Strengthening the Black Voice at the multi-ethnic table.


Ferguson, Part 3: Power and Privilege Among Evangelicals

Good Ole American History
We Americans take great pride in our history. I remember learning about the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, and great presidents like Abraham Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys. Slavery and Civil Rights were also included in one quick chapter, with references only to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Apart from those two, most of the people that were impactful to US history were white—or so I was taught. Middle and high school history books continued the typical American narrative, celebrated Dr. King and his leadership as though the country was always in support of him, championed our great nation for its desire to end slavery. A few books mentioned American slavery not being that bad. My freshman year of college at the University of Texas at Austin, my history professor literally said in class, “Black people were better off as slaves; they received housing, food, and care.” She recanted very quickly when she saw the rage building in my eyes and the eyes of my black classmates.

Learning about Black History in America
That rage was building because what I learned in history class and what older Black people told me didn’t align. It is incredibly interesting that there are radically different interpretations of history. Granted, history is not a record of everything that has ever happened, but rather a record of the major events that changed the course of humanity.

Winston Churchill remarked years ago, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.” It took me a few years to wrap my mind around white supremacy and white privilege, but the way in which we tell history is a very clear example. From the founding of the country, right up until the present, most of it is told from the dominate culture perspective. This would be perfectly fine if people from other ethnic groups weren’t also writing, or if the dominate interpretation of history included the ramifications of colonialization (read destruction of pre-existing communities), but it doesn’t.

American history is told from a privileged perspective, and so is much of Western evangelical theology.

Learning Christian Theology Mirrors Learning American History
I was raised in a Black Baptist church. It introduced me to the Bible, and the God of the Bible. The people looked like me, sang songs that resonated with my soul, and served as a model for Christian community. When I came to college, and my faith became serious. I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship through a Black student chapter, and I eventually came on staff with IV, but through it all, I have noticed something wasn’t right.

Words like “evangelical,” “theology,” “ecclesiology,” and “eschatology” were being passed around as common as conjunctions in sentences. At first, I thought I simply needed to learn the language of the faith or the organization. (That Black church I grew up in was big on discipleship, evangelism and missions but they didn’t use the language my InterVarsity peers were using.)

I felt compelled to learn “theology,” so I started reading. Recently, I enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary to enhance my theological framework…and it happened again.

Every single theologian we are reading about is white.

Not just white, white and male.

My Christian theological education is mirroring my education in American history—it’s consistently and mostly told from the perspective of the dominate culture, which sadly automatically means the marginalization of people of color. I am a firm believer in learning from people who are different than myself—I think that’s true wisdom. However, I am perplexed when theologians of color are omitted but [racist] writers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel are mandatory. “Negroes are inferior to whites,” and “the human race is perfected in whites” are recorded beside their philosophy and theology, and they are not alone. I have asked in my professors about racism in theology and their responses have been largely the same, “Yes, much of Christian theology has been written from the perspective of white men, and we need other voices.”

With the exception of James Cone—and even he is presented with disclaimers—theologians of color are largely omitted. It’s odd that Black people, Black Christians, Black Evangelical Christians have been largely dissatisfied with the responses of evangelical churches and ministries not just around Black Lives Matter, but racial disparities throughout the United States. One could argue the theologians we study largely didn’t address race and ethnicity in their times which is probably why evangelicals don’t know how to respond to issues like immigration or #BlackLivesMatter. Phrases like “controlling the narrative” or “that’s your perspective” sometimes are true and can be helpful, but too often are really attempts to influence what information is presented in order to give the false appearance that legitimate progress has been made when in reality, we have only made behavioral changes, not addressed systemic issues that have lasted for generations. That’s power (determining who will be heard and who will be silenced) and privilege (being able to live in your own world without having to interact with any sub-dominate groups).

Enter Ferguson, Missouri.

Being a Western Evangelical Means Being a White Man
While in Ferguson, attending the National Black Scholars Gathering, for the first time in years, I found myself in a room largely of Black Christian theologians. Most of them had Masters, Doctorates, and/or PhDs from evangelical institutions, and several taught at evangelical seminaries.

I decided since InterVarsity paid for my trip, I wasn’t going to throw them under the bus. I am paying Fuller Seminary, so I decided I would toss them out there to see what happened. I explained to a panel of five Black evangelical seminary professors I just completed my first year of seminary, was learning a great deal, and while the classrooms were diverse, I was confused by the lack of diversity in theological authorship. “One could easily conclude that Black people have not written theologically given most of their writings are not included in our course syllabi,” I said. “However, this room is filled with Black theologians with doctorates and PhDs. I know you all have published books, that’s what you do—you write. Help me understand why there are so few authors of color presented in Evangelical circles.”

The answer from the panel of professors floored me.

Young man, the goal of being an Evangelical in America is to turn you into a white man…Keep in mind the source material. If the authors we are called to study wrote without consideration of ethnic groups around them, then it stands to reason the foundation of Western Evangelicalism is devoid of diversity intentionally. You are assuming Black scholarship does not exist. It does exist, however, as is the case with Black people, our perspective has been dismissed as irrelevant.

The panel of five one-by-one began to share what it was like attending evangelical ministries and institutions where diversity in authors was minimal and that after they graduated, they had to de-colonize their minds and contextualize the gospel they had spent years going to school to learn about. There was common agreement that the Black church has its roots in evangelicalism, but that evangelicalism today has been hijacked by Western ideologies that seek to colonize rather than contextualize people—and avoid discipleship around ethnicity at all costs, especially in the dominate culture. The group went on to say becoming a white man wasn’t meant to be bad, but rather the end result is a lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the diverse issues around us.

American History and Western Evangelical Christianity are largely taught by those in power from a perspective of privilege. If people are not able to assimilate to this model, they are pushed from the mainstream to the margins. This is also evidenced by the lack of diversity in our evangelical organizations and seminaries around the United States. The struggle to recruit and retain people of color reflects the systemic issues of minimizing different voices that have existed since those African slaves appeared off the coast of Virginia in 1619. Theologians of color exist. They either are not being hired or they don’t want the job.

The Great Reverse Migration
I have noticed a recent trend with my Black Christian friends. They are starting to leave behind those die-hard dreams of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation that they learned from dominate culture evangelical settings. Let me rephrase, they aren’t leaving those dreams behind, but the interpretations of those dreams they have been taught. They are leaving large dominate culture churches and ministries that have multi-ethnicity as a value as long as it means diversity in the room and not how we live out the gospel. They are returning to Black churches, frantically searching for Black theologians or any theologian that has written from the perspective of the marginalized, oppressed, or forgotten. They are searching for communities that care about “the least of these.”

Getting Practical:

  • Read diversely. Check out: Howard Thurman, Carl Ellis, Tom Skinner, Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Jacquelyn Grant, Russell Yee, Gustavo Gutierrez, Charles Christian, and Daniel White Hodge for starters.
  • Listen diversely. If God is birthing a heart in you for multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation, listen more than you speak. Listen to the voices that are not at the table, and the voices who are leaving the table.
  • Accept change in one of two ways: repentance of previous behaviors and systemic issues or abandon the goal of racial reconciliation. This emerging generation is serious about changing oppressive structures and systems. We must change/repent, not simply apologize for benefiting from the broken systems in place.
  • Pray like crazy. God’s kingdom to come, His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.


A Response to Dr. Ben Carson’s Misfire on #BlackLivesMatter

Dear Dr. Carson,

Thank you immensely for your taking the time to write a response to Black Lives Matter protesters around the country, and specifically to young ladies that disrupted Bernie Sanders’ speech not too long ago. While you are running for president, it does send a major signal—a good signal—to us millennials that our leaders are not so far removed from the real world that they cannot speak to the realities many people struggle with day to day. You are campaigning to demonstrate you can lead the nation, and it means a great deal that you can demonstrate concern on our segment of our society. As my elder, I am grateful for the perspective you bring and I am always willing to listen to and learn from those who have gone ahead of me.

