BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sacrifice of Praise

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This series explores how to facilitate disparate cultures' coming together in communal worship. Here, Eileen Howard shares what it means to sacrifice our own comfort in worship for the sake of reconciliation and inclusivity (adapted from 7/10/2011):

Across America on Sunday, about 43% of the population will go to worship. In most cases, they will worship with folks who are pretty much like themselves. They will mostly be of the same ethnicity, education level, and economic class. In many cases, members of those churches will say that they really would like folks of other ethnicities to join them. Or they want to reach out to folks who are poor, but poor people “just don’t come to their church”. Or they may even be a church that serves the poor throughout the week with meals, clothing and other actions, but those same poor people do not join them in worship on Sunday.

What these congregations may not realize is that, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, their church has a big “Keep Out” sign for those who are different from themselves.

In order to invite economic and racial diversity, we have to make a sacrifice of the worship and musical styles dearest to our hearts. It requires us to shift our worship from being a comforting retreat, to being outreach. It requires making diversity a higher priority than our own spiritual (and social) comfort. The exciting news is that, in doing so, we find a richness of spiritual growth that we have not previously experienced.

Questions of musical style in worship can and do divide congregations in a hurry. The people who like traditional church music, might not like contemporary Christian music, and the folks who like traditional Black church music may not like a white style that they consider boring. Some folks find Country gospel music as grating to them as nails on a chalkboard. 

What’s interesting to me about this whole discussion is that most good hearted Christians are authentically interested in church growth and health, and might be willing to make many sacrifices in money or time. But we never CONSCIOUSLY ask people to make a sacrifice in their music and worship style – a “Sacrifice of Praise,” if you will. 

Here are just a few examples of stylistic struggles with diversity and music in worship:
  • Those who grew up in traditional worship may find meaning and comfort in old hymns and formal and liturgical worship. They may be comfortable with pipe organs, robes, and enjoy classical music and choirs. Some people feel betrayed and fearful about “Contemporary” worship. It feels like what is most precious to them is being discarded. They may be turned off by what they see as the emotional and superficial nature of Contemporary Christian worship music. 
  • Many traditional hymns are in styles that were very popular when they were written at the turn of the 20th century or earlier, but they feel old and stilted to unchurched folk. Language was different – more flowery, with a greater vocabulary, and now requires a college education to understand. Many people today just don’t connect with traditional worship. 
  • A lot of traditionally African-American music is focused on personal salvation and sustenance, with less of an emphasis on deepening discipleship. Some people find it overly emotional and lengthy. Traditionally black services are often filled with vocal feedback to the pastor or choir that may be perceived as disrespectful by others. 
  •  Many churches that do good work for the poor sing songs about social justice and caring for the poor.  Many of these songs have a meditative folk/Celtic quality that may not connect much with non-white cultures. Many songs come from the perspective of being ABOUT poor people, not WITH them. Not surprisingly, not many poor folk appear to be worshiping in the congregations that serve them and there is limited racial diversity. 

So, the dilemma is: how can we have relevant worship that is inviting for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, churched, de-churched, and un-churched, that also has depth of discipleship, and includes both evangelism and social justice? Seems like an impossible task!

For eight years, I have been the Minister of Music for C4AP in Columbus, Ohio. This intentionally cross-class, multi-racial, inclusive congregation has been worshiping with and working with the poor since its inception. It’s not perfect, but over time what we found was that folks, for whom traditional black gospel resonated, started liking some of the pop/rock contemporary Christian songs. And folks who liked peaceful Celtic worship music, kind of got jazzed by modern Black Gospel songs. 

In the midst of learning to love one another and making a sacrifice of the praise that most resonated within ourselves, we have learned to love the forms of praise and worship most cherished by others who are different from us.

Here’s the spiritual gem I have found: Letting go of “my preferred” music or worship style is practice for letting go of prejudices, stereotypes and labels that divide us one from another. It is relinquishing the worship that suits “my needs” and embracing worship that speaks to my neighbor. It is about loving one another through worshiping together.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Welcoming and Inclusive Worship

Here, we begin a new series exploring how to facilitate disparate cultures' coming together in communal worship for the sake of justice and reconciliation.

How can predominantly white Christian churches and organizations become safer places of worship for people of color? Many Christians truly have a desire to be more inclusive. Yet time and again, a brave POC will come to worship, and then never come back. This scenario plays out in bible studies, fellowship, and churches all over the country. So what is going on?

