Racial Equity and Justice Newsletter

Monday, April 19, 2021

This Racial Equity and Justice Newsletter is a resource for sharing information and opportunities related to racial diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Lutheran Services in America network. If you would like to submit resources or have questions, please contact Caitlyn Gudmundsen.

We mourn alongside the family and friends of Daunte Wright and are heartbroken by yet another killing of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police. We pray for Daunte's loved ones, for the far too many families who have experienced similar tragedy, and for justice and healing within our nation.


Lutheran Church Bodies on Race in the United States

To quote Desmond Tutu, “Reconciliation is really the heart of the Gospel message…Christians have no option. In the face of racism they must stand up and be counted as part of a determined and passionate opposition. Not to oppose this evil is indeed to disobey God.” Both the ELCA and LCMS have stood up and made official statements rejecting systemic racism. Lutheran Services in America applauds their response and challenges ourselves and the entire Lutheran social ministry network to continue to respond boldly and faithfully at every instance of injustice and oppression.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture expresses the ELCA’s calling to celebrate culture and ethnicity.  This calling commits the ELCA to confront racism, to engage in public leadership, witness and deliberation on these matters, and to advocate for justice and fairness for all people. The statement is grounded in the conviction that the church has been gathered together in the joyful freedom of the reign of God as announced by and embodied in Jesus. That reign has not come in its fullness, but the message of God's yes to the world breaks down all dividing walls as we live into that promise.

In daily life, cultural, ethnic and racial differences matter, but they can be seen and celebrated as what God intends them to be – blessings rather than means of oppression and discrimination. We are a church that belongs to Christ, where there is a place for everyone. Christ’s church is not ours to control, nor is it our job to sort, divide, categorize or exclude. This statement was adopted by the 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Read more about the ELCA's commitment to confronting racism here.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS)

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod condemns racism and asks its members to combat it in the Church and in society, as recorded in eight convention resolutions.  As the 1992 resolution states, racism is contrary to God’s Word and a sin against Him. Synod by-law 2.3.1 (a) states:

“It shall be the policy of the Synod to decline membership to congregations whose constitutions deny membership or other congregational privileges to any Christian because of race or ethnic origin.” These resolutions and the truth they reflect are accurate reflections of the teachings of Holy Scripture. The testimony of God’s Word presents humanity as united in the Fatherhood of God (Eph. 3:14–15) and His provision for all His creatures (Matt 5:45). Primary in His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy is the gift of His Son Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Read the LCMS statement after the murder of George Floyd here.

Preliminary Findings from the LSA Survey on Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We surveyed the LSA network to gain an understanding of what efforts to address systemic racism are underway, as well as what racial diversity looks like in Lutheran social ministry organizations. If you have not yet completed this brief survey, we invite you to do so here.   

The preliminary results

  of respondents said their Lutheran social ministry organization has programming of some kind to promote racial diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Based on the best data available:

We heard your passion and enthusiasm for this work and will take what we've learned from you in this survey to develop intentional, ongoing programming to strengthen Lutheran social ministries as we engage in this journey together. 

Addressing Racial Disparities in Vaccine Access and Uptake

Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Cases, Deaths, and Vaccinations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting demographic characteristics, including race/ethnicity, of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at the national level. As of early April, CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for just over half (55%) of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, nearly two thirds were White (65%), 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, while 9% reported multiple or other race. The data are indicating that Black and Hispanic populations account for a disproportionately high percent of COVID-19 cases and deaths, but a disproportionately low percent of vaccinations. Explore the latest data on COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations race/ethnicity by state from KFF here

The Importance of Data

Though the federal government has prioritized specific groups for vaccination, each state is responsible for its allocation of vaccines, as well as tracking and reporting vaccination data. The decentralized process has led to significant diversity in what data are available by state, and more complete data is crucial in understanding the full picture of disparities in vaccine distribution. The Biden Administration has identified equity as a key priority in its vaccination plan, and many states have followed suit, taking action based on early data to address inequitable distribution. About half of states are reportedly using CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) or similar resources in their vaccine allocation strategies. Governors are using those indices to understand which communities are typically underserved or disproportionately affected by the pandemic so they can reserve doses for those communities and establish call centers and texting options for securing appointments.

Vaccine Hesitancy 

Vaccine hesitancy affects all demographics, but historical abuses and institutional racism play a role in vaccine hesitancy among populations of color. Building trust between the healthcare industry and people of color is critical, and Sherita Golden, vice president and chief diversity officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine says one way to rebuild confidence is “by working strategically with elected officials, community leaders and religious leaders to convey accurate and essential health messages, including information about the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Many of you in the Lutheran Services in America network are working to address vaccine hesitancy in your own communities. For up-to-date information on the COVID-19 vaccine and resources on messaging, visit https://lutheranservices.org/covid-19-vaccine.  

CDC on Racism and Health

CDC published a webpage to examine how racism is a serious threat to the public’s health. The data show that racial and ethnic minority groups, throughout the United States, experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their white counterparts. The COVID-19 pandemic, and its disproportionate impact among racial and ethnic minority populations is another stark example of these enduring health disparities.

Spotlight on a Member: Lutheran Social Services of New York

2021 Micah Award Winner

The Micah Award recognizes a member organization that is leading the way in its work in addressing justice, mercy and equity. This member’s leadership in race equity, inclusion and diversity is truly inspirational and best exemplifies the spirit of Micah 6:8, “Act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” The 2021 Micah Award recipient is Lutheran Social Services of New York.

Following the death of George Floyd, Lutheran Social Services of New York transformed its services to incorporate social justice practices to better serve its communities. In so doing, LSSNY upended the status quo by shifting from a social service organization to a social change organization.

Change first began with members of the staff, who exchanged ideas with one another on important issues such as colorism, white supremacy, educational privilege, language, and the role of nonprofits for people in need.

Leadership also discussed issues of social justice and systemic racism with members of the board of directors. In addition, the transformation included the creation of a Civic Engagement Committee, political candidate forums, and a strategic plan that positions LSSNY as an effective catalyst of social change, collaborating with others to dismantle the effects persistent with poverty and social injustice.

Learn more about the inspirational work of Lutheran Social Services of New York.