Growing up unchurched in an abusive environment, which led to homelessness and eventual incarceration, Lenny Duncan is perhaps the unlikeliest of pastors. But that didn't stop him from becoming a black preacher in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the whitest denomination in the US. Now, in his new book, Dear Church, he seeks to root out and dismantle the white supremacy that's infected many aspects of church life and show how to make constructive changes that would help persons of color to feel more welcome. By linking in aspects of his own past attitudes, he demonstrates how change is possible and how more diversity is a good thing. Part clarion call for transformation and part love letter to the church, Rev. Duncan presents a bold new vision for the future of the faith.
Dear Church was chosen as our latest book club read. It's part love letter to the church and part clarion call for change within the church on issues surrounding diversity. When I saw that Nadia Bolz-Weber had blurbed the book and that her quote on the front cover was, "I dare you to read this book," I was immediately intrigued. Having just recently read one of Rev. Bolz-Weber's books, I knew that if she was endorsing Dear Church, it most likely had to be good and I wasn't disappointed. I also know now why she said that, because Rev. Duncan's writing style isn't unlike hers. It's filled with bold statements that are meant to get people thinking and hopefully change hearts and minds, but at the same time, it's a tender love letter that conveys just how much he genuinely loves the church. As flawed as the church may be when it comes to certain aspects, it's where Rev. Duncan finally found peace and purpose in his life and he just wants to make it better for people like himself.
The book is written specifically to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination to which Rev. Duncan belongs, but honestly I think the message could apply to pretty much every church denomination, as all the ones I've been a part of in my lifetime have similar diversity issues. The author contends that this is largely a theological one and not a sociological one. He spends nearly the entire first half of the book discussing how white supremacy has infiltrated many aspects of church life to the point that most white people don't even realize it. So as a rare person-of-color (POC) clergy within the ELCA, he's calling them out and challenging them to make changes, even if it means reimagining certain parts of the liturgy or eliminating certain hymns and traditions. If it's harmful or offensive in any way toward POCs, then it should go. He also discusses what steps the church might make in order to repent, reconcile, and make reparations going forward. Additionally he discusses the dissonance of both himself and Dylann Roof, the white supremacist, mass-shooter who targeted a black church, coming from the same denomination.
Dear Church isn't just about racial relations and the church, though. As a self-described queer person, Rev. Duncan devotes an entire chapter to the need for the church to be more welcoming of our LGBTQIA siblings. I also especially liked the chapter on toxic masculinity. I appreciated the author's honesty in admitting that he's been guilty of this type of behavior in the past, but that he's now working hard to overcome that and calling on other men to do the same. I think it's wonderful that he's taking a stand for women/femmes. He additionally discusses the rise of white nationalism under the current presidential administration. Then he wraps everything up by showing how the church can and should lead the way forward on all these issues.
I very much enjoyed reading Dear Church, and wholeheartedly agree with it's messages. I sensed Rev. Duncan's personality shining through his words. At times, I felt like I was in his church, hearing a bold, fiery sermon, and while he doesn't mince words on the issues covered, his message is one that inspires rather than tearing down. At other times, I felt wrapped in a warm, loving embrace as he unabashedly expresses his love for the church and for God's people. I hope readers will pick up this book, check their privilege at the door, and take all of his words to heart, while pledging to do better in the future. I know that's what I'm going to do.
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