Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA Racial Justice

If It Was Us, We Would’ve Been Shot! by Bishop Yehiel Curry

Last Wednesday afternoon, after a day of virtually meeting and planning with Metro Chicago Synod (MCS) pastoral staff, I closed the Zoom window on my computer. Satisfied with our collective work, I took a deep breath, grateful for a wonderfully dedicated and highly competent team.

After a few moments, I glanced at my phone. Immediately, I realized that the notifications and text messages that I had received throughout the day were more than I could count. Friends, family, and colleagues, many of whom are of African descent, had reached out to me, shocked. Many texted me similar words. “They would have shot us,” they said, again and again.

“If it was us, we would’ve been shot.”

I opened the office door, shouting into the empty space, “What’s going on?” Two others were in the office. Neither of them had yet heard the news.

For me, Epiphany, January, the New Year, is a time of vision boards and new beginnings. Hope for something new greets us as we gaze at the child cradled in Mary’s arms. And yet, I saw no hope as I looked at this news.

As the headlines “The Capitol Under Attack,” “Far-Right Mob Attacks the Capitol,” “Mayhem in the Capitol,” and so on appeared on my screen, something happened in me psychologically. For a moment, time seemed to collapse. As I watched white supremacists carrying Confederate flags into the US Capitol, I recalled images of the same flag flown by plane over sporting events in 2020 and carried into Charlottesville in 2018.

Seeing white supremacists walking freely in a place that symbolizes our democracy, I saw, at the same time, the white supremacists who’ve been encouraged at rallies and marches across our nation, year after year, as leadership at our highest levels has refused to call out bigotry, acknowledge systemic racism, or condemn racist violence against people who look like me.

Seeing this crowd in DC receive a pep rally and praise from the president, I recalled images of tear gas released on peaceful protestors on those same DC streets, and I recalled the president posing with our sacred scriptures, blessing violence against the peaceful crowds.

Lastly, as I saw images of men and women, known neo-Nazis, and holocaust deniers holding banners, threatening violence, and carrying weapons, met with very little police presence, I could not help but also see images of Anjanette Young, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, and countless others, flashing through my mind—one scene, one death, one trauma after another, after another, after another. I could not help but see officers acquitted of the excessive use of force and officers acquitted of murder based on assertions of fear—acquitted because they claimed to be afraid.

“They would have shot us,” I heard again the words of my siblings.

“If it was us, we would’ve been shot.”

Yes, in seeing the events in Washington DC last week, I saw the events not only of the past four years but of much of my life. And this was not my experience, alone. It was also the experience of countless Black people and people of color all across this country, those who reached out to me, and those whom I have yet to meet.

Indeed, Wednesday was more than Wednesday. It was trauma, reopened, flooding back in, and forcing us to relive those moments of pain and oppression, again and again.

For me, Epiphany, January, the New Year, is a time of vision boards and new beginnings. Hope for something new greets us as we gaze at the child cradled in Mary’s arms. But the events of this past Wednesday were nothing to look forward to. Indeed, these events once again highlighted the disparities that exist in our nation, reminding us again that the pursuit of peace, justice, and equity must never cease.

As we search for an alternative future, the future of God envisioned in Jesus’ teachings about God’s Reign of Love, I’d ask that you recommit with me to the work of dismantling white supremacy in our hearts and in the world. Will you do this?

I ask also that you’d pray with me for all those who are currently living with renewed fear and resurfaced trauma and pain.

Of our leaders, I ask that you take this moment as an opportunity to have courageous conversations with your family, neighbors, and community. We trust that when we gather in Christ, God might instigate change in even the most hardened of hearts and that God, indeed, is with us as we work toward a church and a world where nobody has to say, “If it was us, we would have been shot.”

Bio: The Rev. Yehiel Curry is the bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA. He was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, where he still resides with Lashonda, his wife of 25 years, and their three daughters, Shemiah, Ashirah and Shekinah. Rev. Curry received his Master of Divinity from LSTC. He served as pastor to Shekinah Chapel Lutheran Church until he became the bishop, and office to which he was elected on June 8, 2019.