Several things to consider:

1) Congregational Buy-In. Often, though there are several strong leaders that are wholly committed to making racial reconciliation a priority, it can be hard to get large-scale buy-in from the rest of the members. Inclusively requires a broad-based intentionality that does not waver when life gets busy, or when awkward moments arise. This takes time, commitment and continued education for everyone involved.

2) Leadership reflective of multicultural affirmation. Even if some of the pastoral staff and board members are of different backgrounds, often head pastors and worship leaders continue to be white. We must be attentive to the messages we portray through our leadership. Who is ultimately in charge and who is subordinated? 

3) Affirmation, not appropriation/ homogenization. Across the country there is an emerging effort to incorporate various traditions into the worship service. Unfortunately, the "diversity" songs are sometimes simply appropriated into the established style of the church, without honoring the culture from which they came. It's a good step in the right direction, but ultimately leaves the same homogeneous impression to a new visitor.

4) Intentionality at the front door. Being the newbie is always going to feel awkward, but it is even more challenging when you are very clearly the only person of your race in the room. Churches really do work hard to be welcoming, but the challenge is that for every five new people that get greeted, the one that slips by will never forget it. When those in the majority are more comfortable around folks that are similar to us, it is the racial 'others' that are disproportionately left un-greeted. We must double and re-double our efforts to ensure that this NEVER happens (On the other hand, see Sherie's important warning in the comment section below!!).

5) Stand for justice and reconciliation in the broader community. Sometimes in our efforts to increase the diversity of our own group we lose sight of the greater goal. Too often, a token black member serves to soothe the guilt of homogeneous-ness, letting us feel diverse without the hard work that reconciliation requires. We may welcome someone when they are on our own turf,  but if we do not engage with each other for change and justice in the 'real world,' then our diversity was just for show.

6) Ethnicity-specific ministries and fellowship. Understanding one's own identity in Christ and in the context of one's ethnicity is a central part of the process of spiritual growth (including for those in the majority position). It can also be exhausting to maintain an attitude of worship when you feel you are sticking out from the crowd. When it comes to worshiping God, sometimes it is helpful to remove that burden when we can. Thus, those in the racial majority must never belittle, undermine, or compete against ethnic-specific ministries. But rather, we must support, encourage, and uplift (without forcing our presence, uninvited). Bring to the table the any extra resources and influence that a position of power in a racialized world may provide.

If we let diversity become a chore, a checklist, that attitude will be painfully obvious to the world. We cannot forget that racial justice reconciliation is of the utmost importance to our ministry and to our witness. How powerful it could be to show the world an image Christian unity, rather than a lips service to clich├ęs!

I invite readers to share your personal experiences, frustrations, and suggestions.

See Also:
Why it is Important
Stuff Church People Do
We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Friday Fruit (05/25/12)

On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings. 
It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

See Also:
For the Bible Tells Me So: Racial Justice and Reconciliation
Racial Justice: Why Should Christians Care?
Dr. Tatum: Defining Racism

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church (Part 3)

This is the last installment in a series (see part 1 and part 2) by Paul Matsushima discussing some of the barriers to a racially-healthy ChurchHis article originally appeared at Eesahmu and Racialicious.

My qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why:
3. Middle-Class Asians as the Norm

This brings me to a final point about racial discourse within the Asian American Church. Perhaps the most restrictive factor in these communities is the portrayal of Asian Americans as hardworking, self-sufficient, non-complaining “model minorities” who vindicate the American Dream (See post: Model Minority).

While this stereotypical portrayal may have aspects of truth in it, my intention here is not to critique its problematic dimensions. Others, Wayne Au and Benji Chan, Frank Wu, Stacy Lee, have done tremendous work to uncover its myth-like existence as a political and divisive tool.

Breaking the 'Model Minority' Myth
(Click to enlarge image)
What troubles me most is how many Asian Americans (not all, but many) buy into this self-perception. In mid-January, with Youtube’s explosion of the S**t Girls Say meme, the “S**t Asian Girls Say” counterpart saw little critique in its depiction of Asian American young women as spoiled daughters who benefit off model-minority parents/boyfriends. 

