Strengthening the Black Voice at the multi-ethnic table.

Latest

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.

timthumb

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.”

(Sigh)

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
@seanisfearless

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.

1421178042197

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
@seanisfearless

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.

confederate-flag

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?

No.

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
@seanisfearless

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.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Silence-Quotes

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
@seanisfearless

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
@seanisfearless

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

#BlackLivesMatter & #AskRachel: We Were All Wrong About Race in America

If the last twelve months have proved anything, it is the United States and most of the people therein are greatly confused when it comes to issues of race.

Let’s take for starters the entire #BlackLivesMatter movement. A hashtag on Twitter became a universal symbol of response to a number of unarmed killings of Black men and women in America beginning with Michael Brown in Ferguson…not quite. Unarmed Black people have been killed in the United States for decades…actually centuries.

It just rarely makes the news. Google it if you don’t believe me.

How did the Christian church respond? Most were silent. Some were delayed but eventually gave calls for “peace” and “moving forward” without questioning if justice was present. Others spoke, protested, and some have yet to respond. Social Media was equally varied in its responses. Many people around the world called for diversity training among police officers. Some people rallied automatically to the defense of police, in one instance giving enough money to Darren Wilson to make him a millionaire. Some stated “Black Lives Matter” is offensive, that “all lives matter,” and that Black people were simply complaining about isolated incidents. “True progress has been made. Look at the President for Pete’s sake.”

And then came Rachel….oh Rachel.

Rachel Dolezal has everyone scratching our heads.

First, she is clearly white. Not bi-racial, not quarter, completely white. Her mom said they are of “Dutch, German, and Swedish descent.” White, or Caucasian, in the United States is equated with wealth, power, and status. “White privilege” is a reality for most whites because they are the majority in the US. (There will be a “privilege” for any ethnic group in any place that is a majority.) Employment, economic opportunities, housing expansions (read gentrification) and quality education has historically favored white communities. The US Laws no longer favor whites as they previously did, but the damage to other ethnic groups, especially the Native American and Black communities, has been done. Yet, Rachel, oddly, gave all that up to become Black. But she didn’t have to, which brings me to…

Second, she didn’t have to switch races to accomplish any of her goals. She’s an African-American Studies Professor, was the President of an NAACP chapter, and is married to a Black man. She could have accomplished all of these things—maybe more— without having to switch ethnicities (referring to her resume, not her love life). Some articles stated she and other whites do it to gain empathy. Even more, there’s a dialogue about being “trans-racial,” that one can adopt a race by choice. (We’ll come back to this.) If she didn’t need to switch her race in order to accomplish her goals, then…

Third, why did she switch (and why did her mom put her on blast)? What caused Rachel to enter into this 10 year facade about her race and why did her mom decide to publicly state her daughter was white and not Black? Again, she could have accomplished everything she did and perhaps more without switching her race. As a white woman, she possibly could have been an incredible bridge-builder in helping both these historically clashing groups take a big step forward, but she didn’t. She left one race to “self-identify” with another. I love Jessica Williams’ summation of Rachel Dolezal, “We [Black people] need advocates, not replacements.”

Between #BlackLivesMatter and #AskRachel, one thing is clear: the country remains oddly clueless when it comes to race. There are four factors at play in all this: ethnicity, race, culture, and class.

Ethnicity refers to the genetic country of origin to which your family comes from. If you have familial roots in Asia, Africa, Europe, etc., that is your ethnic background. That will never change.  Culture, however, does change. Culture is the set of customs and practices certain people adopt in certain places. An African-American person (of African descent) raised in the suburbs may have entirely different cultural practices than a African-American person raised in the hood. They may both love Spades, Coming to America, and hate outdoors, but one may prefer khaki pants with dress shoes while the other prefers Timberland boots with Jeans. Culture is really more about environment than our country of origin. Ethnically, I am African-American. I am the descendant of African slaves and one American slave owner. I cannot change that.

