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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top #BTSF Posts of 2015

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on and give thanks for the blessings of 2015.  I continue to be grateful to the BTSF readers who have sparked brilliant dialogue and joined in tremendous efforts toward racial justice.

Let us push forward in 2016 toward a just and reconciled Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

Check out the top ten #BTSF posts of 2015:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Wounded Knee Massacre

Profile of a Lakota Indian"Never Forget Wounded Knee; December 29, 1890"
This week marks the anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre in which an estimated 300 American Indian men, women, and children were killed near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) in South Dakota.

Having been confined to reservations, and the surrounding area having been completely depleted of buffalo, frustrations rose among the Sioux who began to organize in earnest through the Ghost Dance movement. In response, White military commanders began to crack down even harder on area tribes, violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which guaranteed peaceful relations between the United States and the Lakota nation. This escalation eventually led to the attempted arrest and killing of Chief Sitting Bull (Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake) at Standing Rock Reservation on December 15.

Thus, Chief Spotted Elk (Uŋpȟáŋ Glešká ; also known as Chief Big Foot) attempted to ensure the safety of those under his care by leading them to the Pine Ridge Reservation. However, they were intercepted. After stopping for the night at Wounded Knee, their encampment was surrounded by the U.S. 7th Cavalry under the command of Col. James W. Forsyth.

The next morning, on December 29, 1890, a small scuffle escalated into an all-out massacre of Chief Spotted Elk’s people. The Wounded Knee Museum describes how “troopers fired volley after volley into the Sioux camp. From the heights above, the army's Hotchkiss guns raked the Indian teepees with grapeshot…Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire.” 

“The Centennial Ride to Wounded Knee”
James Cook,
In less than an hour, approximately 300 men, women, and children were killed, including Chief Spotted Elk, effectively putting an end to the Ghost Dance movement. Having witnessed the scene in an attempt to rescue the wounded, Black Elk (Heȟáka Sápa) later recalled that “something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream ... the nation's hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead" (find more reactions and eyewitness accounts here).

In contrast, Colonel Forsyth was eventually promoted to Major General and twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. The Lakota nation has protested these as ‘Medals of Dishonor’ calling the U.S. Government to rescind them, but no such action has been taken. Individuals have also sought reparations from the Federal Government for the loss of life and property at Wounded Knee, but have been blocked due to their being classified as “hostiles” and thus ineligible for compensation.

Map of The Big Foot Band Memorial Ride
Of note, the site has continued to be of symbolic significance in the struggle against oppression. Beginning on February 27, 1973, Wounded Knee was chosen as the protest site for what would be a 71-day standoff between American Indian Movement (AIM) and the FBI. The American Indian Movement was formed to stop police harassment of Indians, among other issues. The AIM eventually won national attention for the U.S. Government’s mistreatment of American Indians that continued through the 20th century, and indeed persists today.

Each year to mark the anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, indigenous peoples led by the Lakota nation set out on the Big Foot Band Memorial Ride. Participants travel on horseback and on foot through the snow on an eight-day ride, culminating in a ceremony to help heal the scars of war and death and raise awareness against genocide.
The Big Foot Band Memorial Ride
Photo from

This memorial ride has taken place every year for the past 25 years, and on this 125th anniversary of the massacre, organizers expect hundreds to join the ride in support. They are currently on their journey and invite each of us to pause on December 29th at 12:00 noon in your local time, all around the world in prayer and remembrance. 

In addition to your prayers and commemoration, you can support the riders with your monetary contribution. It costs about $300 per participant to cover lodging, suppose, and safety precautions. Every little bit helps keep the movement and the memory alive.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dreaming of a White Christmas

All-white nativity scene
Look around you this Christmas: all the greeting cards, advertisements, TV specials, store displays, nativity scenes. Santa Claus’s race has gotten a lot of press in recent yearsbut it’s not just him.

The popular portrayals of Christmas in the United States reinforce the ‘white default’ that takes an assumed white perspective: from matters of marketing and consumerism, to social values and theology.

White faces depict the fatherly Joseph, the virginal Mary, the saintly angels, the hard-working shepherds. Are these characteristics only the traits of white people? When we link these faces with our holiday values of love, joy, and peace, we lose the full spectrum of God’s grace in the Christmas narrative. In the very story of our Lord’s birth we perpetuate the marginalization of God’s people.

