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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

In 1852, Frederick Douglass was invited to give a speech in honor of the US Independence Day. His words are excerpted below, and is available in its entirety hereThis week, read his remarks and reflect on what they may mean for the Church today: 

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
 I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. 
My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. 
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!
I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.
The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. 

A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mintanise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.
For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs
It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. 
The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”
Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.
Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. 
 You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.
Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. 
Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:
God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Friday Fruit (06/27/14)

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.

    Sunday, June 22, 2014

    Top 10 Conversation Deflections

    Austin Channing Brown
    Please welcome guest blogger, Austin Channing Brown, a brilliant racial reconciler, writer, and trainer. Austin works with Willow Creek Community Church's Chicago Campus as their Multicultural Ministry Specialist. This post on the Top Ten Conversation Deflections in racial dialogue first appeared on her own blog

    Recently, my friend Grace Sandra wrote a risky article for CT on the vulnerabilities faced by black women. In it she discusses the links between her personal experiences, current events and statistics. Grace explains how this trifecta weighs on her personally, and by extension other black women as well. She ends by requesting that the Church not shy away from but instead engages the hearts of black women who feel as weighed down as she.

    Sounds simple right? It rarely is. Unfortunately for many people attempting to speak truth to power, sharing our hearts on these issues (not just theories, but how they make us FEEL) is always risky. Sometimes those listening engage well, but we always know there is a chance things will fall apart. It doesn't always matter what the justice issue is- mass incarceration, education, immigration, or in this case racial justice- there is always a risk that our hearts will leave as broken as when we came.

    Read Grace's post here
    I use Grace's recent experience as a backdrop 1) because the article is good and you should read it and 2) because the comments section managed to use ten of the most common deflections known to racial reconcilers. If it wasn't so frustrating, it would be amazing. 

    So I thought it might be helpful to make a Top 10 List for those who are new and perhaps frustrated by how quickly these conversations can devolve. 

    10. "No, it's a different -ism… "

    More than one -ism can exist in any given situation. Your denial that racism was present in the story I am telling you is insulting my experience and my intelligence. It might not be wise to assume you are the most learned in an -ism that you don't experience.

    9. "My singular experiences trump your lifetime of experiences."

    Its really nice that you work in the 'hood, attend a church with some black people, learned Spanish, travelled to an underresourced community, have an Asian friend etc. Yeah, no. Your short-term experiences will never "trump" my lifetime of experiences.  Additionally, if none of these experiences have opened your eyes to the realities of racism, you're not paying attention. So you should probably listen to these stories. It will make you a better friend.

    8. "Why aren't you listening to me?"

    This comes in numerous forms: Shouldn't we all be heard? Why doesn't my voice matter? We're tired of listening to {insert race} people. Haven't we talked about this enough? No matter the form, this is an attempt to silence people of color and exert power to control the conversation. Resist the desire to control. A conversation is going to be the easiest form of releasing power; if you can't do that, you will have little success doing so in systems, structures and interpersonal relationships. 

    7. "You're feelings aren't valid until I'm convinced the cause of those feelings is just."

    Ouch. This can often be an incredibly painful response for someone who is sharing the pain of their lives. If I said, "I had a bad day today," and continued to express what happened, would you judge whether or not my experiences legitimately add up to a bad day? Would you pick apart what you think valid and what is not? Would you dare tell me that you don't think my bad day is valid and walk away? Why is greater grace given to a single bad day than a lifetime of struggling against racism?  You don't get to be the judge and jury over anyone's feelings. Stop picking apart people's stories.

    6. "But what about what this other black person said?"

    Newsflash: We are not all the same. We are allowed to have varied experiences, perspectives, and ideas. And we trust that you can take them all in. If you are basing everything you believe about race on one person, thats a problem. You should be quiet and take in a few more perspectives.

    5. "Scripture, Scripture, Scripture… All clear now?"

    Ummm, can we stop assuming that people of color haven't already reconciled their ideas, experiences, and studies of racism with the Bible? Please don't try to fix me with Scripture when I'm busy trying to fix a broken world.

