The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is forming within its structure a European American Lutheran Association (EALA) to work alongside various other culturally-specific Lutheran associations (Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, etc.). Their first gathering is to take place later this month.
Two years ago this association was first announced. In the initial press release dated November 16, 2006, the case for an association for European American Lutherans was made:
Two years ago I strongly critiqued the need for an association of white Lutherans. Two years later, I still struggle to see the wisdom behind this decision. I like that in its foundational documentation (see the Preable: document is a PDF) the EALA recognizes White Privilege and the historical access to power that European Americans have enjoyed at the expense of other ethnic groups. But . . . does placing a group for white Lutherans along side groups for Latino, Asian, Black and other Lutherans dilute the presence of ethnic minorities at the "multicultural table" of an overwhelmingly white denomination?
Perhaps this reflects a new model for multicultural ministries. Perhaps in the past the multicultural ministry table was more of a place for ethnic minorities to gather for mutual support, and to organize and advocate for greater churchwide attention to issues related to ministry among minority cultural groups (almost, sadly, as a lobbying function within their own church).
If a table for cultural minorities within an overwhelmingly white church is no longer the model, perhaps this new model in which all cultures – minority and majority together – gather around an intentionally multicultural table seeks to reduce any sense of opposition or struggle and instead unite the groups in a common – rather than adversarial – discussion. Perhaps.
I'm just not sold on it, and nothing I've read in press releases or on the ELCA website convinces me that this is a good idea. I fear a few possibilities:
- that the EALA will become a gathering place for sincerely culturally aware white people. Generally speaking, these people are already getting together for anti-racism trainings, are already serving in cross- and multi-cultural ministries, and are already active in raising the awareness among white folk of their power and priveledge. The EALA might better organize them, but otherwise it won't do much more than simply gather like minded people who already know each other.
- that the EALA will become a gathering place for white folk who think they're culturally aware, but who will make fools of themselves at the "multicultural table." Think of dumb American tourists in France or Mexico. Enough said.
- that the EALA will become a place for the celebration of lederhosen and/or lutefisk in the mistaken notion that European American culture is under attack by a multiplicity of minority cultural initiatives (ie, a backlash against bilingual hymns in our hymnal, for example).
- that with a new association for "European Americans" the ELCA – and its white majority – will actually become less concerned than it already is with issues of culture, race and oppression, now that European American Lutherans have a seat at the multicultural table. White Lutherans might actually begin (or simply continue) to believe (wrongly) that our church is culturally neutral, that cultural issues only come up at the multicultural table.
- that some newspaper will run a headline: Overwhelmingly White Lutherans Establish Organization for White Lutherans.
Well, those are my fears. I don't get the point of the EALA. I would love some more history, back room conversation transcripts, churchwide assembly resolutions, and other background information about the initiative that led to the creation of the EALA. It all just seems a bit odd, and perhaps culturally reactionary.
But I also trust that the folks at our churchwide headquarters are smarter than me – I know a few people out there, and indeed the ones I know are quite intelligent and gifted leaders – and that they know what they are doing. I just hope that they'll let the rest of us know . . .