However, Dr. Carson, respectfully, I disagree with your editorial published by USAToday. It concerns me greatly that as a presidential candidate and as a person of color in the United States you would categorize systemic issues the Black Lives Matter Movement are seeking to raise as merely the results of self-inflicted suffering through action and inaction. While I do not agree with everything the protestors are saying or doing, they do have my attention and—for the most part—my support. While they may have your attention, I do not believe you understand where they, where we are coming from. If you will permit me, Dr. Carson, I’d like to respond to your “concerns.”

First, you state “the notion that some lives matter less than others is meant to enrage.” I do agree with you: it should enrage. It has enraged African-Americans, people of color, and our white brothers and sisters every week we see an unarmed Black person killed at the hands of law enforcement around the country. It has enraged the African-American community for centuries. (Dr. King said it best, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” Now is that time, Dr. Carson.) That anger, however, is not “distracting us from what matters most.” Rather, it is unifying us. Have you ever stopped to consider why so many people across ethnic, geographic, and socio-economic lines are rallying together around the country and even the world? People are disgusted to learn that after all these years, the complaints and fears African-Americans and so many people of color have been raising are true. Not just people of color, but people at the bottom of the socio-economic latter. It isn’t “a notion” that our lives matter less.

They simply do.

We are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, and convicted with higher sentences than our white counterparts. There are numerous news reports, Justice Department results, and personal videos on Google that show law enforcement using every possible tactic to safely disable someone of the dominate culture but engage lethal force when in proximity to a Black person. Again, this isn’t a notion. It’s a statistical fact.

Second, you state “unjust treatment from police didn’t fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness.” Again, you are right. Police didn’t create ghettos, slums, and impoverished neighborhoods. The United States government did that with its legal marginalization of people of color and housing discrimination laws for almost a century. That happened then. What’s happening now is gentrification in those inner city neighborhoods, the militarization of law enforcement to govern those same neighborhoods, and the building of bigger prisons that are privatized—which requires high occupancy to yield high profit. Guess who your police officers have been trained to target? People living in those same neighborhoods. What police are doing is helping to maintain the hopelessness in the hood—outside the hood as well. I agree that not all police officers are bad and not everyone in the hood is innocent, but it is difficult to have hope when you are routinely stopped by law enforcement looking to get promoted rather than serve and protect you and your community. It’s difficult to maintain hope when investigations reveal police officers and judges have illegally detained, arrested, and wrongly convicted innocent people. Watching friends and family who are innocent until proven guilty–excuse me, guilty and rarely proven to actually be innocent in life or after wrongful death—can erode hope every quickly. Hopelessness comes when you are evicted from the only house your family has lived in for generations by descendants of the people that forced your family into that neighborhood in the first place. Hopelessness comes when you are

My mother is 70, a few years older than you. She had a drug addiction, but she fought it vigorously and won. She also taught me the value of education. Like you, I have seen drugs and heard gunshots, and like you, I made it out of the hood. But the difference between the two of us is I didn’t forget where I came from.

There are people living in the inner city. Not statistics, not menaces to society, not lazy individuals (about 47%) looking to live off of the government, but people. People who want an education, a higher paying salary, benefits for their families, and they want to have peace in their minds that when a cop pulls behind them, they won’t end up dead for failing to use a turn signal. I think perhaps in your attempt to demonstrate your “blackness,” or your life in the hood, you may have forgotten to practice some humility whereby you listen to the concerns of the people in the streets rather than merely diagnosing their behavior as cause of their problems. Library cards alone cannot combat systemic issues. Michael Brown had a high school diploma. Sandra Bland had a Bachelor’s degree. Both are gone.

Now, Dr. Carson, for your points:

– Let’s head down to the board of education…and tell them we will give them more government funds than we do to militarize the police! Please don’t place the blame for “destroyed black lives” solely on our teachers. They work hard, Dr. Carson. Many of them don’t make enough money to pay all their bills—including their undergraduate debt from the degree which enables them to teach. Perhaps you should head over to Washington and ask our elected officials to raise teacher’s salaries and grants given to provide a better quality of education for kids.

– Let’s confront the entertainment industry…specifically the owners and presidents and CEOs of companies in the entertainment industry. Sex sells in our society today, Dr. Carson. It is sad, but true. Yes, gangsta rap does negatively portray Black men and women, however, since we make up less than 15% of the population, it is impossible to conclude Black people—or supporters of the Black Lives Matter Movement—are responsible for this and that our lack of attendance in the theatre can transform this issue. Perhaps you could use your influence to ask the entertainment industry (that includes producers of movies, music, and television shows) to write characters and hire people of color to star in roles where they aren’t holding a gun and a bag of weed.

– Let’s go down to city hall…and ask for cross-cultural training for law enforcement. I grew up in 3rd Ward in Houston, Texas. I went to Ferguson for the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. I was stopped a few months back by a police officer for a “delayed turn signal” whereby I didn’t have my turn signal on the entire time I sat a red light. He then asked me if I had any guns or drugs in the car—I didn’t, by the way. Most people in the hood aren’t afraid of their neighbors. We are afraid of the police. Hopefully, that’s the message you want us to say at City Hall.

– Let’s go over to the crack house…wow. Wow. You’re a doctor. You know better than this, Dr. Carson. Are you not taught that addressing the behavior, the issues on the surface will not lead to long term change? Yes, tear down the crack house, but before you get back in your luxury car with a smile of victory, ask: Why do people in urban communities turn to drugs? What are they attempting to escape from? What environmental issues have led them to conclude drugs is their only means of coping with their lives and the world? While you are wrestling with those questions, go over Washington, D.C. and ask our elected officials to end “The War on Drugs,” or better yet, restore it towards its original intent, rehabilitation of drug users rather than lining the pockets of the wealthy.

– We should go to Washington…to ask why the war on poverty failed. Was it because the money wasn’t present or because the money was given to the wealthy who were supposed to create programs to help the poor but instead kept it for themselves? I encourage you, with humility, to question the people the programs were intended to help before you gut them completely. Perhaps the problems can be solved at the top without harming the homeless, the poor, and the food insecure at the bottom.

– We should talk to the Democratic Party…and them how so many people of color have consistently voted Democratic over Republican. I am a Christian. I don’t affiliate with either party. There are elements of both I agree with, and others I am completely allergic to. It is clear, however, the Democratic Party at least sees the poor and people of color. The Republican Party does not.

– Finally we need to go over to the Republican Party….and ask them to come into the 21st Century. You currently have presidential candidates that think women need to stay home and raise babies. You have candidates that struggle to acknowledge racism still exists in America, and Fox News only affirmed that asinine assumption by asking one question about Black Lives Matter during debate. Your front runner, Donald Trump, has managed to offend women, Mexico and the Mexican community in the U.S., African-Americans, and every other marginalized group. With every racist and sexist comment he makes, he gets further ahead in the polls. It seems to me, Dr. Carson that while you are using stereotypes to define the problems in the Black community, your friend, Mr. Trump, is using similar stereotypes as his presidential campaign.

I am surprised your critique of the race issues in the country lie largely in the actions and inactions of poor people and people of color. I hope you will take the time to listen to our concerns before you make comments this offensive again.

I fear if you aren’t willing to listen to us now, there may be a peaceful protest headed your way, at least to get your attention.

Sean Watkins


Ferguson, Part 2: Ladies, I Am Sorry

I don’t know where I picked up the conviction. I can’t remember if I saw a movie with a woman voicing the complaint, or if I overheard my mom talking to her girlfriends about it when I was a child. For some unknown reason, I have this innate desire to ask women, “How was your day?”. Whether it’s a woman I am dating, a friend, a co-worker, or a mentor, a supervisor, or female students at conferences or seminars in which I am speaking, I always ask the same opening question. There is something about creating space to listen to the women in my presence that I take very seriously.

Being a single man in my 30s, apologizing for the actions of men who have come before me comes with the territory. Whether in relationships or friendships, I find myself more often than not doing damage control and recovery—not always, but far too often. Recently, however, I have become horrified at what I have seen in both the fictional and real world.