    4. "History is not tied to today's problems"

    Yes. It is. History matters, including slavery which is what most folks mean when they want to dismiss history. Racism wasn't created in a vacuum. It was constructed and you would do well to know how, when, and why. This information leads to all the ways race has then been reconstructed over time until today.

    3. "But others have it worse"

    The fact that other people have been/are being oppressed isnt a good reason to stop having the conversation about this particular oppression. And it certainly doesn't dismiss it or make it okay. People of color are generally well aware of the different forms oppression has taken throughout history. We could probably school you on some of the connections between them, but lets be honest. You're not trying to dive deeper, you are trying to dismiss. Stop. Focus on this oppression. We can talk about the others later, if you can have this conversation well.

    2. Hyper focus on a micro-issue

    This may be one of the most effective tools for derailing a conversation. Hyper focusing on a minor example, story, or media event has the ability to shift the conversation into a fight over arguable specifics instead of connecting the dots between multiple forms of racism.  

    1. "You're making me feel bad; make it stop."

    Ultimately, most of the above responses are an attempt to guard against feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, frustration, anger and helplessness. Even when there is nothing accusatory spoken, just the race conversation- the retelling of painful stories- is enough to elicit an emotional response. Rather than let the emotions live, it is quite common for participants to resist.

    Now, I am sure there are more, but I hope this is a good starting place. Before I close, I would like to offer another thought. Just sit in it. I know its hard. I know its uncomfortable. I know there is a lot of emotion. I am having feels. You are having feels. But it will be okay. Just join me in the pain, muck, mire. Don't resist it. Let down your defenses. Pull up a seat and be witness, be a friend.

    Finally, I would like to acknowledge Grace, Brenna, Kathy, and others who chose to engage specifically in the convo that inspired this post. Despite the refusal of some to just sit in the pain being expressed in the article, it was incredibly encouraging to see these women tag team responses. You should also check out their responses in the comments section. It was beautiful and encouraging the way they encouraged folks to return to Grace's words. 

    *For more on participating in race conversations well, check out this post by Emily Maynard, this one by Esther Emery, and this one by Christena Cleveland. Can you tell I just keep adding? Okay, I'm done now.*

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    Friday Fruit (6/20/14)

    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, June 16, 2014


    After a fantastic panel discussion this week, #MennoNerdsOnRace is continuing our conversation on the blogosphere. Below, I've linked to specific parts of the webcast that I found particularly interesting, but it's well worth watching the whole thing if you get the chance.

    Drew Hart began by framing race as being both a social construct, as well as a lived reality. April Yamasaki spoke about race as too broad of a category, challenging the idea that both she (third-generation Canadian, from a Chinese background) and her husband (third-generation Canadian, from a Japanese background) should be lumped into the same racial group despite wildly different cultural histories and identities. Drew also expounded on how white cultural defaults manifests themselves within church worship contexts.

    Tim Nafziger talked about how racial justice work should flow from the center of the church, and not simply be an add on. He also talked about the stroy of the cyrprinician women, and how Jesus listened to her and responds to what he heard from her.

    Osheta Moore shared generously about some of her experiences with race, and encouraged white people to ask the awkward questions, the ones that make us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, because they will lead to deeper understanding. She also explained "I don't talk about white privilege because I want my white friends to feel bad, I talk about white privilege because I want them to understand my experience, because I want them to know me better. Because as a black person in a relationship with them, if I have to hold that part of me back, I don't really truly feel known."

    Osheta later continued to explains what it means to be an 'agent of Shalom' when it comes to race and privilege, echoing Drew's thoughts on whether the Church should get involved in politics on these issues. Tim encouraged us to engage with the aspects of our history that are problematic and to learn from them. And then, Drew Hart brings it home! So powerful. You'll just have to watch that part for yourself!

