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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

'Trouble I've Seen'

Drew Hart
Check out the MennoNerds-hosted interview with Drew Hart, author of the new book 'Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.' Get your copy here, and then check out some of the highlights below!

'Trouble I've Seen' is a needed next-step resources for those Christians who now find that they can no longer be colorblind and are awakened to the racial injustices occurring in the world around them. It is also a book for Christians of color with lived experience in these issues who are looking for a prophetic voice to articulate in a clear and persuasive way the notions they've sensed in themselves all along. Indeed, it's a book for all those wondering what Jesus would have to say about our racialized society today and what wisdom the bible brings to bear on our predicament.

Early on in his books, names many of the lives that have been lost in recent years to police and vigilante justice and lets us rest in the discomfort of the implications for the Church.  He then methodically walks through the sordid history of race in the United States, and the Church's role in it. He notes that while race is arbitrary (biologically speaking), it is not meaningless (49).

Book cover for 'The Trouble I've Seen' Hart notes that in the height of Jim Crow racism, 7 out of 10 white Christians believed that Black people in the United State received fair treatment. Given such poor self reflection at that time, he wonders how white Christian can imagine themselves to have better perspective on their own oppressive habits today. He reminds us that "being a product of one’s time doesn’t absolve anyone.We are all people of our time. We either renew our minds and become transformed, or we conform to the dominant ideologies that convince us that we are moral despite what is going on around us" (80).

Hart is careful to note the important prophetic call of the Black Church for racial justice, even in the face of White Christian Silence. He laments that "the white church and its monumental failure in this area is one of the great tragedies of American Christian history" (120). He goes on "My point is that the church’s understanding of racism is frequently too thin, narrow, and deficient for it to be antiracist in its witness" (28). Indeed "that Christian piety and oppression could so easily coexist should be horrifying" (72).

Hart observes that "Churches have often been the least helpful place to discuss racism and our white-dominated society" (20), noting that during the few time race is mentioned in our churches it is in isolated and passing ways that do not tackle the hard word of ongoing repentance and revelation. And yet, "though it is common for white people, especially white evangelicals, to talk about being color-blind, there is often no hesitation to speak about black problems...Race isn’t actually avoided, but discussion about racism is" (115).

Hart is also careful to makes special note of the historical and systemic oppression from which he himself has been exempt. For example, he exhorts his readers "please understand: there is no understanding the present without knowing how Native Americans have struggled in their own land just to exist. And unfortunately, white Jesus was the symbol to which they were told to conform" (144). Indeed, "too many in the American church have perpetuated the myth that this land was built on Christian principles rather than on stolen land and stolen labor" (145).

Word art: "Do Black Lives Matter to white Christians?""To be a black American," Hart contends, "is to have to constantly tell yourself that you are somebody, that you are made in the image of God, that you are creative and intelligent" (117). Hence the prophetic significance of the statement BLack Lives Matter. Throughout the book we are reminded that the reality of a brown, poor, disenfranchised, and nonconformist Jesus was ultimately discarded when found to be not good enough for us in our modern lives. We changed our god into our own likeness, giving him the seats of power, infusing him into the dominant culture, and exploited him for our own material gain.

But Hart's book assures us of a hope in the redemption of a racially broken world. His beautiful retelling of the Gospel stories (beginning on page 60 of the book) was helpful in reminding the reader of the subversive nature of Jesus's life and ministry and who ultimately wins the day. Hart reminds us that "Jesus can help us transform how we understand and resist racism in our society. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can help us participate in God’s presence in the world rather than perpetuate racism unknowingly" (73).

Intrigued and want to learn more about 'Trouble I've Seen'? 
Watch the MennoNerds conversation with author Drew Hart!
Also check out the publisher's interactive media for the book
and the publisher's discussion guide, written by yours truly!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Friday Fruit (01/29/16)

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, January 24, 2016

Logical Fallacies: Pull Your Pants Up

Red X over the words 'logical fallacy'This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. If you have suggestions for logical fallacies that you'd like to see covered, submit your ideas here.

It's the inevitable counter retort when we talk about blighted communities, failing schools, or racial profiling by police: "pull your pants up."

It's the notion that if young black and brown men would just pull up their pants, the issues that plague them and their communities would suddenly go away. It puts the blame for injustice squarely on the oppressed, and patronizingly suggests that nonconformity with the dominant culture is at the root of their problems.

"Pull your pants up" is prescribed as though the problems that afflict black and brown neighborhoods  only arose when their pants began to sag. But the injustices we see in the United States are centuries old, and predate any fashion trend. Our communities are not undermined by the height of a waistband, but rather by long-standing, systemic oppression that concentrates disadvantage while outsourcing opportunity.