First, there’s Bill Cosby.bill cosby greying beard ap
The beloved Dr. Huxtable has turned out of to easily be one of the scariest men to ever walk the earth—and he will most likely not go to prison as the statute of limitations has passed on his numerous rapes and sexual assaults of women. I have read titles of news articles, listened to videos, and read the words of his victims—but with a limit. There are few things that make me angry to the point I fear I could lose control. Assaulting a woman and hurting a child are two of those things, so I have to be careful that I limit my intake of his atrocious actions as they can take me a place that is neither holy nor healthy.

The reality is he drugged, raped, and exploited women for years—without consequence. There were cover-ups, denials, and the flat out ignoring of women as their voices were not enough to call attention to his destructive patterns of abuse. He didn’t respect women as people with value but treated them essentially as toys for his own amusement, and he is not alone. Other men have done the same for centuries.

Then, this past weekend, I saw Straight Outta Compton.
I was invited to see it with a few friends. Now, I am not a virgin. I lost that in high school, but I have been abstinent by choice for over a decade and will remain that way until I am married. (You’re wondering, “Why did you mention that, Sean?” Wait for it.) One of the disciplines I maintain to “keep my mind,” is to remove my glasses during the provocative sex scenes when necessary. I just don’t need to see a naked woman on a giant screen. It doesn’t matter how Christian I am or how much the Lord has changed me, I am still a man.

I didn’t realize until the second or third scene when I removed my glasses, that I was watching a movie with three women, who are friends, sitting beside me. I was avoiding the temptation of seeing naked women, while these women watched their gender being casually and all too commonly exploited for entertainment. Compton has gotten tremendously positive reviews for its depictions of the birth of N.W.A., systemic racism, and it fills in the gaps for some about the painful history of police brutality towards Black people in the US. Watching the Rodney King beating and remembering the non-indictment of those four L.A. police officers was a reminder that #BlackLivesMatter has been an issue long before it was a hashtag. However, the movie has received overwhelmingly negative reviews for its depictions of women in the film. No female rap artists are referred to in any capacity. Women are either angry mothers, supportive wives, or again—toys to be played with. They are naked, promiscuous, and virtually insignificant to everyone and everything around them beyond sex.

As gripping as the movie is, once again, women are reduced to commodities. Their sole purpose in the film is the physical satisfaction of the men. If they aren’t providing sexual favors, or affirming the men, they are not on screen. It’s not Bill Cosby level of exploitation, but the women are still treated as property rather than people.

Ferguson-42Third, I am still trying to process what I saw in Ferguson.
Being in Ferguson for the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death which was the catalyst for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement will require much prayer, journaling, gym visits, and football games to unpack. I attended a Black Scholars Conference and events throughout the four-day weekend that were led mostly by women. Female leaders, female pastors, and women from the bi-sexual and transgendered community. We can discuss and debate the roles we think women should or need to have in any of those environments and the changing definitions of sexuality in another post. The beauty of those days was also the most painful. Women, who are typically exploited and marginalized in society were the first responders to millennials grieving Michael Brown. Women who have been victimized by predators like Bill Cosby, or exploited in entertainment, were given a place to lead and live out the gospel. God, in His sovereignty, I think, redeemed the painful journey of many of those women as their experiences have proven to be sources of wisdom for them to navigate today’s crises of the hurting people they are serving and leading.

It wasn’t that I was surprised at the powerful leadership women were bringing. I know numerous female leaders. I know some female preachers that can easily out preach most men. What was painful, however, was that they have to carry the brunt of this burden alone. It wasn’t enough that they haven’t been heard. It’s that women heard the cries of other people on the margins that men—and mainstream society as a result—have almost completely missed.

Instead of attacking this social justice issue team-style, most of the heavy lifting is left to…well, the…Women.

You know, the first ones to proclaim—I mean preach—the resurrection of Jesus. The nameless ones in the Bible when only Noah’s sons are mentioned to restart the human race. The one who doesn’t get her name until after she and Adam get evicted from the garden. The ones that are only in Carl’s Jr. commercials if they are in tiny bikini’s washing a car. The ones that have to earn more degrees, work longer hours, and be completely emotionless at work in order for the men to give them half the time they would give to another guy. (I’ll only mention that it’s the 21st century and we still haven’t figured out how to pay women the same we would pay a man with the same credentials.)

You know…Women.

I am a man. That is the lens through which I view the world. Even as a Black man, with all of the limits society places on me, I know I still have more privilege that women do. I try to defer to, listen to, and advocate for women as much as possible. I didn’t know men existed that refused to submit to women in leadership, and in many cases, won’t even acknowledge or respect it. The tears of Andrea Thomas and the painful experiences of Sabrina Chan almost ten years are fresh in my soul. These two friends, colleagues, and mentors of mine shared how their voices had not be recognized by some men in some contexts—simply because they were women. I had never heard of that before. I didn’t know that was possible. I care deeply about those two ladies especially. I remember becoming very angry when I heard how some men had treated them…and I don’t think I have stopped being angry at the arrogant supremacy men have in this patriarchal society.

I believe in women in leadership, period. It was beautiful to see women leading, and not asking for permission to lead. They didn’t read off their resumes, years of experience, or mentors as credentials that gave them the right to lead. They just led. With boldness, authority, and conviction. That was the beauty. The painful part was the absence of the men. There were men there, speaking in some capacity, serving in others, but the dominate gender in the room was women—again.

It is troubling to me that women are regularly pushed out of the mainstream conversation, are present at this pivotal moment of racial tension in the U.S., and the men who haven’t listened to them also aren’t listening to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

I know that’s a broad generalization…and I stand by it. There are pockets of men listening, but the numbers are not equal…

And it saddens me, so…

The Apology


I want to apologize to you and to say, “I am sorry.” I am sorry for the ways in which my gender has failed to listen to you, failed to recognize you, failed to create space for you to lead and be all that you were created to be.

I am sorry that we haven’t heard your cries for justice about the numerous Bill Cosby’s that are still out there right now, that it takes another man to say something before your concerns are taken seriously.

I am sorry that in 2015, you are too often reduced in value to physical appearance and made to compete with fictional bodies in movies, music, television, and even the porn industry. I am sorry I haven’t gut checked more men when I have seen or heard them degrading women which is too common.

I am sorry that rather than having men lead with you, we have left you to lead alone. It is not good for man to be alone. It is not good for a woman to be alone, either. We are made to be in community, and I am deeply sorry for the part men have played in jacking up that community.

If history has taught us anything…from slavery, to all the world’s wars, Civil Rights, and now with #BlackLivesMatter, it is that men, when left to our own understanding, will destroy the world—or at least try to. It is because another voice is missing at the table. That voice is needed to not simply to fill an empty seat, but to do the work of justice that is needed in the world.

I am sorry you have not been given a voice, or a seat, or the resources to do the work of justice. Some women have, and they are shinning, but far too many are sitting on the margins or knocking on the door waiting for the opportunity to display the greatness inside of them.

If I…No. For the times, words said, and deeds done where I have benefited as a man at the cost of causing women pain, I am sorry. For the places where I should have been present but was absent, the times I should have listened rather than spoke, affirmed your feelings rather than trying to solve the problems, for being blind to your issues and concerns, I am sorry.

Ladies, you deserve better.

God willing, I will do my part to make the world a better place for you, too.


A Man

My Trip to Ferguson

Books are always better than movies. It’s a fact. When Hollywood gets a hold of a great book and turns it into a movie, many things end up being lost in translation. One of my favorite examples is a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf is explaining to Frodo how his uncle, Bilbo Baggins, made a life-threatening decision that anyone would immediately reject. What the movie omits, the book masterfully captures,  (my paraphrase) is as follows:

Bilbo was offered the chance to solve a riddle. If he could solve it, he would be led to safety. If he couldn’t solve it, he would be killed, eaten, and his possessions sold. Bilbo agreed to attempt to answer to riddle.

“Why would anyone do that?” Frodo asked.

Gandalf replied, “Because, he was lost, in the dark, without hope, unable to go forward, or backward.”

Being on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri is radically different from watching news reports about a place you’ve never been to. The city that had been reduced to Facebook posts, Tweets, and summaries from CNN, Fox News, USA Today, and the Department of Justice do not an accurate picture make.

There aren’t statistics living in Ferguson.

There are people living in Ferguson.