    I was thoroughly impressed with Tyler Tully's moderation. He took such care in preparing to lead the discussion, researching all of the topics and panelists, making sure everyone felt at ease. I appreciated his attention to detail when it came to each aspect of the evening. Even his oh-so-offical moderator voice was impressive!

    I also want to mention Chris LenshynRyan Robinson, and Robert Martin as great examples of white folk taking action responsibly for racial justice.  All three were central to making this event happen, working faithfully in the background, and doing much of the heavy lifting. They helped make a great webcast, and exemplified how white folk can take participate without recapitulating racialized structural norms. 

    All this to say, this is an impressive group of panelists with much wisdom to share. What an honor to listen and participate with them!

    -Osheta Moore

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Friday Fruit (06/13/14)

    Remembering Ruby Dee’s Art as Activism
    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, June 8, 2014

    Finding Common Ground with Encouragement

    Please welcome back Peter Kihyun Park, co-laborer of the Multicultural Worship Leaders Networkwho serves in Minneapolis, MN.

    Since 2005 I’ve had the privilege and honor of being part of the multicultural worship movement.  I started with Cross Cultural Evangelical Church and moved on to Aldrich Presbyterian Church and, now, I’m part of the Brazilian Church of Hope.  I’ve also met some incredible brothers and sisters through the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network.  It’s been great to connect with those who move heavily involved in multicultural worship.   

    In all these different groups there seems to be a common theme to understand context. Whether that means understanding someone’s cultural context or someone’s individual context.   

    But what is the purpose of doing this?  Yes, part of this useful information can help us develop worship services that are more relevant for the people represented in our congregation and neighborhood.  Yes, this useful information can even help someone move from ignorance to repentance.  

    The core value that I see here is to encourage one another.  And I don’t necessarily mean only from the pulpit or from the stage, although this is an important part of how we express our worship together.   

    When we develop relationships with believers from different diverse backgrounds we must strive to appreciate one another on a very basic level.  Recently, I asked someone to help me write a thank you note in Portuguese.  I’ve enjoyed the new foods that I’ve experience at the Brazilian Church of Hope and I wanted to thank the person who leads the food ministry at our church.  The reaction was priceless.  Even though our language ability with one another is limited, gratitude spoke loudly.   

    I’ve also sent thank you notes to the pastors at the Deaf Life Church here in St. Paul.  I’m forever grateful to them as they’ve located interpreters for me whenever I’ve visited and welcomed my family as well.  

    Another example is that I’ve gotten in the habit of asking ministry leaders how I can pray for them.  Whether it was an African American ministry leader or Hmong pastor they always seem to appreciate it.  A lot of expectations are placed on those who lead and it’s more rare that they’re asked directly how they can be prayed for.  

    My point is the midst of understanding context and putting together worship services that reflect our understanding of the diverse church, we all can learn to appreciate and encourage people in ways that transcends culture.   

    I want to ask you to pray about some ways you can build bridges of trust through appreciation and encouragement on a personal level.  What ideas do you have?  

    Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. 
    2 Corinthians 13:11 
    New Living Translation (NLT) 

    En fin, hermanos, alégrense, busquen su restauración, hagan caso de mi exhortación, 
    sean de un mismo sentir, vivan en paz. Y el Dios de amor y de paz estará con ustedes. 
    2 Corintios 13:11 
    Nueva Versión Internacional (NVI) 

     И последнее: прощайте, братья и сёстры, стремитесь к совершенству, делайте то, о 
    чём я вас просил, будьте единомышленниками, и тогда Бог, источник любви и мира, 
    будет с вами. 
    2­е Коринфянам 13:11 
    Russian New Testament: Easy­to­Read Version (ERV­RU) 

    Sa katapusan, mga kapatid, paalam. Maging ganap kayo, magkaroon kayo ng lakas ng 
    loob, magkaisa kayo ng pag­iisip. Mamuhay kayo ng payapa. At ang Diyos ng pag­ibig at 
    ng kapayapaan ang sumainyo. 
    2 Mga Taga­Corinto 13:11 
    Ang Salita ng Diyos (SND) 

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    Friday Fruit (06/06/14)

    Yuri Kochiyama’s Activism
    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:

    Also: Join us for a panel discussion (including yours truly) 
    on race, face, and mutuality.
    Thursday, June 12th at 7:30 EST. 