We are selective with which ‘historical realities’ we cling to. The bible never claims there are three wise men, or that Jesus was born in December. Saint Nicholas never lived in the North Pole or probably even ever saw a reindeer. But we are willing to accept these particularities as part of our Christmas tradition. What does it say about our priorities when we insist on the whiteness of the savior?

Cartoon of Frosty the snowman
Frosty is the only character that
should consistently be white
The whitening of the baby Jesus is potentially the most damaging of all racialized Christmas portrayals (see post: The Color of Christ). Others have expounded on the historically inaccuracy of the portrayal, but it is problematic for the theologian as well as the anthropologist. White folk have literally changed the image of God into their own likeness. It means demeaning any other race as less God-like, less made in the image of God. It means identifying with the savior more than with the saved (see post: White Savior Complex).

With all the publicity and social construction, both Santa and Jesus are functionally white for many Christians in the United States. But there are serious consequences to the predominant perceptions of a white Jesus. Theologians have noted that "if we accept a White Jesus, if that is the image we see, we have also adopted an image of salvation, of health, wholeness, happiness, that also comes to us via a White culture and comes to us with a White value system." This imagery perpetuates the tenancy of white folk to view themselves as morally superior and as rightful leaders.

Korean nativity scene
Families recently visiting a black Santa at a Los Angeles mall remarked that "I just don’t want [my godson] to think that all greatness comes from a different race…There’s Santa Clauses his color doing good work, too." Furthermore, added another parent, "We need our kids to understand that good things happen in chocolate skin...We are often bombarded with the opposite. We’re not trying to exclude anybody, but [instead] celebrate our chocolate skin."

Representation matters. Children need to learn that good things (both Christmas presents, and salvation itself) can come from many different races and nationalities (see example nativities from Paul Neeley). We all need Black Santa. And we need Asian Santa, Native Santa and Latino Santa too.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Fruit (12/18/15)

#StandWithBGW is a faith-filled, public education campaign to prioritize the well-being of black women and girls through liturgy, advocacy for equitable public policy, and digital engagement. 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 many voices leading the way...

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, December 13, 2015

Actions of Advent

The following is an Advent prayer that was used
to open a recent board meeting of the
General Commision on Religion and Race
of the United Methodist Church.
Many thanks to Mauria Bowie for sharing
this lovely and salient liturgy.

Dear Lord,
With joy-filled hearts during this season of Advent,
we adorn our homes, offices and churches with
Advent wreathes, Christmas trees, and manger scenes
Celebrations of Advent

With eager hearts we dust off our Christmas hymnals,
we revive the words of your prophets,
and merrily sing of turtle doves, herald angels,
and weary worlds rejoicing ...
Celebrations of Advent

Yet, we're not worthy to enjoy the
Celebrations of Advent
If our
Actions of Advent
are conforming, comfortable, safe ...

If our
Actions of Advent
are void of courage, honesty, and humility
we offer pitiful actions of Advent
that insult this season of hope.

Actions of Advent require faith.
Faith in the promise of a world
where our glowing passion for reconciliation,
peace and justice will not be exhausted.
Faith that our glow will continue
to light our path toward equity.
Faith in the promise of our dear Savior's birth.

Actions of Advent require hope.
God and sinner reconciled,
we are forgiven.

We courageously allow ourselves
to hold bright hope for tomorrow,
hope for a world where we see ALL people,
hear ALL people, and cherish ALL people,
hope that fuels our glowing passion for
a reconciled world free of oppression,
cruelty and abuse.

As one body, gathered together today,
grounded in our love for one another,
we embrace this season of Advent with:

Our actions of
Courage as we refuse to conform to acts
of inequity

Our actions of
Honesty as we speak truth to those in
power who may alienate us

And our actions of
Humility as we serve Your people on
bended knee

We thank you
Dear Everlasting Lord
for drawing us closer to You
through our true
Actions of Advent. Amen.

What are your Actions of Advent in this season? 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Friday Fruit (12/10/15)

From Fong Tran and Chaz Ashley's spoken word piece
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 many voices leading the way...

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, December 6, 2015

AIDS, Racism, and the Church (Part 2)

In the previous post, we learned about the difficult issues with HIV and AIDS that our world faces today. We learned how treatment opportunities and outcomes are greatly affected by race and class, both in the United States and around the world.

