Trayvon Martin and the White Christian Leader’s Response

To My White Christian Leader Friends:

For those who are not familiar with who Trayvon Martin is, he is another young black male (a teenager in this case) who has fell victim to a racialized lethal attack while unarmed, by a man who has about 10 years and 100 p0unds on the boy, and who also happened to be carrying a gun during the attack.  The racialized gaze which interprets black male bodies as suspicious and dangerous bodies, played out once more. This time, Trayvon was not armed with a wallet or cell phone (other apparently dangerous looking accessories when  being held by black bodies) but a pack of skittles and a can of soda. Apparently, the man who shot him had called 911 because Trayvon looked “suspicious” and that something was wrong with him. Deciding to ignore the advice of authorities, this vigilante decided to follow the young boy and then proceeded to fatally shoot him. Several witnesses have claimed to have heard the young boy screaming for help right before the gun went off. However, no arrests have been made, and the vigilante is claiming self defense, because this young boy armed with skittles and a soda obviously is a threat to a grown man armed with a gun, who himself decides to follow this child. At the minimum, does not the loss of this child’s life deserve an arrest and a hearing in court?

Black life continues to carry little value within America’s dominant culture. I wish that this was an isolated event, but in reality, with unfathomable regularity, there are these events that remind me over and over again that black bodies and black life are not valued in our country if they are not entertaining America. Simultaneously, I hear directly from many white Christian leaders, who claim that they want to break the pattern of racial division in the Church, not making the same mistakes of their ancestors, and wanting to have a more racially diverse and representative group. While I think all of those things are great, I sometimes wonder if people actually value black bodies and back life, or if it is merely just trendy and cool to have (or at least claim to want) a racially diverse group.

One thing I have noticed, since the few years I have been blogging and using twitter, is that when these racialized tragedies occur, my less pigmented brothers and sisters in Christ tend to often be ridiculously quiet. While many black and brown Christian leaders speak up and out about the senseless violence, (internal and external) very few white Christian leaders have anything to say on the subject matter. In fact, it at least appears as though many are so disconnected from black life, that they are business as usual throughout the tragedy and protest.  The question must be asked, can my brothers and sisters from within the dominant culture expect racial diversity in their communities while they enact no type of solidarity with those who are vulnerable under an unjust system? Restated, how can a person want to be racially inclusive and yet not care about the livelihood of those same people they want to attract? At quick glance, one could see this happen and assume that the outward expression of desiring a multicultural community is really masking the same old racially apathy that has been passed on for generations.

My challenge is for White Christian leaders (particularly those who have stated verbally their desire for racial diversity) to make solidarity with their systemically vulnerable black and brown brothers and sisters, standing with us as we expose and shame these atrocious acts.  Please, research it yourself, then talk about it within your own sphere of influence, deciding how you can best make a stand in solidarity for love, justice, peace, and reconciliation in your communities and nationwide. And for those who have shared their concern, ignore this, this was not meant for you, your solidarity is appreciated.

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Experiencing Racial Prejudice and Institutional Cowardice: The Deafening Noise of Silent Bystanders

An african american friend of mine from Messiah College, who has continued to live in central PA after college recently had a terrible racial encounter with an individual, followed by silence, apathy, and inaction by the establishment that he had visited. While I do not have time or energy to post every racial encounter I hear about (it would be a full time job), I felt particularly compelled to pass his experience forward to you because of the institutional response. Now, I will be clear, every institution has the right to ignore and not respond to racial prejudice, however, when they choose to take that less humane response, I believe it is Christian duty to expose the darkness, shaming both the original perpetrator and the non-action of the business. Marcus is one of the nicest, genuine, and coolest folks around. I applaud his decision to not respond with violence or other abusive words. His nonviolent stance, stands in stark contrast to the violent language of the individual and the business’ silent acceptance of such behavior in their establishment. We can not control what others do in our space, but we can certainly control how we respond to such behavior.

Here is his experience that he passed on to me yesterday (March 13, 2012) at TJ Rockwells in Mechanicsburg, PA.