That leads to Race. Technically, it’s not real. It’s a social construct that was created and is maintained as a means of classifying people based on how they look. Ethnically, I am African-American but when people see me, they see my race: a Black man. Race plays a crucial element when it comes to Class—categories ascribed to people based on income, education, and geographical residence. What do I mean? If a group of Black kids go swimming at a pool, the question (at least in McKinney) asked is “Where is the pool?” If the pool is in the suburbs, it is assumed, based on race, those Black kids aren’t supposed to be there. Why? Because being Black is associated with a lower class, or socio-economic, standing than other ethnic groups and as the mom remarked in the video “should return to Section 8 Housing.” In English, if you’re Black, it is assumed you are broke, unequally educated, guilty of something if on the wrong side of town, and a danger to society. Rather than address poverty in the inner city, quality less schools, and underemployment, we reduce these problems to being “race” oriented and the result of a lack of discipline and hard work. We ignore the words of Victor Hugo and Dr. King: “Where there is darkness there will be crime. The guilty are not merely those who commit the crime but they who cause the darkness.”

Insert Rachel.

Rachel can change her own cultural values—she changed her dress and hairstyle. She will never be able to change her ethnicity—her momma told us where they are from. She was able to change her race for about 10 years. Then her mom called her back home. (By the way, that is what it means to be in the dominate group ethnically in the United States: you make your own rules.) Rachel has the “option” to switch. I do not. Latinos do not. Asians do not. Native Americans do not. As much as I love and respect all ethnic groups, I cannot choose to “self-identify” with any of them simply because I want to. That’s not an option for me. If it was, I would opt to stop getting my license checked by every police officer that pulls behind in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. I would choose to speak about the issues affecting the Black community and people respond with Awareness, Action, and Advocacy, rather than dismissing my claims as emotionalism or contextual.

Here are a few of the issues the Church and America won’t talk about:

  • The differences between ethnicity, race, and culture. One is historical, one is prejudice and fictional, and the other is based simply on community. (Which one is discussed on the news? It starts with an “r” and ends with an “e”.
  • If racism doesn’t exist, if Black people are simply complaining about problems that don’t exist, and if being Black is that amazing, why haven’t millions of other whites done what Rachel did and check the “Black” box? There isn’t a line of white people running to switch races. The line that is forming is of Black people being forced out of their homes as their neighborhoods become more diverse. (Do you see it? If Black people move into the suburbs, property value diminishes. If whites move into the inner city, property value increases, and people in poverty have to move because they can’t afford to live there anymore…and they miss out on any potential equity. This is gentrification. And it isn’t discussed anywhere.)
  • Rather than avoiding issues around race and ethnicity, would it be possible to ask questions like “where are the places in which some empathy needs to be given to white people” and “can we please acknowledge that being in a sub-dominate group, like Black or Latino, in the United States means there are places where discrimination has and is occurring?” Can we not ascribe all problems to one group AND at the same time not dismiss the historically, fact-proven concerns of another? Can we expand the dialogue about race and ethnicity beyond Black and White, as though there aren’t other ethnic groups in the country that have concerns they would love to be heard?

Personally, I am beyond anger and lament. I am simply exhausted. I have a foot in two worlds. I serve alongside many people with middle and upper-middle class lifestyles of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and when I go back home to Houston, I drive straight to the hood (3rd Ward ev’ry day).

In 3rd Ward, none of these options are available or even discussed. There are no “trans-racial” conversations. There are no “Rachel’s” looking to switch races.

There are poor, hurting, unequally educated people living there. Not in every home, but in far too many.

I expect many of them will go to the swimming pool this summer. Hopefully, they will stay on their side of town. Otherwise, there could be an incident, and what will the hashtag be the next time a racial incident hits the news: #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #AskRachel, #ImTransRacial, #JusticeForAnotherUnarmedDeath, #PoliceAreAlwaysRight, or something else entirely?

I know what it won’t be. It won’t be honest. It won’t be true. It won’t be respectful. It will be one-sided, because we still don’t know how to have a candid conversation about race and ethnicity in America.
Sean Watkins
@seanisfearless
#NowIsTheTime

What Are We Talking About? Awareness, Action, and Advocacy…or Not

I have tried to stay off Social Media for a few months. Most of my posts have been forwards of what others have written. This is mainly because something didn’t feel right after Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc. It’s taken me a couple of months to put words to the confusion I have been experiencing.