So what does the Church have to say about the situation?

In 'The Moral Calculus of AIDS', Tamara Straus states that "solving the world AIDS crisis will require something that governments, international lending institutions and multinational companies...often lack: compassion and the ability to see beyond profit."

Is this not a role for the Church? We who are called to set aside love of money, for the sake of God's Kingdom. Let us prioritize policies that will help us love our neighbors by healing the sick, raising the dead, and curing incurable diseases.

Straus goes on to remind us that "racism also will have to be factored into such moral calculus." Christians cannot turn a colorblind eye to the racial disparities at play in the the AIDS epidemic. We must understand and combat racism in HIV/AIDS outcomes in the United States and take responsibility for role that Western colonialism has played abroad. Indeed, the rate of HIV/AIDS is highest in countries in Africa where protestant Christianity dominates (in sharp contrast to predominantly Muslim countries in Africa).

Christian racism, homophobia, and sexism have contributed to a sluggish response, limited health education, poor treatment options, making us complicit in the loss of life. We, as a whole, have had a tragic role in perpetuating homophobia, abstinence based sex-ed, and reducing condom use around the world. Indeed, while there has been some decreases in infection rates, research from Columbia University "found no evidence that abstinence and fidelity caused the overall decline of HIV." Instead, it was the increased access to and use of condoms, along with the high rates of death for AIDS patients (how terrible a reason!)
Rev. Bruce Davenport in front of his ministry's billboard ad promoting HIV testing
Rev. Bruce Davenport

So do we care enough to end it?

Rather than offering unrealistic remedies and platitudes, Christians must promote demonstrated solutions. We need to think creatively about our aid, such that we don't simply recapitulate imperialism or saviorism. We must actively relinquish our resources, and empower the affected.

We can learn from Rev. Bruce Davenport, "Da Condom Father," of New Orleans' St. John No. 5
Baptist Faith Church.  He and his team of volunteers go door to do every afternoon distributing condoms and HIV prevention literature. His daughter Tamachia Devenport wonders why more churches don't do similar work:  "How can you not help when, as a church, you're supposed to help?"

Rev. Edwin Sanders
We can learn from Rev. Edwin Sanders and his church ministry, the First Response Center. For nearly 30 years, Rev. Sanders and his congregation have provided HIV/AIDS care, and now the church runs its own primary care clinic. Their inclusive ministry emphasizes the ‘whosoever’ of John 3:16, even in the face of exclusion rampant in other churches.

We can learn from Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente who coupled the AIDS education they gave to adolescent Black girls with positive messages about the girls' racial and gender identities. Their work demonstrated that by doing so, they were more effective in their HIV-prevention education and that the girls gained stronger identities and self-worth.

We can learn from dozens of examples of churches doing good work in combating HIV and AIDS.

Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente
And we can remember that race plays a role. In an interview for the New York Times, Yale Laws School professor Harlon L. Dalton reminds us that "we cannot approach the AIDS problem in a color-blind fashion. Racism in this country enables people to not care for people who are not like them, so we are facing a dilemma in addressing the racial issue.”

Perhaps one of the most important roles for the Church is in combatting a reversing the stigmas around HIV/AID, stigmas that often have origins in Christian culture. Indeed, we can model our lives after Jesus, who stood in face of bias and bigotry to embrace those who were stigmatized in His own society. We can offer aid across the globe, and we can also remember our neighbors just down the street. We can love as we care called to love, heal as we are called to heal, and hope in the God who makes all things new.

Action Step: An important and simple way for the Church help reduce the effects of HIV/AIDS is to increase awareness and promote the use of PrEP. PrEP has been shown to effectively prevent  HIV infection (92% lower rates!), yet it is extremely underutilized. Help raise awareness so that those that may benefit can consult their doctor about obtaining a prescription. 
Effects of caffeine on the Body

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Friday Fruit (12/04/15)

Colorlines screenshot of NBCBLK video,
taken December 1, 2015.
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 many voices leading the way...

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, November 29, 2015

World AIDS Day (Part 1)

World AIDS Day logo with red ribbon of map of the globeDecember 1st is World AIDS Day. It marks "an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV." While many treatment advances have been made, 35.3 million people currently live with HIV. As a result, ~2 million people die from AIDS each year, including 270,000 children.

