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Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US Kindle Edition
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From the Publisher
Dear Church includes chapters like:
- Dismantling White Supremacy and the Power of the Gospel
- The Roots Are Infected
- Dylann Roof and I are Lutheran
- The Church Is Queer
- Toxic Masculinity Is Killing Us
- Resisting Nationalism Is the Way of Jesus
- It’s Time for a Revolution
An Inside Look at Lenny Duncan’s Dear Church
Excerpt from the Introduction: How the Hell Did We Get Here?
"Church, somewhere along the way, we started to believe what the world was saying about us. That we—a denomination rooted in the reformation that birthed so much variety in Christian expression and practice—aren't part of one of the most powerful social movements in human history."
An Inside Look at Dear Church
About the Author
Lenny Duncan is author of Dear Church, and Mission Developer Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA. Formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, and formerly unchurched, Duncan is now a sought-after speaker and writer on topics of racial justice and the role of the church in the twenty-first century.--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B07NSFXF3F
- Publisher : Fortress Press (July 2, 2019)
- Publication date : July 2, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 450 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 168 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
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- #357 in Social Issues & Christianity
- #444 in Discrimination & Racism (Kindle Store)
- #1,407 in Christian Social Issues (Books)
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Second, there are major flaws. He is basically just preaching to the choir, has no real plan for reaching anyone who disagrees with him, and despite his insistence that race is a theological problem, his theology is poor, and he twists it into whatever fits his radical idea of what inclusive should mean.
The biggest flaw is a confusion of law and gospel, as so much often is. My fellow liberal Christians are making this mistake more and more, by equating their views of social justice with the gospel. Duncan often treats grace and the gospel as synonymous with political liberation. No matter how important politics may be, we should not let them cross the eschatological line. It is especially ironic when he says no one should have to apologize in church, and then proceed to explain how we all need to repent and pay reparations. Like so many liberal Christians, Duncan tells us to judge not, and then spends his book raking us over the coals. What he really seems to mean is that only he is allowed to judge, and the rest of us have to fall in line, without offering our own corrections.
Forgiveness, and forgiveness only, is what brings the Kingdom. No matter how imperative social justice may be, justice is the opposite of grace. As Nadia Bolz-Weber says, her far-left politics are just another way of separating people into the good box or the bad box, whereas grace is when Jesus unites you to people in the bad box. To his credit, in other passages, he clarifies his grace-alone faith and even his belief in baptizing someone before they have made a "decision for Christ" (because it's about Christ's decision for us!). But in many other passages, Duncan blurs this line between the gospel and justice far too often, as if they are both tools for establishing his vision of worldly harmony. To be sure, we uphold the law as absolutely imperative - but we must make it clear that the gospel is separate.
Dunca's books does nothing to explain why we are segregated, other than to pin it on the personal racist tendencies that conspire throughout the church to create "systemic" racism. While I don't doubt this is true, it actually lets us off the hook too easily. When I see my dying urban Lutheran congregation, segregation seems to be a big reason that it's being left out to dry. The whites fled to the suburbs, and there was no attempt to attract immigrants or blacks. But this segregation is too deep and widespread to be explained by individual racism, or Jim Crows far away in the South.
I read another book alongside this one, "Color of Law" by historian Richard Rothstein. I hope everyone reads it, because without a better history lesson on race, our discussions will quickly descend into rancor. Rothstein makes a solid case that laws at all levels of government, throughout the past century, in the North and the South, were the main cause of the segregation we still see in our cities. If we make it all about whether or not we personally are racist, as Duncan does, we ignore the more significant forces that created segregation. Unlike Duncan's book, I can recommend Rothstein's without reservation.
Duncan's argument is also blunted by invoking the cliche bogeymen of capitalism and gentrification. These words are vague, and always seem to mean everything and anything a progressive doesn't like about the economy. They are unhelpful. Especially since desegregation will involve complex solutions - certainly more housing assistance, but also less government regulation of housing. As Rothstein aptly shows, if the market was not restricted by racist laws, we would have made quick progress towards integration in the 20th Century. Government was much more of a problem than whatever is meant by capitalism.
