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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Friday Fruit (05/29/14)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you
to read other perspectives, 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.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Racial Equity in Christian Publishing: #IVPFall14 and Beyond (Part 1)

Last week, discussions progressed regarding the racial distribution of the authors featured in the InterVarsity Press (IVP) Fall 2014 catalog, including a generous interview with an IVP senior editor Al Hsu. The conversations sparked from the #IVPFall14 hashtag have been impressive, and I'm encourage to hear from IVP and so many others regarding the importance of visibility for authors of color in book marketing.

The following are some of my own takeaways from the week as they pertain to racial justice in the Christian publishing and marketing industry as a whole.

I was struck by how much of the publishing process is based on relationships: between editor and author, publicists and reviewers, sales reps and booksellers, authors and their networks. Personal relationships help these connections thrive, and lead to strong, mutually-beneficial working relationships.

The problem is that we tend to value relationships with people who are similar to ourselves. When editors, marketers, publicists, and distributors are predominantly white, their networks will also tend to be disproportionately homogenous. Their preferences will subtly reflect cultural values and aesthetics that are most familiar to themselves. Even the most well-intentioned folks unwittingly prefer relationships (and books) that share their own culture (see post: Implicit Associations of Racism).

Christians are punny.
These are similar to the issues that arise with network-based hiring. Much of one's success in the job market depends on who you know. And who you know is often a function of race. People tend to cluster within their groups, and to sympathize more strongly with those like themselves. White editors are more apt to know white authors, white publicists are more apt to follow white bloggers, white sales reps are more apt to have better sales influence with white booksellers, and all of them are more likely to relate to white-culture books.

We tend to differentially offer a helping hand, or the benefit of the the doubt, to those that are most like us. Network-based strategies are great for developing business connections, but relationships are particularly vulnerable to racial bias. And the publishing world is highly dependent on relationships.

Much has been made recently of publishersclear desire for authors with 'platform'--that idea of social connectedness and the ability to help market one's own book. It is a vital aspect of a book's capacity to reach an audience, and it directly affects how well it sells.

Publishers hoping to acquire more authors of color will need to bear in mind the racial disparities in platform-building capacity. Authors of color will be at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to platform. The same factors mentioned in the previous section affect one's ability to connect to networks within denominations and organizations, as well as online. Authors of color face significant discrimination when it comes to speaking engagements and conference keynote opportunities. It is also more difficult for authors of color to be perceived as voices of authority on Twitter or Facebook. They are more subject to the fierce targeting of online trolls. Thus, a seemingly neutral metric like Twitter followers can be severely affected by race. Relying too heavily on this metric skews the results, and misses authors' potential.
How to build

Rather than perpetuating disparity by further penalizing lack of platform, publishers can be agents of change by allocating extra marketing opportunities for their authors of color. At their best, marketing teams exist to help authors do what they cannot do on their own. And so in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, special dispensation is appropriate for those members who are in need of it.

Platform Makers
Given the increased desire for author platform, additional scrutiny must be placed on the 'platform makers.' Writers hoping to break into publishing are often dependent on outlets like Patheos and Christianity Today to help build their audience. This means that the critiques regarding author representation leveled at traditional publishers with #IVPFall14 may be doubly salient for these major gatekeepers of digital audience-building. Similarly, it is incumbent upon conference planners to be diligent in their invitations to speakers. Speaking engagements and books deals are intimately linked in a positive feedback loop. Platform makers must be vigilantly careful to give ample opportunities to writers of color. Unfortunately, they all too often fall woefully short when it comes to equitable racial representation. 

Niche Marketing
It makes sense to focus a book's marketing based on its predicted target audience. Just as with race-specific fellowships, it is often appropriate to have within-group conversations that focus on needs not addressed within the larger community. But I also wonder whether, when taken too far, this strategy recapitulates the 'homogeneous unit principle' (HUP)-style of church building within the Christian publishing industry. HUP focuses on gathering similar people together to efficiently form growing congregations. It's very effective at getting people into pews, but is it healthy for the multicultural body of Christ? Experience tells us no.