Like so many aspects of life, AIDS diagnosis, treatment, and outcome are affected by race. In the same way that issues of infant mortality, heart disease, obesity, and mental health disproportionately affect people of color, AIDS remains a significant issue for black and brown communities.

Many factors such as income and health care access that affect the prevalence of HIV differ significantly across race. Thus, in 2010 “an estimated 7,000 (57.4%) newly infected youths were blacks/African Americans, 2,390 (19.6%) were Latinos, and 2,380 (19.5%) were whites.” Indeed, according to Colorlines, if black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for the number of people with HIV.
Graph from the CDC showing highest rates of AIDS diagnosis is black populationsIn addition, American Indians are often left out of targeted treatment programs due to small population size. They also have the shortest time between HIV diagnosis and full on AIDS infection, and have worse subsequent survival rates than other races and ethnicities.

In the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, HIV testing rates are terribly low, increasing the risk of carriers unknowingly passing on the virus to others. By many measures Asian American and Pacific Islanders show the highest increases in rates of new infections in the United States. Click here for links to HIV/AIDS education materials in a variety of Asian languages.

Colorlines asserts that "HIV infection rates are an excellent measure for who societies don’t give a damn about." Hatty Lee and Kai Wright note that “globally, those who have access to social and economic capital avoid the virus or, when infected, live healthy lives with it. Elsewhere, infections and deaths continue to mount.” The necessary treatments exist, but access to them remains severely inhibited.
Click for full infographic
from Colorlines

Wright notes that “in the late 1990s, right about when taxpayer-developed lifesaving drugs hit the market and America declared victory over HIV, the epidemic split: Black diagnoses continued climbing as a share of overall diagnoses, while white diagnoses plummeted. In other words, in the part of America where people had access to care, the epidemic changed dramatically; elsewhere, it didn’t.”

The pattern is the same outside the United States. Over 95% of those living with HIV/AIDS are in developing countries. Of these, 8,000 people die per day. Countries like the United States spends ~$1500 per person each year on health care, while Guatemala is only able to spend $41 per capita per year.

While the number of AIDS-related deaths peaked in the United States in 1995, developing countries didn’t begin to see reductions for over 10 more years. The World International Intellectual Property Institute reported that “without AIDS, life expectancy in the year 2010 in Zimbabwe would be 70 years, in Botswana 66 years and in Zambia 60 years. With AIDS, these life expediencies are expected to drop to 35 years in Zimbabwe, 33 years in Botswana and 30 years in Zambia.”

Pharmaceutical companies vigorously lobby against drug access for the countries that need it most, even though sales in these same counties only accounts for 1% of their total profits. The import of generic drugs is often banned, even though they are ten times cheaper (even after 90% discounts from pharma companies).

As president of the Global Health Council, Nils Daulaire stated that “if there were a nuclear war, we wouldn't worry about whether people had their trigger mechanisms patented or not. This is, I hate to use the term, the moral equivalent of war,' he says, referring to the AIDS crisis in Africa.” Thus, the lack of drug access is often characterized as a severe violation of human rights. For more on this story, watch the compelling documentary, Fire in the Blood.

But there are reasons to hope. Is Christ’s Church one of those reasons?
Find out what the Church is doing in part 2

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Refugee Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell's painting 'Refugee Thanksgiving' of a refugee blessing a meager mealThere is a fear. A fear that they will arrive poor, needing to be taken care of. That they'll be ignorant of our customs and culture. That they will take our jobs, or be dependent on our charity. That they'll bring disease and violence, that they intend to do us harm. That our own hard working residents will have to support them with welfare, and what is ours will be stolen. That once they cross the water, they'll never go back.

And yet, this week we give thanks for a time when hundreds of undocumented immigrants flooded to this land. They failed to assimilate. They scorned the dominant culture. They spoke their own language and refused to adopt the language of the land they had entered.

They brought disease. They brought violence. They brought terror. They were dependent on the social welfare handouts of those who had worked hard to get what they had. What wasn't freely given, they stole. They refused to go back to their own country. But we celebrate them each year on Thanksgiving day.

So which is it? Do we honor immigrants or revile them? Do we value helping those in need, or is it a sign of our weakness? Do we share what we have, or do we hoard it in barns? Do we welcome the stranger or do we send them packing?

A family escapes slavery on a horse
I suppose our answer simply depends on which side of the border we find ourselves.

