuits led her to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where she earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Old Testament.

Rev. Sarras loves to teach Scripture and theology. She shared her knowledge through programs such as the Lay School of the ELCA East-Central Synod of Wisconsin, where she taught feminist, womanist and mujerista theology. She expanded her horizons by teaching courses such as “Introduction to Feminist Theology” and “An Introduction to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” in Marathon County, Wis., through the Extension program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rev. Sarras’ scholarly contributions challenge traditional biblical commentaries and offer fresh perspectives on matters of faith and society. Notable among her publications is “Jesus Was a Palestinian Jew — Not White,” which challenges traditional misconceptions about Jesus’ identity and roots. Her scholarly article “Refuting the Violent Image of God in the Book of Joshua 6-12” was anthologized in The (De)legitimization of Violence in Sacred and Human Contexts (Palgrace Macmillan, 2021), offering fresh insights into the violence depicted in the book.

Beyond academia, Rev. Sarras finds pleasure in hiking, biking, baking and immersing herself in books on politics, faith and Scripture, as well as watching documentary movies. In her roles as a pastor and as a scholar, Sarras advocates for critical thinking and encourages others to deepen their understanding of faith.

 

 

[1] Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 9.

[2] Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, 8

[3] Ibid., 49

[4] Kenneth Cragg, The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 54.

 

 

 

Honoring International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Guest Blog writer Rev. Aimée Appell

In honor of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited the Rev. Aimée Appell, MDiv DMin to share some thoughts about the Triennial Assembly of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice and their work to end racism and dismantle white supremacy.

The Triennial Assembly of EDLARJ (the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, newly changed to White Lutherans for Racial Justice) was held in Minneapolis, Minn., March 1-3. A large part of our time together was spent in a pilgrimage to George Floyd Square. What I saw and experienced there changed my understanding of love and pushed my thinking about fear, as I witnessed what it means to say that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

I don’t need to tell you how often our cultural conversation limits love to an emotion. You’ve heard the songs and seen the shows and bought the cards. It is so difficult to find pop culture examples of love beyond romance that when Anna and Elsa’s sister love was the focus of Frozen, it was worthy of commentary. But repeatedly during our pilgrimage and our resulting conversations, we witnessed love as an action.

The community in George Floyd Square has been meeting daily for over a thousand days now to love one another through action. They have brought their individual gifts together to become love for their neighbors. Jennie Leenay used her fashion background to create The People’s Closet, where clothing of all kinds is available for free to those who need it. Similar projects have created a library and a garden center, each tended by volunteers. Marquise Bowie greets visitors and urges them to do the difficult work of love-in-action in their home communities, standing with victims of injustice and educating their neighbors. Community members offer their time and their stories so that pilgrims to the square leave educated about what happened there. And every day, morning and evening, the community gathers, lights a fire in the firepit and checks in, offering mutual support, listening for what is needed and loving one another. With action.

This is the kind of love that casts out fear. As our preacher, the Rev. Dr. Jia Starr Brown, reminded us at the end of our pilgrimage day, action love is the prerequisite for the emotional, sentimental kind of love that we usually talk about. “I do not enter into … relationship with anyone who does not actively work for my overall good: defending my character and advocating for my justice when it is questioned, compromised or stolen. And neither should you.”

This action-love draws us toward one another, even toward those we might not actually like. I don’t have to particularly like someone to provide them with clothing, food, shelter, safety. I just have to love them. And in loving them, I find that I fear them less. I am drawn into their community, and we become family, because family take care of one another. Family love one another, even if they don’t like one another.

1 John (and Martin Luther) remind us that we often give a lot more energy to fear than to love. The power of fear drives our economy — everything from deodorant sales to car sales to the military industrial complex is based in fear. Our political system has become so bogged down by fear that it barely functions anymore. Fear of neighbor, fear of embarrassment, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear of immigrants, fear of “those people.” We give our attention, our time, our money to fear.