The world, the US, some organizations, and some Christians sat up and paid attention to the cries of the Black community. People began to lament the deaths of unarmed Black men and women. Progressive leaders began series on multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation. Black friends and non-Black friends married to Black people got numerous phone calls, messages, emails, etc. from co-workers, close and fringe friends wanting to learn. Apologies were given. Tears were shed. Hugs were passed around. And then it happened…

Nothing.

Nothing changed.

Once the emotional reality wore off that the fears of Black people were actually true, we went back to business as usual. I started looking at ministry newsletters, blog posts, and Tweets to see if any mention of these things would occur. Instead there was silence, an absence of words addressing this cross-cultural war. Most of the publications I read were overly positive and completely disconnected from reality, with a few exceptions of some friends on the front lines (shout outs to Howie and Emily especially). If people were speaking about it in conversation—never on paper—words like “controlling the narrative” were used. “What picture do we want to paint for people? “Let’s control the information out there and help people understand what’s really happening.”

In short, no real change has occurred.

There is a spectrum, at least in my mind, a healthy person or organization travels down when it comes to any issues, but particularly issues of race and ethnicity.

The first stage is Awareness. This is self-explanatory. It is simply becoming aware of injustice that exists that wasn’t on our radar before. It is discovering the realities of unemployment, underemployment, unequal education, mass incarceration, and systemic injustice are drastically and disproportionately affecting certain ethnic groups while the absence of these issues allow other groups to flourish. It’s akin to the televised police assaults on peaceful demonstrators during 1960s that horrified the country, or seeing systemic poverty experienced by Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans.

quote-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-injustice-anywhere-is-a-threat-to-justice-100753

The second stage is Action. Dr. King’s timeless words remain true, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is not enough to become aware of these issues. One must be moved to action. As a follower of Jesus, I must be allergic to systemic injustice and inequality whether at home or abroad. Where do I volunteer, where do I give leadership, where is the place in the mud for me to throw my hands and clean up this mess…until it is clean.

The third stage is Advocacy. Beyond taking action, I must call others to act as well. I must use my words, my voice, my influence to bring others into this spectrum of Awareness, Action, and eventually Advocacy themselves.

Herein lies my issue. The U.S. has been parked at Awareness since 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education declared separate but equal unconstitutional. 60 years later, not by law but by choice, we are still separate, and still unequal…and it is acceptable. It is so bad today that merging the two communities means eventual gentrification.

I am consistently teased about dressing nicer than circles I traverse. I don’t know where we are going for lunch or where meetings will be held. I don’t know if those locales have Black customers and I don’t want to be followed or have my humanity questioned because of the color of my skin. Black people for years—really decades—have spoken about all these issues, ethnic, economic, and otherwise. Those concerns have fallen on deaf ears, or they have been drowned out with “Black on Black crime” as an adequate rebuttal—which is important, but does not address the aforementioned problem or help create any type of solution.

The Western, Evangelical world vacillates between Awareness and Action. Part of it is just as apathetic and silent as it was when Dr. King was alive and well. (We should not be able to listen to a 50 year old sermon that sounds like he is grieving the death of Freddie Gray last month.) Part of the Evangelical world is unaware, and unaware on purpose. Pastors in the cities where the unarmed shooting deaths have occurred have not mentioned them in their pulpits. Not in a sermon, a prayer request, or an observation.

Another section of the Western Evangelical world inches toward Action but only briefly. That’s the lament, the calls, buying a meal or coffee to listen. If they are really concerned, they may even give a one-time financial gift as a sign of their commitment to racial reconciliation. While those actions are appreciated, still, nothing has changed.

Everything I have mentioned thus far is the perspective of the unaware. It isn’t the Black perspective.

We have been Aware since the day we got here, since elementary when kids began making comments about our hair, or skin color, clothes, and music.

We have been looking for Action from the church to address not just the deaths not of unarmed Black people, but the systemic issues that perpetuate the majority of problems that exist in the Black community. Not a sermon, not a book, not a panel discussion, not a seminar, actual action steps.