Perhaps worse is how some respondents confirmed this stereotypical portrayal with responses such as, “one of my friends says that all the time,” or “OMG so true, LMAO.” No one from the Asian American community took the time to sufficiently challenge these insensitive images, while other communities of color were in an uproar about their respective videos, as shown by Latoya Peterson’s blog post. I know this meme is nowhere near overwhelming evidence for my point. However, the video–and Asian Americans’ silent assent to it–could indicate that our society is at the point where viewing Asians as middle class is normal.

The effect of internalizing this middle-class identity is a critical mindset towards other low-income racial minorities. In my own experiences in Asian American evangelical circles, I occasionally hear racialized criticisms towards "certain people:” welfare recipients, day-laborers, and single-mothers, to name a few. The speaker often comments towards these faceless (yet highly racialized) people as if she/he is above them.

It’s as if their discipline, responsibility, and middle-class values make them morally superior.
It pains me to know that this community who was once included in those dehumanized categories now perceives itself as better than, just because we think we’ve “made it.” Not even 60 years ago, Asians’ existence in this country was formally marked by fear, hostility, and exclusion. They were ranked as second-class citizens, and in some cases, deemed sub-human. It baffles me that many Asians now hoard their relative privilege when there is a nation of hurt continuing because of the racial bias etched onto America’s consciousness.

Perhaps the study of American racial dynamics offers a narrow, limited path by which to view the world. Not everyone, especially in their faith journeys, will travel through the ism of race as I have. But as I reflect back, it troubles me that I feel I must end with a defense that racial discourse is a legitimate area of study. I expect hesitation–even disagreements–from those who read this post’s title and disregard it as unworthy of attention. But for me, and perhaps for many other Asian Americans, the area of race is where I am most deeply wounded and where I find healing. This is the avenue I learn compassion towards those unlike me, even those who reject me simply because I’m “Asian.” My hope is that evangelicals, especially Asian American evangelicals, will learn the brokenness and tragedy in America’s racial history so that they’ll be challenged to heal their wounds, confront their errors in thinking, and be moved towards racial justice.

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church (Part 2)

This is the second instalment in a series (see part 1) by Paul Matsushima discussing some of the barriers to a racially-healthy ChurchHis article originally appeared at Eesahmu and Racialicious.

From Part 1:
My qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why:

2. Personal Religion, aka Bootstraps

The second perspective that restricts race-talk is the common notion that spirituality, much like life in America, is a personal matter. From prayer, to worship, and even to acts of compassion, American evangelicals find their worldviews thoroughly enculturated in individualism.

One of the hallmarks of individualism is what many racial scholars call “the bootstraps model.” This states that the key factor for an individual’s or groups’ success is their value system. Ethnic minorities achieve via hard work and sacrifice; Christians through effort and growing in the “Fruit of the Spirit.” The former perspective is usually espoused by those who believe America is a land of equal opportunity, where all people, regardless of their racial, gender, or economic backgrounds can attain the American Dream by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Asian Americans are held up as the bootstraps’ poster children (See post: Model Minority). Since I will address this more in the next section, I’ll only say this here. Wonder why Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, rose to Time Magazine’s 2011 Top 100 People List? My speculation: to maintain the belief that hard work, sacrifice, and helicopter parenting are the “keys” to success.

Please don’t misinterpret me: value systems that include the aforementioned qualities are extremely important to progress. But this argument, when applied to America’s racial dynamics, works by ruling out all other external factors from why certain groups succeed and others don’t. It does not analyze how racial groups are treated differently on account of their race, both historically and presently.

Michael Emerson, in Divided by Faith, wonderfully demonstrates how this bootstraps argument is one of the main culprits for American evangelicals’ lack of racial concerns. As his research studies white Americans, he shows how they often perceive moral choices (i.e., value systems) as the root cause for why whites and Asian Americans do well while Latinos and African Americans do poorly. They are, thus, never taught to look at other institutional culprits that affect certain racial groups’ opportunities, access, and lives. For example, how Bank of America intentionally charged Blacks and Latinos higher interest rates than whites on home loans; or how research shows “blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate, yet African Americans are 10 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses.” (See post: Incarceration, The New Jim Crow)

Despite American evangelicalism’s individualistic history, it brings me great joy to know that much of the American Church is returning to its roots of biblical justice. In particular, addressing the vast disparity between rich and poor is becoming a priority. Christians’ understandings of the causes of poverty and all its residual effects are becoming more complex than the oversimplification of poor life choices.