After my plane landed, for some reason I cannot explain, I felt compelled to drive to Canfield Green Apartments to see the place that catalyzed the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. I will be writing multiple posts in the weeks to come, but I thought it would be wise to share about: The Place, The People, The Person, and The Practical.

The Place
It’s a dark road, with poor lighting. I almost passed the spot, if it wasn’t for the stuffed animals laid out by the community as a memorial to him. It’s been taken down twice by the Ferguson Police Department, and every time it is removed, the citizens rebuild it, but when I saw the all the bears, cards, candles, and toys, I knew I had arrived.

I walked up to the spot where Michael Brown was left to bleed in front of neighbors and family for four and a half hours with no medical attention of any kind. I was hoping to take in the scene and reimagine what happened that night. I wanted to feel the emotions of the place, walk the path he and Dorian Johnson did the last night of his life. I was expecting this deeply spiritual moment, like seeing a burning bush, or how experience what I felt at the Lorraine Motel—the site of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination—when I was in Memphis, but I didn’t.

I didn’t feel a thing.

It’s the ghetto. People were walking the streets. The narrow roads need paving. It’s poorly lit, overcrowded, yet I wasn’t afraid. Two police cars passed me as I looked at the memorial, which residents said is normal. The police are always driving in that community, not looking to serve and protect but to make arrests to fulfill their quotas for the month. Even Darren Wilson admitted to he drove to Ferguson hoping to make a few arrests because he was told that was how you get a promotion in the Ferguson P.D.

I went to the place alone…


I was there again Sunday morning at 6:30am for a prayer meeting with local clergy…


and again at 12p with the community gathered to grieve the loss of another brother, another son, another friend, another unarmed Black person.


The People
Michael Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement didn’t bring me to tears my first night there (they would come later), but it did bring a passage of Scripture to mind, Isaiah 53:2-5. It reads, “He had no beauty of majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”

There was nothing special about Michael Brown that should have started the movement. He didn’t have the credentials of Dr. King, the oratory skills of Malcolm X, the education of Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual and social awareness of Oscar Romero. He was a kid from the hood, and his circumstantial death was just one too many for that community, and for the broader Black community. The tipping point of so many—if not most—of us being that another unarmed Black person was killed, as the result of his own actions and no one else’s, who cannot tell their version of events. The reality is that every time one of us dies, the question is “Why did he/she resist,” rather than “Why didn’t the armed police officer deescalate the situation with the unarmed person like they are trained to do in every other instance?”

It was strange being in the place that didn’t question the convenience store robbery or Officer Darren Wilson’s version of events—although questions remain around both. What did fuel the anger was memory of Michael Brown in the street for four and a half hours. They remember the nurses and medically trained residents of Canfield Apartments that were not permitted to admit CPR to him. They remember the paramedics never coming. They remember seeing Michael Brown with his hands up when he was killed. They remember him being picked up like he was road kill and placed in the back of a police SUV to be taken to the coroner.

They remember he wasn’t the first, and he wasn’t the last.

The father of Michael Brown, uncle of Oscar Grant, the daughter of Eric Garner, and Bree Newsome—the woman who climbed the flagpole to remove the Confederate Flag in South Carolina following the massacre of nine non-violent Black people in a church in Charleston—were all there for the peaceful protest Sunday morning.  They all shared their stories. They shared their pain. They shared their tears, and they shared their confusion about how their club continues to grow.


Amy Hu, a friend and fellow InterVarsity Staff Member, caught me on the verge of tears because for the first time in these last twelve months, as I was with thousands of people that not only acknowledged Black lives were less valuable than white lives, the crowd also acknowledged that the lack of dignity ascribed to our lives was no longer acceptable. I had been in learning mode for most of the trip, but in that moment, with such a diverse group of people who knew that even with our hands up and being unarmed we still had a high chance of being killed by police, when I put my hands up, the tears began to stream. I realized how much I value my own life, and how much the rest of country and many in the dominate culture simply do not. As one activist remarked, “We don’t have rights, we don’t even have #CecilTheLion rights.”

I watched the marginalized—women, female pastors, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered people—lead peaceful protests against the perpetual violence law enforcement and the dominate culture have used against African-Americans since we first arrived in the United States back in 1619. I watched as women who haven’t been allowed to lead in so many churches lead this movement. They were able to lead this movement because they were already on the margins to reach these marginalized communities.

I watched as these hurting people loved each other, served each other, wept together, ate together, and shared the little they had with each other. My friend, Erna Hackett, with tears in her eyes said it best one night, “These people are a church, and they are acting more like a church than I have seen in some time.”

I don’t know how to reconcile that.

I know I saw hurting people, people that are unheard, overlooked, ignored, critiqued….I saw a people lost, in the dark, without hope, unable to go forward, or backward.

I don’t condone violence. I never have and I never will. I grew up in 3rd Ward in Houston, Texas. I have seen people get shot before. I have heard gun shots and police sirens throughout the day—I still hear them when I home. I understand “the code” of the hood, how to survive there. If you’re not from the hood, it may as well be a foreign country as there is much outsiders do not understand. But one thing is clear: you cannot ask an oppressed people ostracized from the broader economy of society, to continuously enjoy their poverty. The protests, peaceful and otherwise, are an affirmation that the proverb is true, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). The peaceful protests are from people whose hope has made them sick. The violence descending into the streets is from the people who placed their hope into people and systems that have consistently proven to be unfaithful.

The Person
I have been asked multiple times how I am doing since I have arrived back from Ferguson. It is difficult for me to put into words. I traveled to Ferguson at the expense of and as an employee of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I was at a conference, “Lessons from Black Lives Matter: A National Scholars Gathering in Ferguson,” with highly intelligent people who teach theology at seminaries around the country. The group was Christian, largely African-American, with doctorates and PhDs, and they shared how the church—especially the evangelical church—had failed them and the Black community both historically and currently. I sat there as a leader in a large evangelical organization, listening to my elders blatantly condemned the silence of evangelical Christians, and their affirmation of white supremacy, white privilege, and white fragility. They spoke about the lack of diversity in evangelical seminaries and churches, and spoke about the absence of evangelical organizations in Ferguson. Lisa Sharon Harper challenged their historical thinking. “The Black church has its roots in evangelicalism, but like many things, it has been co-opted by American culture.”

I watched and listened as people who look like me condemned organizations like the one I work for, and the seminary I attend…

And their stories and synopsis reflected the pain I have for more than a year.

They didn’t just affirm pain.

They affirmed my pain.

I still work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and I still attend Fuller Theological Seminary, but I do know the responses from both—that have we hoped would produce legitimate systemic change—have not occurred, and it has broken my heart, and eroded much of my hope…and the hopes of my friends in this generation.

The Practical
I have no idea how to move forward from Ferguson. Here are a few things I am doing, and a few things I am inviting people who read my blog to do as well:

  • I have many posts to write from my experiences. I am committing to be brutally honest about my own leadership and how I have failed, as well as where the bare minimum has been done in order to appease my people.
  • Don’t start the Fall with a new focus. Talk about racial-reconciliation and multi-ethnicity. Talk about the racial tensions in society as part of your discipleship programs. Unpack why “All Lives Matter” is a universalizing statement that omits the call for my life to matter. (No doctor tells a patient with a broken leg, “All legs matter.” They acknowledge the pain and work with the patient to fix what was broken, no matter how it got that way.
  • Don’t ask Black friends to explain how they are feeling right now. Be proactive. Learn about the realities of racism and systemic injustice at the same level you seek to educate yourself on all your other endeavors.
  • Stop dismissing the feelings of the situation. There are spiritual, personal, emotional, and social pains happening right now. That won’t be solved with one prayer and one conversation. It also won’t be solved if our pain is dismissed in order to “get to the real work.”

On Netflix, go watch:

  • The House I Live In
  • Crips and Bloods: Made In America

Google videos and the authors. The organizations. The cities referred to.

Go on, type in “Black History” or “Black People” and learn.

Ferguson affirmed my pain, my perspective, and my desire to see not just lamenting from churches and organizations, but repentance.

That’s what I long for.

That’s what Black Lives Matter is really about.



