Lenny Duncan – Dear Church

This is possibly one of the most passionate books I’ve read in a long time – the subtitle was “A love letter from a black preacher to the whitest denomination in the U.S.”, and that’s exactly what it felt like – a love letter.

A book that raises as many potentially ‘controversial’ points as this one could easily be seen as provocative and argument-starting, but the whole book is written from a point of love.

But love doesn’t mean you accept everything about someone, and this book is a huge challenge specifically to the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) but really to all of us.

A huge part of the book deals with issues around racism, but it also steps into other areas like LBGTQIA+ discrimination and toxic masculinity.

There were so many lines that shook me and made me stop to let it sink in. I’ll try not to share them all or I’d probably be sued for plagiarism, but one line that particularly struck me was this:

“White discomfort is not worse than experiencing racism as a black person.”

Talking about our failings (personally and corporately) can and will be uncomfortable, but it’s not worse than the alternative which is allowing racism to continue unchecked.

“Most folks aren’t actively racist but you are passively participating in the spiritual and economic enslavement of every person of colour in this church”

Duncan wrote a really good section on how even though we may not be actively racist against people in our congregation, we’re doing it without even trying.

“You don’t have to call me nigger. You don’t have to tell me that black lives don’t matter. All you have to do is do what the Lutheran church has been doing for five hundred years. Introduce me to Jesus. He looks nothing like me, so I’m left thinking he can’t possibly be for me. If he looks like all the folks who have, in fact, told me that black lives don’t matter, how can I trust that he believes my life matters?”

We need to do better as a church at not white-washing the bible. This may be hard for some to let go of, but the fact remains that Jesus wasn’t white. We do ourselves no favours when we depict him as white on our church walls and in our sunday schools.

In the section titled “Grace is an ever-widening circle”, Duncan says:

“Jesus wants us to love everyone. I’m constantly surprised and disappointed by how radical that statement seems to be. Are we that far adrift from what happened on the cross? The cosmos was shattered that day. The entire universe was thrown on its ear and the gates to the kingdom were thrown open.”

“When we exclude our LGBTQIA siblings, we become more and more like the world. Queer inclusion means that we are becoming more Christ-like, not the other way around. LGBTQIA inclusion is exactly what Jesus is doing. Jesus proves over and over again that who we think is the outsider is actually the insider.”

I’ve had this book on my wishlist since it came out and I seriously wish I’d read it before. It is definitely the kind of book that will need multiple readings – there’s just so much packed into its 150 pages, but man was I floored by so many points. Intensely personal, but deeply challenging, I think it’s a must read.

I’ll leave you with this final quote, which seems particularly apt right now as all our churches are closed for another lockdown.

“Right now, the world needs more Jesus people than it needs church people. If our gathered communities focus only on propping up the institution of church, all we will accomplish is propping up the failing infrastructure of empire. If we applied that same energy toward serving the people outside our church walls, we could be the spark needed to light the flame that burns away the barriers between us and the ever-living God – a God who stands ready to hold us in a warm embrace after generations of weeping for us to be in relationship with God’s own self.”

Seriously, if you want to be challenged about how you see the church, read this book.

My rating: 5Average rating: 4.41
158 pages. Published in: 2019
Read in Paperbackon 9th-11th November 2020

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