If Christians can make the connections between how structures of power shape and (can) determine the outcomes of people’s lives, perhaps they can expand this understanding to American racial politics. Forty Catholic leaders recently released a rebuking open letter to some of the Republican presidential candidates, challenging them to “reject the politics of racial division, refrain from offensive rhetoric, and unite behind an agenda that promotes racial and economic justice.” These Catholics understand how racialized and disparaging comments can perpetuate and reinforce the way race shapes our views, categorizations, and treatment of certain groups.

Continue to the final segment...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church (Part 1)

Please welcome guest author Paul Matsushima discussing some of the barriers to a racially-healthy Church. His article originally appeared at Eesahmu and Racialicious and will be presented here in three installments. Part 1:

Recently, while attending one of the most ethnically diverse evangelical seminaries in the nation, I found myself in an environment where I had to defend the argument that race still matters. Don’t get me wrong; students and faculty alike openly discussed ethnic and societal culture; and, although all were unanimous that racial prejudice is wrong and diversity is good, when it came to America’s original (and continuing) sin of racism, there were choirs of crickets.

I, in partial reaction, left. After stepping back from my enmeshment in the evangelical world, I gained some clarity for why I felt so isolated. Personal reasons aside, my qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why.

1. Unity in Christ, aka Colorblindness
Firstly, we who seek to discuss race in the Asian American church go head-to-head against the banner of colorblindness. Colorblindness, while it may value ethnic diversity, seeks to ignore one’s race in order to avoid giving differential treatment on account of it. In other words, it attempts to treat all people equally regardless of race.

Unity vs. Homogeneity
This thinking is interwoven into the Christian doctrine of the primacy of one’s Christian identity. Common phrases such as “unity in Christ” or “children of God” shape American evangelicals to value their Christian identity over any other. Tim Tseng, in his article “The Young Adult Black Hole,” explores how Asian American young adults leave their immigrant-ethnic churches for white or multiethnic ones because the influence of colorblind thinking. The message of one’s Christian identity as most important, combined with assimilation into American culture as good and being too ethnic (i.e., too Asian) as bad, is thoroughly ground into these young people’s minds. The result: many Asian American evangelicals believe “the goal [of Christian identity formation] is to shed, not affirm their [racial] identities."

In 2009, the Urbana Missions Conference hosted around 16,000 attendees, 30% of which were Asian American. I was shocked and disturbed when I, along with three other conferees were the only ones who attended the Asian American prayer workshop, a session devoted to exploring how racial identity shapes the way one prays. Asian Americans flocked to workshops on international and missionary issues in Asia, but when it came to the single workshop focused entirely on Asian American issues, their attendance was extremely minimal.

I may never be able to “prove” why there were only four of us at that workshop. But it saddens me to know that Urbana’s Asian Americans were quick to delve into other issues yet not into themselves. For those who attended the prayer workshop, it was a sacred and healing space. We were able to share openly, honestly, forgivingly about the ways we have been treated as Asians in America, about how our Asian American-ness affects and shapes our everyday lives, and how to find solace from being misunderstood about this topic. That, in my understanding of spirituality, is both unity and solidarity.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Fruit (05/18/12)

Remembering Elward Ellis
On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings. 
It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

See Also:
For the Bible Tells Me So: Racial Justice and Reconciliation
Racial Justice: Why Should Christians Care?
Dr. Tatum: Defining Racism

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mission and Vision

We wrap up our series of foundational posts by revisiting the mission and vision of BTSF:

"Ye shall know them by their fruit,"
(Matthew 7:16)
             At BTSF, our mission is to facilitate justice and understanding across racial divides by offering essays, resources, and forums for discussion, in a manner that is accessible and respectful to all involved.
             We strive to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion, and to attempt to educate in a manner that may forestall hurtful statements of ignorance that often impede interracial discussion. In particular, we strive to be an open space for white folk (and others traditionally in roles of privilege) to ask tough questions, learn our racial history, gain an understanding of systematic injustice, and to become empowered agents for change, both within ourselves and for our communities. 
             By approaching racial justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective, we access the relational model that Jesus sets forth, and gain an understanding of the greater impact for the Kingdom that is at stake. We recognize that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, and is counter to God's will for His people. Therefore, we
...yet what 'Strange Fruit' we have.
(Billie Holiday)
hope in God's promises for a redeemed and reconciled world and are grateful for the opportunity to play a role in their fruition. 