Similarly, if books on race and diversity are more substantially marketed to audiences of color, it may increase short term sales, but it ultimate limits the broader selling potential of authors of color. What is more, it sends the message that these are special-interest issues, of little concern to broad audiences, and especially of no consequence to white people. 

Beyond Byline Counts
Though it is an important metric of progress, diversity in byline counts is not enough (see post: Beyond Diversity) . The subjects on which authors of color write are important too. It is essential that we have voices of color speaking about justice and diversity, but if these are the only topics on which they are heard, we severely limit our access to the wide range of topics on which authors of color may be called to write.

In addition, by limiting the topics of their books, we also restrict the audience and sales-potential for authors of color. Subject matter directly affects how broadly books can be marketed and how many people are apt to buy them. These are the books that will be given prime spots in catalogs and bookshelves.

While encouraging authors to focus on a niche, publishers' main features and large advertisements tend to prioritize books with broader subject matter. Therefore, authors of color must also be consistently among those writing books on general theology, discipleship, and evangelism. Not just Black theology, Asian discipleship, Latino evangelism.

The limited scope of content is a function of which authors are brought to the table for certain initiatives. But it may also be a matter of the topics the authors themselves feel comfortable in suggesting. In trying to break into a competitive publishing environment, authors may feel pressure to write on ethnic-specific topics because these are the opportunities they have seen available to others in the past. They may feel it is the best way to get their foot in the door.

Authors of color should receive particular affirmation that their opinions matter on a wide range of subjects.
Even in the context of niche writing, authors of color are multifaceted and should be encouraged to target the many niches they occupy that may or may not have anything to do with their race.

Conversely, authors of color should not feel pressured to downplay their racial identities. We should avoid pigeonholing authors as ‘race’ theologists, just because their ethnicity is salient to what they write. Indeed, many of the mainstream books today are in reality treatises on white theology. But in a white-default world we don't often perceive them as such. We should. 

Continue to part 2 for a few more observations, some first-step solutions, as well as an explanation of my particular focus on IVP itself...

Racial Equity in Christian Publishing: #IVPFall14 and Beyond (Part 2)

Continued from part 1...

Pipeline Paradox 

There seems to be a disconnect between publishers who point to an inadequate pipeline for authors of color, and the many writers decrying the lack of opportunity to be published. The differences in representation go way beyond what can be explained by population size, and much of it is indeed part of the larger systemic disparities in education, wealth, employment etc. There are many barriers preventing authors of color from emerging to the market, and publishers certainly see this reflected in the distribution of pitches they receive.

Nevertheless, there are many strong authors of color that have trouble getting noticed by publishers. When industries do not consciously combat a white-default mentally, white aesthetics, perspectives and subject matters will be consistently prioritized. Authors of color are subtly marginalized as 'not relevant for audiences' or 'not marketable to our reader base.' Unfortunately, these disparities are sometimes attributed to differences in quality, readability, or relevance. But such measures are highly subjective and easily subject to unconscious racial biases based on familiarity and preference.

'Buy More Books'
Another common response from publishers is that consumers must buy the books they want to see, creating a demand that will fuel an increased supply. It is indeed important for readers to back their desires with their dollars. But putting the onus on those already in a position of disadvantage isn't a great way to solve the problem.

If there is narrow visibility of books by authors of color, fears of limited sales performance become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Books that are poorly marketed will sell poorly, and so subsequent books of similar content will also be given restricted marketing budgets. Thus, we artificially reinforce the perception that books by authors of color have limited market potential.

As described for above with regard to editors and sales reps, readers will also tend to prefer what is familiar to them. The goal of marketing is to catch the eye of consumers that don't yet know they are interested in a book. This is the sort of influence that writers of color need from their publishers. It's an opportunity to use a  position of privilege to subvert disparity by introducing broader audiences to previously marginalized authors, increasing their subsequent selling power.

Yes, we all have parts to play in altering systemic injustice, including the consumers. But there is extra responsibility for those in a position of privilege (Luke 12:48).