The End of Endurance

As a professional extrovert, I am rarely at a loss for words. I always have something to say. Movies, food, history, theology, science (the parts I understand), literature, etc. will typically generate some thoughts that translate into words from my mouth every day.

But, unlike ever before, I have not had anything to say these last few weeks.

I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to watch the news, hop on Social Media, or be aware of what was happening in the United States. I didn’t want read about Sandra Bland, or watch the Samuel Dubose video. I didn’t want to go into my closet, pull out old photos of my childhood, and throw away all the ones with me imitating Hulk Hogan. I didn’t want to celebrate the removal of the Confederate Flag as though it was some monumental achievement in history.

I felt—still feel—this way, mainly because of another place I have never been to that is trying to define a new normal: Charleston.

It wasn’t that a young white supremacist walked into a church and killed 9 Black people like a scene from the decades between the 1860s-1960s. It wasn’t that Dylann Roof confirmed the fears of Black people around the country—that hatred and racism toward us is still so deeply ingrained in a person that this horrific act could occur.

It was the responses that disturbed me the most.

I sat back and watched as the families of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson were asked to forgive Dylann Roof before the blood stains in the carpet had been removed from the pews in the church. Incredibly, these 9 Christian families—whose faith is clearly real—extended that forgiveness without hesitation…and that was it.

The country and most communities without little to no Black people when back to business as usual.

I watched most of the 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates express confusion as to why the shooting occurred. “It’s a mental illness,” they said. I watched the 2016 Democratic Candidates express their condolences and ask for better gun control. I read the Tweets and Facebook posts of prominent Evangelical pastors to see if they made any remarks. I googled their names along with “Charleston” to see if anything was said during these events, but I only found them promoting their books on discipleship and missions.

I checked to see if any other late night talk show host, other than Jon Stewart, said anything about Charleston. Not Jimmy Fallon, not Jimmy Kimmel, not Seth Myers, nothing. Larry Wilmore and John Oliver jumped in to respond, as they always do, but the majors sat this one out…as they always do, too—unless a lion is killed.

I was puzzled as I watched celebrities, politicians, news anchors, pastors, some co-workers, and even some friends not be able to simply say, “This was racism…Racism exists in the United States.” No explanations, no justifications, no debriefs, no critiques, no books to read, just a declaration of the truth.

It didn’t happen…again.


We, the Black Community and our beloved cross-cultural allies, haven’t healed from any of the unarmed killings of Black people this year because they keep happening, and the responses are the same.

I had a few friends and a mentor challenge me on my writing a couple of weeks ago. I was told that when I address race relations, I write about the United States and the Evangelical North American Church as though they are one in the same. Most of those friends and that mentor said, “I see them as radically different.”

“I don’t,” has been my reply.

The responses are the same: silence, apathy, unwillingness to acknowledge truth of the events and systemic issues leading to those events, and as a by-product, an unwillingness to change any of the systemic issues so these events end. I turned off the politicians and listened to my friends talk about their pastors not mentioning what’s been happening this year, including Charleston.

I asked, “Did you say something to one of your pastors or ask about their silence?”

“No, I don’t think he would understand.”


How are we to respond? Well, many of us have started to withdraw from multi-ethnic contexts to predominately Black ones to heal, to be heard, to be understood, to not be rushed into forgiveness and back to being marginalized. We don’t have to bandwidth, the space, the capacity, the hope to translate, explain, or defend another case this year. Not when the same narrative plays out in the country and the church over and over and over again.

I paused my writing and stepped back into seminary classes. This quarter, I am learning about Christian Ethics. One of the sources for the material is a gentleman by the name of Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosophers in Western history…

And he was inherently racist.

He wrote, “Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites,” among other things including his rejection of interracial marriages, and the vanity and stupidity of the African people (ask Google to find and translate Kant’s Beobachtungen üner das Gefül des Schönen und Erhabenen, Ak 2, written in 1764).

If history records the dominance of racism in the US, if we continue to study the philosophers and theologians of these time frames that supported racist ideologies, if people of color have been/continue to be disproportionately arrested and killed while unarmed every week, if more money is spent on elections and police militarization than on poverty and education and job creation, if politicians are deflecting the issues, and the church—which is the hope of the world—is silent, I am unclear as to how I am supposed to live peacefully in this messy historically and theologically racist cocktail we call the United States.

Normally, this is the part of the blog where I give some practical steps for moving forward…not this time.

This time, I want to acknowledge the truth: we have moved backwards.

We have moved backwards as a society, as a country, as the church of Jesus. Even more, I don’t know if we ever took as big of a step forward as this younger generation was led to believe. We took down the Confederate Flag, but we didn’t take the racism, bigotry, and hatred out of our hearts.

Dr. King once remarked, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.”

My friends, now is that time.

There will be no peace until there is justice.

My hope is that justice comes quickly.

My fear is that justice will not come without more martyrs.

– Sean

Here are some great words from some good friends: Kathy, Erna, and Danny.

4 False and Good Starts to Racial Reconciliation

Usain Bolt of Jamaica (R) makes a false start as Nesta Carter of Jamaica stays in the blocks in the men's 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu August 28, 2011. Bolt false started and was disqualified from the world athletics championships 100 metres final on Sunday.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA  - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

Usain Bolt of Jamaica (R) makes a false start as Nesta Carter of Jamaica stays in the blocks in the men’s 100 metres final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu August 28, 2011. Bolt false started and was disqualified from the world athletics championships 100 metres final on Sunday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA – Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

A false start is defined as “an unsuccessful attempt to begin something.” They can occur in a number of sports. A runner or swimmer starts too soon. False starts, however, are most commonly recognized from the game of football.

REALLY-FALSE-STARTWhen someone makes an illegal action (like this guy running full speed while the rest of team is standing still—epic fail), the entire team suffers and has to move backwards, increasing the distance they had from accomplishing their goal. False starts not only occur in the NFL, but also in the real world.

If the events of this year have taught us anything, it is that our country, and the church, have had a number of false starts when it comes to racial reconciliation. For the few places that are striving toward racial reconciliation—whether ministries, politicians, or businesses—events like in Charleston, McKinney, Ferguson, and Baltimore don’t simply reveal how much more work to do. They are litmus tests for how much true progress has been made, and if we are not careful, how much the little progress that has been made can be lost.

The truth is we are one people. The entire human race. We are one, with all of our differences, perspectives, hopes, fears, and dreams. Collectively, we are incredibly strong. Separated, we are frighteningly destructive. What happens to one—directly and indirectly—affects us all. I was confused why stock analysts were panicking about dollars in Greece at certain points during the last few years. Their economy has implications for our economy. If this is true from a material standpoint, how much more true is it from a spiritual one? We are one body, “made up of many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Any injustice committed to any South Asian person directly and/or indirectly affects the Black community. When our Latino brothers and sisters suffer from systemic injustice, it affects Native American communities, the broad diaspora of White communities, and so on.

False starts with respect to racial reconciliation do not occur simply because one person commits a heinous act against one group. They also can occur when our responses do not promote healing for the hurts that are afflicted (i.e. your favorite athletes when referees make legitimately bad calls). Let me give four suggestions of false starts of racial reconciliation:

  1. Multiple Definitions. Many people use the words but very few have an agreed upon definition on what they legitimately mean. For the dominate culture—I would suggest any context where any group is in the dominate category (economically, politically, ethnically, etc.)—racial reconciliation means “open doors.” Those who were once excluded are now brought in. They have a “seat” at the table and their “voice” is allowed to be heard. For people in the sub-dominate group, it isn’t that simple. There is tremendous pain, wounds, and mistrust that has occurred for weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries. That will not go away overnight. Forgiveness must be requested and given, and trust has to be build. Additionally, many—not all—sub-dominate groups don’t simply want a seat at the table, they are looking for recovery of what was lost or taken away. (That’s not a call for reparations, as much as repairing the damage to communities that suffered systemic long-term damage from legal injustice.) In short, voice is given but without power to affect change. Any and all repairs needed to a community—whether economic, emotional, educational, etc.—lies primarily with the formerly oppressed or marginalized. In our country, generational burdens from segregation aren’t redistributed, just partially acknowledged. Starting with the present while never addressing the past—how this present was made possible—will cripple the conversation before it begins. I remarked to friend the other day who was commenting about the progress of the last 150 years since the Civil War ended. I responded, “If I walk a mile in 45 minutes, some would call that progress; but if I walk a mile in 45 years, I would have difficulty calling that progress.” If racial reconciliation means to some “I hear you,” and to someone else “Repent” or “Change,” we will have a lot of false starts.
  1. Multiple Voices. Eugene Robinson, in Disintegration, states 50 years ago “Black” in the U.S. meant the descendant of slaves. Today, “Black” has splintered into multiple groups: descendants of slaves (ranging in economic power from middle class to abject poverty), bi-racial people who have one Black parent in their DNA with another person of any other ethnic descent, 1st & 2nd generation African immigrants/families, and affluent Blacks that have enough money race isn’t a limitation (Oprah, Jay Z, Magic Johnson, etc.) Whose voice are we listening to when we engage dialogue about racial reconciliation? Depending on who you ask, you could get several different answers. If we are only listening to and looking to one group to speak for the broad diaspora of “Black,” there will be gaps. This is why Ferguson and Baltimore had peaceful and violent protests, CNN’s Don Lemon asked questions that infuriates many in the Black community, Fox News has Black commentators that support all of their views, and the list goes on. The community is splintered and if we have selective hearing, we can assume progress when there has been little made for if true progress had been made, our responses to national racial tragedies would not be as wide and varied. The same is true of the Asian Community. “Asian” in America means Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin speaking), Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Indian (South Asian), etc. When it is said, “We are reaching/want to reach the Asian community,” to whom are we referring? We can easily assume progress, when in reality, it could be a false start.
  1. The Silence of Adam. Genesis gives the Creation Account for humanity. In Chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat a piece of fruit they aren’t supposed to and ruins the rest of the book! Historically, Eve gets all the blame, but the Bible does say, “She gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Scripture records Eve’s conversation with the Serpent, but Adam who is present, is silent. It is chilling to consider he was present at one the most pivotal moments in human history, and he settled for being an eyewitness over engaging. Whatever hopes, aspirations, visions, sermons, tweets, Facebook posts, friends of any color we have, when silence is the only thing heard during times of racial tension, it dissolves any progress that may have been made. If people have limited cross-cultural experience, then much of what they receive about other people is from the news and media. If there is a continuous loop of white police shooting unarmed Black people, angry Black protesters screaming for justice, a 15 second loop of Mexicans crossing the border illegally into the United States, it will influence us—whether we believe it or not. When there are no positive examples to contribute to one-sided news reports (i.e. white pastors calling for justice, Black pastors calling for peaceful protests, Mexican families interpreting the hopes for those families, etc.), the narrative in most our minds is filled with what was said in the past…and the past has far more negative comments than good ones. (A catalyst for advocating for racial-reconciliation in my life occurred when many white leaders reached out to me and my friends to grieve terrible racially charged events on campus. It gave me a picture of what health can look like. I have been chasing it ever since.) It is saddening to watch friends have an endless sea of comments on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, Tom Brady’s Deflategate, Avengers: Age of Ultron, favorite restaurants, and everything else we post but to hear or see nothing when it comes to issues of race and ethnicity. Silence is violence, not reconciliation, and it will always produce a false start.
  1. The Absence of Adam. In Genesis 4, when Cain kills Abel, Adam’s name is nowhere in the account. Only the two brothers and the mom are mentioned. The only other man on the planet is absent when his two sons fight to the death. Absence is similar to silence, but slightly different. Silence breaks cross-cultural trust, but absence means being not caring to the point of being oblivious. Granted, we don’t know what we don’t know. However, if we want to be committed to racial reconciliation, we cannot afford to be oblivious. I can never be oblivious. A non-Black person can get a Bachelors, a Masters, and PhD without ever having to encounter a Black person or their culture. The reverse, however, is that I as a Black man cannot get a GED without being exposed to white culture. I am never oblivious. If I can return to my comfort zone and reduce my awareness of events, true racial reconciliation will not occur, but a false start.

Let me give 4 practical steps to embracing true racial reconciliation. These will not solve all our problems, but they are steps in the right direction and ensure false starts will stop occurring.

  • Come to Terms. In our organizations, on our leadership teams, and in our own hearts, we need to agree to what a true definition of racial reconciliation truly is. It will not be easy—some can’t agree on what’s for lunch—but it will be worth it. Ask your team: “How you do define these terms? How do we want to define them and live them out?”
    If I may suggest, if we are serious, whoever is “the least of these” should have the dominate voice in deciding on the definition. If a group has been historically unheard and doesn’t have power in conversations like this one, it is a guarantee that won’t feel heard or valued when that vision or definition is defined. We must also give each other time to discern what racial reconciliation means and what we are willing to commit to. At best, we will be in one accord. At worst, we may lose some people because they are looking for something more or different, but at least we will know.
  • Get a Hearing Test. Whose voice is not being heard? Who is absent from the room? Who has a voice but not power to affect change? The health of our churches, our communities, and our country is not in a place where “voice” or influence is enough. To reduce the unheard solely to “influence” roles without power assumes they will suddenly be heard without any measure of accountability for the hearers. It must be coupled with power, whether temporary or permanent, to see legitimate change occur. Develop discernment to affirm who is being heard and to affirm those who are consistently overlooked and marginalized. (Side note, gender is monumental here, too. In and outside of ethnicity, we still struggle to hear women equally.)
  • Become “Not Racist” but “Antiracist.” It is not enough when someone says, “I am not racist.” We must become “antiracist.” We must become allergic to injustice and racism wherever it exists—in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities. Absence and silence end when we become advocates for those who have been long overlooked and dismissed. When the unheard see people who don’t look like them advocating for them—without having to ask for that advocacy—trust will be built in biblical proportions. Challenge “those” conversations, actions, and attitudes. Ask questions. Seek to understand if injustice has occurred. Defend the cause of the overlooked and unheard. Don’t just cast it out of your heart, but your house and your neighborhood, too.
  • Develop a Ministry of Presence. Henri Nouwen said, “It is not always about saying the right thing or doing the right thing, but simply being present can mean the world to someone.” Being present means listening to the hurting without correcting, presenting data to give hope, or any other means to recolonize someone’s thinking in the midst of grief. Sometimes people need space to grieve. 24 hours after the Charleston Shooting, news reports and leaders were calling for healing, progress, and gun control. The Black community needed—and still needs—space to mourn the continued history of racist attacks because of the color of our skin. Our community, especially the church, is high off of hope—not biblical hope. True hope comes from balancing lament and praise. Without proper space to process and mourn, true progress cannot be made. So sit with us and listen. Love. Learn. Lament. With us.

These are not answers, but hopefully hopefully steps in the right direction. There are no easy answers in the midst of difficult situations, but we must speak into them and walk through whatever valleys life throws our way. We will either move forward together or pass our lack of progress on to the next generation.

Let’s break the cycle and move forward.

No more false starts.

Sean M. Watkins

A Word of Thanks to All Non-Black Friends Who Have Been an Advocates

I remember being in elementary school, sitting in history class hearing word “slavery” for the first time. I remember the confusion I felt as my teacher explained its vile history in the United States and around the world. I remember not understanding why there had to be a Medgar Evers, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, a Rosa Parks, a Harriet Tubman, a Malcolm X or a Dr. King. Could these vile crimes have been committed in our country? Even more, as I live in Texas, what evil crimes had been committed years ago on the land in which I was—and am—standing.

I know the varying degrees of pain I feel when I see pictures and hear stories. I think part of it is generational. There is a generational pain that is passed on from the oppressed, from those slaves to the next generation. In the same way we choose to remember holidays—some with joy and others with sorrow—so to do Black people choose to remember our history for it is our roadmap and compass in this country.

I don’t know, however, what it is like to not be Black and read about these things.

Like many of you, I was and still am confused how racism at those levels could have permeated so easily in our society for so long, but then we have been able to turn on the news this year and see evil manifested in its ugliest forms. Whether we have agreed on the cases themselves—whether all guilt lies with the police, the unarmed dead “suspect”, or a little guilt on both—there have been a few advocates out there, and this morning I felt the need to say “thank you.”