The ideal of heaven:
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9)
Being lived out on earth:
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."           (Mathew 6:10)
Brought about by justice-minded reconciliation:
"to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke" (Isaiah 58)

Guiding Principles:
  • Racism is a real and pervasive force dividing God's Kingdom.
  • A divided body of Christ hurts our witness to the world, hampers our personal relationship with God, and perpetuates our global sinful brokenness. 
  • Rich diversity is important to God and is part of His vision of a redeemed Kingdom. 
  • The Church has made egregious errors in our racial history, the consequences of which we continue to bear. 
  • The Church continues to perpetuate racial divides today, causing pain that often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged.
  • However, the Church also has incredible potential to usher radical racial reconciliation through the model of Jesus Christ, and to be a balm of justice & hope to the world. 
  • It is especially important for those traditionally in positions of power and privilege to educate themselves and to take action to redeem broken relationships & systemic injustice.  
  • By God's grace, we have the opportunity to not only right our own wrongs, but to drastically advance racial healing, and to enter into powerful relationships to reshape the world's understanding of who God is and His desires for us as a community.

At BTSF, we hold the above statements of principle, mission, and vision to be central to our purpose and essential to our progress. Though not all contributors need adhere to these principles, they serve as a central template with which to conduct our discussions. Many of the concepts stated here have been fleshed out and discussed in previous posts.

Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through email or RSS feed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For the Bible Tells Me So: Racial Justice and Reconciliation

In this series, we revisit some of the foundational posts that lay the groundwork for much of what is expressed at BTSF. 'Biblical Premise' originally appeared on 4/08/2010:

Diversity in the church is scriptural. It is holy. God himself is a manifestation of three vastly different entities communing together in unity.  God has designed his people so that we need everyone in order to fully understand who He is. We know this because that is how He says heaven will be like:

Rev 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nationfrom all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb!"

This is a picture of creation in all its diversity coming together to praise God. Let it be 'on earth as it is in heaven.'

But this environment doesn't just magically happenThis is not about being PC because it's popular thing to do—it's about Christ-driven redemption of a broken worldWe must identify and actively combat the injustice and disparity that underlies our modern racial divisions. True reconciliation means bearing with one another, and sacrificing of ourselves to combat injustice in the lives of others.

Examine what scripture has to say about the importance of justice (Isaiah 58) and unity (Ephesians 4:1-14). Observe how the early church dealt with unjust systemic practices (Acts 6:1-7). Notice how Jesus interacted with people from many different cultures and backgrounds, intentionally surrounding himself with people from all walks of life. He loved them, cared for them, and radically brought people together across cultural, social, economic, and religious divides (Matthew 8:5-13Mark 1:16-19Mark 7:24-30Mark 14: 3-9John 4:1-42, John 8:1-11John 9:9-12John 13:34). He listened to the needs of those around him, and then acted to ease those burdens. Is this model reflected and acted upon in your church?

All Eyes=Not Good
Notice that we are not supposed to be 'colorblind.' If we pretend as if 'we are all the same' then we miss the richness that God gave us. He has designed the Church to be a body that is unified, but that has unique parts that need each other—we are not all eyes or feet, remember. "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12:4-5).

The Church must step up for the sake of justice and reconciliation, demonstrating in practical ways that we care about these issues that are so deeply rooted in scripture (Philippians 2).

See Also:
Why It Is Important
Religious Roots of Racism

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fruit (05/11/12)

Remembering Twenty
Victims Of Hate Crimes
On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings. 
It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Short list this week. I must be missing some. Your suggestions?

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

See Also:
Racial Justice: Why Should Christians Care?
Dr. Tatum: Defining Racism
How to Get To Sesame Street

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dr. Tatum: Defining Racism

In this series, we revisit some of the foundational posts that lay the groundwork for much of what is expressed at BTSF. 'What is Racism?' originally appeared on 4/10/2010:

The writings Dr. Beverly Tatum have shaped much of my thoughts about race and race relations, particularly her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? 

Dr. Tatum does not characterize racism as overt discrimination or individual acts of hate. Rather, she defines it as one’s benefiting from a system of privileges based on race that are subtly ingrained in the surrounding culture, making it difficult to detect. In this sense, all white people are racist; we benefit from this system of privileges. I am a racist. It is possible for people of color to be prejudiced on the basis of race, but the social system is never in their favor. This is racism.