    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.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Upcoming: #MennoNerds on Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community

    “The myth is that we don’t live in a highly racialized and white-controlled society, and that the Church isn’t complicit. But the truth is that race and racism affect all of us,” says Drew Hart (who blogs at

    What can Christians do and learn about racism? How do we name, explore, and critique violent systems, and navigate the tensions where we are complicit in racism–to whatever degree? How can the white majority in the North American church live in vulnerable community with persons of color, and how can persons of color be heard in the church? Can we envision change for white majority, white-dominated churches, institutions, schools and seminaries? Where are there examples of Anabaptist communities, bloggers, theologians, and networks modeling a more faithful way?

    These questions and others will be explored during a special upcoming livecast panel discussion entitled “Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community” produced by MennoNerds. We'll include input from the viewing audience using online social media tools of Twitter and Google+.

    "Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community” is a free event, slated to appear on Thursday, June 12th at 6:30pm CDT at the following link:


    MC/Panel Facilitator:

    Tyler TullyTyler (@the_Jesus_event) is an Anabaptist writer, activist, and theologue based out of San Antonio, Texas whose work has been featured in local and national news sources. Proud of his indigenous American and European roots, Tyler is studying post-colonial constructive theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing an M.Div. You can follow his blog The Jesus Event at


    Katelin HansenKatelin (@BTSFblog) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online ministry facilitating justice and reconciliation across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. BTSF explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Katelin also service as Director of Music at UM Church For All People, a multi-class, multi-racial church in an underprivileged neighborhood of Columbus, OH.

    Drew HartDrew (@druhart) is a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa, studying the intersection of Black theology and Anabaptism. His research is shaped by his own formative experiences within both streams, having been raised in a Black Church and then spending 4 years on the pastoral staff of a multi-racial, urban Anabaptist community after college, and prior to jumping back into graduate school. He is currently a part-time pastor and professor speaking regularly to churches, conferences, and colleges, primarily around the themes of discipleship, ecclesiology, and Christian ethics.

    Osheta MooreOsheta is a stay-at-home mother of two boys (Tyson and TJ) one girl (Trinity), the wife of T. C. Moore (Theo Graff host), a ‘Naked Anabaptist,’ and writer/blogger at She is passionate about racial reconciliation, peacemaking, and community development in the urban core. She likes to take the “T” in Boston and listen to the amazing street performers at every stop.  At the top of her bucket list is to dance in a flash mob, all the better if it’s to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Pharrell’s  “Happy”.

    Tim NafzigerTim is passionate about gathering people with shared values to work together for change in our communities and our world. One such space is Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) where he has been part of the support team since 2008. He also blogs for The Mennonite magazine, administrates Young Anabaptist Radicals, designs web sites and does photography. Tim lives with his wife Charletta in the Ojai Valley in southern California where they connect with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.

    April YamasakiApril (@SacredPauses) is a pastor and writer in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada. She is lead pastor of a congregation that includes people of various backgrounds including Russian-Mennonite, Kenyan, Korean, Vietnamese, and others, still growing into its multi-ethnic and inter-cultural identity. Her latest book is Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald Press, 2013) and a book of sermons, Ordinary Time with Jesus (CSS Publishing), will be released soon. She blogs at


    Ryan RobinsonRyan (@Ryan_LR) is the Digital Development Coordinator at the Canadian Bible Society, working primarily with website design, eBook publishing, and the Bible Journeys devotional framework. He blogs at and maintains the website for MennoNerds.

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Reparations and the Church?

    The Case for Reparations
    Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent article, 'The Case for Reparations' opens with scripture:
    "And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him."
    If you haven't yet, read Coates's treatise--much of what appears here builds on the groundwork he lays there. Coates argues for the importance of reparations in the United States, not just for the enslavement of millions of individuals, but for the legacy of profit from disparity that has been with us ever since.