Silenced Voices
While many authors of color participated in the #IVPFall14 public discourse, several others communicated privately a reticence to join in based on a fear of further jeopardizing what little opportunity they may have in finding a publisher. Because of the difficulty of receiving contracts, some may be hesitant to voice dissent or to be perceived as ingrateful for previous opportunity, even if they feel the issues are important to them. This reflects a perception of lack of trustworthiness for those in power. When marginalized communities cannot give voice to their struggles it perpetuates the perception that everything is 'basically all right'. 

It is essential that those in positions of privilege listen carefully when issues are raised (Acts 6:1-7). It's also important that the grievances voiced are neither delegitimized nor rationalized away. Furthermore, those who are in a position to speak up, must do so. White authors and editors must use their voices  They must risk their own reputations, their own book contracts, their own speaking engagements to prophetically live into the values we profess. It cannot always be editors of color advocating for diverse books. It cannot always be authors of color writing about diversity and justice. 

White voices should never speak over those who are already being silenced, but must instead help amplify the those voices that may not otherwise be heard. This means stepping aside, yielding the podium, sacrificing the book deal, offering up the pulpit, relinquishing control. You cannot proclaim a desire for justice and equity while remaining unwilling to make the appropriate sacrifices in your own life. 

First-Step Solutions
Certainly, given the events that precipitated the #IVPFall14 hashtag, more attention should be placed on the space allocated to each book in publishers' catalogs. There may be a tendency to think about marketing on a book-by-book basis, but examining the overall distribution of the catalog is also important. Who gets the big features? What sorts of authors receive multiple pages? Who appears in the early spreads, and who is relegated to the 'back of the catalog'? Even when publishers acquire significant numbers of authors of color, if their faces aren't included in the publicity material, we literally perpetuate the invisibility of people of color in publishing.

Ethnicities of authors whose books 
were reviewed by NYT in 2011
Particularly for publishers like IVP who have some foundation in intentionally diverse publishing practices, many other initial steps toward equitable marketing are fairly straight forward. Publishers can ensure that their webpages prominently feature books by authors of color. Who is on the homepage? Who is featured under 'marketing' and 'new releases'? In addition, care should be taken that official Twitter handles and Facebook pages give plenty of coverage to books apt to be marginalized by the buying public. These changes are easy to implement and cost virtually nothing.

When books by authors of color are sent out for review, do send them to relevant ethnic-specific communities, but also be sure to stretch the bounds of who might be interested. What other intersections might be at play?  Might the audience be wider than we first supposed?

Publishers might also consider implementing 'platform making' mechanisms, that promote authors of color. Associations like Redbud Writers Guild and Her.meneutics provide an outlets for women of faith and help build their platform. Similar endeavors for writers of color, with direct associations with publishing companies, could be great ways for authors and editors to find each other. Publishers should also collaborate closely with any partner organizations that sponsor conferences to ensure that the speak-writer feedback loop is well coordinated and strongly infused with diversity (IVP/IVCF is quite good in this regard).

These are some simple ideas, based mostly on how I personally interact with publishers and their new books. I am confident that experienced publishers themselves can come up with many additional innovative ideas that make sense in their own contexts. 

Of note, it is not necessarily an ideal solution to publish special edition catalogs for authors of color. Not only does this run the risk of 'ghettoizing' these books (as Hsu brings up in his interview), but such endeavors are often ineffective in producing sustainable change. They may provide some short term benefits, but these burst of attention often quickly subside as old habits return. Real change requires perseverance and continued attention that alters the fundamental habits of an organization.

Why IVP?
IVP was the focus of this recent campaign for a number of reasons. First, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is largely what I consider my own community. I was 'raised' IVCF in college and continue to surround myself with great IVCF folks. I'm involved in a graduate chapter, attend IVCF conferences, and regularly write for the IVCF blog. So IVCF is where I have a measure of access, as well as some level of history, relationship, and trust. Along these lines, IVP is the only publisher for whom I am currently on the mailing list to review books (again, speaking to relationship and access).

partnership from IVP
But most importantly, I know IVCF/IVP cares about multiethnicity, and proclaims it publicly as a value. I knew they were apt to engage and to be responsive in a way that would be a great witness (and they came through mightily!). What is more, because IVP is indeed intentional about trying to sign authors of color, many of the solution mentioned above are easily implemented, even with their book lines as they currently stand. They are well positioned to incorporate changes that will have meaningful impact for their authors of color.

