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Will We Make a Difference or Stop at Outrage?

It has been more the rule than the exception through the last six months or so that our world, national and local news has focused on one unbelievable human atrocity after another; with a seemingly endless ability to trump the previous week’s painful emotional impact.  The capstone of this last week was the criminal case of the Philando Castile murder ending in an acquittal of the police officer who shot him.

I am hopeful that the jury was operating in good faith when they returned the verdict.  For many in the greater Twin Cities and other communities, however, the acquittal can be extrapolated to a society in which police officers can kill people of color without facing adverse consequences within the justice system.  A conviction was unlikely to materially change the lack of equitable justice afforded people of color who are abused, tortured and killed by our policing system and courts, but it might have signaled the beginning of some broader changes.

There was a point in my late teens or early 20’s when I stopped focusing on the failures of my parents as the source for my varied distresses and I began to recognize that as an adult I had a primary responsibility for creating my own experiences in life.  I recognize now that some of my enlightenment in this vein was a result of Privilege – through my whiteness, maleness, straightness, access to education and financial resources, membership in a community of faith, etc.  But waiting for the government or courts to solve the challenges of racism and hatred is a bit like waiting for my parents to solve all of my problems as a teenager.  We need to make these changes in our communities.

Our communities and nation are drawing up sides for a modern day civil war.  The sides are not the geographic north and south, or even red and blue states; but those who are privileged vs. those who are denied even basic human expectations in a democratic society.  We have a choice to make about the roles we play in the battles that are likely.  Do we stay safe within the hallowed halls of our Seminary and churches or do we use our power to serve others? 

When students arrive back on campus for the summer term or the upcoming fall beginning of the academic year will they find a United verbally irate about the challenges of our world, using big words and glorious narratives to express outrage; while from afar coaching those in pain to fight harder?  Or will they find a Seminary prepared to actively lead the Church and all God’s People to a better life?

Are our students’ projects a rehashing of wise theses of others or are they using that wisdom to strategize ways that today’s Church and people of faith might make a real difference in shaping a better, more equitable less painful community for all?

Our relevance as a seminary and our partners in the leadership of the mainline communities of faith will be judged by future historians by how much we are focused on our own survival vs. how effective we are at working to create a Beloved Community.

I would challenge each and every one of us to ask how we could use our strengths to make a meaningful difference in our world!

Often, we spend time bemoaning the fact that fewer students are attracted to church and theological education than in previous decades.  Is it possible that we are so focused on sustaining the historic church that we miss the irony of our virtual red caps that seem to say Make the Church Great Again, to those we might otherwise attract? 

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Dr. Lewis P. Zeidner

Dr. Lewis P. Zeidner is the President of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

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