We are in a time of transition. Demonstrations against racism in policing are decreasing around the country, and while the attention-grabbing headlines of racial unrest are diminishing, many white people are beginning to ask the deeper questions about how to fix America’s problems with racial injustice.
Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige brought a great document to the Antioch Team this week titled “I Can Fix It!”. “I Can Fix It!” is the result of participatory art/performance projects about race and racism artist and writer Damali Ayo created she called “Now Art.” “I Can Fix It!” is a curated list of five things individual people can do to end racism. The first half is five things white people in the dominant American culture can do to end racism, and the second half covers five things people of color in the United States can do. As you will hear in this recording, we thought we would be able to cover part one in one episode, but by the end of our rich conversation, we decided to take our time and talk about this document over a series of episodes, to allow us to have an in-depth, thoughtful, and laughter-filled conversation the way we do here on the podcast.
There is a lot going on right now. For weeks the United States has been making news for the racial disparities and unrest in this country. For those whose jobs or passions lead them to antiracism advocacy, as demonstrations wind down, the longer, less attention-grabbing work of antiracism education, negotiation, and policy-making has taken on a new sense of urgency. For those involved in this long work, the new demand for these kinds of services on top of all that was being done before can be exhausting. In many ways, those already involved in antiracism advocacy are the first responders and essential workers addressing the unaddressed pandemic of racism which has never been purged from our country. It often seems counterintuitive to rest during moments like this, but we must or risk burning out prematurely. We invited a new friend, Josh, to the table to join the rest of the team as we talked about how to practice self-care in this season of urgency.
For those of you new to the podcast, our multiethnic team is comprised of Dr. Michelle Loyd Paige, Pastor Reggie Smith, PhD, Susie Dixon, MDiv, Libby Huizenga MDiv, and myself. All of us are active in antiracism initiatives at various Christian institutions in and around the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We gather at the end of each week to catch up on our weeks, and have a good talk about Biblical Antiracism.
Last week, Episode 89, we began this conversation talking about our emotions following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests that followed. After talking with each other about how we were processing these events, we pick up the conversation this episode by talking about a local peaceful Black Lives Matter march that happened in the wealthy, 95% white neighborhood of East Grand Rapids.
This is the second week of continuous demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, protests calling for changes in, or the replacement of, police forces in the United States. The members of the Antioch team are, outside of this podcast, doing antiracism work in various places, spaces and institutions … and when we gathered, we were all very, very tired. We decided to turn on the microphones, and sit down together – virtually – for what Pastor Reggie called, “Truth talk.”
Peaceful protests and frustrated rioters are filling the streets now for days all over the United States. People of color have a lot to feel angry about:
the long history of police officers who misuse their power
the long history of government systems seemingly ignoring the continued concerns of people of color, resulting in the impoverishment of health and home.
the long history of institutional racism that focus more on the comfort of the white-but-numerically dwindling majority rather than creating accessible, useful, and attractive products and policies to serve people of color as well.
The long history of interpersonal racism, intentional and unintentional, spanning from overt discrimination to microaggressions, which white people often perpetrate – sometimes unaware, and sometimes very aware.
This is the second part of a two-part interview where our team gathered with special guest, Terry Dixon, a Lieutenant in the Grand Rapids Police Department and president of the Grand Rapids chapter of NOBLE, an organization for police officers of color in the United States. If you missed the first part of the interview, go back and listen to episode 87 before returning to this one. Our team gathered with Terry around the microphones to talk about our responses to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officers which onlookers documented on cellphone video.
The day after this interview, Lieutenant Dixon was called back from his 14-day quarantine in response to violent riots that broke out in the heart of the city where he serves. He has been serving every day since.
As if it wasn’t enough that Coronavirus was killing people of color in great numbers, for the past several weeks, African-American’s have watched film documenting the killing and harassment of their community. A man gets shot going for a jog, a woman shot while sleeping in their own bed, a man harassed while birdwatching, and another black man is slowly murdered over 9 minutes by police offices while crowds mere feet away filming the situation begged them to stop. The tension has boiled over into the streets, as it has so many times in the past, with people protesting in cities across the country … and some peaceful protests devolving into riots, property destruction and looting by a minority of those present.