I went to eat at a local Mechaniscburg restaurant TJ Rockwells yesterday evening. I ended up walking out without finishing my dinner because I had the most racist incident of my life happen to me. I was sitting with 3(white) friends eating a sandwich, when a gentleman yells, “there is a nigger in here.” He proceeded to call me a nigger a few times. Then he kept staring me down as I was trying to simply eat my dinner. My friend walked up and politely asked him if he called me that (just to make sure) and the guy says, “yes, I did”. He was rude to my friend and one of the servers tried to make my friend leave for standing up for me. My friend was very calm and we spoke to the manager who said he would talk to the guy. He did go speak to the guy and after talking to him (outside) he never came back to me to share about his conversation or to even offer an apology. I did see the gentleman eventually leave and his friends in the bar kept staring at me and said, “He’ll be back.” I didn’t want trouble so I left and called the owner, whom is at the Etown establishment. We explained the story to both the hostess and a manager at the Etown establishment and are expecting a phone call tonight. 

I spoke with the owner and he seemed like a decent guy but his explanation of the managers actions were not enough. He told me he spoke with the manager and he (the manager said) he did not apologize to me because he did not do anything wrong. He said it was the customer who made those comments to me so he saw no reason to give me an apology. This is not an acceptable reason to me and it saddens me that the owner has accepted this.

I am doing my best to share my story & inform people of what has happend to me. I will never eat at this restaurant again.

Thanksgiving? (Repost)

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays… it is centered most around family and food, two things I love dearly.  In addition, because of my family”s Christian heritage, we saw it fit to share what we were thankful for… attempting to embody this thing called gratefulness.  But is that really the right posture we ought to have as Christians towards Thanksgiving day?

The central issues that ought be considered have to do with history, memory, narrative, and power. As they say… the winner gets to right the history books.  In this case, it is a warm fuzzy story of indigenous Americans helping the Europeans through a rough start, and them sharing a meal. The picture in my mind just leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy all over.  However, what is not mentioned is that while the natives did in fact show much hospitality, the Western Europeans came and took everything from them.   It is a story of conquest, imperialism, colonization, disease, suffering, loss, and almost complete genocide.

I do not dare suggest that a heart of gratitude is always an appropriate attitude to have at all times.  We ought to be people that give thanks.  But we should also be discerning people who give thanks for appropriate things.  In this case, this “holiday” is a power move by the strong, to narrate history in a way that favors what was done.  I am sure that this holiday is seen as hurtful and insulting to many 1st nations peoples.

This would be like their being a holiday to celebrate how helpful the African indentured servants were in 1619 in Jamestown, and how appreciative the westerners were of their hardwork.  So because of this beautiful collaboration we are going to celebrate Unity Day through large festivities and parties.  If this did exist, I am pretty sure what position I would take in response.  So why is thanksgiving any different?  Well as I write I am heading off to church and then family to “celebrate”.  It must be our apathy towards others that allow us to ignore the sufferings of others.

….Never Forget….

Kenya: Who Am I?

In America black people constantly wrestle with racial identity. As a young black man I have to consciously resist the stereotypes of dominant society, as they attempt to define who I am. Likewise I have to resist dominant society’s portrayals of who they think I ought to be. While that is easily communicated on paper, actually walking the tight rope of identity is difficult. One of the most fundamental questions asked by all of humanity is “Who am I?”  As Christians we go a step further wanting to know who we are in Christ, and how do we reflect the unique aspect of the Imago Dei that has been imprinted upon us.

I do not want to sound cheesy, but being in Africa, spending time alongside my African brothers and sisters was a spiritual, psychological encounter that gave me an even deeper glimpse into myself. It wasn’t merely being in a context where blacks are the majority of the population, because I already have that in the neighborhood where I live (Philly). However, I think it was the knowledge of the fact that I didn’t have to worry about stereotypes or archetypes from white or black folk, but could comfortably be me without judgement. The racial climate doesn’t easily allow for  much of that in America. We must intentionally seek it out, even when it seems subversive to some who think we ought to all assimilate into one bland and uniformed cultural expression, disregarding the diversity created by God.  I believe that the better we truly know ourselves and who we are, the more capable we will be in ministering to others. Kenya was a timely gift.