    These are not issues of the past. Coates lays out our history: post-Reconstruction era labor, the Industrial Revolution, the New Deal, the rise of middle class home ownership, the War on Drugs. All fraught not only with discrimination, but with broad financial profits for a nation, made at the expense of black people and other oppressed groups of color.

    Only *some* veterans
    And it isn't just secular institutions. In very tangible ways, Christian churches have benefited from a history of racism. Hundreds of congregations worship in churches built by enslaved people. Coates notes that certain laws mandated any property previously owned by enslaved persons "be seized and sold off by the local church, the profits used to support 'the poor of the said parish.'” Entire denominations owe their beginnings to splits resulting from their desire to maintain slave labor.

    In 1969, James Forman in his Black Manifesto delivered to Christian churches states that the "white Christian church with its hypocritical declarations and doctrines of brotherhood has abused our trust and faith." Though some churches combated both slavery and Jim Crow racism, Christian institutions far too commonly upheld repressive practices and viciously fought to maintain the oppressive status-quo (additional history can be found here and other examples from Twitter voices). White Christianity remains very much a part of the legacy that Coates deliniates for the rest of the country.

    Coates does give examples of several attempts from Christians to restore justice:
    “A heavy account lies against us as a civil society for oppressions committed against people who did not injure us,” wrote the Quaker John Woolman in 1769, “and that if the particular case of many individuals were fairly stated, it would appear that there was considerable due to them...
    Quakers in New York, New England, and Baltimore went so far as to make “membership contingent upon compensating one’s former slaves.” In 1782, the Quaker Robert Pleasants emancipated his 78 slaves, granted them 350 acres, and later built a school on their property and provided for their education. “The doing of this justice to the injured Africans,” wrote Pleasants, “would be an acceptable offering to him who ‘Rules in the kingdom of men.’”
    I don't know how we as a nation resolve the unjust gains that our society has continued to make since that time. It will require an honest look and both our past and our present. It will take intentionality and humble study of the situation. And the Church should be leading the conversation.

    But to this point, we haven't even really tried to acknowledge our debt, let alone repay it. We haven't been willing to begin to see the situation for what it is. Coates notes "it is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us." We as a Church can barely talk about race, let alone offer any sort of restitution on the way to reconciliation.

    Included among Coates's reasons for promoting reparations is that it would require us to take an honest look at ourselves, to move from suppressing our history to a productive and healing restoration: "more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal."

    As Christians, we realize that to become more Christ-like, we must first understand ourselves as broken. We know that when it comes to our sin, there is no statute of limitations. We must acknowledge where we have fallen short if we want to see our lives and communities changed. To allow Christ's power to move, we must look our communal, historic, systemic, and individual sins square in the face.

    Instead, we behave like those who deny their need for a Savior. We loudly declare our basic goodness, a prideful rejection of any need for redemption. We choose to believe we are doing fine on our own, and then wonder why the world is full of such division and pain. How much better off would we be if we would simply acknowledge our past and continuing failures, so that we could begin our journey of renewal?

    Christians also understand that on some level, we will never really be able to repay our debts. Christ's death and resurrection demonstrate our profound incapacity to redeem ourselves by our own power.  But that doesn't mean we live unchanged lives. We recognize our inability to repay God's work for us, but we also strive to approximate it as best we can each day we are on this earth.

    And what is the role of forgiveness? Of grace? Aren't these the Christian way when it come to the racial debts of a nation? Maybe. But, I'm not in a position to decide. I am neither the injured party nor the Higher Authority. My role is to humbly offer whatever restitution I can, in the name of reconciling with those that have been injured. Indeed, without repentance and a healthy acknowledgement of our wrongs, words of forgiveness are cheap.

    'Reparation' is, quite literally, the act of repairing what has been broken. It is restoring a loss, healing wounds, righting wrongs. And this is precisely the business of the Church. Or at least is should be.

     “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
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