“How are we going address education and employment issues or mass incarceration as a community?” Questions like that aren’t asked. Instead, what we do hear is, “These things are systemic and we can’t change that,” or “These things take time.” Both of those statements are not true, and honestly, are sin. Nothing we are truly committed to takes time, or as much time as we think, and “waiting” invariably means “never.” The Gospel of Jesus at the core revolving around His death and resurrection, is liberation for the oppressed, the prisoner, and the captive. If the gospel preached doesn’t addressed and tear down strongholds, it simply is not the gospel. It is not Good News at all.

Has slavery ended? Yes. Was separate but equal declared unconstitutional? Yes. Have we changed the core identity of our country, community, churches, ministries, organizations so the systemic issues are tackled or at least moved towards elimination? No.

Action, true action, means coming to terms with what multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation truly mean. For some groups, racial-reconciliation and multi-ethnicity means have diverse groups in the room only and having nice brochures with different people of color all smiling. It doesn’t mean sharing power or restructuring to ensure resources withheld for centuries are now accessible to bring real change.

For another group, my group and others like it, Action means justice. It means equality. It means never being silent. It means tackling head on the issues that caused the problems in the first place. It means solving the funding problems, the hiring problems, the lack of cross-cultural competency in supervisors. It means not only listening to the marginalized, but bringing them from the margins to the middle. Look at Acts 6 when the Greek widows are overlooked in the daily distribution of food while the Hebrew widows are not. Read the rest of the book to see if that systemic issue came up again. It didn’t. The Christian community took real action and solved the issue. They came to terms with the real problem and solved it, permanently.

We have yet to do that as the church, as Christian community, and from what I can see, we aren’t planning to do so.

Advocacy becomes insulting when Awareness and Action are at the same level they were in the 1950s and are temporary. There are diverse groups of people out there that really want to see change happen episodes like Baltimore and Ferguson never happen again, but the best we offer is silence, apathy, and ignorance.

I don’t affirm a riot. Ever. Riots, however, do get people’s attention. (People didn’t listen to Dr. King until Malcolm X affirmed violent responses.) That’s really one of the main reason these shootings have made the news, and perhaps the only reason you are reading my blog right now.

That riot helped raise Awareness. But that’s really all that’s happened.

There’s been little Action.

Which begs the question, “What are we really Advocating for?”

Injustice.

575093_432489286777436_166854740007560_88220135_585777613_n

52 Years After Letter from a Birmingham Jail

MLK1

52 years ago today, April 16th, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama responding to Christian leaders who questioned his actions and the actions of civil disobedience committed by African-Americans throughout the South. As with all significant moments in history, we look back to celebrate our progress and grieve how far we still have to go.

52 years ago, Dr. King went to Birmingham because he said injustice was there. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” He challenged us to reconsider our individualistic American mindsets that our neighbor’s actions don’t affect us, and that injustice if left untreated, would continue to spread like cancer from city to city.

52 years later, segregation is illegal in the United States, but it remains the preference of many ethnic groups in the United States. Cries for justice are no longer declared just from podiums and pulpits, but also through hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. Diverse groups of people have rallied behind the Black community as awareness is being raised at the reality of unarmed Black men being killed on a weekly, if not daily basis. However, far too many find “#BlackLivesMatter” offensive. It is seen as an attempt to elevate the concerns of the Black community above others. The lives of the deceased are devalued, and there isn’t a broader conversation about the injustice that created the communities that restricted the options of life for these troubled youths.

52 years later, the laws in the U.S. have changed but not so much the hearts.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. – Martin Niemöller

52 years ago, Dr. King wrote the formula for civil disobedience/non-violent protest: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation to determine if justice can be brought, self-purification/preparation to meet violence with non-violence; and direct, non-violent action. He was always inviting people to engage in peaceful protests, love the person and hate unjust actions. He stood against riots because he accurately believed that while “a riot is the language of the unheard,” it still only creates more problems and solves none.