This is why we are to fear and love God above all else. If we fear God above death, poverty, embarrassment or (most especially) other people, our neighbors, then we will give our attention, time, money, even our whole selves, to God, who is Love — Love as Action. God is love so deep, so radical, so active, that God could not sit still waiting for us to come to God. God’s active love came to us and showed us just how powerful Love as Action can be. Powerful enough to overcome death and to cast out fear, giving us the strength, courage and love to stand in solidarity with marginalized people throughout our community, and throughout the world.

 

Rev. Aimée Frye Appell holds an M.Div. degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn, and her Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. She has served as solo pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Washington, Mo., since 2010. Since January 2021 she has served half-time at Peace and half-time as director for evangelical mission in the Central States Synod of the ELCA. She has also lived and worked in Washington, D.C.; Seattle, Wash.; Anchorage, Alaska; St. Paul, Minn.; and Provo, Utah.

Pastor Aimée was ordained in 2010. In her time at Peace Lutheran she has helped the congregation grow into community leaders as a congregation “Bound by Christ, to Break Boundaries.” Together they have spearheaded several initiatives to build inclusion and dialogue in their community, including Vacation Culture School, Stories Matter, a local Juneteenth celebration and a series of community book discussions. In 2017 she received the Humanitarian Award from Church Women United of Franklin County Missouri. In 2018 she and her congregation received the Clergy Renewal grant from the Lilly Foundation.

After sabbatical with her family in South Africa and France, Pastor Aimée began working on a Doctor of Ministry degree, focused on anti-racism in the ELCA. In addition she has worked with the City of Washington to develop its Community Relations Committee, with the goal of building and nurturing inclusive community as their regional demographics change. She serves on the Central States Synod’s Racial Justice Team and on the board of the Association of White Lutherans for Racial Justice.

When not focusing on her call, she can be found spending time with family, knitting, crocheting, reading or gardening. She is mother to four wonderful children – Elinor, Holden, Grace and Abby (as well as three dogs, one cat, a snake, a gecko, a bearded dragon, a bullfrog and a pet rat). She and husband Nelson, who is director of the Washington Public Library, have been married since March 2000.

Talks At The Desk Season 3 Premieres TONIGHT!

Celebrate Black History Month with season three of “Talks at the Desk,” a four-part video series by African Descent Ministries of the ELCA. This season focuses on the Reclaim Gathering and will explore its themes: reclaim, embolden, embody and liberate. A new video will premiere each Wednesday in February at 7:30 p.m. Central time beginning Feb. 7. Watch live at https://youtube.com/ELCA.

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Black History Month: What It Means to Me by Guest Author Clair Minson

In honor of Black History Month, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited Seminarian Clair Minson to share some thoughts about this topic with our readers.

 

What began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 — created by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson out of his concern that young African Americans lacked an education about their own heritage and ancestors — has since expanded to what we now know and observe as “Black History Month.”[1] Woodson, a life-long educator, understood the power of knowing one’s history and one’s ancestral heritage. Knowing that you are part of a long legacy of people who have the capacity to create whole societies can ground you in the belief that you too can do anything. Not knowing this history can become a seeding ground for internalized oppression.[2]

As Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in her book The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, “The vision of the past I absorbed from school textbooks, television, and the local history museum depicted a world, perhaps a wishful one, where Black people did not really exist. This history rendered Black Americans, Black people on all the earth, inconsequential at best, invisible at worst.”[3] I suspect that this erasure of Black his- and her-story is what Woodson was confronting through the development of Negro History Week.

As people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, we know the power of hearing, repeating and internalizing the miraculous stories of Moses, Joshua, Mary and Paul. Despite thousands of years of separation, we rely on these stories to help us cling to our faith and to a God who can at times feel very distant, despite always being with us. Understanding this, we perhaps also understand that recalling the stories of our Black ancestors is equally as powerful and necessary.

In preparation for this blog, I sat with the question “What does Black History Month mean to me?” and after some time an answer surfaced. To me, Black History Month is not just an obligatory nod to African American people; it’s a reminder of the strength and resilience of a people who, despite being erased from history and relegated to the margins of society, continue to contribute to the flourishing of our society. It’s a reminder of who we are and whose we are. It’s a reminder from “whence we came” and a vision for where we can go. It’s a clarion call to those who feel lost and need a reminder that their stories and their lives matter.