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is white. He lives in one of the cities where one of those shooting deaths occurred. He quickly joined the protests, calls for legal and legislative change, and he has encountered pain on both sides. Since he is white, there is an automatic mistrust by most Black people of him. There are too few examples of people who don’t look like us who can tell our history—without notes because it’s in the hearts and not just their heads—that can intellectually and emotionally “get it.” He is one of those people, but every time he enters a room of Black people, he has to start at ground zero. He confuses many of his white friends. He speaks with authority and conviction and sorrow at the plight within the Black community at a level many other whites don’t. Doors that would normally be opened to him because of white privilege—which he has used as a bridge to help all people of color—have started to close because of his advocacy around #BlackLivesMatter.

And he is not alone.


To all of our non-Black friends out there, thank you.

Thank you for listening and learning. Thank you for being a “bridge-builder,” advocating for both my people and educating your own—whether friends, family, co-workers, even spouses, parents, and children. It’s an invitation to be misunderstood. But you have stood alongside us this year, and I want you to know I see you.

We see you.

When we speak about history, we remember the Black Civil Rights Leaders that lost their lives. We forget about Viloa Liuzzo, Paul Guihard, William Lewis Moore, Rev. Bruce Klunder, and other non-Black people who died to give birth to justice.

There is a pain I know many of you are experiencing. It is felt when people you love say things you would not expect about people you care about. When racial slurs or silence comes from leaders, it births a fire in you. But you don’t know how to respond. Yet you have found a way to something.

For your raised awareness, your actions, and your advocacy, I truly thank.

For posts on Social Media, for getting arrested with demonstrators in Ferguson, for calling out silence and apathy, for asking people to not simply say “I am not racist” but in challenging them to be “antiracist.” I thank you.

The Black voice is not heard as clearly in this country. Sadly, it never has been. But like a church choir, when you combine the Sopranos, Alto, Tenors, and the musicians, you get something powerful. So too when we combine the Asian, Latino, Native American, International, Bi-Racial, Black and White voices, we get something powerful.

Keep speaking. Keep praying. Keep fighting.

We need you.

Sean M. Watkins

Black Lives Don’t Matter But Bad Press Does

It is a new day in our society! Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Republican Senator and 2016 Presidential Candidate Lindsey Graham, and even 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney have called for the Confederate Flag in South Carolina to be removed. Walmart, the largest retailer in the country, has announced it will no longer continue to sell the flag in any capacity.

It is such an incredible day.

But something doesn’t feel quite right.


What brought out these champions, these advocates for justice? What has allowed their eyes to suddenly develop X-Ray vision and see the Confederate Flag still waving in all of its glorious symbolism of oppression, slavery, injustice, racial ignorance/intolerance (or as Jon Stewart called it “racial wallpaper”), and an insult to African-Americans not only in South Carolina and around the United States? The flag has been there for years. Students, residents, early politicians, and pastors have been asking for its removal since…its resurrection by KKK during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Were their voices suddenly heard? Was there deep seated conviction deposited into the hearts of the leaders around the nation? Did Black Lives suddenly Matter?


What happened? Two things:

First, it only took 9 more deaths of African-Americans—mostly women—in a church during one of the worst racially heightened times in our country since the Civil Rights Movement, and those deaths needed to come at the hands of a tangible representation of what Black people have said the flag represents.

Second, it’s an election year. News outlets have “struggled to discern” the reasons Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his eight members lost their lives. Last week, one out of the almost twenty presidential candidates had the courage to say, “This was an act of racism.” (To call it “terrorism” would more difficult than me developing super powers.) It took Jon Stewart, the combined efforts of diverse people groups on Social Media, and generations of prayer, in order for elected officials—and those hoping to earn your vote—to realize this is not the time to rest on their laurels. To every Asian, Latino, South Asian, Black, Native American, White person who doesn’t benefit from white privilege, and especially to women all over the world, we have seen once again history repeat itself. Our businesses and politicians will move swiftly only economic and political capital can be lost.

In short, Bad Press Matters.

Some people will say I am being overly pessimistic, that this is a win, that as a Christian, I should rejoice that justice has come in some small way. Don’t mishear me. I am overjoyed the Confederate Flag will (hopefully) be removed from South Carolina, but I cannot call it a victory. The fact that the flag has been publicly displayed and sold in the United States some 150 years after the Civil War ended is heart-breaking. It is a symbol of one of the most evil periods in American History, and the atrocities committed against Black people in this country in the “name” of that flag have been ignored. (By the way, the confederate flag is publicly displayed in other places as well including the University of Texas Football Stadium, as several UT Black Faculty have stated for years.) Beyond the flag, there are statues of Confederate Soldiers—Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in Austin—as well as streets named after these people.

I cannot tell you what happens in my heart, my mind, my soul, when I see a Confederate Flag. To walk on a college campus that I love and see statues of men who gave their lives in the hopes that I would be a slave right now, that if they were alive would count me as three fifths of a person. It is a daily reminder that while I live here, I am not as welcomed as my peers.

Again, I am grateful progress is being made on this issue, but there are two things that should concern us all:

The Motivation for Removing the Flag. Why has the flag flown this long without consequence? Why were the cries of so many people of various ethnic groups unheard? Why was it not removed as soon as the motives behind the Charleston Shooting occurred? Why did our leaders suddenly decide it should be removed, giving a complete reversal of their words in 48 hours? If the flag had been taken down apart from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, if it had been taken down June 17-20th that would be different. If the Mayor or Governor of Charleston and South Carolina, respectively, would have taken down the Confederate Flag at the first press conference, we would be rejoice a lot more. But it didn’t happen. There was the full intention for that and our community “to heal” without addressing any of the public, overt racism that directly led to the tragedy. It took an election year and the rumblings of boycotts on social media in order for this grave injustice to be publicly addressed.

The Motivation Behind the Flag. If it takes Bad Press and not Black Blood—or the blood of any innocent victim of any ethnicity or gender—in order to be heard, we fail to see the reality of deeply ingrained racist ideologies in our society. The Confederate Flag is a piece of cloth, but it is a symbol of something far more sinister: the long unchallenged Goliath of Racism in American society. Like the Army of Israel that ran away from Goliath for 40 days unwilling to challenge that larger than life bully, so too do we as a country continue to run from not only confronting racism, we can’t even call it racism. If we are unwilling to confront racism in all its ugly forms, then removing the Confederate Flag is merely fruit not the root, the product and not the cause of the problem.

History differs greatly on the last few years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. Some state that he lost support nationally in the country when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. Others believe his influence continued to grow right up until his death. He was interviewed on The Mike Douglas Show five months before his assassination, and was asked he if was concerned about losing support for speaking against Vietnam War. His response is most appropriate as we look at what’s happening this week in our country:

You stand up for what is just because it is just and right. I think it was T.S. Elliot who said, ‘There is no greater heresy than to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.’ A lot of people do the right thing for the wrong reasons and I submit that anyone that would stop supporting Civil Rights because of the war on the part of some leaders ended up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. They were never truly committed to Civil Rights in the beginning.

If we as a nation are willing to remove the Confederate Flag because we want to confront racism, wonderful! But if we are choosing to remove the flag because of Bad Press, nothing has changed.

When we look back on this time years now, may it be said of us we did the right thing for the right reasons.

Sean M. Watkins

Do You Know What Your Pastor Will Say Tomorrow?

It’s Saturday. You know, the day in between Friday and Sunday. It’s the day to go to the park, clean the house/apartment, do laundry, and if you’re like my mom, it’s the day to take care of all the cooking so you can rest tomorrow.

Saturday is also significant for other reasons. For Christians, it is a day of anxious waiting. It is the day, as John Ortberg has remarked, is the day between a Good Friday that was really bad and Easter Sunday when all that was bad was made right (paraphrase). It is the day in which we set out hearts for anticipation for the transforming redemption of the muck and mire that we have experienced this or any other week. It is the day when we prepare to gather as communities of faith to grieve and lament, rejoice and celebrate.