52 years later, after the assassination of most of the leaders committed to non-violence, after decades of police corruption, unemployment and underemployment, and inadequate schools throughout the country, it seems as though “the cup of endurance” Dr. King spoke of has indeed run out. There is little to no respect of the lives of Blacks in the United States, apart from the world of entertainment. There are videos released consistently of them being killed by the police. Beyond the Black community, higher levels of unjust policing of ethnic minorities are emerging around the nation. This swelling of anger at injustice has led some to angrily turn weapons on the police themselves. We have amazing, sacrificial, kind police officers in every city—I pray. There are also so bad, corrupt, cops. Sadly, we have entered into a time where the regards for human life—civilian or law enforcement—have diminished. We apparently have not opted for “peaceful co-existence but mutual annihilation.”

52 years ago, Dr. King wrote to clergy and communities alike, calling them to see “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” “why we can’t wait,” and his disappointment with the silence of Christian leaders (if you’ve been following my blog, clearly most of my posts regarding race and ethnicity are reflections of Dr. King’s writings.) He called for communities to see time does not inevitably lead to change, but rather change comes from tireless efforts of leaders. He told everyone the pain of “waiting.” He grieved how people who bare the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus would support or silently submit to racial inequality but proclaim Jesus’ good news to the poor and freedom for the captives from Luke 4.

52 years later, have we made progress? Of course. 2015 is not 1963. But let’s not pretend the progress has been monumental. Our progress has been on the sidewalk, not in a car, or by plane. Our progress has been begrudgingly slow, and painful. We still cannot have an open discussion about race and ethnicity in our churches. There’s still deafening silence on matters of race, and tremendous levels of cross-cultural distrust.

Time has not healed our wounds, not by a longshot. Yes, the President is bi-racial man, and while he has been in office since 2008, race relations have moved in the opposite direction. If you don’t believe me, read the comments on any news report on any medium of your choosing.

On a personal note, I have been in numerous meetings with ethnic minorities around the United States this year as multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation are hot topics. I have had too many cups of coffee while having the same conversations. On one side, I have met with Christian white leaders that want diversity in their churches and organizations, but there is a stout unwillingness to share decision-making power and introduce cultural elements that affirm the groups they want to reach (i.e. hire a staff of a particular ethnic group, sing diverse songs, diverse speakers, etc.). To join many—not all—majority white communities of faith means we’ll need to leave much of our ethnicity at the door. We are welcomed in the room, but not at the table unless we assimilate. On the other side, I have Black, Asian, Latino, and even White friends who are going to two different churches. They attend the majority culture churches because they have a heart for diversity, and then they go to their second church because, well, they are heard and understood. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

52 years later, our laws have changed but our hearts haven’t as much. There are glimmers of hope. Chinese-Americans have been championing injustice in the Black Community as many of us have lost our voices from the endless screaming and tears. Many White brothers and sisters have stood beside Blacks and Latinos as advocates and bridge-builders. Native American and South Asian communities are finding their voices, advocating for others and themselves. There is progress being made, but I honestly don’t know if we will ever arrive. What is needed in our country is a transformation of the heart, and only God works from the inside…

…and He was asked to leave our schools and courts of law some time ago.

Hence, my concern.

–SMW

We Need Each Other: Thoughts from MESC 15

reconciliation-different-namesIn the midst of what has easily been the most emotionally difficult season of my professional and personal life as a Christian Black man in America, I find myself reflecting on my experiences this past week at InterVarsity’s Multi-Ethnic Staff Conference 2015, in Orlando, Florida.

The humility of two national leaders to begin the conference with apologizing for wounds inflicted unintentionally by their actions set the course for the week. The Urbana 15 Worship Team maintained an atmosphere that invited the presence of God every time they took the stage.

The Speakers were prophetic! All of them.

Vice President Paula Fuller challenged us to press into the difficulty of the moment and re-dig wells of prayer, multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation that had been filled (Genesis 26).

National Asian-American Ministries Director Joe Ho led an ethnic inductive bible study of Ephesians 2, and opened the door for our Christian Native American brothers and sisters to touch the hearts of everyone in the room.

Abner Ramos (@abnerramos139) reminded me I have dignity regardless of my funding level, while addressing systemic issues around funding and challenging misconceptions about immigration by sharing his own story.

Moani Sitch opened her heart and guided us in a lament of the brokenness in our world and our organization.