When I Broke by Regina Banks

You remember the story of Jonah and the whale, right? God commands Jonah to preach repentance to his foes in the city of Nineveh. But Jonah wasn’t down with being God’s little messenger. Not about that. Not to them. So, he booked passage on the first ship heading anywhere but there. The Bible tells us plainly that Jonah “ran away from the Lord.”

That worked out about as well as you would expect and after many storms and tribulations Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale; saved from certain drowning by a God with a plan. In the belly of the whale, the reality of the task being asked of him became clear to Jonah. In the belly of the whale, the enormity of the force sending him to Nineveh became clear.

When I announced my intention to go to law school my mother’s family became suspiciously excited. As I went through the application process I talked with them about this school or that. A couple of days would pass, then worked casually into the next conversation somehow would be the stats for that law school’s Criminal Law department. They weren’t subtle. But I of course they thought criminal law. My grandfather was the first Black Genesee County (MI) deputy in the 1950’s. He studied law then finished his career as a magistrate. His only daughter (my mother) was a probation officer briefly. 3 of his 4 sons are, to this day, sworn law enforcement officers. One of them even married a state trooper! Adding a prosecutor to the family would complete the set.

But my distaste for criminal advocacy was years old by then. I was a precocious (read: nosey) kid. I would listen to adult conversations and easily decipher their unimaginative codes. I heard the stories of unnecessarily brutal arrests, cases that went up on scant evidence, hanging judges, and “facilities” (jails and prisons) unfit for humanity. My relatives believed, and still believe, that change can come from within the system and at the very least the system was a little less antiblack during their shifts. But I had no interest in being in the criminal law space. And honestly, I had passively accepted the culture’s prevailing attitudes about crime and criminals. Some neighborhoods simply do require a stronger police presence. I too looked over my shoulder at ATMs for “super-predators.” I took Criminal Law and Evidence because they were required then filled my schedule with Federal Labor and Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. I was going to work a standard 9-5 resolving employment contract disputes via forced arbitration clauses (and get filthy rich doing it!) I kept maps of all the exciting places my jet-set lifestyle was going to afford me. Nineveh was not on the itinerary.

After many storms and trials I learned that my skills and talents lay with legislative and executive advocacy. I learned the basics then studied and honed it as the science and the art that it is. I advocated for domestic violence survivors and employees unfairly paid. I advocated for the fair treatment of our immigrant siblings. I advocated for the poor, the unhoused, the mentally ill. I’ve traveled abroad waving the banner for ecological justice and climate change abatement. And then the children. Always the children. I even found time to advocate for more green space in my own neighborhood. Everything and anything except anything that touched on crime or policing. Sure #BlackLivesMatter. But I don’t have to be the spokeswoman for it.

Then I spent I my three days in the belly of the whale. To be more precise the month of October 2019 broke me. It excised whatever small trace of “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear from the police” remaining in my spirit. Early that month my favorite human, my nephew Xavier, turned 8 years old. He got a new video game that he just loved. He wanted to play it with me. All. The. Time. Sometimes late into the night. We did that. He’s unreasonably scared of spiders. It’s one of those truly annoying things I love about him. I’m constantly called on to go 2 or 3 rooms away and kill the spider that he defiantly heard and is certainly on its way to come and get us. Sometimes he hears them outside. When I’m in a particularly generous mood I go and hunt for his imaginary spiders outside our front door.

Stop right now and Google the name Atatiana Jefferson.

When the news of her death reached the nation something in me broke wide open. It wasn’t just the fact of her death. It’s that her death made headlines for less than one news cycle. I was angry and heartbroken and incensed and grieved and irate and perplexed and exhausted and dying inside. I’m not certain when I was swallowed by the whale. But I was for sure in the belly of the beast; driving along the beautiful California coast from Sacramento to Monterey to offer a keynote address at the synod professional leaders conference– blind through tears. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter what I actually said to the Lord in my car that afternoon. “In my distress I called to the Lord, and the Lord answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and the Lord listened to my cry.”