Dr. Tatum compares racism to smog:
 “sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in” (p. 6). 
It is not that one wakes up and chooses to discriminate, but rather, if one is a member of the majority, there is an institutionalized system of advantages that is in place. This system has consequences that affect the everyday lives of POC. Both in big ways and in small. For example, no one has ever assumed that I, a White middle-class female, attend my school because of affirmative action. No one as has ever assumed that I am there on an athletic scholarship either. When I go to the store, the manager does not follow me as I shop and I can assume I will find pantyhose or band-aids that match my skin tone.

Though these examples may be small issues, they regularly affect people of color, and are symptoms of the greater smog we breathe. It is the accumulation of these insults that yield major consequences in the treatment of POCs as second class citizens in the United States (see post: Microaggressions). It is within this racialized world that POCs are paid less for the same work, hired less often with the same resume, incarcerated longer for the same crime, charged more for the same mortgage. All of these problems are related to an underlying system that favors whiteness over blackness.

Finally, Dr. Tatum compares modern racism to a moving sidewalk:

“because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of American institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it, is business as usual…[when] people do not disrupt unfair systems of privilege, they are—willingly or unwillingly—on the moving sidewalk, receiving White privilege and inadvertently enabling racism” (p. 11). 
To stand still and do nothing actually perpetuates the momentum of racism. We must actively walk against it's motion.

Does an act of racism require the 'intent to hurt'? Is hatred a prerequisite? Need it be large blatant acts, or do small insults (both conscious and unconscious) accumulate to establish a larger culture of problems and inequality?

I consider myself a racist in the same way that I consider myself a sinner in need of forgiveness (see post Basically Good). People bristle at both characterizations (“I’m a generally good person, I don’t need Jesus”; “I’m not a racist, I’m color blind”). But to me, these terms simply identify the latent issues that I know I still have to work on, which is better than pretending the issues aren't there at all.

All this to say, when we realize the advantages we have, we may think more carefully about how we use our privilege to rectify the situations of the burdened, to walk against the 'moving sidewalk' of privilege and racism.

See Also:
Basically Good
Defining Racism
To Be Called a Racist
Bush and Hurt Feelings

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Racial Justice: Why Should Christians Care?

In our new series, we will revisit some of the foundational posts of BTSF. These articles lay the groundwork for much of what is expressed on this forum. Up first, why Christians should care about racial justice and reconciliation (originally published 4/09/2010):

The issues of race and the Church have historically converged into one of the most fundamental and egregious errors in evangelical history. Uh oh! Bold statement. For Sunday morning to STILL be the most segregated hour is a travesty.

How is it that the IRS and P&G are more integrated than God's house is? Though we can legislate behavior and actions, issue of the heart are beyond the reach of governmental or corporate regulation. This is why we need the Church. But continuing to ignore issues of race and racism hurts our witness to the world and obscures the cross.

What's that? You say it is just a matter of comfort? That you just prefer your own worship style? It isn't really such a big deal and certainly not a matter of racism?

Consider what Spencer Perkins says in his co-authored book  More Than Equals :
 "white christians' decisions to choose comfort of their own race over the Christian ideals of brotherhood and oneness that our gospel so boldly preaches have undoubtedly weakened their witness to the African-American community. Because blacks have not been able to distinguish between white Christians and white non-Christians when it comes to racial issues and separation, major issues like abortion, which should be cut and dried for us, become confused" (p. 32)
It's a convicting statement. Consider a standard suburban white Christian. Does she harbour beliefs that the problems of an inner city neighborhood would be solved if "those kids would just stay in school" and their moms "would just look for a job instead of living off welfare"? Maybe, maybe not. But the image of an allied seeker of multicultural fellowship does not jump to my mind. In fact, the church has a depressing history of a sluggish and neophobic nature. For some convicting research studies and statistics try Divided by Faith. No punches pulled there.

Perhaps it is time for the majority to become a little more uncomfortable. It's a reflection of white folks' privileged to be able to avoid situations in which we are the only ones in a house of worship of our own race. And after a moment when we do experience the awkward self-awareness that such an experience can bring, we can easily and quickly retreat to an all-white world without enduring much sacrifice.

How can we be so timid to experience an isolation to which many of our sisters and brothers in Christ have had to grow accustomed on a daily basis in the workplace, in schools, and in the church! Because we have these privileges, I believe it is the white folks’ responsibility to intentionally act to ease the burdens of racism by actively educating ourselves and working for change, particularly in the church where our claim is Holy love.