Most of us have heard this quote often in the past few days, but the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. bears repeating. He famously said,
“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. [Martin Luther King Jr., “The Other America”]
Unfortunately, these words said in 1967 are just as poignant today as they were when they were first spoken.
The team gathered today with special guest, Terry Dixon, a Lieutennant in the Grand Rapids Police Department and president of the Grand Rapids chapter of NOBLE, an organization for police officers of color in the United States. We gathered around the microphones, hit record, and began our conversation by simply checking in with each other after this heavy week.
I woke up this morning to racism making the news… again. In one instance, a white woman felt her life was being threatened by a black man who asked her to leash her dog while he was birdwatching in New York’s Central Park. When she refused and said she was calling the police, he filmed her to provide his own alibi. Another African-American man was himself filmed by bystanders in Minneapolis as he was being arrested. The arresting officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck. The man shouted, “I can’t breathe” echoing the words of Eric Gardner, and like Gardner, died shortly after the incident.
Within the past week, another African American woman, Breonna Taylor, was shot while she and her boyfriend were sitting in her apartment. The police had entered the wrong residence using a “no knock warrant,” searching for people dealing drugs. The address the police were supposed to be going to was 10-miles away. Breonna’s killing seemed to be a repeat of the Bothanm Jean murder from a couple of years ago. History appears to be repeating itself, in ever tightening circuits, and things need to change … now.
This week the full Antioch team, Pastor Reggie Smith, Libby Huizenga, Susie Dixon, Michelle Loyd-Paige, and myself , all gathered virtually to talk about the last chapter in the Color of Compromise, a chapter focused on solutions for changing the status quo of racism in the United States.
On July 18, 2013, President Obama gave a press conference in response to the recent hearing about the shooting death of Travon Martin, an unarmed black teenager walking alone in a neighborhood by the civilian George Zimmerman – an act deemed legal by the courts under Florida’s now-infamous “stand your ground” law. The population of the United States somewhat divided along racial lines in their opinions about the outcome of the case with many people of color becoming outraged, and many whites believing that race had little to do with the outcome of the case. In the aftermath of the court-case, President Obama made the following historic commentary to the predominantly-white country. Let me give the direct quote:
“… I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to [the shooting of Travon Martin] and how people are feeling. You know, when Travon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Travon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
In contrast, many pastors of predominantly-white churches at the time did not address this issue with their congregations. For people of color who belonged to these congregations, this was the opening round of a series of events that signaled to people of color that white churches and multiethnic- but-still majority-white congregations were deaf to their concerns.
In recent weeks, video emerged from Georgia of another young, unarmed black man – Ahmed Arbury – shot to death by two white civilians who pursued him while he was on a jog, in what they say was an attempted citizen’s arrest. The country again is expressing outrage. Courts have not yet made a final decision on this case, though the early legal handling of the case by local authorities minimized the significance of the event. Most of us would not know of the case now had it not been for video of the actual shooting that emerged from a bystander months after the event took place.
Today, the echoes of Travon Martin reverberate within earshot of the present. How did churches respond to Ahmed in the Sunday following these revelations?
This episode of the Antioch Podcast we will look at some examples, and talk with some pastors, about how they chose to address the killing of Ahmed Arbury with their congregations. Many of you submitted examples of how your church, or churches you know, responded to this tragic event. What follows is not a critique or a ranking of these responses. Rather, we want to explore the stories of how pastors wrestle with – and make choices about – how to talk about the weighty issues of racial injustice and hate crimes with their congregations.
Suzie and I sat down with two faith leaders, Pastor Joy Bonnema, Campus Pastor at Madison Church’s North Campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and John Williams, the Director of Racial Reconciliation at Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California. We will end this episode with audio of a staff devotion, led by pastor Albert Tate of Fellowship Monrovia, which John referred to during our conversation. This spontaneous devotional was shared with the staff in the immediate days following the public release of the video of Ahmed Aubrey’s murder.
This moment in history is densely riddled with the bullet-holes of racism. In the late 20th Century, many churches became interested in striving to become more racially mixed, a movement prominently led by the evangelical Promise Keepers gathering of the 1990’s. In the early 20th America elected its first black president, and at that moment, it appeared that racial progress was really starting to take hold in some areas of life. This sentiment, where it existed, was short-lived.