Through the sacrifice of one beautiful black life, I fortified a voice that advocates for Black bodies.

I’m not yet in Nineveh. I am only now beginning to understand the reality of the task set before me. Through my television screen filled with visions of cities all over the world rallying and rising and rioting I am just now learning the enormity of the source sending me. I am stumbling and fumbling and walking slowly and being led by the Spirit and those who have been on the road longer. I’ve been practicing what I will say when I arrive. I’ve begun saying small snippets in places I would have never dared before. I’ve rallied more. I’ve organized more. Staff meetings are different with me around now (thank you for making space for this, Amy Reumann.) I’ve begun saying in larger and larger spaces that the system we’ve built around crime and punishment requires repentance. I’ve been inviting others into the conversation. But we have not yet arrived in Ninevah. There’s still room for you on the road.


Regina Q. Banks lives in Sacramento, CA where she proudly serves as the Director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy- California. She is very active in her community, dedicating most of her free time to organizing public advocacy to support a host of social and political causes. She is a lifetime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (a public service organization) and, when permitted, shares her life with an ill-tempered chihuahua named Ender Jay.


The Emanuel 9, Five Years Later by Rev. Kwame Pitts



White Supremacy Has a Body Count by Elle Dowd


On June 17, 2015, a white man named Dylann Roof entered a historic Black church in Charleston during a prayer meeting and opened fire, killing 9 people and wounding 3 more. Roof did not leave his motive in this shooting to our imaginations. He overtly and explictly espoused white supremacist beliefs and targeted the people of Mother Emanuel Church because of their race and commitment to civil rights.

He drew pictures of a white Jesus in his journal in prison.

I felt my stomach sink when I found out that Roof was raised in an ELCA church. 

I imagine that the church Roof grew up in was full of good and faithful people. From what I know, many people there are horrified about what Roof did. Our church may not have taught him white supremacy directly, but like many of our churches and beloved institutions, it did not do enough to teach him to resist it. His formation within the ELCA was not enough to teach him to recognize the image of God in the people who would become his victims. As a board member for the Euro Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice(EDLARJ), I have had the opportunity to witness the stories of our siblings of color in the ELCA through our partnerships with the many ethnic specific and multi-cultural ministries within our church. Many of the stories of people of color within the ELCA include painful interactions with white church members. As much as we want to hope that racism is something relegated to the past, the truth is that it is widespread and ongoing.

Many of us who are white grew up with the idea that talking about race is impolite or “too political.” We prefer to focus on things we consider “spiritual” in church and ignore the daily lived realities of our siblings of color. Talking about racism is uncomfortable. It is easy to feel defensive as a white person when we are asked to examine our own biases or be honest about the racism our country was built on. But our lack of courage in confronting these issues and our refusal to dismantle racism has real consequences. White supremacy has a body count. Even though we did not pull the trigger on June 17, our complacency as white people has made us complicit, and we have blood on our hands. The Emmanuel Nine is a part of that.

The ELCA has called for June 17 to be a day of Commemoration for the Mother Emanuel Nine, recognizing Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson as martyrs. This commemoration is one step in a process of unlearning our own biases and tearing down corrupt, racist systems. On June 17 we are to remember these victims and to be in prayer, as the Emmanuel 9 were when they were slaughtered.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel who organized alongside Dr. MLK during the Civil Rights Movement has been quoted as saying that when he marched, he felt like his legs and feet were praying. Prayer begins with reflection but true prayerfulness leads to action. Our prayers should lead us into accountability, reparations, and reconciliation. This might look like attending an anti-racism training, getting involved in an issue campaign affecting people of color, or giving financial support to the memorial set up to be built in remembrance of the Emanuel 9.

God asks that we love our neighbor, and love requires justice. Because white supremacy was created for and benefits white people, it is the responsibility of white people to take on the work of unlearning the racism we have internalized as part of our socialization in a racist society. We must actively pursue racial justice, and as white people we have a particular role; to remember, to repair, to right wrongs. Let June 17 be a day we recommit ourselves to this struggle and to loving our Black siblings and in word and deed.

God of All, it is your will for people to be whole and free. We give you thanks for the life and witness of the Emmanuel 9. Grant that their faithfulness may be an example for all of us as we work towards an end to racism in our churches and communities. Remove the barriers that stand in the way of our collective liberation. Put an end to white supremacy and other systems of oppression. Connect us with one another and empower us to build a world where all people are safe and loved. In the name of your Child, Jesus Christ, who lives and liberates with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, an intern at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising.

She was formerly a co-conspirator with the movement to #decolonizeLutheranism and currently works as a community organizer with the Faith and Justice Collective and SOUL, writes regularly for the Disrupt Worship Project, and facilitates workshops on gender and sexuality and the Church in both secular conferences and Christian spaces. Elle is a board member of the Euro Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, an organization that partners with ethnic-specific and multi-cultural ministries in the ELCA.




The Broken Ones by Shari Seifert

White folks – we need to get past the idea that we need to fix white supremacy for other people – that we can be white saviors coming in to save the brown and black folks in our church.  The truth is that we are the ones that are broken.  Now don’t get me wrong – White supremacy DEFINITELY needs to be dismantled in order to improve the lives of our brown and black siblings.  I just don’t want you to get it twisted.  I want you to realize that we too are harmed by white supremacy.  That what we need is collective liberation.  That we are not the savior.  A brown skinned Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus is.

About our brokenness.  We are seriously lacking in empathy.  When we hear about another black body being shot on the news, we wait “to hear the whole story” before we can lament about the situation.  We find some way to justify what was done.  We find some way to assign blame to the victim.  “Well if he wasn’t walking in the street.”  “If he didn’t speak that way to the police.” “Well he shouldn’t have been selling loose cigarettes.” “Well he did have a realistic toy gun in his hand.”  Somehow we have become okay with state sanctioned executions in the street.  Where oh where is our empathy?  White supremacy tells us that objectivity is possible – that emotions shouldn’t play a role in decision making.  All too often we get stuck in our heads and we forget about our hearts.  We rationalize away some pretty awful things.  White supremacy has us do these things.

White supremacy also tells us that we have a right to comfort.  In church.  White supremacy tells us that we have a right to comfort in church. What?!  Jesus was about flipping power structures, lifting up the lowly  – he was executed by the state for standing up for his friends.  Jesus was intensely political.  But we want the church to “not be political”.  We want the church to be comfortable.  We think talking about race is racist.  We wonder if we could just use some words other than “white supremacy”, which after all isn’t really that big of a problem.  So without thinking about it, we have created the equation that white comfort is more important than black lives.  OUCH.  I know  – its a shocking realization.

I know – some of you are probably super mad right now.  You’re mad because you think I am accusing you of being a white supremacist.  You’re mad because you can’t possibly be a white supremacist – you’re a good person – white supremacy tells you that you have to be perfect.  You can’t have some flaw like white supremacy or racism.  The thing is, white supremacy is not so much about you as an individual as it is about this insidious evil system that we are ALL caught up in and that we ALL suffer from – though in different and unequal ways.  The evil genius of white supremacy is that it operates without you noticing or doing anything to keep it in place.  It is so deep and entrenched that we don’t even notice it or realize that we have anything to do with it.

It’s going to take a lot to root white supremacy out of church folks and its going to be hard, but we HAVE to do the work.  Much harm has been done because we have failed to do the work.   (I often wonder what Dylann Roof learned in his church about racism.  I wonder if he had pictures of white Jesus hanging  in his ELCA congregation.  I wonder what role did our denomination play or not play in his formation.) We are going to have to offer each other an ABUNDANCE of grace.  We are going to have to be okay with not knowing what we are doing and forging ahead on faith.  We are going to have to ask other white folks to give up their comfortable positions because the truth is that white comfort is NOT more important that black lives.

Shari Seifert with her friend David Starks together at Calvary Lutheran Church – Minneapolis following the murder of Philando Castile.