The reality is that even if oppressed communities managed to behave perfectly, their troubles would not go away. Dressing the way the dominant culture wants will not end unfair housing practices or injustice sentencing laws. Speaking the way the dominant culture wants will not end police brutality or income inequality. These practices existed long before sagging jeans, and they won't be stopped just by hiking them up again.

At best, "pull your pants up" is a wringing of hands over a speck in the eye of young men of color, while an unjust society allows the log of systemic racism go completely unexamined. "You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." (Matthew 7:5)

We know that Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers were all shot while wearings suits and that their fine attire did not save them. Archbishop Oscar Romero was wearing his priestly robes, leading Christians in worship, when he was murdered. Respectability will not and cannot save anyone, even if you are dressed in your Sunday best and praying in a church pew.

Sagging pants agitate some opponents to the point of fury. But how quickly we forget 'disrespectful attire' of yesteryear, when long-haired kids were told to "get a haircut and get a real job" and then blamed when run-ins with the police turned violent. Or recall how Madonna first used underwear as outerwear in a manner that is now the ubiquitous summertime tank top. And while her style challenged prevailing sensibility, it didn't prompt the same racialized anger we see raged against sagging pants (yet her trend certainly revealed more actual skin).

Black woman asking "Is my *natural hair* unprofessional?""But won't dressing that way keep them from getting a job and advancing in life?" some reply. If this were truly our concern, we would focus our outrage on the countless times that head scarves, natural hair, dastars, and other culturally-important styles are discriminated against in the workplace. With these policies, we maintain the fallacy that to look 'successful', is to look white, and all others are 'inappropriate.' It doesn't take long before this belief to lead to significant wage disparity and discriminatory hiring practices. If we are truly concerned about the very real issues of employer discrimination, then once again our efforts should be focused on the oppressor, not in changing the appearance of the oppressed.

But I suspect that this is not really what's going on when we say "pull your pants up." Instead, as Bradley Ryder notes, "we’ve allowed our inner-most prejudices to create a set of fashion rules that police use to legally profile would-be criminals." It is used as a rationalization for the prejudices that are already there, and to provide further fodder for the preconceived notions we've imposed, often with devastating consequences.
Street signs: "Clean up after your horse" and "Pull up your pants"
'Pull your pants up' falls into a broader category of logical facility called 'respectability politics,' and its very close sibling 'cultural pathology.' It says that cultures or people are inherently responsible for their own misfortune through some combination of genetics, upbringing, and/or values. It suggests that simply becoming more 'likable' will solve the problems that you face. Indeed, it is at the root of the media's need to uncover all the dark secrets a black victims' life in an effort to determine what they 'did wrong to deserve it.'

The message is "if you become like us, then maybe we'll treat you better." But this path leads nowhere, because there is no end to the cultural hoops that oppressed groups will be asked to jump through.

Derailing conversations on racism into a critique of attire reveals a shallow understanding of the issues at play, and a callous attitude for the lives at stake. It's an unhelpful way to further the dialogue, and misplaces the causal root of the issues.

So to all such critics: pull your pants up, your racism is showing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Friday Fruit (1/22/15)

Black woman with duck tape over her mouth "#BlackWomenMatter"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, January 17, 2016

MLK and the Bundy Oregon Standoff

Dr. Adam Ployd
The following originally appeared on Facebook in a January 3rd post by Dr. Adam Ployd, who has granted permission to reprint it here. Adam is a Deacon in the United Methodist Church and an Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Eden Theological Seminary.

Do note that the very-much-armed Oregon militia will patiently and repeatedly be given every opportunity to peacefully surrender... because we value their lives more than a 12-year-old black boy's life or an 18-year-old black teenager's life. The authorities will do everything in their power not to "escalate" the situation, to avoid using deadly force. Whatever you think about what Michael Brown did or did not do in his confrontation with a police officer, there were many options other than shooting him. Whatever you think of Tamir Rice and his pellet gun, there were many options other than shooting him.

Individual law enforcement officers (LEOs) may or may not be "racist." That's not the real issue. The culture and practice of law enforcement in the US are inherently racist because of these deeply rooted and all-too-often repeated contradictions. The fact is, since the moment we who believe ourselves to be white first enslaved and subjugated those we deemed black, we have cultivated a powerful fear of the black body acting in anything but a submissive manner.

Political cartoon: young black boy with toy gun labeled 'thug'; big burly white NRA supporter with real gun labeled 'patriot'From slavery to lynching to segregation to the war on drugs, American "law and order" has gone hand-in-hand with a fear of black bodies. Does this mean we should not punish crime? No, it does not. But it means we should look at things like the Oregon militia and the Bundy ranch stand-off and realize that the way we deal with crime (and the way we determine what counts as crime) is deeply racist (and classist).

This is what we mean when we say "the whole damn system is guilty as hell." This is why people are marching in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland. And this is why those who are shocked and horrified by the lootings and arsons (which of course I do not condone) are in fact missing the point.

Note especially the "patriot" language that the militia (and others like it) use. They have been taught, as we all have, that our glorious founding fathers righteously resorted to violence when they believe the legal, political, and economic system of the British government was oppressive to them. We celebrate their destruction of others' property in the Boston Tea Party and we call them heroes for refusing to obey the government-sanctioned LEOs and we laud their courage in attacking and killing the brave young men who proudly served their nation in the armed forces.

We, white people, are given these violent acts of destruction and death as legitimate models for dealing with injustice. And the Oregon militia is using all the rhetoric associated with that narrative.

MLK and Malcom X converse with a police officer in the forgroundBut black folks in America are given a different model. They are given Martin Luther King Jr (MLK). Don't get me wrong; I love MLK and personally share his commitment to non-violence. But it is no accident that MLK is the civil rights leader that has been embraced and sanctioned by white culture. Think about how you learned about the Civil Rights Movement. Think about who was lifted up as the models of righteous change. Think about how Malcolm X or the Black Panthers were explicitly condemned as extremists or too violent. Now, I again am more inclined to the ethics of MLK, but the way in which this narrative is told and the choice to lift up MLK above all others is not an accident.

Whites are taught to imitate the revolutionary violence of the patriots. And this is nurtured in the rhetoric of the NRA and the Tea Party. And it is manifest in the actions of Bundy and the militia. Blacks are taught to imitate the peaceful suffering of MLK. And this is nurtured through public school curriculum and the popular retelling of the Civil Rights Movement in a way that ends with MLKs death. And it is manifest when the national guard brings in armored vehicles to suppress protest and the news media sensationalizes the "senseless" violence of looters.

Artwork depicting a halo-ed Tamir Rice
Damon Davis IG: damondavis// Twitter: heartacheNpaint
The Oregon militia will most likely walk out alive, probably after being given a long, long, long time to surrender peacefully. Tamir Rice will never walk again. Because we fear his body, his 12-year-old black body, more than we fear white men with automatic weapons actively rebelling against our government.

And should the Oregon standoff go south, should we have another Waco or Ruby Ridge, yes there will be outcry from whites, condemnations of government overreach and abuse, from many of the same people who justify the killing of Tamir and Michael and so many others. Why will they cry out? Because they will see the power of state-sanctioned violence brought to bear on the "wrong" people.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Friday Fruit (01/15/16)

Group of friends from article: Is Your Ministry Ethnocentric or Ethnic-Specific?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, January 10, 2016

Tom Skinner: The US Racial Crisis and World Evangelism

Tom Skinner at Urbana
In 1970, evangelist and author Tom Skinner delivered a powerful address to InterVarsity’s Urbana student missions conference that in many ways is just as relevant today. It is excerpted here and you can access it in its entirety here

After an important delineation of the history of racism in the United States, Skinner enters in: 

To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet. And where there were those who sought to communicate the gospel to black people, it was always done in a way to make sure that they stayed cool. "We will preach the gospel to those folks so they won't riot; we will preach the gospel to them so that we can keep the lid on the garbage pail."

And so they were careful to point out such scriptures as: "Obey your masters," those scriptures which said, "Love your enemy," "Do good to them that hurt you." But no one ever talked about a message, which would also speak to the oppressor.

Skinner goes on to describe the implications for society today:

So, if you are black and you live in the black community, you soon begin to learn that what they mean by law and order is, "all the order for us and all the law for them." You soon learn that the police in the black community become nothing more than the occupational force present in the black community for the purpose of maintaining the interests of white society...

Heavily equipped police in front of the Mall of AmericaThat is the reason why the emphasis is placed in the black community on property values, and the interest is placed in the white community in human life. That is the reason why Chicago's Mayor Daley can say, "Shoot the looters." What does he mean? "We must protect property at any cost. We don't care about human life. In the black community, we will shoot people in order to maintain property." But in the white community, because there are fewer people in proportion to property, the emphasis can be on human life and not on property values.

Dick Gregory says that when Mayor Daley said, "Shoot the looters," he agreed with him. In fact, he sent him a telegram to say, "I agree. We ought to make that retroactive 250 years and put the guns in the hands of the Indians."

And he argues for a better application of the Christian Gospel:

Understand that for those of us who live in the black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our two feet and be men, be proud that black was beautiful and that God could work his life out through our redeemed blackness. Rather, it took Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity. God will not be without a witness...
Tom Skinner

There is no possible way you can talk about preaching the gospel if you do not want to deal with the issues that bind people. If your gospel is an "either-or" gospel, I must reject it. Any gospel that does not talk about delivering to man a personal savior who will free him from the personal bondage of sin and grant him eternal life and does not at the same time speak to the issue of enslavement, does not speak to the issue of injustice, does not speak to the issue of inequality - any gospel that does not want to go where people are hungry and poverty-stricken and set them free in the name of Jesus Christ is not the gospel.

He concludes: 

Jesus was turning the whole thing upside-down, so that they finally had to arrest him too. Because, you see, Jesus was dangerous. He was dangerous because he was changing the system. The whole Roman Empire was shaking. But no shots were being fired, no fire bombs were being thrown, but the whole Roman Empire was rocking. Because, you see, anybody who changes the system is dangerous.

Remember Chicago? Remember those 15,000 kids that went to Chicago for the Democratic Convention in '68? Why did people get disturbed because those kids went? Were they mad because they threw urine at the police? No. Were they mad because they cursed the police? No. Were they mad because they were lawless? No. They were mad because the kids went to change the system...

Police attack students
1968 Chicago
But Jesus came to change the system. And so they had to arrest him too...But how do you stop Jesus? They took and nailed him to a cross. Three days later Jesus Christ pulled off one of the greatest political coups of all time: he got up out of the grave. When he arose from the dead, the Bible now calls him the second man, the new man, the leader of a new creation.

A Christ who has come to overthrow the existing order and to establish a new order that is not built on man. Keep in mind, my friend, with all your militancy and radicalism, that all the systems of men are doomed to destruction. All the systems of men will crumble and, finally, only God's kingdom and his righteousness will prevail. You will never be radical until you become part of that new order and then go into a world that's enslaved, a world that's filled with hunger and poverty and racism and all those things of the work of the devil.

Proclaim liberation to the captives, preach sight to the blind, set at liberty them that are bruised, go into the world and tell men who are bound mentally, spiritually and physically, "The Liberator has come!"

Read or watch the full speech here

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Friday Fruit (01/08/16)

Nicolle Gonzales, one of 15
Remarkable Women of Color Who Rocked 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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wilberforce and Selective Christian Memory: Social Justice from a Conservative, Eurocentric Perspective

Daniel José Camacho
Please welcome guest writer Daniel José Camacho, an M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School, currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He tweets @DanielJCamacho.

As a Protestant Christian, I have become accustomed to hearing fellow Christians invoke the name of William Wilberforce, the late 18th/19th century British abolitionist. Was Christianity deeply implicated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade? Sure. “But there was Wilberforce,” is a typical knee-jerk response. Who has inspired young evangelicals in their contemporary abolitionism? Wilberforce. How can Christians flourish in a same-sex-marriage world? Wilberforce provides the best option. And of course there is Amazing Grace (2007), the film which depicts Wilberforce and his Calvinist, evangelical faith as a major force in bringing down British slavery. While much of what it said about Wilberforce is not entirely untrue, I’m concerned about how much of it falls into what Ngozi Adichie describes as “The danger of a single story.” The problem is not merely the accurate portrayal of an individual but what such narrations leave out and what they say about Christian memory and approaches to social justice.

There is definitely more to Wilberforce than the romanticized, one-dimensional portraits which elevate him as a relentless defender of human dignity. He had a legalistic bent for “suppressing sin,” which included supporting the prosecution of activities such as cursing. It is documented that he jailed a bookseller for publishing Thomas Paine, disliked grassroots political activism and mobilization, and promoted a gradual and partial emancipation for black slaves. Nevertheless, my goal is not to simply smear the reputation of a flawed individual. Instead, I want to focus on what Wilberforce represents. For many Christians, Wilberforce represents the sincerely-held belief that British Christians were responsible for the abolition of the slave-trade. But this is to distort the record.

In 1944, Eric Williams, historian and future prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, attempted to contextualize the abolition of Caribbean slavery in his book Capitalism and Slavery. While much can be said about the limits of Williams’ old Marxist tendency to reduce problems to the economic sphere, his account of abolition (particularly Chapters 11 and 12) was ahead of the times.

Eric Williams
Through archival research compiled from England and throughout the Caribbean, Williams demonstrates that leading abolitionists, such as William Wilberforce, were a) not radical but reactionary, b) still opposed to the plight of workers, c) only reluctantly and slowly committed to full emancipation, d) inconsistent, e.g. in condemning West Indian but not U.S. slavery, e) heavily invested in commercial considerations, f) silent about free blacks owning land, and g) committed to the Christian civilizing-evangelization of blacks. Williams highlights the impact that slave revolts, particularly the successful Haitian revolution led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, had in pressuring the legislative hand of colonial powers considering abolition.

In calling the black slave “the most dynamic and powerful social force in the colonies,” Williams was unsettling dominant historical accounts which had screened out black agency in abolition/emancipation. In describing the importance of the revolts of the enslaved in pressuring planters and colonial governments, he was deconstructing one-sided historical narrations which exaggerated the purity and effectiveness of humanitarians and the triumphalism of Christian compassion. With time, most historians have confirmed Williams’ initially bold claims, acknowledging the complexity of humanitarian efforts and the various factors at play in Caribbean abolition.

All of this makes me question how Wilberforce is used today. I’m afraid that many Christians’ invocation of Wilberforce, like that of John Newton and perhaps even Bonhoeffer, might reveal more about the reflexes of white, western Christianity to absolve itself than reveal much else. Wilberforce has come to be deployed in triumphalist narratives that attempt to present the inevitable success of Christians’ defense of human dignity all the while screening out other actors and minimizing the deep ways in which Christians were implicated in the very creation of the problems. One can see this logic at work in a piece such as “The Christmas Revolution.” Peter Wehner’s piece subtly assumes Christianity’s monopoly on global compassion vis-à-vis western civilization and backs this up by simply asserting that "Christianity played a key role in ending slavery and segregation." Surely, that is a convenient way of summarizing the past 500 years of Christianity in the Americas.

I believe that part of Wilberforce’s legacy might be embodied by InterVarsity’s recent response to a talk affirming the #BlackLivesMatter movement. InterVarsity’s statement functions as a form of damage control for constituents concerned about the evangelical organization’s indirect support for the protest movement during the conference Urbana15. In Intervarsity’s response, what was an apparent endorsement of #BlackLivesMatter becomes an affirmation of “all lives are sacred,” reconciliation, and the activism of Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson. Re-mixing BLM by sampling figures such as Francis Schaeffer, whom many consider “the most influential intellectual figure in the history of the Religious Right,” is a sure way to blunt the edge of any protest song. 

William Wilberforce 
Many Christians are trapped within a circular and self-exonerating logic which presupposes that only the dominant spiritual and intellectual legacy of Europe and the United States has fixed/can fix the problems of the world, or at least fix them best. The shape of justice is determined by who gets to define. Perhaps that is why the ones who invoke a William Wilberforce will rarely invoke a Toussaint L'Ouverture. Maybe that is why theological reflections on the American and French revolutions abound and the Haitian revolution is an afterthought. For the conservative social justice activist, history is rightly guided by the saints above and not the always-heterodox resistors below.

I agree with Kaya Oakes who has argued that Christians are running out of options when it comes to their relationship to a changing society. In my mind, whether it’s the “Benedict Option” of conservative withdrawal or the “Wilberforce Option” of evangelical social engagement, these are audibles within the same Eurocentric playbook. These pretend to be the universal Christian options and exhibit what Anibal Quijano has called "the provincial pretense to universality.”

If Wilberforce exhibited contradictions in his social justice and overestimated his impact, do not be surprised if those emulating him today repeat these problems. Many forget that Wilberforce was not a fan of full emancipation and mass agitation, let alone black slave revolts. Instead of a Christian faith that strives for conviviality, deep repentance, and humble solidarity, the temptation for Christians is to play saviors and field generals to problems they have long caused or worsened while downplaying the agency of others and discrediting their forms of resistance and claims to dignity.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Michelle Higgins's Address to Urbana15

This past week, 16,000 people gathered for the Urbana missions conference in St. Louis, MO. One of the most notable moments in the conference was the address by Michelle Higgins, Director of Worship and Outreach at South City Church in St. Louis.

Instead of reading my words about what she said, it'd be better to just hear her words directly. So rather than a post from me this week, I invite you to watch Higgins's powerful testimony that was shared that night:

(Side note, because I can't help the irony: note that the mic she's using
was designed to blend into "default" white skin)

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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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