A month from now, there'll be another holiday.  One that also celebrates a refugee. A Middle Eastern child whose undocumented parents smuggled him across a border to keep him safe from the slaughter that was happening in their homeland. This Holy Family fled to Egypt, where also there had once been a baby that was hidden in a makeshift boat to escape violence and oppression.

We are a Church whose history is filled with refugees who have been the pillars of our faith. Indeed, we pray to a God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead tells us "welcome home." We are foreigners that have been welcomed into God's Sovereign State. Will we not offer others the same?

Image result for "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." -Nelson MandelaYou cannot honor the Thanksgiving story and slam the doors of the country at the same time. Are we a 'nation under God with liberty and justice for all?' Or do we imprison and abuse? Do we say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or do shout in the face of Christ  "Not this Man, but Barabbas."

There is a fear. A fear that if we open our arms, it will destroy who we are. But we should be more afraid of what happens if we won't.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday Fruit (11/20/15)

Jamar Clark
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 many voices leading the way...

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, November 16, 2015

Compromised in Missouri

Israel wanders in the desert for 40 years
As Christians, we understand that history matters, that the mistakes of the past have repercussions for us today. Scripture laments that "our fathers have sinned...and we have borne their iniquities," and we read stories where God "punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

When God's people built themselves a golden calf, the next generation bore the consequences as well. Surely the younger group said among themselves "it's not our fault that our parents were so sinful. We know better now." And yet, they continued to wander the desert.

White text on black background: "I stand with Mizzou; #IStandWithMizzou"
So when we read current events, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the history and context out of which they've emerged. Missouri has been the center of so much of the news in this latest chapter of our racial history. The killing of Michael Brown. The militarized show of police that followed. Since then, the deaths of VonDerrit Myers and Antonio Martin. And now, the racism on the University of Missouri's campus that has highlighted the painful realities of being #BlackOnCampus across the country.  So what's the historical context that has led us to wander in this desert? 

Missouri's history is famous for the 1820 'Missouri Compromise' that allowed it to join the United States as a slave state, thus perpetuating the institution in the U.S. and indeed allow it to expand further to the southwest. While the statute did prohibit slavery in northern territories, the Kansas–Nebraska Act essentially nullified that effect in 1854.  It was mostly from Missouri that pro-slavery settlers flooded into neighboring Kansas to influence its becoming a slave state (a scandal referred to a "Bleeding Kansas," due to the subsequent violence that would foreshadow the impending national civil war). 

Dred Scott
In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that the federal government could not regulate slavery in the federal territories, officially rendering the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. It was a case that had originated in the Missouri courts after Dred Scott filed suit for his freedom, having traveled there with his master as well as to other free states. The Supreme Court ruled that regardless of slave status, a Black person was not a citizen and therefore could not sue for freedom, or for any other purpose. This ruling had huge ramifications for all people of color in the U.S. for decades to come. 

During the U.S. Civil War, Missouri was claimed as part of both the Union and the Confederacy, with two competing state governments and was represented in both the U.S. Congress and the Confederate Congress. This situation inevitably led to more conflict and bloodshed, not the least of which at the expense of Black people living in the state. 

The NAACP has records of 81 lynching in the state of Missouri in the 27 years between 1889 and 1916. In 1901, after a white woman was found dead Pierce City, a mob armed with guns and torches cleared out an entire black neighborhood of its residents, all of whom left their property behind and never came back. 

Joplin city logo with motto "Proud of our past, shaping our future"Two years later in Joplin, Thomas Gilyard was lynched from a telephone pole and hundreds other Black residents were driven away from the area. In 1906, a mob in Springfield removed three Black men from jail to the same end. The men suspected of the murder were all quickly acquitted. There are dozens more instances just like these.

Over the span of ten years, terror tactics such of these had driven out over 30% of the area's Black residents. Today, Joplin is 90% white, the surrounding county is 92% white. The motto of the city of Joplin is "Proud of Our Past, Shaping Our Future." I have no doubt. 

Like other states, Missouri was significantly affected by redlining, the War on Drugs, and other 21st policies that created a direct lineage to the strange fruit it bears today (more about Missouri's racial history can be found here and here ). This history brings context to the dehumanization of Black people that leads to their murder in our communities, to their treatment as second-class citizens in the courtroom, to the scare tactics they face on campuses, to the shows of force that make Black residents fear for their lives and property.