The truth is that we are all the body of Christ together and when part of the body hurts, the whole body should feel it.  We shouldn’t wait “to hear the whole story”.  We should feel it with our whole heart.  As Bishop Eaton said tonight – until white folks care about the death of black lives as if they were their own, nothing is going to change.  Can you join me in hoping and praying for the holy spirt to enter our hearts and move us to compassion and to action?  Can you join me in calling for the dismantling of white supremacy?

Bio: Shari Seifert  lives in Minneapolis with her wife, two sons and the cutest Golden Doodle you have ever seen.  She works as a Realtor and  is committed to working towards dismantling white supremacy in the ELCA.  Shari is currently vice-president of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice (EDLARJ),  a member of the Minneapolis Synod racial justice table, her congregation’s Race Equity Committee and Multi-faith Anti-Racism and Healing (MARCH)     She is also on the core planning  team the Multicultural Youth Leadership Experience (MYLE).


Hiding in the Open: White Supremacy on the Great Plains by Kelly France

The ELCA recognizes June, 17 as day of Commemoration of the Emanuel 9 and a Day of Repentance of Racism.  This blog is featured as part of a series to call the ELCA to address white supremacy and racism. To find additional worship materials for June 17, please visit


3 Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.  (Daniel 9:3-6)


I love living and serving as a pastor in rural communities on the Great Plains. I have spent most of my life in this environment, and my family has been part of this landscape for generations. My identity is tied to this place, and that comes with complex realities and shameful truths. Like anywhere in the United States, has been present in this space since the arrival of white people. It takes different forms in different settings, I cannot speak to how it manifests in other rural environments. Rural spaces are not monolithic.


There are, of course, overt displays of white supremacy. People fly confederate battle flags, hang racist symbols in bars while claiming they are, “just being country,” whatever that means. Hate groups hold rallies to intimidate immigrant communities. We have an abundance of statues and landmarks named after men who committed genocide against our indigenous neighbors. Those obvious examples give cover for the quieter, more prevalent, and just as pernicious ways that white supremacy manifests itself into the daily rhythm of our lives.


This landscape is defined by openness. That this openness has tragically created space for my people to hide how white supremacy is alive and well. It is easy not to see migrant workers when they are the only people standing in a field miles from the nearest town or behind the walls of factories processing our food. It is easy to not see the indigenous communities that our presence has forced onto reservations or to ignore the people of color who live in our communities as our neighbors. It is easy to claim that issues facing communities of color don’t affect us because there is just so much space.


The reality is, regardless of how easy it is to look another way white supremacy damages us all. The stories we pass down from generation to generation about how our rugged ancestors came from Europe with nothing.  How they were tough and brave enough to “tame the land.”  Those stories live on in us, a constant nagging sense of inadequacy. These prideful narratives center on white exceptionalism and yields shame that creates a hardness within us and our communities.


As a result we gloss over the honest parts of these stories, where people were faced with a choice of starvation, conscription, or a boat to a place they had never been. We don’t tell how whole communities shared one window so that everyone’s sod home was up to code when it was to be inspected. We exempt the reality that people of color have been present in every wave of immigration to this area. We certainly don’t spend enough time sitting in the discomfortable truth that we live in this vast and beautiful space only because of the systematic extermination and removal of indigenous people.


I love living and serving here. I delight in meeting our new neighbors who much like large parts of my family, have come fleeing dire situations to find some measure of peace. I am honored when I am invited into holy moments where those whose families have been in this space for thousands of years share their experience with me. I have hope that we can stand against this damaging and pervasive narrative. We value humility, let’s commit to taking an honest look at the ways in which we have participated in the oppression of our neighbors. We value steadfastness, let’s commit to the long process of dismantling white supremacy.  We value community, let’s commit to creating a world where those who have been excluded for so long are shown the dignity, justice, and love.

Kelly France is  the interim pastor at Swedlanda Lutheran Church in rural Hector Minnesota. In his ministry he seeks to build communities that address the injustices of white supremacy and religious intolerance in the rural Midwest.  He serves on the board of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice (EDLARJ).