Kenya: My Cohort

I have been sitting on my Kenya experience for awhile, probably good to share it with you all. Here is my cohort from Biblical Seminary outside Tsavo National Park. I am right in the middle sporting the drifit baby blue shirt and shades.

I love these guys, and there would have been no better team to organize and go to Kenya with than them. Many of us really bonded over the trip, even more than we had previously over the past 3 and a half years.  Everywhere we went in Kenya we were greeted with “Welcome Home!”, which felt good.

Many of us expressed how welcomed we felt while there, in many ways we were more accepted and appreciated there than our home country.  The conflict of what it means to be African and American was something we rapped about after our return. That type of paradox is our history, our legacy. Our ancestors were unfree people in the land of the free. And then we come to Kenya, and felt so welcomed everywhere we went.

Race is something we never avoided talking about in our group, we didn’t always agree on the solution (or even sometimes the problem), but it was all apart of our daily existence and could not be thrown in the closet and ignored. Here in Kenya, race came up more, but even more so colonization. I will have to share more of that in a later post. Stay tuned as I share my experience in Kenya.

White Man’s Religion???

Did you know?

During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African.  Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.

In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria.  It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then.  Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.

Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa.  His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.

While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers.  In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse.  The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it.   Check it out for yourself.

Evangelical Split, Piper Imperialism, & a Search for Postcolonial Christian Expression

Many evangelical bloggers have just finished chiming in on Rob Bell’s new book.  While there have been a couple nuanced positions, overall most have fallen into two camps; conservative modernist evangelicals (especially reformed conservatives) and postmodern missional  evangelicals (especially emerging church leaders).  What I and others realized was that this internet and blogosphere battle that was unfolding really was not about theological and doctrinal difference (even while those tensions do exist), but rather the real underlying issue was a matter of control, influence, and power.

Younger, fresher expressions of church are “emerging” and are winning over many from white America. Simultaneously, the old guard is losing relevance, and feels threatened. Rather than working together as as the Church, imperial and colonial instincts have kicked in as folks gaze upon all the religious authority that could be attained. Domination over American Christian theological direction has quietly been the real story & narrative when you stop and read between the lines.

A war is unfolding and the victor of the war will take over (or continue) as the theological overlords of American mainstream Christian thought. They will be the de facto referees, deciding whether any given theology is in or out of bounds. Therefore these two streams of American evangelical Christian tradition fight over which white male dominated group will inherit the reigns of 21st century Christendom.  At the heart of all this hype is a thirst to reign over the Church, it is not primarily about Rob Bell and his views on heaven and hell.

John Piper jump started everything.  He personally took on the role of theological referee, wanting everyone to know Rob Bell stepped out of bounds. That’s where his “farewell Rob Bell” comes in. To be able to pull off such a ballsy move like that, John Piper must convince American Christendom that he knows the fine line between theological curiosity and theological heresy.  Repeatedly he and many of his conservative reformed entourage have basically claimed that their understanding of God, scripture, and overall theology is indeed truth. They have grasped the universal, neutral, objective, biblical, and fully truthful realities of God and the Bible. In essence, the conservative Christian tradition has arrived and know all there is to be known about truth and God (my assertion and words not theirs). 

via Google Images

Piper does not only use his comprehensive understanding of (his) god to deem people as heretics, but he also uses his knowledge of his apparently small god (one that can be fully explained by finite humanity), to assert divine will over the horrific earthquake in Japan that killed thousands. He offers 5 reasons why God kills thousands of people. Yes in the midst of tragic human suffering, confusion, and pain, Piper decides to boldly assert that God caused the earthquake killing tens of thousands as a warning to repent and to show off his magnificence.  This is a disturbing, ugly, and untimely depiction of God that vandalizes his Image in this world. Whatever happened to “good news” for those struggling?