Had I engaged a less conscientious publisher, I would have likely have received a 'we love PC diversity' form letter in response, essentially ending the conversation there. Indeed, several publishers may even contest the premise of intentional multiethnic publishing on the grounds of 'reverse racism.' Publishers with no demonstrated interest in investing in diverse books are unequipped to critically examine their marketing practices, and are unlikely to be able to make significant change in the near future. That said, my hope is to send these dialogues to other publishers/gatekeepers, praising IVP for their engagement and encouraging others to consider their own catalogs and publicity strategies. I am grateful for IVP's intentionality and attentiveness that has led to what I hope has been an edifying conversation for us all.

The marketing budgets allocated to books have a direct affect on sales and publicity for their authors. It is important to be intentional about the proportions of authors acquired, but if few authors of color ever see their books broadly publicized, such acquisition efforts make little lasting difference.

We must go beyond counting bylines, and ensure all aspects of publishing are equitable. As Daniel José Older asserts, "We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism...This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines."

Who we acquire and market sends a strong message about who we believe is valuable, who is smart, who is interesting, and whose perspectives matter. We must establish ledger sheets that match our mission statements, prophetically demonstrating what it could look like to facilitate God’s Kingdom on earth. It takes persistence and intentionality to combat the inertia of the status quo. It is an ongoing endeavor, but it's worth it.

Across the publishing industry as a whole, statistics for authors of color are troubling. But it seems Christian publishing is particularly lagging (as Hsu suggests in his interview). For those Christians convinced of the Gospel's power to affect meaningful change on earth, this is a disappointing assessment. It's one more example of the church's chasing societal progress, rather than being one of its leaders.

I know that Christian publishers have to pay attention to their bottom line--that's what keeps them able to supply excellent books. But we must also question what our bottom line should really be.  Christians set ourselves apart on this earth by sacrificing of our own desires for God's greater glory. Do we bear witness to Christ's redemptive power, God's call for justice, or do we perpetuate the world's priorities?

Is this all just hopeful idealism? Maybe. But if we remain reactive, rather than prophetic, we miss the opportunity to demonstrate the healing power of Christ over all aspects of our lives. In fact, it further entrenches the our world's understanding of our faith as powerless in the face of society's injustices. It reveals that secular institutions and their solutions are better equipped to address the needs of the oppressed than are God's own people. This isn't simply about being PC, it isn't even simply about justice for justice's sake. It's about the Gospel and whether it has anything of relevance to say to the world in which we live.

Why is equity of representation important to you?
What questions would you have for Christian publishers? 
What solutions would you like to see implemented? 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Friday Fruit (05/22/14)

Via For Harriet 
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, 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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

#IVPFall14: An Interview with InterVarsity Press

The most recent IVP catalog caught the attention of several bloggers and reviewers as having included no authors of color in its main feature pages. Subsequently, a conversation on Twitter grew around the #IVPFall14 hashtag regarding the importance of not only acquiring authors of color, but also of prominently featuring them in marketing and publicity materials. 
           IVP graciously responded both on Twitter and with the following interview with Al Hsu, senior editor for IVP Books. Excerpts can be read below, but the full interview has also been posted, and is well worth reading (interview has been edited for clarity). Stay tuned next week for some of my take-always on issues of publishing representation and marketing as a whole. 

BTSF: So, it came as a bit of a surprise to see the composition of the authors that were featured. And it came as surprise just for the fact that we know InterVarsity broadly, and IVP specifically, to have a long stated support for the multicultural body of Christ, and in publishing specifically. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about representation in publishing and why it’s important to you.

