Huh? A European American Lutheran Association?

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:

Background information on the proposal for the new association said, after more than two decades of discussion, a recent restructuring of the ELCA churchwide organization produced the possibility "for this church to renew its commitment to being a truly multicultural church by having the acknowledged and active participation of all its members as equal partners at the multicultural table.  Prior to this opportunity, those in this church's European American community have not had the structure to journey together with the five ethnic associations."

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 . . .

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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4 Responses to Huh? A European American Lutheran Association?

  1. This is interesting to me. Initally I thought this was for the Slovak-zion synod and some of the more strongly “cultural” lutherans (for example the folk back in Eugene who still remember fondly that Central’s services were in Norweigan)… yeah, the L+L crowd.
    For that reason I didn’t stop and think for a moment that EALA would want folk like me to join! In fact, because of the church I’m doing Field Ed at the AALA folk have asked me to join them…
    Who knows, let’s just trust the national church folk have some clue what they are doing.
    Peace,
    Chris

  2. PS says:

    Although I haven’t had time to study this issue and know the details of the proposal, I have two immediate reactions: Not all Europeans are white, although, obviously, almost all of those who emigrated 100 years ago, etc. were white. Not all Lutherans in the US who are culturally white have white skin. And I dare say, that although many of us still identify as “Norwegian,” “German,” or “Swedish,” for example, few of us have much of that in us culturally anymore these days. I think it would be more realistic, if such a division were needed, to talk about white American Lutherans, or dominant culture Lutherans, or some such, but obviously, that wouldn’t fly.
    I hope this reply doesn’t appear to be racist; I don’t think it is. I’m speaking from the viewpoint of a white American Lutheran in a mixed race family, and from the viewpoint of someone who is supposedly “Norwegian” and “Swedish” who never learned one minute of that culture in my family of origin. It just wasn’t talked about. I learned more of another European group because of the place where I grew up. I also saw first hand, at two Lutheran colleges, the attempt to portray “diversity” by having quite a number of non-white students on campus who were culturally white.

  3. ava says:

    I came across this site by accident looking for European American cultural events.
    I think it is a very important organization. As European Americans come from different National backgrounds, they always retain some links to their cultural heritage. Our country’s celebrations and societal organization is based on European models. There are shared cultural roots among Americans of European descent, that include historical interconnections and culture. For example, the Celts were an important group that disseminated their culture in more than one European site. There is a need for European Americans to have representation at the table all across society rather than being lumped together as an invisible and incoherent “WHITE” culture. Europeans, until very recently, consisted of Caucasian peoples. The recent immigration patterns do not nullify thousands of years of development and genetic roots of these people. Their progeny are here in America and built and contributed greatly to America. Many, especially more recent immigrants, have retained much of their rich culture and social patterns: food, music, marriage customs, religion, and everything else that makes an ethnic group unique and rich. They are in every way the equivalent to more recent non-white immigrants in the quality and distinctiveness of their heritage. While European Americans have intermarried among other groups, by and large, there is often a natural tendency to form intimate ties with those of one’s race and to wish for children who will carry on the traditions and reflect the physical characteristics of one’s family tree.Unfortunately this modest and natural desire has often been confused with the bad term “racism”,a term which goes beyond an awareness of difference to suggest a desire to oppress or a negative view of another race, which it is not, any more than a Mexican american immigrant’s comfort with his own people and preference for continuing his own ethnicity or race by marrying someone who comes from his own background represents a hostility to white, black, or asian peoples. The richness of our distinct and common heritages should not be lost to the future any more than any other race or ethnicities. Diversity is a commitment to live peacefull together and understand each other. Therefore, European Americans need to be seen as an important part of this beautiful colored tapestry as something else than a neutral and colorless “white”. A European American voice will support the rich colors and vibrant uniqueness and diversity within the European immigrant community and the European American forbears who paved the way for us all in America.’Peace and love to you all. Ava from NY

  4. Sam says:

    We’ll take the Norwegians, Germans and Swedes, but NO IRISH! (reference to Blazing Saddles)
    I was born in the United States and learned in history class that we are a nation of mutts, aka melting pot. Groups and sub-groups, the more the merrier. Perhaps the Left Handed Lutheran Association, if their Right Handed Batter committee approves, will also join the ELCA.
    OK, the Irish can come too.

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