It is also the day in which most pastors write and/or perfect their sermons.

Which means many are deciding right now if and/or what they will say about the #CharlestonShooting. As one three teaching pastors at a multi-ethnic church, I know this burden of Saturday preparation all too well. So, if I may speak to pastors for a moment:

This is an opportunity for the Western, North American Church to turn the page of history. It is the custom and tradition of many of our churches, diverse or not, to not address issues regarding race from the pulpit. We challenge our congregations to take the gospel to other countries, but not across the street. We want missionaries to go overseas, but we don’t speak about what’s happening across the street. Most historians point to the beginnings of racism in our country occurring when the Portuguese gave a tithe of African Slaves to the church in Virginia in exchange for their support for the Slave Trade. When face with the option of speaking up for the truth or choosing what was personally more advantageous, the church chose themselves rather than obedience to Lord. That tradition has sadly continued in most places around the U.S. from 1619 right up until today.

I am asking and praying that this tradition would end tomorrow morning—during the most segregated hours of our country.

Whether your congregation has responded to the racial tensions in the country previously or not—that does not matter now. As Aslan said to Lucy in Prince Caspian, “I cannot tell you what would have happened; I can only tell you what will.” The time is before you now to pastor congregations prophetically like never before. Racism has not only been in the country, it has now—again—reared its ugly head in the church. When Jesus encountered an evil spirit in the Synagogue in Mark 1, He was not silent. He did not ignore it. He addressed it publicly and removed it from His presence.

That is our task Sunday.

We must speak about the Charleston Shooting. For the sake of the gospel, for the sake of our congregations, for the sake of our immortal souls, for the sake of this generation. The world, yet again, is watching and waiting for our response. Whether it is the topic, a point, a sub-point, or a prayer request in your congregation, I urge you to say something. I submit all of our churches are in different places and different degrees of response are warranted. But no response is unacceptable.


Mark Atteberry stated, in The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do, one of the greatest hindrances to our faith is that we accept the unacceptable. He quotes Ryan Dobson, who said, “Tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.” If we tolerate some things it is because we truly do not believe, but if we truly believe, then there ought to be some things we simply do not tolerate. Remember, silence destroys cross-cultural trust. Men and women of various ethnic backgrounds will be listening to see we if say anything tomorrow. Our silence will demonstrate to them whether the tragedy in Charleston is important to God, His kingdom, and our churches. Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil is right: Silence is violence.

Demonstrate the integrity of the sacred place to which we have been called.

To all Christians reading this:

Go to church tomorrow. Scriptures tell us we can “throw off everything that hinders” and everything that entangles us when we are together with “the cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). We must pray for protection as we go to church and the protection of our spiritual leaders at church. Let’s not let this incident rob of us of the protection and safety we normally feel when entering the house of the Lord.

Tomorrow, I urge you to listen to your spiritual leaders as they address Charleston. Listen like a “Berean” (Acts 17:11) to see what is being said is true. The terrible tragedy of the Charleston Shooting is not a simple matter of mental illness or more gun control legislation.

It is racism in one of its ugliest forms.

Listen for wisdom and instruction from your spiritual leaders as we seek to confess our sin, ask for forgiveness, and seek healing from the Lord for our land.

If pastors tomorrow do not address this tomorrow, I urge you to publicly:

  • Ask why silence was chosen over this issue.
  • Walk out—after stating your unfulfilled expectations for wanting to hear a response to Charleston.
  • Gather friends and family to pray about this issue yourselves.
  • Send an encouraging word of prayer to the families of the victims (there are several of social media outlets set up including Facebook and Twitter).

Dr. King said, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” Now is that time.

We can longer assume that the natural ebbs and flows of time will lead to change. Historically, this has never been true. Change, confrontations and the defeat of the Goliaths that threaten our churches and families, have always come from men and women who were willing to take a public stand when others were afraid or silent.

The Goliath of racism has bullied us long enough.

Now is the time.

We must respond together as the church of Jesus.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

Speak up tomorrow.

I know I will.

Sean M. Watkins

There Are Two Americas

Almost 50 years, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Stanford University where he proclaimed words that belong to the ages. He called his message, “The Other America”:

There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. In this America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.

But tragically, and unfortunately, there is another America.

This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.

He went on to address poverty and racism in the United States and how both these evils must die if we are to thrive as one nation. His message to Stanford was some four years after he gave the eulogy for those four little girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

The year is 2015. Segregation has ended, legally anyway. The laws in the land have changed, but one must ask if the hearts of the people have.

It is interesting to watch the wide assortment of thoughts surrounding the events of the last twelve months. It literally hasn’t been a year since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. It hasn’t been a month since a mom told some Black kids to “go back to your Section 8 Housing” and a police officer lost his cool and withdrew his firearm on teenagers in swimming clothes.

As a Christian, as a pastor, and as African-American man, I have difficulty trying to understand what happened in Charleston. Regardless of people’s faith backgrounds, but especially with respect to my own faith, I have always regarded church as “holy ground.” When I pass places of Jewish or Muslim worship, while I don’t enter, I still treat them with respect. They are sacred spaces. I am trained to welcome guests, not to fear them—especially ones that don’t look like me. Despite all the events that have happened this year, the church was the one place that was supposed to be safe. It’s one place to pray for the healing from the wounds of this year. Now, the church has been added to list as a place where wounds have been inflicted. I don’t know 1963 moved on from the murder of those four little girls. I suspect the same way we will from the murders of the 9 at Emmanuel AME: one day at a time.

What disturbs me to my core, however, is not just the Two Americas that exist to this day but their perceptions of these events:

There is one America that has rallied behind #BlackLivesMatter. There is an acknowledgement that African-Americans and other people of color in the United States have historically been discriminated against in every way possible from police brutality and mass incarceration to unemployment, housing, and educational hindrances. Pastors are regularly creating programs and calling for change in their cities, states, and the nation. As with the Civil Rights Movement, there are minute pockets of white people who have grown nauseous at the silence and closed-mindedness of some of their friends, family, and spiritual leaders. They have been advocates for justice that surprise even them. There is one America that is calling simply for justice and truth BEFORE any conversation about racial reconciliation can begin. There are groves of people with heavy hearts (in Texas especially considering today is Juneteenth) that this tragedy has happened on holy ground.

But there is still another America.

This other America has not been simply silent but rather oblivious to these racial incidents. These events haven’t been brought up in conversation, points of prayer during church, or as words of comfort on social media. I am accustomed to my people being vilified by mainstream media and news outlets. (I do not accept it, but I am aware that is how we will be portrayed.) Every black person that has died this year in an unarmed confrontation with the police has been a “thug,” “delinquent,” “troubled youth,” or some other negative connotation. That’s about the extent these events have registered in this other America.

A 21-year old white male walked into Emmanuel AME Church, a historically Black church in South Carolina founded by slaves, and killed 9 people including the pastor—on the anniversary of one of the early slave revolts led by Emmanuel’s founder Denmark Vesey (Google him if you don’t know who he is). The person who committed these terrorist acts stated he wanted “to start a race war.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines terrorism as, “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in the furtherance of political or social objectives.” But in this other America, Dylann Roof is not a terrorist. He’s not racist. He’s a troubled kid who needs help. At best, it is an opportunity to discuss gun control laws in US. At worst, this is an assault on Christians, and Christians only.

Just like in 1967, today there are two Americas. One is pretty diverse. It has people of various ethnic backgrounds from Asian to Native American, African-American, White, Hispanic, the list goes on. This America is grieved and troubled and saddened and angered by the events of this year and the painful violence that happened at Emmanuel AME Church.

The other America? Not a dot on the radar.

I have gotten a litany of text messages, phone calls, and emails asking how I am doing—as I am sure many of my Black co-workers, friends, and family have. Some of them I have responded to because they are from dear friends that truly care. Some of them I haven’t because I simply don’t have the emotional energy to repeat myself anymore.

I/We have nothing new to say.

If people want to know how the Black community is doing in light of Ferguson, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott, McKinney’s Pool Party…and now Charleston…

I invite you to visit our America.


Sean M. Watkins

Check out comments made by Jon Stewart on the Charleston Shooting.


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