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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Argument *Against* the Multicultural Church

At Emmanuel AMC, photos of the nine members killed
Our God is a multicultural God. We see this in the Trinity. We see it in whom God chose to write the scriptures. We see it in the people Jesus spent His time with. We see it in the early church. We see it in verses like 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Revelations 7:9. To worship in such a setting is a great blessing that reveals the fullness of who our God is. I believe in the multicultural Church.

But like so many of God's blessings, we often don't deserve it. We fall short. We mess it up.
When a white man violated the sacred space of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, he boldly demonstrated why God's vision for the multicultural church is still so far from our grasp. His violence reminded Black Christians that nowhere is safe, not even their church home. What he did was unconscionable. But in many smaller ways, white Christians send a similar message every single day.

You see, one of the best arguments I've heard against the multicultural church is the need for sanctified space for those of God's people who are oppressed, marginalized, or in the minority. All through the week people of color are under the white gaze, immersed in white culture, navigating white power. This takes a great social, emotional, and spiritual toll, and it is important to have a reprieve--a day of rest-- if only once per week, in which to fellowship and worship with folks that share your lived experiences.

Logo of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: shield and cross with anvil
Historically, the Black church has been such a refuge, allowing for this essential, sacred communion. It's where folks can be themselves, worship as they desire, talk about what is relevant, raise up brilliant leaders...all apart from the oppressive gaze of white supremacy. Indeed it is its role in such subversion that is one of the reasons why Emanuel AME was such a symbolic and grievous target.

And the importance of such a setting is also a strong argument against the multicultural church. If we, as the Body of Christ, are to come together in diverse and unified worship, it will require tremendous and disproportionate sacrifice on the part of Christians of color.

The multicultural church comes at a great cost for the oppressed and the marginalized, much greater than for those coming from power and privilege. To be sure, white folks will have to sacrifice their comfort and preference to be a part of multicultural worship. But in contrast, Christians of color end up sacrificing their rest, their privacy, their autonomy, their self-care, their safety, their sanity, indeed sometimes their very humanity.

The multicultural church is a wonderful vision, but on June 17th, 2015, nine beautiful saints paid the ultimate price for it.  By the grace that Christ taught, into their holy space a stranger was welcomed. And he killed them.

While it may not always result in direct and immediate death, the ongoing oppression of people of color (even and especially in houses of worship) is emotional, spiritual, and physical violence acted upon them. The consequences are long lasting. The need for sanctuary is real. Thus, there is a strong argument for mono-ethnic and mono-racial churches.

Black Campus Ministries logo
If churches do enter into a journey of multicultural worship, it is essential that safe refuge be available for congregants of color. This is also why it is important that when such endeavors are undertaken, they ultimately be headed by people of color, not predominantly by white pastors and leaders as they so often are. It's why we must hedge toward the marginalized culture in planning worship services and events, rather than compromising squarely in the middle. Because there is no 'happy medium' when one group is so disproportionately abused.

After tragedies like these, I often hear it suggested that white Christians go visit Black churches for a Sunday or two as an act of reconciliation. But please consider that this act may be perceived as an invasion rather than as a gesture of love. Worship can begin to feel instead like cultural tourism, one that once again centers whiteness for its own edification and entertainment.

No doubt, it is good to displace one's self from majority and comfort. It is good to be led by preachers and teachers of color. If invited, please do join a choir or bible study that affords these opportunities. If invited, please do go with your friend to their Black church. If invited, please do embark on the complex journey that is multicultural worship.

Enthusiastic white guy: "We're here to take back the city"
But I reject the notion that that white people's colonization of Black space is the path to God's multicultural justice and reconciliation. Indeed, too often it is simply a means of assuaging our guilt, a sacred culture co-opted for white people's own sense of redemption.

A similar principle applies privileged folks' moving into hard-living neighborhoods, often with a sense of saviorism that is difficult to combat. I say this, knowing the popular values of relocation and incarnation, and having myself moved to the block several years ago. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it works. But these are often acts of colonization, rather than of reconciliation (see also, Christena Cleveland's 'Urban Church Planting Plantations')

Studies show that most multicultural churches tend to be culturally more white than anything else. As power and "default" biases creep into our sanctuaries, racial hegemony kicks in (things to notice: how often does the choir sing? how is the offering collected? How long is the service? How long are the songs? What is the style of preaching?). Too often we are simply perpetuating the cultural dominance of the world around us under the guise of reconciliation.

I do love the multicultural Church. I believe it is ultimately where God is calling us as a Body to be. But at what cost? And for whom? We must indeed be prepared to make great sacrifices if this experiment on earth is to succeed.  White people will need to sacrifice greatly. But it will always be Christians of color that bear the greatest burden. For Emanuel AME the hope of a reconciled world cost them their lives.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Friday Fruit (06/26/15)

George and Miko Kaihara in their cap and gown with their diplomasOn 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, June 21, 2015

Emanuel AME: Is There No Sanctuary?