But the point is not to single-out Missouri itself. Indeed, every state has its own racial history that has significant consequences today. Take some time to look into the racial history of your own state, your own city, even your own block.

Redlining map of St. Louis.
Ferguson is clearly visible in the top right.
Was your neighborhood redlined at any point, or was it is a green-lined part of town? Was there white flight to or from your area? Was your city a sundown town that forced all people of color to leave by sundown or face lethal repercussions? What sorts of local and federal sentencing laws enforced the War on Drugs in your city?

Look at the property records for your home and for your church. Is there a Racial Restrictive Covenant in the history of the property where you live? Was your church's land bought using proceeds from the sale of slaves or their property?

This history is important. It puts our current events into a context that informs our interpretation of what we are seeing all around us. Just like our biblical forebearers, we inherit the consequences of generations past. The question is whether we will take definitive steps to break the cycle today. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Fruit (11/13/15)

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 many voices leading the way...

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, November 8, 2015

From Awareness to Action (Part 2)

The 'first steps' mentioned last week (prayer, relationships, education), are sometimes where we want to end. We feel good. We feel more aware. And we can we can even feel like we are becoming reconciled with each other. But these steps are just the beginning toward true redemption of our racial history and relationships.   

Next Steps: Changing Behaviors
Prayer, relationship, and education are the critical foundations for what comes next. It's from there that we begin to change our behaviors, both as individuals and as groups. There are many arenas in which to do this. Here, I simply highlight a few ideas. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

  • Empowering leaders
    • Take active steps to promote and empower young leaders of color, strengthening them and giving them the support they need to lead effectively.  Introduce them to your networks, systems of support and platforms (see this week's #SeaofWhiteness and #SpeakersofColor for one example of the issues faces). Mentor them through their professional development and be vigilant against the subtle biases that may hinder them. Promote institutional equity in the church when it comes to seminarians, pastors, and denominational leaders.  
  • Showing up
    • At the guidance and invitation of leaders of color, show up when called upon. Build a culture of justice within your congregation, such that when national racial tragedies occur there is precedent for your church to show up in solidarity. Attend marches and other public witnesses for immigrant rights, voters rights, living wages, budget priorities, etc—wherever leaders of color point. 
  • Spending Responsibly
    • Use the power of your money wisely. Fast from national chains and corporations, instead patronizing small local business, especially those owned by people of color. Give time and money to university departments and organizations that support students, histories, cultures of otherwise underrepresented groups. Support organizations like the Kirwan InstituteRace Forward, and others that are committed to research and activism toward racial justice. 
  • Examine your media
    • Media plays a powerful role in shaping our we perceive and interact with the world. Change your behaviors to seek out magazines, movies, and TV shows that feature and affirm a range of beauty standards and cultures. Be sure you get your daily news from multiple sources, particularly those run by producers from underrepresented backgrounds. Fast from sporting events and broadcasts that feature racist or appropriative mascots. And ensure that the art in your church, on your church website, in your church bulletin and in power points also reflect the inclusive body of Christ, rather than perpetuating harmful cultural defaults. 
Big Steps: Changing Society
As we change our behaviors as individuals, but must also work to change our systems and institutions as a whole. This takes time, dedication, and a willingness to step out against the status quo. The task is great, but some of these steps can help make a dent. 
  • Advocate
    • At the direction and invitation of those affected by injustices, directly advocate for changes in laws, systems, and policies. Enlist your church and personal networks in advocacy work around issues of racial disparity. Learn about local policies around harsh school discipline, police weaponry, or prison sentencing, and get involved with the work already happening to move such legislation. Examine your personal spheres of influence to see where your voice may make a difference.
  • Sponsor
    • Invest financial and social capital to significantly move the needle for individuals affected by systems of inequity. Support young students or professionals of color in their career development goals (CEUs, speaking engagements, introductions to book publishers). Help them attend conferences and training events (eg. support the WoC Retreat at the CCDA conference this week). Consider becoming a trained foster parent or guardian ad litem to help older children through difficult transitions. Talk to your congregation about launching a  Freedom School in your area. Steps like these require significant investments of time and money, but have the potential to make significant difference for the individuals affected. 
  • Take Risks
    • To make meaningful change we must be willing to put our reputation, money, employment, and leadership opportunities at risk. In particular, those in positions of privilege must set aside opportunities they’ve been offered that do not reflect God’s vision for the inclusive body of Christ. They must speak up when it's 'meddlesome,' divest when it's 'unwise,' and take a stand when it's 'inappropriate' by the established standards of doing so. It takes getting risky with what we'd like to take for granted. 

