They’re black. And they’re Lutheran.



Our editorial Friday celebrating Storm Lake’s embrace of refugees contained this offending paragraph: “Mainline Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic Christians have all stepped up to support our new neighbors — whether they’re Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Missouri Synod.” A good Lutheran reader from Schaller didn’t like being lumped in with those non-Christians and demanded an explanation. He passed the editorial around to his friends at church Sunday and they didn’t know what to make of it, either.

Clue: Almost all the Sudanese who first came to Storm Lake identified with the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which has had a strong and deep presence in Sudan since at least 1998. Most of the Sudanese who were resettled in Iowa and Minnesota were helped by either the Missouri Synod (strongest in Norhtwest Iowa) or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, strongest in Minnesota). Many of the Sudanese men I have met in either state were not especially religious — having seen its horrors on full display in a religion- and tribal-based civil war — but were loyal to the Lutheran churches for their life-saving support and advocacy. There’s even a Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation for Sudanese in Des Moines.

Those black people are not Muslim, they most likely are Lutheran.

And we should embrace them along with the Muslim, the Hindu, the agnostic, the Jew and the Catholic, sinners all.

That is the essence of the First Amendment, the essence of freedom.

It also is the essence of Christianity, to always welcome the stranger. To embrace the prisoner. To clothe the naked and feed the hungry.

Not just the white ones. People with big noses. People with curly hair. People who hand out flowers at airports. Everyone.

The guy was sort of put off by the association, and he really was put off when I suggested that he should pull the plank from his own eye and read up on what the Missouri Synod is doing to walk the Gospel with the refugee. (He would find out that the Missouri Synod has done a lot of work trying to reach out to Latinos in Northwest Iowa, who may or may not be here legally.)

It makes me reflect on our own family and how we viewed different people.

One of my brothers dated an Asian woman during the Vietnam War. My mother reminded him that they killed your Uncle Tommy. No bomb was big enough for Japan. The girl was not Japanese.

A guy in Sioux Rapids ground my dad’s calling card beneath his heel during a run for the legislature on the Kennedy ticket. Not because dad was Democrat, but because he was Catholic.

When Dolores was a little girl the several children in the family would divide themselves into the brown-eye camp and the blue-eye camp. I suppose if you had green eyes the two camps would align against you.

Our grandparents would tell us that “he’s one of us,” meaning that he was Irish or Catholic.

It’s difficult seeing past your tribe.

And that is what religion so often becomes, a tribal ritual so naturally human.

If you are for the Jews you are against the Palestinian Muslims. If you are Catholic you do not go near a Missouri Synod church even though their liturgies are almost identical. The Catholics in St. Joe seldom break bread with the Lutherans from Bode and surely not the Methodists in Livermore. And who knows a Muslim, anyhow?

That is the worst of religion, something that seems never to go away despite centuries of ecumenical attempts. Despite the Holocaust.

The editorial attempts to celebrate the best of religion in Storm Lake, which is a deeply religious and oftentimes prejudiced place.

Most Storm Lake Christians want Hindus to succeed right here. They pray for it in church, many of them.

And they don’t really want to drive off all those Latino Catholics.

Or Sudanese Lutherans.

Or that Muslim woman who is so pretty and nice without a hijab who you didn’t know is living here. She doesn’t want you to know because, of course, she is afraid. She is a businesswoman. She has children in school. She is an immigrant from the Middle East.

They’re all trying to walk the same path to freedom and maybe even truth if our dogmas don’t blind them. We would prefer that they see how Christians in Storm Lake are really trying to be Christian by living the Beatitudes. This is America. Not Israel. Not some caliphate. We are Iowans. We are immigrants, all of us. Sometimes we use religion to forget that and to separate ourselves from each other.

Thank God the Missouri Synod embraces the Sudanese in our midst. And that the Catholics are working to bring Myanmar Buddhists to Storm Lake with non-denominational Christians working at The Bridge of Storm Lake. There is a spirit afoot that Sunday gatherings and Monday morning calls do not always reflect.