Dora Yiu (@yiu_can_tweet) told us all: DON’T MISS THIS MOMENT. It is a unique time. We have all missed moments. Don’t miss this one. (Preach Dora!)

Chris Nichols, in his usual prophetic nature, announced multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation weren’t side seminars, but seminal values that we pursue not because it’s the flavor of the month, but because it is what the gospel declares and Christ demands…until we are dead and see Him face to face.

The one and only National Black Campus Ministries Director Rev. Phil Bowling-Dyer (@PhilBowlingDyer) summarized the week by saying, “God has given us seeds…and good seed is a terrible thing to waste.” Then he opened his heart and invited us into his neighborhood, showing how he is working with his community to make sure what happened in Ferguson doesn’t happen where he lives. He declared and demonstrated fear should never trump our faith.

As powerful as the conference was, perhaps what will stay with me most are moments I shared with my friend and brother, Jason Philipose. JP and I have been friends for years, since we were classmates in college. We support and challenge each other. We debriefed the conference midway, discussed our own progress and shortcomings with racial-reconciliation, and were both in awe of the words of Dr. Sam Barkat, its first VP of Multi-Ethnic Ministries, who was honored during the conference. Full of wisdom, faith, and humility, Dr. Barkat paved the way for everything that happened that week long before most of us were in the room.

Me, JP, Dr. Barkat

JP and I got the chance to sit down and have breakfast with Dr. Barkat the final morning of the conference. He told us his experience in joining InterVarsity. He told us about the first South Asian Staff to join the movement, looked at both of us in our thirties, and imparted generational wisdom that JP and I will be unpacking for years to come. He said in a few sentences what all the speakers had been saying all week.

I hope all of us, not just within InterVarsity but Christians around the world, do what Dr. Barkat challenged JP and I to do: listen to each other. Advocate for each other across cultures. Multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation cannot be a black/white issue any longer. Are there issues there still? Yes. Have we resolved the past in the present to set the course for the future? No, but we are making progress.

We will, however, never get there if our focus is only Black/White relations. I grieved as I listened to Courtland, a Native American IV staff, share the realities facing his people and how they are often and sadly forgotten. I questioned who was the first South Asian IV Staff and what is their story? (Dr. Barkat gave us homework.) What is my voice and role in helping heal relations in Asian contexts where there is discord? How can I reach the street and affirm my white friends who want to work to change systemic issues but feel stuck themselves? How do I make sure my bi-racial friends never feel left out of the conversation? How do I leverage my voice, influence, and resources to advocate for the Latino community at the level I do my own?

These are the questions I am wrestling with. More than wrestling with the questions, I am looking to make progress on these issues to create a better community, not just pontificate on the situation or give surface answers that never result in systemic, real change.

Oil and water do not go together. You can stir them, blend them, or boil them together. It doesn’t matter. They will not stay together very long. In order to get the two together, you need an emulsifier. Oil and water with an egg as an emulsifier gives you mayonnaise. Many of ethnic groups cannot seem to get along. Whether it’s conflicts in Asia, Africa, or within the U.S., peace seems to always avoid us. We need each other, but we also need an emulsifier.

The Gospel of Jesus is just that. It crosses ethnic lines and socio-economic statuses. The gospel in the hands a Black man can help heal Asian wounds across countries and generations. A Latino mom may give a ride to a black kid walking home in the rain because she sees “a son” not “a suspect.” A Asian-American woman can affirm and speak to white identity in ways I may not be able to. A South Asian man can work with a group of black college students, depositing seeds of reconciliation that will produce fruit for years to come. White Christians who want to see race relations and systemic injustice change may be welcomed with open arms rather than suspicion when they are joined by Asian and Latino advocates. Christian Native Americans can humble us all, and remind us there is far more to lose than we imagine. The Latino voice may be what brings the different ethnic groups to the table to finally have an adult conversation on race and ethnicity in the United States. The list goes on and on and on…

Either way, we need each other. We need to listen to each other, for the sake of our immortal souls.

Dr. King was right. “We must end racism in all of its evil forms. We will either have peaceful coexistence or mutual co-annihilation.”

– Sean

@seanisfearless 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,400 other followers