In many ways these steps mentioned in these two posts are interdependent. Advocacy without relationship is empty. Education without changed behavior is hollow. Sponsorship without humility and trust is misguided. These steps aren't so much a progression, as they are a cycle. They all relate back to each other and cannot be done in isolation from each other.

This week, no matter where you are in the journey, pick one new thing that you can commit to, and do it. Write it down. Share it is the comments section. Get plugged into the good work already happening, and take that next step for justice and reconciliation in this world.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Friday Fruit (11/06/15)

Josmar Trujillo issues a mock summons to a family in Park Slope
Waging Nonviolence/Ashoka Jegroo via
Police Reform Organizing Project's Twitter page.
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 many voices leading the way...

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, November 1, 2015

From Awareness to Action (Part 1)

Word art: Awareness >>> Action
How do we move from awareness to action?

To some extent, it's not an either/or; as we become more aware, we take action and as we take action, we become more aware. But too often we are stuck in the awareness phase, growing in our understanding without taking the critical steps to implement what we've learned. But all the awareness in the word won't change the systems and structures that are in place.

The Church has long been an agent of change. From its founding, the Church uprooted that status quo and disturbed authorities. The Gospel gives us a spiritual understanding of our social issues that should put feet on our faith. As Christians, we can publicly cast a vision for what our world could be.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
As the world asks tough questions about race and injustice, the Church must be ready with answers, both in our words and our actions. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said "If you’re going to be compassionate, be prepared for action." So what can the Church do?

The following are some of my ideas for first steps, next steps, and big steps. Some steps we can take as individuals, some as congregations, some as the broader Body of Christ. Some steps are easy, some require more risky. Some may be appropriate for where you are in your journey, others may be good steps to suggest to someone you are helping along the way. But we each must take action no matter where we are on the path.

First Steps: Changing Beliefs
These for folks just starting out. It's all news. The concepts are foreign. The terrain a bit scary. The
other sections build from here, but it never hurts to circle back to these foundations.

  • Prayer
    • This, of course, is foundational to everything we do as Christians. We must "pray without ceasing" and as God to mold us into God's likeness, conforming our hearts to God's will and vision for this world. As a first step, try this prayer:
      “Triune God, help us be ever faithful to your example: affirming of our unique identities, while remaining unified as one body in You. Help us seek out the voices that are missing, and empower the marginalized. Let our witness of repentance, justice, and reconciliation bring glory to You, O Lord”
  • Education
    • As we pray to conform our hearts to God's will, we must fill in the gaps of our own education, the many things that have been left out because of cultural bias along the way. This includes reading scripture with cross-cultural eyes, and learning from theologians that are not from the dominant culture. It means seeking out books, movies, music, blogs, and speeches from cultures and histories that are different than your own. It can even mean learning about the history of your own neighborhood or church as a window into how race has shaped the world around you today. 
  • Relationships
    • Healthy relationships can only be formed on the basis of the previous two. They all go hand-in-hand. It requires those typically in the majority to humble themselves and to be lead and taught in authentic relationship by those around them from different cultures. It cannot be be done in a tokenizing manner and it cannot be rushed. There is no substitute for honest, holy, trusting relationships.  
But these are just the beginning. Read on to kick it up a notch and take some next steps together...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Friday Fruit (10/30/15)

Get free picks of women of color in tech here
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 many voices leading the way...

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, October 25, 2015

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.

So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Friday Fruit (10/23/15)

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 many voices leading the way...

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, October 18, 2015

Injustice in the Ancient Era

Lady justice peaking from behind her blindfold
She's not blind,
but she is white
The following is adapted from an essay by Ashley Garcia, written as a sophomore at The Ohio State University. She reflects on the trials of the Apostle Paul and how it relates to our modern criminal justice system:

The law exists to keep people safe, to protect them from chaos and the degradation of society. When something arises to threaten this system, the offenders are tried in a court of law to decide their fate. However the courts are not always just. 