Black History Month is an opportunity for us as Christians to live into our call to be countercultural and share histories that many in society want to censure. It is an opportunity to live into the commitments we have made as a denomination to honor, protect and value the lives of people of African descent. I ask you, as people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, the same question: What does Black History Month mean to you?

 

Clair Minson, founder and principal consultant of Sandra Grace LLC, is a nonprofit leader, racial equity consultant, and theologian who leverages her decade-plus experience in workforce development and mental health counseling to maximize the impact of forward-thinking institutions across the United States.

Anchored in her faith in the human capacity for change and propelled by a critical analysis of systemic and institutional racism, Clair works with clients in the public and private sectors to develop and implement sound strategies that address the root causes of social inequity. She first entered the field as a counselor, directly supporting formerly incarcerated people in identifying and developing their skills and passions upon reentry into their communities, and later transitioned into the role of philanthropic strategist, in which she was charged with positioning workforce development as a catalyst for economic justice.

In 2019, Clair founded Sandra Grace, a change-management firm that provides training, consulting and thought-partnership to nonprofit, for-profit and public organizations in embedding racial equity practices in their policies, operations and programs. Sandra Grace serves clients in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco, among other cities.

Clair completed her B.A. in psychology at Clark Atlanta University and her master’s degree in community counseling from Argosy University; she is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She is a nationally certified counselor (NCC) and a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) in the state of Maryland.

Clair is from the Bahamas and currently lives in Colorado with her two daughters.

 

[1] www.history.com/news/the-man-behind-black-history-month
[2] www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2022/01/28/exploring-the-ways-internalized-oppression-shows-up-in-the-workplace/?sh=56abf6755f09
[3] Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (New York: Random House, 2021), xvii.

Honoring National Day of Racial Healing: Guest Blog Writer Rev. Jennifer Thomas

In honor of National Day of Racial Healing, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited The Reverend Jennifer Thomas to share some thoughts about this topic with our readers.

 

As a person of faith, I am called to love God and my neighbor as myself. Because of this, I’m committed to learning how white supremacy culture and my own complicity in it cause harm to my global neighbors near and far — and when I know better, to do better. As a seminarian, I attended anti-racism training in the late ’90s. But my journey didn’t stop there. Even last month I learned a new term: “global majority,” a collective term for non-white people of African, Asian and Latin American descent, who constitute approximately 85% of the global population. It has been used as an alternative to terms that are seen as racialized, such as “ethnic minority” and “person of color,” or more regional terms across the globe. It roughly corresponds to people whose heritage can be traced back to nations of the Global South.  

I’m a board member of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice and a member of the Central States Synod Racial Justice Team. As a member of both organizations, I’m interested in building a network of racial justice advocates and organizers across the ELCA. I also participate in #Reformation2022, a movement to reform the ELCA. Most of the work I do as a board and team member is amplifying the voices of the global majority community, whether it be an individual or an association within our church. 

When I was invited to blog this month for the “National Day of Racial Healing,” I had to look it up because it was new to me. The National Day of Racial Healing is a call to action for racial healing for all people. It is a time for contemplating our shared values and engaging together on #HowWeHeal from the effects of racism. It’s a day to come together in a shared commitment to building relationships. Launched on Jan. 17, 2017, it is an opportunity to bring people together in their common humanity and inspire collective action to create a more equitable world. The day is observed every year on the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

You can’t change what you don’t know. So how much do you know about the impact of colonization on the global majority community?  

When we know the truth and embrace it, we begin the process of building and strengthening right relationships with our global majority neighbors. In 2023 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) launched the Truth and Healing Movement. Many resources are available to assist you and your congregation as you work on your responsibilities. 

The ELCA also has ethnic associations for Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries. For even more resources, visit the ELCA Anti-Racism Pledge page. 

If you are of European descent within the ELCA and passionate about anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy, we invite you to join our partner list. 

And plan to attend the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice Triennial Assembly, March 1-3, in Minneapolis. The registration deadline is Jan. 15.  

 

The Rev. Jennifer Thomas is an ELCA pastor, ordained in 1998. She’s served congregations in Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas. Her current call is as associate director for Mission Funding in the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop. She resides in Kansas with her husband Vance, their almost adult children, Peder and Solveig, and two adorable rescue dogs, Rose and Dumplin’. In addition to organizing, advocacy, fundraising and proclamation of the good news, Jen enjoys cooking, baking, swimming, reading and bingewatching her favorite TV shows. 

 

 

A first-of-its-kind education for Indigenous leaders: Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program launches

The following is cross-posted from Living Lutheran. The original post can be found here.

The inaugural cohort of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s (PLTS) Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) launched on Oct. 9 with an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA. Photos: Courtesy of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Larry Thiele, a pastor in the Eastern North Dakota Synod, teaches a TEIL course as one of the program’s wisdom keepers.

Some of the Indigenous leaders and wisdom keepers of the TEIL program with Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (far right); PLTS Rector Raymond Pickett (center); and Francisco Javier Goitia Padilla, director of theological formation for seminaries and schools of the ELCA (second from right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Centuries after colonial models of education were first forced on Indigenous people in North America, their effects are still keenly felt. Western theological education has remained the default methodology within the church, including the ELCA. This fall, Native leaders from across the ELCA, in partnership with leaders from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) of California Lutheran University in Berkeley, are seeking to change that with the launch of the Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) program.

“The TEIL program is a historic and first-of-its-kind opportunity for Indigenous leaders and for our church,” said Vance Blackfox, ELCA director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations. “It gives students an opportunity to access education and leadership development—and possibly become ordained—so that they might be even more effective leaders in their communities and congregations.”

Though modeled after PLTS’ Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) certificate program—which is offered in collaboration with Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and the Lutheran Center of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod in Indianapolis and aims to prepare students for ordained ministry in the ELCA—the TEIL program is distinct in groundbreaking ways. “While the timeline looks like the traditional TEEM program, the content and teachers look very different,” said Blackfox, a partner in the development of TEIL and one of its instructors.

“Ninety percent of our instructors, whom we call wisdom keepers, are Indigenous, and the students will experience Indigenous pedagogy, or ways of learning about ministry and biblical studies, that are not offered anywhere else in our church,” said Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

The TEIL curriculum was designed by and for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) leaders, with their leadership and ministry formation and Indigenous theologies in mind.


“Students will experience Indigenous pedagogy not offered anywhere else in our church.”


The program gave its developers the freedom to look at why some of the courses traditionally offered in TEEM weren’t relevant to Indigenous students’ ministry and context, and what would be meaningful for their experience, said Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of TEEM.

“One of the first classes we offer in TEEM is ‘Ministry in Context,’ but TEIL leaders named it as ‘Ministry in Indigenous Context,’” he said. Other classes offered in the 16-course curriculum include “American Lutheranism and Indigenous History” and “Truth and Healing.”

“This program that the wisdom keepers put together is their own program,” Penumaka said. “They are defining what land, context, ministry and theology mean to them, for their own communities and their own people. So it is very unique, authentic and charismatic.”

In many seminary courses, the gospel is read through a Western lens, said Penumaka. The TEIL program offers students “an education that can empower and enlighten them, that’s not enforced upon them,” he said.

Blackfox has a personal understanding of the model’s importance. “There has never been a time in my own studies where the class was made up of 100% Native students, from early childhood until graduate-level seminary classes,” he said. “So for the students in TEIL to have that opportunity is unique and will be, I believe, invaluable to the ways they learn and what they learn.”

“Strengthening our ministry”

The inaugural cohort of TEIL, comprised of 10 students representing a range of ELCA Indigenous ministries and congregations, began their program on Oct. 9, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The program was launched with in-person classes hosted at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., and an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA.