via Google Images

I can understand why younger white evangelicals would want to break away from this brand of American Evangelicalism. While I can appreciate many of the theological nuances expressed by this zealous group of white 20 and 30 somethings, they have their own set of problems. Before we get too excited about this coming shift in influence over American religious life, we must acknowledge that the practice of hegemony and domination will still continue through these “emerging leaders”. Overall, I have been pleased with the theological shifts being expressed, because they express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church… wanting the Church to be ONE church, which we were called to be.  However, it did not take very long for me to realize that the proclamations and the practices of this group were not lining up. Everything that is done is done to cater to white middle class suburbia. They cater to the priviliged despite affirming Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. As far as hegemony goes, Black and Latino pastors and theologians still continue to be uninvited to the infamous “table” Even these newly formed tables under banners of emergent or missional are starting off on the wrong foot, being almost completely homogeneous. Of course these Evangelical 3.0’s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events. Unfortunately the white control and supremacy over religious life in America is not going anywhere if left on track.

This leaves many black leaders who are open to partnership feeling skeptic about the actual intentions of these young leaders who have all good stuff to say, but no follow through.  Many black christian leaders (fully missional minded) have told me that they have quit trying to join the white dominated table, and instead have determined to create their own table where all people groups are truly welcome.  A table that finds solidarity with the oppressed before it does with Starbucks. A table made up of people that are tired of the colonial and imperial practices of Western European Christian Empire. Such anti-racist, post-colonial Christian communities will not be endorsed by Zondervan or the billion dollar Christian industry. Nope, this movement is taking place on the corners, porches, courts, homes, and church basements of America.
In the end, neither Piper and his peeps, nor Bell and the boys represent me, and billions of other Christians globally.  We have absolutely no stake in this growing feud (that is just heating up in my opinion). No stake, because for many it still leaves us in the same place (except with fewer tokens) of not being heard or taken seriously, and not being treated with dignity as though we lacked the Imago Dei in us.  It is now more than ever that we need to take our attention off of superstars like Rob Bell and John Piper… and begin learning from those who have been crying out from the margins with a very different gospel.  A gospel that is good news to the poor and oppressed.

Negro History Week – Once You Go Black…

Do you know the origins of black history month? it actually started this day (February 7th) back in 1926. It was initiated by Carter G. Woodson who wanted to make a concerted effort to incorporate the accomplishments and history of African Americans in the larger American story. Unfortunately, the black experience was systematically ignored as though black people were invisible and contributed nothing to society.  Well, I guess some things don’t change much, since a few blacks are hyper-visible while the majority of black people continue to live in the realm of dominant societal invisibility.  Anyway, Negro History Week was originally picked because it landed during the week of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Give us an inch and we’ll take a foot, give us a week, hey we are gonna take a month!

Black History: Focusing in on Bonhoeffer???

It could be seen as a bit strange to be focusing in on a white person during black history month, right? After all, the whole purpose of black history month is to finally learn about the experiences, culture, and heritage of black people in a culture that only values white history, culture, and literature.

Nonetheless, today on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday, we briefly stop and remember this man who literally gave his life because of his Christian convictions.  However, I will not spend most of your time on what he did to resist Nazi Germany (which you probably already know), but rather to remember his time in Harlem, NY.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and also attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Very few white Christians in America have been willing to place themselves under black spiritual leadership (the opposite is much more frequent), yet Bonhoeffer did just that and was shaped significantly by those experiences. He not only loved the Negro Spirituals and culture there (which he admitted he did), but he also had his faith impacted dramatically has he began to see life “from below”.  It was here that he  fully grasped the Church’s call to pursue justice and its unfortunate participation and perpetuation of racism and segregation.

So why Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Because he offers a model for what can be. People in the dominant culture can indeed emerge themselves into black culture and community, and more than that… they can actually learn and grow from that opportunity. So, I invite you to take the Bonhoeffer challenge, and immerse yourself in black culture, community, and history this month and see how it might impact you. Let me know if you are up for the challenge.

How will you participate in Black History Month?

While most months of the year our country is consumed in white history and culture, ignoring the contributions and culture of African Americans, February (yes the shortest month) is set aside for the purpose of learning and celebrating African American history and culture. For many this month is only Black History month in name, while in reality everyone just goes on as usual. However this month I invite you to actually be intentional, listening and learning from the rich heritage and history of the black community!

How will you participate in Black History Month?