Pictures and names of the Charleston 9: Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Susie Jackson. "We are one."The church was supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be a refuge. It was supposed to be hallowed ground. Not only for them as Christians, but as members of a Black community that for centuries has turned to the church as one of the few true sanctuaries of Blackness, of autonomy, of influence.

That Emanuel AME was so violently invaded should shame white Christians to the core. It should make us quake before our God and hide our faces. It should call us to repentance, and then call us to action.

Because Dylann Roof's was not an isolated attack. He is not a lone wolf. He is not an outlier. On the contrary, he developed under the careful guidance of a racist society. He stands on the shoulders of centuries of white supremacy. He inherits the legacy of the police dogs, the forced labor chain gains, the redlining, and the lynch mobs. He is the well-crafted result of Stand Your Ground, of stop-and-frisk, of the War on Drugs, of the War on Terror, of New Jim Crow, and of daily public-sanctioned police brutality.

He is the product of every colorblind upbringing, every hushed slur, every clutched purse, every thinly-veiled prejudice, every microaggression.  He is the result of a society--of a Church--whose repeated silence (indeed affirmation!) in the face of such things suggested to him that his beliefs and actions are not only acceptable, but logical and laudable.

Roof becomes a part of a long tradition of white domestic terrorism against people of color in the United States. From the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, to the shooting at Oak Creek Sikh Temple, and so many in between. There have been ongoing attacks on mosques across the country for decades. Emanuel AME itself has been the repeated target of violence from white perpetrators. It is like the scores of other Black churches have been targeted across the United States, in a practice of hate not at all confined to bygone eras.

Each incident is a mark of deep shame and condemnation that is white Christianity's to bear. It's our legacy, our history. The sins of a nation remain unrepented and unrepaired. And we now bear the fruits of our inaction. There is no sanctuary.

"Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Friday Fruit (06/19/15)

Faces of the nine black church members who died at AME Emmanuel in CharlestonOn 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, June 15, 2015

On a personal note

Church and Community Development for All People logo: outline cartoon of people in the arms of GodRarely do I talk about my own personal life on this space, because it's just not that kind of blog. But with some big transitions for me recently, I wanted to take a moment to give some updates.

I am super excited to announce that today I start a new full time position at Community Development for All People (CD4AP) as Director of Experiential Learning!

CD4AP is the non-profit sister organization of UM Church for All People, where my husband and I have been members since moving to the neighborhood in 2009. The church is a multi-race, multi-class congregation in Columbus, OH that prioritizes asset-based ministry with (not 'to' or 'at') marginalized communities (see post: Church for All People). This means we understand that God's people are our greatest assets in doing God's work, abiding with one another in relationship through the grace of Christ. It means we recognize and rejoice in our differences, knowing that God makes each one of us to be God's hands and feet on this earth. It means we're working to become the unified and diverse Body of Christ, acting as living witnesses to the power of the Gospel to transform hearts, minds, and lives. I love this place.

Katelin, Molly, and Carol sing during worship
A couple of years ago, I joined the staff of the church to lead Sunday morning worship music. We have a unique style of multicultural worship that honors the many traditions and genres that our congregation celebrates. Any given Sunday we may sing hymns, Black gospel, CCM, or Appalachian bluegrass...and they could be in any number of languages! The music team is amazing and I just try to keep up with their talent. In this role, I've also had the honor of directing the Ubuntu Choir for All People, a remarkable group of singers from the congregation that embodies so much of what the church is all about.

But I came to Columbus to pursue a doctorate in Neuroscience at Ohio State. This blog was launched shortly after beginning my graduate work as a discipline of self-education in my own of journey in racial justice/reconciliation. As I learned, I wrote, and as I wrote, I learned. I put words to action through local activism and my ever increasing involvement at C4AP. But all the while, my day-job was focused on my research on the molecular/genetic regulation of learning and memory (if you're curious about that whole other life of mine, a summary of the research can be found here, with the resulting publications available here).

Neuroscience data
From life as a neuroscientist...
I always believed that once I graduated, I'd be moving to whatever city that career took me. As I neared the end of my studies, it was looking like it was going to be time to say goodbye to Church for All People. But God had a different plan.

In the midst of interviews and exciting opportunities in Academia, the gentle whisper of God's voice said "yes, these are good, but there's another option too..." And in fact, sometimes when God calls it’s not really whisper at all, but a roar in one's heart that simply cannot be ignored. So having graduated this past spring with a PhD in Neuroscience, I'm now taking a flying leap into the arms of God's plan. Life since then has been whirlwind of tremendous transition, with lots of travel and life's surprises thrown in the mix. But after months anticipation, the day is finally here.