Beginning in 2012, with the popularity of smartphones and social media, there was a tremendous rise in publicly-documented killings of black men, and the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement rose up in response. In 2015, in a close election, the significant help of a the large voting block of white evangelicals gave Donald Trump the needed majority of votes to win the election. His campaign was one of the most racially inflammatory and divisive in decades, and his subsequent presidency was similarly marked by frequently-racially divisive language and policies, often having a disproportionately oppressive effect on people of color and the communities in which they live.
Susie, Libby, Michelle and I gathered around the mics, discussing this chapter about the past and its impact on the present.
This episode of the podcast was recorded following the surfacing of video footage depicting the shooting of another unarmed black man in America. By now most of you listening in real time would have heard of the case of Ahmed Arbery. For those listeners who are finding this recording while listening to the Antioch Podcast’s back catalogue at some point in the future, Ahmed Arbery was a 25-year old African-American man shot by two white vigilantes who saw him out for a jog and assumed he was responsible for a number of neighborhood break-ins. They shot him multiple times in a botched citizen’s arrest. At the time of this episode, courts have not yet delivered a verdict on this case.
This is the backdrop on which our conversation on the Color of Compromise took place. This week, we had pre-planned to discuss Chapter 9, a chapter that covers the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1960s through the early 1990’s, a time where white evangelical Christians became a significant and dependable voting block within the broader Republican coalition. The irony is that this chapter discussed, among other things, the rise of “law and order” politics during this same time – policies which had the effect of demonizing communities of color, portraying them as dangerous and violent and legislating as if this was indeed true, all the while building upon the legacy of white purity and innocence in the American psyche. The policies developed during this time period directly set the stage for the spate of shooting of unarmed black men today, which have punctuated the news of the past decade with alarming frequency.
Reggie, Susie, Libby and I gathered around the mics, discussing this chapter about the past and its impact on the present.
“Arwhoolie” (Cornfield Holler)
Sounds by ERH
The Antioch Team is resuming our book study in this episode, this time discussing Chapter 8 in Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise. This chapter focusses on how both the black and white churches responded to the progressive messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the notably more moderate messages on race that came from his peer, the Rev. Billy Graham.
Our multiracial team discusses how various churches today address the sins of social and racial injustice, and how churches today mirror the same patterns that churches exhibited back during the civil rights era.
Every person born into the system of racialization in the United States develops internalized racism. Some are more aware of this than others, but every American has a form of internalized racism.
If that sounds shocking, try to think of racism as an infection. Thinking of racism as an infection, our individual racialized internalizations would be analogous to the symptoms each of us manifests after being infected. Now, we all do not present with the same symptoms. In fact, the way we manifest these symptoms is strongly impacted by our cultures and the way we are perceived racially by others … so while there is variety in our symptom profiles, we all still have the disease. And without understanding the affects the disease of racism has on us, we cannot begin to hope to treat the symptoms.
The conversation on today’s episode is not for those who deny that racism exists, or who personally believe that are uniquely unaffected by racism. Those who believe these things are not able to understand and discuss this kind of deeper conversation about the impact of racism, though some in denial may come to understand it more from listening. This episode is a conversation for people who already acknowledge that racism exists, those who want to get sober from it. This is a conversation for people who have already begun the journey of antiracism.
It is at this point that I want to introduce you to John Williams. John is the Director of the Center for Racial Reconciliation at Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California outside of Los Angeles. He is a former lawyer turned anti-racism educator – leading workshops and multiethnic civil-rights tours to help Christians understand the experiences of people from a variety of racialized groups in the United States. In particular, John is an expert on Internalized Racism, and is in the middle of putting out multimedia curriculum on this and other topics through the Center for Racial Reconciliation. To return to our metaphor from earlier, if racism is a disease, and anti-racism is a 12-step treatment program, John would be a seasoned meeting leader and sponsor. He is that good, and he has a lot to say worth listening to. He and a team of 18 anti-racism trainers were in Grand Rapids just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is where he and I sat down for this interview.