It is for a similar reasons that I feel it is important for me, a white person, to be talking about race. White people don't tend to talk about race at all--positively or negatively. We have been trained by too many hushed words and too many winks and nods that it is a taboo topic. You are apt to say something stupid and get yelled at or....well...that's pretty much the only outcome, so we think. But silence breads ignorance.

Conversely, many POC have heard too many stupid comments from white people about race. They shouldn't have to bare the constant responsibility of educating ignorant people like me. But what a predicament for an white person to find herself in!

We need educated and redeemed white people to step up and take on some of the burden. Those of us that have been blessed with patient POC sisters and brothers must share what we know. What is more, having experienced the privileged majority status, we recognize and remember the allure of flawed logic and misinformation. Therefore, we can offer an understanding ear when a white sister says "Oh, I just don't see race. I'm colorblind" and then proudly declare the beauty of the colors that God has allowed us to experience, renouncing our colorblindness, helping her to do the same. We can hear the venomous words of prejudice and know that we can educate, perhaps preventing those words from ever reaching others' ears.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Fruit (05/04/12)

On Fridays, BTSF posts links to some of the week's happenings. 
It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other folks, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:
  • LoGOFF: Anti-Human Trafficking Video Series

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

See Also:
Human Trafficking: Still Enslaved
Human Trafficking: Set the Captives Free

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Human Trafficking: Set the Captives Free

Please welcome back Rev. Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount. The following post is adapted from his blog on, and continues the BTSF conversation on human trafficking (See post Human Trafficking: Still Enslaved). 

There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history. Here are some basic facts about modern day slavery and human trafficking: 
  • Human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world (with the first and second being drug trafficking and arms trafficking).
  • 27 million persons are victims worldwide.
  • 18,000 people are brought to the U.S. per year in some form of human trafficking.
  • 30,000 are trafficked through the U.S. on their way to other countries
  • 244,000 US minors are trafficked within the US into some form of sexual exploitation.
  • 1.2 million children are sold into sexual slavery each year.
  • 80% of victims are female with a disproportionately high number women of color.
  • 50% of victims are children under the age of 18.

But thankfully, there are those among us who are doing as the great Hebrew text suggests, “proclaiming liberty to the captives.”

The Houston-based theocentric non-profit Free the Captives “engages and mobilizes the Christian community and partners with non-profits, law enforcement, and government agencies in the fight against modern day slavery.” Their annual 'Reducing the Demand' campaign letter-writing campaign urges local city officials to target buyers (usually male) rather than the prostitues they hire. Research has shown that men who are buying sex overwelmingly already know these woman have been trafficked. 'Reducing the Demand' thus focuses on public exposure and increased jail time as the primary deterrent, not simply education. They believe:

The primary solution to end trafficking is through reducing the demand for it. Sex trafficking is a rampant problem in Houston, enslaving both international and native Houston girls and women. It is an economic issue of supply and demand. There will always be a supply as long as there is a demand for sex trafficking!
All of the traffickers and pimps can be arrested and all of the victims can be rescued, but as long as there are buyers, who are typically men, creating a demand for young girls and women, new traffickers are more than willing to provide a supply of new girls, new slaves. Human trafficking is highly profitable. Therefore, to effectively fight human trafficking you must reduce the demand and hold the buyers responsible for their actions.
Submit your own letter here.
Your work can be effective in bringing liberty to the captives. According to the Union Baptist Association, Houston and Dallas together saw 109 domestic minors freed in 2010. All were victims of sex trafficking. But keep in mind what they say on their site, “The State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report explains that the number of victims identified reflect only 0.4% of the victims actually in existence.”

Clearly the issue of Human Trafficking has caught on with young Christians, particularly Evangelicals. Go deeper and connect with the abolitionist work of Pastor Omar Garcia, Houston Rescue and Restore, Ted Law and the Access Church, or The Coalition to Abolish Human Trafficking. If you’re in an area church, check out anti-slavery resources in your own denomination, such as the Union Baptist Association, The Catholic Church or Mennonite Church, USA.

God invites us to join this creative work and follow Jesus in carrying out his mission: to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). May it be so for us all.

Think about Marty's words in the context of Brittany's post
How do race, poverty, nationality, and gender interact to target certain people for trafficking? 
Starting with the , what are some basic actions you can take to combat human trafficking? 

See Also:
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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