South Side Neighborhood Leadership Academy logo: cartoon people holding hands in a circleSo what does the Director of Experiential Learning do? Good question. There is so much good work to be done and I just want to be a part of it in whatever way best serves the Lord's purpose. But specifically, this role will involve a number of initiatives related to the training work that CD4AP does. I will serve as the program director for the new South Side Neighborhood Leadership Academy, a project through the United Way of Central Ohio that equips grassroots leaders to advocate for transformative, asset-based change that benefits neighborhood residents rather than simply driving them out.  I will also be heading a new experiential module for participants of More Than My Brother's Keeper, a program with the The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity. In addition, I will help facilitate C4AP's training conferences, seminary classes, and missions visits, which prepare churches from around the country in deepening their ministries of justice and reconciliation for the sake of the Gospel.

And all this is just the beginning...

We serve a God of experiential learning. A God who walks alongside us, demonstrating a glorious vision of the Kingdom and inviting us to be a part of building it. This is not a God who lectures or tells us to sit still and be quite. Our God calls us into action, drawing us to learn through our experience of God's grace over our lives.

I've been looking forward to making this transition public for some time now, and so it is exciting to finally be underway. This blog will continue for the foreseeable future, not necessarily in direct association with CD4AP, but no doubt influenced by the many adventures yet to come!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Color of Christ: White Jesus?

Revisiting this post...because apparently we need to. 

Book cover: The Color of Christ (Black boy seated under a painting of white Jesus)What race was Jesus? How has our perception of His appearance changed over time? Edward J. Blume and Paul Harvey's new book The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America deals with such questions.

If asked, most people will acknowledge that Jesus was not the blue-eyed, wavy-haired man of Sunday School fame. Nevertheless, this imagery persists as the most common depiction of Jesus produced by media, and indeed, by churches.

White Jesus readily comes to mind in conversations, and presumably even in moments of prayer or worship. When shown several pictures of Jesus in a variety of ethnicities, Christians  "accepted the visual material intellectually, but not emotionally."(p. 251) Indeed "to imagine Jesus as other-than-white would demand a conscious process of unlearning." (p.15)

Google images return for 'Jesus' gives all white Jesuses
Jesus is white, because
Google knows everything. 
Often we contradict ourselves in the Church: "we have learned to insist with our denomination that Jesus indeed has no color, that the gospel is colorblind, and that God makes no distinction among people. Yet if we look closely, the Jesus we have embraced is too often a White Jesus." (p. 228)

Images are powerful, and take hold more readily than politically-correct rhetoric and diversity seminars. The authors observe that "civil rights, [and] cultural pluralism...led these whites to change verbally but not materially. The result was that the white Jesus and white privilege were denounced by everyone, but they remained as still-powerful material realities." (p. 250)

Why has this version of Jesus remained so prominent in our collective subconscious? Because "making Jesus visually, and marketing him through the land took time, capital, and freedom. Access to technology and social resources as never been equal and the inequalities have been a factor in what images of Jesus have been created and how they have obtained cultural authority." (p.17) Even those who have given up on white Christians have not always been able to yet relinquished the idea of a white Jesus.
Popular painting of white Jesus
He sure look white to me...

If Jesus is white is so many minds, how does the behavior of white folks taint the representation of Him? I'm not sure white folk should want Him associated with their actions. Indeed, from early on in American history, the contradiction has caused many to reject a God touted by such a cruel race.

Some have been able to accept Jesus, while not adopting his whiteness. There have been many movements to either de-color, or to re-color the Christ. Liberation theologists, among others, have produced Asian Jesus, Chicano Jesus, Yogi Jesus, Black Jesus, and scholars have used forensic archaeology to discern Jesus's 'true appearance.'

Jesus: white and dreamy
These depictions have met with significant resistance from a white community too quick to make God in their own image. One of John Henrik Clarke's stories depicts a boy who is severely reprimanded for painting a picture of a black Jesus, but the boy asserts he did so because Jesus "was so kind and forgiving, kinder than I have ever seen white people be." (p. 220) Almost 25 years later, the movie Dogma noted that "a black man can steal your stereo, but he can't be your savior." (p.274)

Today, the tradition continues. The authors observe that '"new movies and television shows rendered Jesus as white without proclaiming it or defending it. They allowed Americans to adore and cheer a savior in white skin as they professed to believe in a God that did not discriminate." (p. 255)

What are the consequences of 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." (p. 228) This imagery reinforces the 'white savior complex' and perpetuates the tenancy of white folk to view themselves as morally superior to other groups.

Diverse children....white Jesus
Blume and Harvey's scholarly look at the racialized history of the Christ provides an academic and historical perspective on Christian imagery. The book is deliberate as it marches through it's chronicle, but its best strengths are the many stories of individuals who have wrestled with the image of Jesus along the way. Through this lens, we understand that Christ has long been co-opted by those in power, in much the same way that He is used for political gain today.

One is left with a question of what to do with all of their well-researched information. Where do we go from here? And how does this history change our actions today? I suppose these sorts of questions are left to we as the readers to fully examine in our own lives.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Friday Fruit (06/05/15)

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.
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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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