I’ve been drowning in a sea of Western white evangelicalism the last few years. It began back in 2012 when I responded to God’s call and returned to InterVarsity staff to help reach Black college students in my old region. Given my previous years on staff, I knew I would have to power up my cross-cultural translator in order to contextualize whatever resources I received so they weren’t quickly deemed irrelevant by the students I was called to reach, that I would be in a middle to upper-middle class environment while I was asked to help reach inner city kids (who cannot always get to Jesus because they cannot afford our conferences, books, etc.) and that ultimately I would have to be in perpetual displacement and be a bridge-builder to the Black community. But that high level of displacement moved to drowning when I decided to also pursue an M.Div. in Fuller Theological Seminary in 2014. These combined four years have demonstrated ever increasing racial tensions in the US and both the unwillingness and inability to address those issues in mainline white evangelical circles—and the cost has been weighing on my immortal soul and the souls of people of color in similar places.
I’ve seen firsthand the desire to honor the Lord and steward these moments of crises well, but far too often, the results have been more pain for Black and Brown people and people who are aware of the realities of systemic injustice. I’ve seen too many people have cross-cultural experience, but not cross-cultural wisdom, where we repeat the same mistakes—attempting to control public narratives, inviting people of color to be grateful for past progress while minimizing present injustice, limiting perspective on the issues to individual actions while ignoring social and systemic injustice. This stems largely from a Western white theological framework that sees salvation as personal and individual while ignoring the emphasis on how we as Christians should respond as a unified body.
However, my “drowning” and the drowning of too many of my friends is not because of any of the aforementioned things alone. Our drowning is occurring because of what we have to go through when a black body becomes a hashtag. We have to raise awareness of the issue. Then we have to call for not just awareness, but action. But before action, we have to dismantle the false notion that “decentering whiteness in evangelicalism means ‘black-centering.’” (Sidebar: Black people don’t want to be at the center. We want to not be oppressed. The dominant culture should be the kingdom of God and every other human ethnic group should be equal in time, representation, etc. That’s what we want, and that’s what Scripture calls for–equality, not assimilation, at the foot of the cross.) Because we are being killed and Western white evangelicalism is largely avoiding the issue(s), too many people of color are “drowning.”
I’m writing five blog posts—including this one—on my reflections from the conference, because as Erna Stubblefield-Hackett, the conference emcee, remarked, I am taking away both content from the speakers and what the speakers themselves embodied. I have never been in a room with so many people who were “woke.” (“Woke” is a slang term used to describe people who have become aware to the realities of social injustice. They are no longer asleep (i.e. unaware or apathetic), but have been awakened to these systemic realities at historic, judicial, industrial, economic, and academic levels). The few white people who were on stage were both incredibly aware of systemic racism and simultaneously owned their individual responsibility to check their hearts while working to dismantle oppressive systems of injustice…they were so “woke,” it helped heal my soul. Like a bad episode of MadTV, I came in with “lowered expectations.” There were groves of white people working with the poor, serving in cross-cultural places where their power was completely given up, and who prophetically addressed the political climate biblically without using names or “playing it safe.” All the people of color, women and men, courageously preached the gospel and called out the need to expand this binary conversation on race and ethnicity in America because there are other ethnic groups who have been ignored for far too long. Yes, White America and its original sin towards First Nations, Descendants of Slaves, and Mexican communities will need to be addressed, but that will never happen as long as the conversation remains Black and White. There are Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic groups who are speaking—and we need to listen.
My Immediate Takeaways
- I Cannot Raise Awareness in 2016. It is 2016, 151 years after slavery ended and 52 years since the Civil Rights Act. While progress has been made, we have not arrived at all. As long as places like Chicago, Flint, Ferguson, Baltimore, and [pick the next city to be exposed] exist where systemic corruption persists but the critique and solutions are limited to individual responsibility, we won’t move forward. The burden of proof to demonstrate there is more work to be done is not on me or any person of color. As my friend, Ashley June-Moore, eloquently stated, “Oppression is and has been an ever-present reality for us and those who have come before us.” I can point to resources for people to check out, but I cannot take my heart into another discussion where I am invited to consider we are a post-racial society or where I am expected to affirm present mediocre systems that are apathetic, unaware, and unwilling to address what Soong-Chan Rah calls “white cultural captivity” of both America and the evangelical church. American Evangelicalism in many respects is 20 years ahead of the church, but it is also 20 years behind the world. Most of the models for cross-cultural competency we give Christian leaders who are shepherding students and parishioners pale in comparison to what most college freshmen learn in introductory Ethnic Studies courses. I can’t raise awareness to the reality that the world is leading us in calls for justice. The rocks are crying out in 2016. We have to see that, and if we don’t, shame on all of us.
- I Need to Listen More in 2016. There are mentors of color and white people who legitimately are doing the difficult work of justice not as it is defined by white evangelicalism but as it is defined in Scripture. I need to listen to them. I found a host of them at CCDA, and I heard the names of their mentors. I need to study intensely from these mentors who recognize and lead from contexts that are not white-centered.
- I Need to Lead More in 2016. I am not Joshua. I am not waiting 40 years in the wilderness, walking in circles, for the opportunity to live out or follow the prompting of the Lord to fulfill his mission in this generation. History is repeating itself. Tamir Rice is Emmett Till. Ferguson is Watts. This time, however, Christians have so lost their witness, the secular world is leading a social justice movement while we debate which actions to take.
We have to decide if we are going to be politically correct or biblically correct. “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
CCDA is not perfect, nor are its speakers. They all admitted that. InterVarsity and Fuller Seminary are doing some good things, but in 2016, the Lord is calling us to more. More than our donors, more than safety, more than apathy and silence, more than lamenting the system is broken.
He is calling us to Himself. To follow Him, wherever He leads. CCDA gave me a glimpse of people more committed to Christ than they are to their culture.
…And I want to be in that number.