Category Archives: Race and History

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

No ‘Confederate’

Confederate.  It’s the title of a potential new series on HBO.  An idea from the creators of the wildly popular (I hear) Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss want persons to imagine that slavery in America never ended and worse still, to be entertained by it.  It is an alternate ending but it also allows persons who want to live in this state of fancy a home and an audience.  But, this is not just the whimsical fantasy of studio executives but the actual belief of some Americans– that African Americans were made to serve and are destined to perpetual bondage.

Persons have used Scripture and science but now they can point to the screen in their defense.  “See, this is how it should be.  This is how God ordained it.”

That persons would entertain the idea of African Americans remaining enslaved and treated as property today and against the backdrop of President Trump’s recent endorsement of police brutality (which has been the focus of recent social upheaval) is unexplainable.  Why does this sound like a good idea– not just for television but in the mind of any American?  And it’s not just about timing but it’s a call for a time out.  Listen to what you are proposing.  Stop this before it starts.  Because the very idea is insulting and offensive.

African Americans are free and we don’t want persons to even imagine the possibility of it being any other way.  Don’t give people these kinds of ideas.  Because American slavery was never good.  Despite the attempts of many to suggest that it was good for those enslaved, it was only good for the economy.  On the backs of enslaved human beings, this country was built.

Fact Check: America is the richest nation not because of rugged individualism but criminal capitalism.

Confederate is flawed from the start, destined to be disgusted because of its premise: the continued enslavement of African Americans by European Americans.  Didn’t this country go to war over this?  Then, why start another?  But, it’s too late.  Persons took to Twitter last night to voice their disapproval during the viewing time of Game of Thrones.  Because human beings as property is not a good storyline.

Despite the backlash, HBO released a statement last night asking persons to reserve judgment “until there was something to see.”  But, that’s just it.  African Americans and their allies don’t want to see it.  We don’t want to entertain the possibility of African Americans not being free.  Because it is hard enough to accept that our ancestors were owned four hundred years ago.  Why would any African American want to see themselves as slaves today?  The answer: We don’t.

So, who is this show really for?

A 3- Minute Lesson on Race

You’ve got time for this class and it is brought to you by Jenée Desmond Harris.  It is a lesson that must be learned and that bears repeating.  Harris starts from the beginning of race and no, she does not begin in the book of Genesis.  Lie #1 struck down.  Race is not that old.

Race is a lot of things but biological, biblical or original to our being are not to be included.  Still, the misrepresentation of who we are continues and so does the cycle of hatred.  Race wars are plotted against places of worship for African Americans and Jews.  Protests seem unending, CNN describing last year as “a year of outrage.”  The hashtag Black Lives Matter has become a movement.  Right now, the University of Missouri has been added to the list and to the ongoing conversation on race after accusations of racism on campus. Consequently, this class is always in session.

And while it won’t lead to an advanced degree, these truths concerning race as a social construct are certain to advance our understandings of self and our neighbor.  I’ve devoted my life to teaching about race and to the eradication of the racial category for human identity.  Week after week, I look for ways to say this because it is so much easier and less painful to accept this superficial existence.  I want us to go deeper and pray that this video and my words would peel away another layer of race’s deceptions.

Charleston: A Sign up Sheet

Signup400The details of the shooting in Charleston at the historic Emanuel AME Church continue to unfold.  We had a picture of the suspect and his car.  Then, we had his name: Dylann Moody.  Now, there is a suspect in custody.

The names, pictures and stories of his victims are being released.  In turn, our grief will deepen.  Our anger will sharpen.  Our questions will increase.

What do we do with what we know?  How do we share what we have seen?  And Dr. King’s necessary question, “Where do we go from here?”

This unexplainable tragedy is causing quite a stir within us.  The shaking of one’s faith is applicable as it would seem that the house of God is off limits to such cruelty, that this space is sacred to all.  But, it is not.  And this may cause us to question the will of God and doubt the power of God.  All are valid responses.

We will need time and we will need each other.  So, I would like to begin a sign up sheet.  If you are a saddened by these events, if you are grief counselor, an intercessor, a mediator, a truth- teller, a reconciler, a justice advocate, a historian of race and its progeny, then sign up here.  We need you.


050304_selmamarch_ss09.grid-8x2Today, persons will remember the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that occurred fifty years ago on Sunday, March 7, 1965. Already a movie, Selma will be a buzzword and a hash tag.  It will be a trending topic today and perhaps for a couple more after that.

We will wear t- shirts and other memorabilia to capitalize on the event, standing in materialistic support.  We will impress ourselves with catch phrases and slogans that recapture the spirit of the movement.  We will praise the work of history and curse the fate of the next generation’s future less we do something quickly.  We must do it now while we have the momentum and the minds of the people.

Discussion panels will rehash the event and draw comparisons between Selma and Ferguson.  They, along with the viewing audience, will resolve to fight social injustice, to change the laws that oppress us, to change the tenor of the conversation on race.  We will remind ourselves of history’s threat of repetition and vow to do things differently.

Networks will replay the black and white footage in two- hour specials.  Surviving participants will be interviewed.  We will sponsor and attend dinners, give awards and medals and speeches.  President Obama will visit the bridge and make a speech.  Persons will listen and write about it, critique and quote him.

The day will be reenacted and the story redacted as persons put themselves in the shoes of those who were actually there, having still not taken “the inward journey,” to use the words of the mystical preacher Howard Thurman, needed to make the trek. Many people will be talking about that “Bloody Sunday” when Alabama state troopers attacked protesters as they marched peacefully for civil rights.

The bridge will attract a crowd and will receive the red carpet treatment as celebrities will flock to it, wanting to be a part of the celebratory memory, hoping to be upfront and arms locked with those who were there, singing the songs sung, remembering the iconic preacher who paved the way, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They will want to be apart of remembering a moment that has already passed.

Which makes me wonder about the present moments that we don’t show up for?  What are the Edmund Pettus bridges of today for which leadership is marked absent?  Where should we be marching and for what causes should our foot prayers be offered?  Or, does time have to tell us that this was the bridge that we should have walked across?

And what of our lives?  What ways are we making for others?  How do our lives move people?  What passage does our life provide to others?  Are we bridges or are we standing in the way?