The book of Acts describes the unfortunate circumstances of the Apostle Paul, and his unjust imprisonment and treatment at the hands the people of Jerusalem. Ironically, the people who should have welcomed Paul’s message with open arms imprisoned him instead. Paul’s case is just one example exemplifying how corrupt and hypocritical the judicial system can become under immoral leadership. Although Paul was a Roman citizen and had full rights to a standard Roman trial, his case was full of illegalities that exuded injustice abundantly, including the lack of a formal presentation of the indictment, and the blatant absence of a randomly selected jury, who would have voted on Paul’s verdict. 

The Romans had set explicit laws in place to avoid injustices such as these, and yet injustice is not so easily removed. “The great question was not in regard to the law, but rather to the administering of the law which depended wholly on the character of the judges” (Roman Trials in Christ’s Day). In essence, one cannot have an uncorrupt system of justice if the leaders of the system are themselves corruptible. This horrid debacle of justice is unfortunately still rampant today. 

MLK in jail
Despite occurring several thousand years ago, Paul’s case is still relatable to more recent events. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King addresses the main issue within any justice system, that those who are supposed to uphold the laws that form the basis for society, are the very ones who create the chaos of injustice. “But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation...certain promises were made…we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise…” 

These broken promises were political moves made by the leaders of the community, moves made not out of reverence for the law, but rather out of fear of losing their false sense of authority.  In a desperate attempt to cling to their tenuous hold on power, political figures are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the people complacent, all to assure their own livelihood.

Just as the political leaders during the Civil Rights Movement sought to appease the white majority in an effort to retain their positions, so too did Roman rulers seek to appease those who wished for Paul’s death by keeping him prisoner. These unethical leaders become so concerned with their fleeting, illusory command, that they forget why they were entrusted with these positions in the first place.  

Of course the fault cannot lie on the leaders alone, for it is ultimately the people who influence their leader’s decisions. Ideally, this picture of democracy is the basis of a reasonable justice system, but in reality it cannot be, for while the individual may be more prone to moral like mindedness, “groups are more immoral than individuals” (King). While this philosophy might come across as pessimistic, it has proven itself true countless times throughout history, including in Paul’s trial. “The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.” (Acts 23:12-13). Individually, these forty men may not have conspired to murder an innocent man, but together the societal pressures encouraged nothing but unethical pursuits.

It is these types of immoral tendencies that create a populace “more devoted to order than to justice” (King). When justice is willingly sacrificed in exchange for a corrupt order, devoid of all integrity, claims of justice become nothing more than hollow promises.  Yet, even more horrifying than this abuse of power is the fact that these actions are commended by the people. Instead of calling for the upholding of the law, the people are satisfied in their corruption, mistakenly believing it to be true justice.  

When judicial standards fall so low that the acclamation of the oppressors and the degradation of the oppressed are deemed satisfactory, the system has failed in its duty to protect its citizens. Only when the abused are commended “…for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing disciple in the midst of the most inhuman provocation” can the presence of justice be truly known (King).

From the very moment Paul relinquished his wealth and status in becoming a follower of Christ, he was cast from social graces and viewed as inferior to those who once revered him. These people’s veneration rapidly degenerated into a condescending superiority as they became blinded by socioeconomic biases. This reversal of standards is a parallel to modern era white collar crimes which are not held in the same regard as “street crimes.” People of higher socioeconomic status tend to believe the laws do not apply to them because of their class, while those of lower status find themselves the objects of abuse and discrimination, much like Paul. How twisted a world, where felons are praised and innocent men are beaten and destroyed. How can there be any semblance of justice in a world such as this?

Apostle Paul being guarded in jail
This circumstance of corruption within the judicial system is not solely held within a specific region or time frame. As seen with the case of Paul, innocent men can be locked away without any probable cause thanks to fraudulent and shallow officials. The people who seek this kind of justice, like the crowd who planned to have Paul murdered, end up not seeking justice at all, but a crude imitation. 

Unfortunately, the law cannot always be counted upon to protect these victims, as the corruption of the judicial system depends not only on the laws to keep it functioning, but also on the morals of those entrusted to lead it. The law is only as virtuous as its enforcers. At what point does justice become personal vindication? The people are supposed to uphold the law, and in turn the law, theoretically, keeps society functioning smoothly. The law serves to protect the people, but who protects the people from the law?  
Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog