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.
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