Image source
Hsu: Well, I can speak as one of the few Asian Americans in Christian publishing, as far as editors go in the industry. Just a little bit of background first. I have been at IVP 19 years now. Two years as an intern, so 17 years full time. And I’ve been at IVP that whole time in a variety of capacities. Most recently I’ve been an acquisitions and development editor for the last 12 years, I think—maybe 13. And so my role has been acquiring and developing books for our general trade line in church, culture, mission, discipleship, and various areas like that. And one of the things that was my part of my intent as an acquisitions editor, and has been an intent of our editorial board long before I got there, was to intentionally cultivate, seek out, and publish authors of color: Asian American, African American, Latino, and others, underrepresented populations. So that’s always been on my radar each year.
                Each year we have a certain number of books that we’re hoping to acquire. For me it’s roughly 15-18 books per year. Usually for me, on average, between two and five of those are people of color. A lot of that is through our networks with InterVarsity, so I publish a lot of InterVarsity staff authors like James Choung, and York Moore, and Tom Lin, and Nikki Toyama. So that has always been one particular area of focus for me.

How have you come to feel that representation is important to you, and then also for IVP as a broader organization?

For publishing as a whole, Christian publishing as a whole, is still fairly white. If you go to any of the Christian publishing trade shows or publishing conferences, the vast majority of the industry is White. And that’s something that has improved of the years, but it’s still very noticeable.

Image Source
Authors of color are often viewed as niche rather than universal, which compounds that issue. How can IVP ensure that the topics covered by these authors are also well distributed, particularly given that, and not just IVP but in general, authors of color are most often invited to write about justice issues or race issues, rather than writing that flagship theology book?

Right, so there’s basically three categories or so of the kinds of books that authors of color tend to write. One category is the ethnic-specific book for the ethnic specific audience. So we’ve done a series of books, you know Being Latino in Christ that’s written by a Latino author for Latino readers. Or More than Serving Tea is by a team of Asian American women for Asian American women. So that’s one category. They’re serving a specific ethnic community. The second category is the race-, ethnicity-, culture-related book that a person of color is writing because that’s their area of passion, and that’s the area that people see them as a credible author on. So that could be Ed Gilbreath writing about Martin Luther King, or Soong-Chan Rah writing about the future of the evangelical church through the lens of racial issues and cultural issues. So that’s another category. 

Image Source
                The third category is where I think we are hoping to move more toward, and that’s the ethnic-specific author writing for a general topic book for anybody, for the whole Church. And so, when James Choung wrote a book on evangelism, we very intentionally said ‘this is not a book on Asian American evangelism. This is not a book on evangelism for Asian Americans. This is a book on evangelism. And the whole church can benefit from the resources here.’ It happens to be written by a Korean American who brings in his ethnic heritage and that’s interwoven into the text, his main character in this fictional narrative that’s part of the story is Korean. And so he grapples with what does it mean to be a person of Korean heritage/descent doing evangelism in this modern context. So that’s a value that other books on evangelism don’t have. That’s something that James brings to the table that I’m glad that this book has caught on and found an audience and I’m glad we did not ‘niche’ it as an Asian American evangelism book.

Is there place for giving special attention, or special cover, to those author that you know ahead of time are apt to be marginalized by the buying public?

I think we do that…Are we doing our form, some form, of affirmative action in some way? Especially in areas where we say “There’s an opportunity with this particular book, or this particular author.” So the Urbana Student Missions Convention, for us, is a very natural way to say “hey, we’ve got this great new book by James Choung. Let’s make it a Book of the Day, and feature it.” And because it’s a constituency that’s a natural fit for us, Urbana is part of InterVarsity, James is InterVarsity staff. So things like that. We can highlight James here and it will work, it will fly, in a way that…We want to set up our authors for success and we want to seek out those opportunities where things are likely to work. So that one case where that comes time mind. 

What would you say is the racial makeup of IVP’s editorial board?

Image Source
Of the editorial board? Of the publishing committee that decides? Well, I’m the only editor that’s not white. The publishing committee, the larger publishing committee that makes decisions on books, Deborah Gonzalez, in the marketing department, is the only non-white in the marketing team at that committee meeting. Like I said earlier, publishing is a challenge. I told Deborah when she started, she is an answer to my prayers, in many ways. Because I have prayed for other ethnic minorities to work at IVP for years. And she is an InterVarsity grad, she went to Northwestern, she was in our LaFe Latino ministry, and she did an internship with us, and she stuck around and found a job. And I was very grateful. ‘May her tribe increase!’ May we have more. 