And I feel throughout this text that Duncan is really not willing to listen to opposing viewpoints - his forceful message is uncompromising, for better or for worse. In some moving passages, he is very genuinely asking for your friendship and help. But in others, it seems that for him, it's tear down your white painting of Jesus or you are a racist, period. Is there really no room for discussion? No room for traditional European sentiments? He seems to expect whites to genuflect and clear the floor to every whim of the woke/progressive leaders who claim to be cleansing the temple of white supremacy. Not only is this presumptuous, but pretty dismissive of the treasured European traditions. In one line he seems to endorse polyamory, as if doing so is a matter-of-course step in being welcoming. Also, he tells you to look up "Assata," and I learned she was a robber and probably a murderer and definitely not a Christian. Is it okay if I'm skeptical of comparing her to John of Patmos? Like really skeptical? Or does that just make me a racist?
A low point of the book is when he insists that the symbolism of darkness and light in liturgy is racist. His appeals and personal stories are very moving, so it's difficult to disagree, but agreeing is impossible. White supremacy is not the reason we traditionally equate darkness with evil. A much likelier theory is that we are unable to see anything in the dark, hence light being preferred. A light in the darkness is a more universally understood symbol as I could possibly think of.
So much of his approach is a non-starter. At many points, he doesn't seem to want to share the church with whites so much as he wants to be a martyr in a pure cause.
So much of this criticism that I'm writing is probably completely unfair and I may just be misunderstanding. Maybe I'm not appreciating just how amazing it is that a black man like him would write this book that's remarkable and moving in many ways. But this is how it came across to me. And I'm a straight white guy who is interested in learning and understanding more about these issues. I'm the target audience. And between the two books, the Rothstein is the approach to racism that simply tells it well in a way that hit me hard. Rothstein made me feel deeply convicted, angry, informed, and repentant. Duncan had less success with his book.
This being said, I shouldn't expect this kind of book to be perfect in my view, and I welcome Duncan as a valuable voice. I pray that by conversation and prophetic courage we can achieve his goal of an integrated church.
It is a passion and plea book and a "wake-up" call for this almost all-white church. However, I would have loved him to go deeper ESPECIALLY when he states numerous times that this is a theological issue/problem in our church. To me, that is a very BIG hypothesis. Show us data, show us research, dive deep into scripture and our theology to show, but it did not occur.
Most of the book seemed to be personal and as I read it, I keep thinking this was more of an endorsement essay not a book on racism. In fact, I think this was more of a story of redemption than racism. In itself, that is not a bad thing and maybe even a GREAT thing if that was the central-theme of the book.
I was leaning to one star but that seems to be very cruel even if a book is a train wreck. I "leaped" to two stars because the last two chapters where he made his passion plea was good/emotional.
On to look for a book that truly tackles racism.
Pastor Lenny Duncan's jeremiad towards the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is timely and necessary. Among the issues he raises, from sexuality to violence to dismantling racism and white privilege, I think the most pressing is the bankruptcy of modern capitalism. Curiously, this is the topic that receives the least amount of attention within his work (pp. 32-33, 138). In my opinion, little change can occur until a revolution in the political economy takes place--and few observers are holding their breath for such an event.
I do have two specific criticisms regarding the content of the book: 1) Rev. Duncan categorizes some of the Lutheran 'original' ethnic groups in curious ways (pp. 18, 65, 78), separating Norwegians out from Scandinavians when Norwegians are Scandinavians, and specifying Germans and Swedes without any reference to Danes, Finns or Icelanders, much less Latvians, Estonians or Hungarians. It contradicts his theme of cultural diversity to lump all of these groups together, when they are different ethnic extractions and language groups--they may not seem like it to some observers, but just ask the people! (I have served in Sweden and in a Finnish-American congregation).
2) Rev. Duncan makes an odd reference when he states that "The Sunday after the 2016 election, the prescribed reading was the Beatitudes from the book of Matthew." (p. 124). The prescribed reading was not the Beatitudes, but Luke 21:5-19, an apocalyptic text. The apparent error wouldn't be significant on the face of it, except that Rev. Duncan weaves part of his narrative around it, citing reactions of "parishioners across the country" to the scripture that was not the appointed one for that day.
I applaud Rev. Duncan for his vehemence and passion. I do suggest a more careful avoidance of stereotypes, and perhaps enhanced editorial support in the future.