This special edition of the Antioch Podcast was created for STAND AGAINST RACISM 2020, which happened on April 24th. In this episode the Antioch Team is joined by featured guest Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim. Pennylyn is a professor at Calvin University, co-host of the Story Table project at Calvin University, and the author of a number of books on cultural intelligence. Her latest book, “Understanding Us & Them: Interpersonal Cultural Intelligence for Community Building, ” was recently published in October 2019. This episode focusses on storytelling about how each contributor sensed God’s call to the work of antiracism, as well as stories about what strengthens and encourages each panelist as they remain faithful to this call.
This is the pre-recorded audio portion of this live event, held virtually during this time of the Covid-19 quarantine. You can view this presentation on the Antioch Podcast’s YouTube channel.
The Antioch Podcast wants to thank the YWCA, Calvin University, The Christian Reformed Church of North America’s Office of Race Relations, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Access of West Michigan, Back to God Ministries and World Renew for their sponsorship of this annual event.
Racism was not a problem strictly limited to the southern United States after the Civil War. During the period of southern reconstruction, many African-Americans fled the domestic terrorism of the south and headed north in hopes of finding jobs and a better life. And while their lives were different, it is debatable whether the racism of the north constituted a “better” life. This conversation focusses on the legacy of northern segregation (in the form of housing policy) and the effects of the Great Depression on African Americans. Reggie, Michelle, Susie and Eric discuss these topics talking through the second half of Chapter 7 in Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise, a historical account of the American church’s complicity with racism.
It is Holy Week 2020. In the United States, as has been the case in many places around the world, the staggering amount of death caused by the Corona Virus hangs heavy.
The virus has also impacted racial communities differently. Hate crimes against Asian people have jumped dramatically, stoked by fears that identifiably Asian people may be carrying the virus and further exacerbated by the words of President Donald Trump who chose to nickname this disease the “China-virus” – which he has not apologized for. Members of Native American communities worry that this virus may wipe out some tribes, and the extremely-limited medical personnel and resources on reservations leave tribes located on reservations particularly ill-equipped to handle cases of the Corona virus in their communities. The health-disparities in many African-American Communities also have been exacerbated by Covid-19, as new statistics coming out indicate the virus infects and kills African-Americans at considerably higher rates than other racialized groups. Black and brown people also feel the tension of now being told to wear face-masks in public, something which has in the past put these same people at risk of being perceived as a threat, and therefore at greater risk of arrest or violence.
In this Holy Week, we mourn the impact that the sin of racism has had on our world, rejoice that Jesus died to save us from our sins – including the sin of racism, and look forward with hope to the time when Jesus returns and sets this world aright.
Racism was not a problem strictly limited to the southern United States after the Civil War. During the period of southern reconstruction, northern racism remained relatively unchanged, keeping up with the times, and infecting churches in northern and newly forming western states. In this conversation, Susie, Libby and Eric discuss the first half of Chapter 7 in Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise, a historical account of the American church’s complicity with racism.
Our discussion of the American church’s complicity with racism diverges in the following few episodes to explore how racism infected the church in different geographic regions of the United States during the period following the American Civil War. Using Jemar Tisby’s book “The Color of Compromise”, the Antioch team converses about how the church in the southern United States was impacted by the Klu Klux Klan. At its height, 40,000 ministers were member of the Klan, and its teaching infested the theology of the church and entire denominations as a result. But this manifestation of racism was not limited to the South alone, as the KKK also operated in the north and in Canada. In following episodes, the team discusses how racism manifested in additional ways in the Northern and Western states.
While both free and enslaved Africans in America uniformly denounced the institution of slavery as sin, white Christians in the United States were considerably less clear about the matter. Majority-white mainline denominations with congregations in both the North and the South were beset with finding ways to maintain church unity, and ultimately hit upon one of two solutions: don’t’ talk about slavery, or split the denomination along the Mason-Dixon line thereby forming two separate denominations so that each could stop fighting with the other. Note that neither approach was centered on the actual plight of African slaves in the US. Rather, their dilemma was instead centered on how to avoid conflicts with other white Christians, leaving slaves without advocates who might have some ability to change the economic system that kept them in perpetual bondage. Today, many churches composed of people of color talk about social justice in worship, and there are some predominantly white and multiethnic churches which do as well. However, the vast majority of white churches today continue to practice conflict avoidance with other whites when it comes to the topic of racial justice, creating worship spaces for themselves that don’t talk about these moral issues and focus instead on personal comfort and individual piety. We can look at the theological discussions leading up to the Civil War as a case study in how the results of conflict-avoidance, a characteristic of white institutional culture, unfolded – eventually resulting in the bloodiest war on US soil.