On IVP’s end, what are the sorts of things that can be committed to, to mitigate some of what we all saw in these last two years worth of catalogs?

Image Source
Yeah, I am open to ideas.  I would love to see IVP have more marketing budget, and space, and priority, given to some of our books. I don’t know what can be done commitment wise, just because I know the limitations, the demands, that everybody …and we struggle to market any of our books—all of our books. Let alone the books by authors of color or by women. I’m grateful for things like Crescendo, the women’s line. That gives us an opportunity to have some extra marketing. That’s one of the reasons we launched the line. Creating a new brand like that gave us a little more money in the budget, a little more focus in branding and in advertising, to say “ok, here are some voices that you really should hear. Here are some books that you really should look at.” And we have done a little bit of that in the past with other books, as occasion…like with the missions books, the Urbana series, things like that. When there are opportunities like that.
We have not intentionally started a line of multiethnic books, or books by ethnic minorities, because does that ‘ghettoize’? So that has not been an intentional strategy. But is there a way of allocating more emphasis? Maybe. I think part of it is, every book sort of stands on its own and has its own marketing plan and budget. Something that maybe our marketing teams do is say “ok, we do all of these individual marketing plans but then we take a step back and let’s look at the catalog as a whole, let’s look at the list as a whole. Who could use some extra help, extra advocacy, extra work?"

I really appreciate your talking with me and giving me you time. I think really the long and short of it is, all of this stems precisely because InterVarsity proclaims a mission for the multicultural Church that I think it caught our eye as peculiar. And it is out of a heart for what InterVarsity does that these things came up. 

I would say, hold our feet to the fire. Call IVP out on it. Call every publisher out on it. I’m glad that you raised this issue because it’s spurred on some good conversations here and it’s helpful for me as an insider to not have to raise it. To let somebody else raise it and say “Ok, what are we doing about this?” So thank you.

What questions would you have for IVP? What solutions would you like to see implemented

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Friday Fruit (05/16/14)

Federal Judge Diane Humetewa
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, 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.

    Sunday, May 11, 2014

    Cultural or Spiritual? Perpetuating the Divides

    Please welcome guest blogger, Jonathan McCallum, who discovers how dominant-culture biases can shape how we worship, and who we value in our churches: 

    In 2005, I arrived to the infierno of summer of Spain's blistering hot capital, Madrid. Tapas and Real Madrid were my reality for the time. I met Eric from the USA who invited me with his lovely family to visit the Tour de France which was passing through the Basque region between Spain and France.

    To cheer for the sweaty riders, I had donned the Australian, U.S. and Spanish flags (I find it hard to choose a team), and as Lance Armstrong raced past, I found that my apparel was attracting attention. The green-flag-bedecked Basque crowd began to call out in my direction, “Franco is dead!”

    I remembered something I had read in a book about a Generalisimo Franco, dictator and repressor of all things Basque. “What flag is that?!?” they called out again. I realized my blunder. I was waving the flag of Spain's kingdom and rule, a red flag of recent pain and unhealed wounds, issues unresolved after generations. “It's the wrong flag!” I said to Eric, slipping it into my bag. The crowd understood my gesture and some even walked over and offered us a beer as they explained what that flag represented for them.

    While living in Madrid for three years, I occasionally told my flag story to friends inside church and out, and people’s responses taught me a lot. One friend summed up the general Spanish view commenting how “those” Basque just will not cooperate in “our” Spanish state.

    And sadly the stereotyping and blame is also found in evangelical churches in Spain and the Basque Country. Most believers here reflect their society’s values, more than Jesus’. Rather than humbling themselves to contextualize and forgive, like Jesus with the Samaritans, they further embed the separation with misconceptions and disunity. For example, Spanish (not Basque) is the predominant language of the small, struggling evangelical churches in the region, and some even see Gospel ministry in the Basque language as a compromise of the Gospel (read my story about this here).

