The roots of black Lutheranism in America

Jehu would eventually be sent to Philadelphia to be a missionary to the black community there. He founded St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Center City Philadelphia. He bought the land and started to build with his own money. In 1836, the foundation of a truly free black Lutheran church was laid down in this country. This should have been  the start of our Mother Bethel. This foundational piece of black Lutheran history should have carried the proud tradition of black Lutheranism to the center of our church. So what happened?

What happened was the same thing that always happens: white Lutheran leadership. The story of Rev. Jehu Jones is instructive to a church that screams for diversity and can’t seem to understand why it remains so white. In the basement archives of United Lutheran Seminary, you can read Jehu’s own words. He was never paid. He was constantly under financial pressure, with no help from the Pennsylvania ministerium. Our first black pastor in the Lutheran tradition in America was a mission developer sent to start an ethnic-specific ministry to a stressed people in a large city. That should sound very familiar to us. The response Jehu received from his governing ecclesial body was rife with paternalism, fear, and a total lack of cultural competence. After a while, he was viewed as a failed experiment that for the betterment of the rest of the church and its treasury must be shut down. St. Paul’s assets and land were purchased by the Pennsylvania ministerium and sold off for profit. 

Jehu was never paid. These are the roots of black Lutheranism in America – rotted to the core. This reveals us for who we really are systemically racist.

From “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S.” by Lenny Duncan – Fortress Press

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