“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education, and to developing future Native leaders, pastors and theologians,” said Elizabeth Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. “The Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program is one important way to honor that commitment. Our Indigenous leaders have vital gifts to offer this church, and the TEIL program is an opportunity to meaningfully support their development.”

Joann Conroy, president of the ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association (AIAN), agreed. “We’ve been invisible people for too long,” she said of AIAN members and leaders of the ELCA. “Being able to have TEIL is something that not only strengthens our ministry, wherever we happen to be situated, but strengthens the church and recognizes the gifts we bring to the church.”


“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education.”


Conroy, an Oglala Sioux Lakota pastor who serves as a TEIL wisdom keeper, began meeting with Blackfox and Penumaka several years ago to decide how the program would take shape. Eventually that group broadened to include a team of Indigenous leaders who helped determine what the distinctive courses would be.

“We discussed what the Indigenous pedagogy might look like for each of those classes and who would lead them,” Blackfox said. “We met multiple times to develop this Indigenous learning experience together.”

Blackfox identified several primary goals for the program. “One would be providing quality and appropriate classes and experiences for Indigenous students that empower them to be even stronger ministry leaders in their communities, congregations and Indigenous ministries, both as ministers and with their fellow lay members,” he said. “Two, to allow for their experiences and tribal life ways to also be contributing gifts to their learning environments while in the TEIL program.”

He also hopes to “continue to connect the church at large—the churchwide organization, synods, congregations, individuals—with ways of supporting Indigenous ministries in our church. And this is one tremendous way in which that can happen.”

Seeds planted

The TEIL program is open to lay leaders and those on the ordination track alike. “Students don’t have to be candidates for ordination to be in the program but will be introduced to candidacy in case they do want to pursue ordination,” Blackfox said.

TEIL student Amanda Vivier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, had been looking for just such a program. “My heart has been yearning for this connection and acceptance as an Anishinaabe leader and as a follower of Christ Jesus, so it was a no-brainer when the opportunity presented itself,” she said of enrolling in the program.

Vivier has served as spiritual director and minister for The Way (formerly Native American Christian Ministry) in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., since 2017 and is seeking ordination. “This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus,” she said of the TEIL program. “It has opened the door for me to pursue becoming a pastor while still [being] very engaged with my family and ministry.”

She has already found her TEIL coursework directly applicable to her ministry context. “In the short first week I spent in TEIL, I picked up teachings I was able to bring back to The Way that following Sunday,” she said. “It has also actually encouraged me to look at the Bible in my lens of an Anishinaabe kwe [woman] and share it in a language that becomes more relevant for the population I’m serving.”


“This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus.”


Gabe Wounded Head is an Oglala Lakota student completing his undergraduate degree at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks this year. He has also applied what he is learning in TEIL to his college campus, where he is a chapel service leader and an active member of Campus Ministry. “I have learned that the idea that there is one path down any road, whether it be education style, church service style or leadership style, is false,” he said. “This program provided me with a unique opportunity to take advantage of a new alternative viewpoint in biblical exegesis.”

In his ministry experience, Wounded Head has found that “most of the people who have turned away from their adolescent churchgoing habits have done so because they’ve learned a new perspective of history, one of the colonized people, that church leaders have historically desired to keep under wraps.” But he believes that TEIL can help enrich people’s faith while also inviting new members by offering important context.

“A historical context creates a picture that the good news was not just meant for the European church, and it wasn’t just meant for the American church—it was meant for the people of God, worldwide,” Wounded Head said. He believes the seeds being planted with TEIL will invite more voices into the ELCA, both from Indigenous communities and beyond current church membership.

When Conroy was in seminary, she experienced that lack of context as a missing piece of her education. “A lot of what I was being taught was very white-focused—my cultural understanding wasn’t being taught,” she said. “TEIL is now bringing those things to the table for our young leaders, where their voice and their cultural relevance can finally be applied to theological learning.

“If you look to the future of the church, if you look at [Indigenous] elders, children, young adults, it really is necessary to keep working toward this. It’s important.”

John Potter
John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.