    For me, the experience has been an ongoing exposure to a reality that many across the world live with—that the act of worshiping, preaching, meeting together in a certain language could actually be a part of the divide between cultures. I realize I have been privileged to grow up and grow spiritually in a place where my culture and language were the dominant ones of the society and of the church.

    In Spain and the Basque Country, the hurt and violence of the past has been carried out by both sides. Yet Jesus is not on either side. He is for both peoples.

    If we as believers do not embrace Basque language, culture and identity, the Basque people will be left to the muddled images of a religion that mixes with Franco, the inquisition, and a Jesus marred by oppressive politics and historical wounds. Thus, we can only expect a disbelief in the idea that Jesus is for them. This is true anywhere in the world where a culture is depreciated in the church.

    Jonathan and his Austral-merican family love living among the vibrant and welcoming Basque people of Europe. Jonathan has a passion for experiencing Jesus daily within his community and with other followers of Jesus.

    Thursday, May 8, 2014

    Friday Fruit (05/08/14)

    Photo Credit: Dominique Godreche
    On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, 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.

      Monday, May 5, 2014

      The Problem With Overt Racism: #BringBackOurGirls

      Donald Sterling. Cliven Bundy. Paula Dean.
      Phil RobertsonMichael Richards.
      It's a good thing we're not like them.

      We know not to use racial slurs. We know not to show prejudice. Racism that is on full display is easy to pick on. It's obvious. It's clear cut. We like being on the right side of indignation. 

      But the problem with overt racism is that it serves as a distraction. It lets us point the finger at anything other than our own culpability. It lets us ignore lives lost and families destroyed, while we exalt our own moral superiority. 

      How many hours of news coverage has Sterling received? Why do we give him so much attention, while ignoring 276 kidnapped girls in Chibok, Nigeria? I'd rather our outrage and airtime focus on Boko Haram and an unresponsive government than on a rich bigot who simply recognized our society for what it is, and took advantage. 

      The Missing White Woman Syndrome
      How many months and years did we obsess over JonBenét Ramsey and those like her? Didn't we clamor for every little detail of their lives? We knew their hobbies, we interviewed their friends, we left no stone unturned. Yet, three weeks after the kidnapping of hundreds of school children, we are too distracted by our our self-congratulation to raise the alarm. It seems we don't care to empathize when when it comes to 'the least of these.' Khaled Bey asks, "Poor, Black, Muslim, African, girls. Is there a more vulnerable intersection?"

      This is selective outrage. It lets us condemn individuals without looking at the system that produced them --indeed, a system that lets such folks thrive. It lets us take comfort in our unexamined biases, knowing that someone else always sounds worse. It lets us scapegoat those that took it all a little too far--who didn't obey the rules of 'post racial' racism

      Listen as Bomani Jones explains it all
      We like making grand statements of condemnation when it comes to the racist remarks of public figures. We enjoy feeling like we know better. Publicly shaming folks like Sterling helps us affirm our our superior morality. It helps us feel righteous, having proved our 'good person status.' 

      If Sterling's racism is unacceptable, it implies there is a certain kind of racism that is acceptable. A more discrete racism. A racism that says we want 'the most qualified' candidate for the job. A racism that says we don't want to invest in 'high risk' loans and mortgages. That says 'double check twice that they qualify to vote.' That says 'surely you couldn't afford that nice car' (or house). The racism that says we are more deserving of good fortune than others. The racism that says if you just work hard enough, you will surely succeed.  

      When we point at public bigots and say 'this is what real racism is,' it helps erase the reality of the structural injustice that pervades our daily lives. It allows us to think that things like overturning affirmative action, Stand Your Ground, and mass deportations are no big deal, or just in their heads, or not actually dangerous at all (indeed, not life threatening).

      We have always prefered to talk about the loud, external sins than to sit quietly with the insidious reality of our hidden brokenness. We think that if perhaps no one sees our hearts, that there are no real victims of our sinfulness. We pat each other on the back for pointing out the obvious, but are unwilling to examine how we contribute. 

      Thursday, May 1, 2014

      Friday Fruit (05/02/14)

      On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, 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.
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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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