The following post was first given as an opening to the Candlelight Vigil for Peace and Love at the Winneshiek County Courthouse on Aug. 20, 2017.
I am grateful to gather with all of you tonight. I bring greetings on behalf of the Luther College community and President Paula Carlson, who is traveling this weekend and sends her support and solidarity as we gather to stand against racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms. Tonight we gather to share the fire of justice, the light of compassion and the kinship of shared commitments to speak and act against racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. There are pastors, ministers, leaders and representatives of many faith traditions and commitments gathered here tonight. That’s a gift. Neo-Nazis may have torches—we have the light.
Pastor David Lose is the primary author of a statement against white supremacy that is being circulated online. Here are excerpts from the petition.
Statement of Lutheran Clergy Rejecting White Supremacy, Terrorism, and Violence
We the undersigned, as Lutheran pastors and other Lutheran leaders who believe that God’s grace is for “all tribes and peoples and languages,” publicly condemn white supremacy as well as terrorism of every kind.
As Lutheran clergy, we recognize our tradition’s difficult history regarding racism and bigotry. Some, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were quick to respond to and oppose the rise of Nazism in mid-twentieth-century Germany. Others responded over time. Still others sacrificed their faith to nationalistic fervor that betrayed the inclusive nature of the Gospel and became complicit with oppression and violence. Similarly, we are poignantly aware of Martin Luther’s vision of the expansive nature of God’s love for the world and his contradictory and painful failure to apply that vision to all people, resulting in hateful and destructive attacks against his Jewish neighbors. In North America, some Lutherans supported slavery of African Americans, white supremacy, and oppression of Native Americans.
For this reason, we recognize that we are not perfect witnesses against white supremacy and terrorism. Nevertheless, in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville and the ominous rise of white supremacy nationally, we feel called to state as clearly and forcibly as possible our unequivocal opposition to racism and bigotry, our condemnation of hate-based violence, and our commitment to work strenuously for greater acceptance and equality in our congregations and communities.
… we call upon all leaders – religious, civic, and corporate – to speak out in the clearest of terms to oppose racism, bigotry, and violence whenever and wherever it may happen. Neither our words nor our actions will be perfect, and we will fall short of ideals. Yet speak and act we must, once more dedicating ourselves to the cause of giving "bigotry no sanction [and] persecution no assistance."
Some local history offers wisdom for this gathering. Luther College in began in 1861 with a surprising kick-start. When the Norwegian Lutheran Synod assembly met in June of 1861 they agreed to purchase land in Decorah, Iowa, to start a new college. The Civil War began that April so it was a challenging time to make such a commitment. The pastoral leaders at the assembly had a plan to continue sending students to St. Louis for seminary studies and wait a few years until resources could be gathered for buildings at the new Decorah campus. When the laypeople learned that the St. Louis Seminary taught a Biblical defense of slavery they offered a counter motion. They surprised the assembly by carrying a motion to start up Luther College post haste. The empty parsonage at Halfway Creek Lutheran Church in Wisconsin was offered as a temporary campus. So in June of 1861 the Norwegian Lutheran Synod decided to accelerate the plan and start Luther College in Sept. 1861. Luther College’s beginnings are tied to resistance against racism and the injustice of slavery. You can read about this in Theodore Blegen’s book, Norwegian Migration to America, vol. II, chapter 14.
This story tells us that the struggle for justice and the fight against racism is deep in the roots of Northeast Iowa. It's part of our collective DNA. We need to summon and embody this legacy of fighting racism so that we can speak and act with clarity to assure that acts of bigotry and racial hatred will not be tolerated in the Luther and Decorah communities.
We are in time when moral clarity is needed. There is no moral equivalency between racists and neo-Nazis and Americans who gather to oppose hatred, racism and bigotry.
I’ll close with a bit of poetry from the prophet Isaiah. You could call these verses part of a prophetic justice poetry slam. Isaiah spoke at a time needing moral and spiritual clarity. The prophet offered poetry that binds faith with justice and summoned the community to resist oppression and stand in solidarity with those who suffer. I offer Isaiah's words as prayer and blessing that agitate for the greater good.
6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…(Isaiah 58:6-8)
May the light of this gathering also break forth like the dawn. And together we say, AMEN.
 Norwegian Migration to America, Theodore Blegen, vol. 2, chapter XIV, The Slavery Controversy and the Church, Norwegian-American Historical Association, Northfield, 1940