Abram X Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
This podcast was recorded on Friday, March 13, 2020. In Michigan, where we are, all schools have been closed and a new law went into effect making it a misdemeanor to gather in public spaces with more than 250 people in response to the Cover-19 epidemic. This has created a steep learning curve for churches to care for their congregations without potentially infecting congregants.
Several members of the Antioch Team were still able to record a conversation together discussing the article “How to tell if your privilege is showing amidst the Covid 19 pandemic” discussing how our response to Corona Virus is informed by a person’s race, class, age and health status.
In Episode 73 we resume our conversations about Jemar Tisby’s must-read history of racism in the American Church, The Color of Compromise. Susie, Libby, Reggie and I gathered around the microphones to talk about how slavery was made a permanent part of the American way of life legislatively, to institutionalize the “peculiar institution” of race-based slavery. But in the United States, we created a new kind of life-long slavery, known as “Chattel Slavery”, in which one’s status as a slave was inherited because of race and birth. The wicked and inescapable nature of US slavery was financially profitable for church institutions, whose financial support came from the tithes of slaveholders in the south and business owners in the North who made great profits off the sale of cotton products. Our multiethnic Antioch team discusses all this and more in today’s episode.
White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers
We are taking a short break from the Color of Compromise to bring you a recent sermon by one of our team-members, resident theologian Libby Huizenga. Justice and righteousness, being the same word in Hebrew and Greek, is an intrinsic part of the gospel message. There is a link in the show notes to a great video by Pursuing God.org that explains this further: https://www.pursuegod.org/what-is-justice/
The New Testament book of Acts contains within it the stories of how the early church wrestled with how to live out this idea as the church went through a period of rapid change from a monoethnic religious group, to a multiethnic religious movement. In Acts Chapter 6, we find a fascinating story – often overlooked by majority-culture churches and theologians – about how the early church responded to the systemic injustice that happened when the majority-culture Christians were exclusively in charge of the distribution of aid to those with needs in their developing multiethnic following.
Come listen as Libby takes us into this fascinating story.
This is a special Story Table episode of the Antioch Podcast. Story Table is an story-telling event developed by Dr. Penny Lyn Dykstra Pruim and regular Antioch Podcast team-member Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige at Calvin University as a way to promote intergroup civil dialogue. Modeled after similar events at Fuller Seminary, these storytelling events encourage participants and audience members to become more skillful at these kinds of conversations by first taking the initiative to listen. All the story-tellers sit around a table, telling their stories with the aid of the event facilitator. All the stories are curated around a theme. The theme of this event is “Withering, Weathering, and Witnessing Race and Racism.”
Melissa Stek is the Justice Mobilization Specialist for the Christian Reformed Church of North America. A part of this work is work to network and encourage justice seekers as they take next steps on their justice journeys. Melissa was a former Legislative Assistant to Representative Luis Gutierrez where she wrote sign-on letters, internal memoranda, and various materials for the Congressman’s work in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She has a Bachelor of Social Work from Calvin College and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan.
In today’s conversation, Melissa talks with me about the importance of continued citizen advocacy as we come up on the one-year anniversary of the law known as the historically-unprecedented “Remain in Mexico” policy for people seeking asylum in the United States. We discuss the history of racism in American immigration policy from pre-colonial times until the present day, and close with some specific advocacy measures we can do to encourage American lawmakers to eliminate the racial disparities in immigration law.
The Great Awakening of the mid 1700’s brought crowds of white and black Americans to revivals, where many people turned their lives over to following Jesus. For many white people, their eyes were opened to their individual sinfulness. Yet, this awakening did not awaken the white population to the sinfulness of institutional slavery, white supremacy, or racial discrimination. Even the religious celebrities of the day were not immune. George Whitefield supported his orphanage with slave labor. Jonathan Edwards, known as “America’s Greatest Theologian” also owned slaves. Segregated seating was the norm in houses of worship where free blacks and whites worshiped together. Two of the founding fathers of the black church, Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones were forced out of a church for praying in the white section of the building. These two men went on to found Bethel African Church, the first predominantly black denomination in the United States. These historical events became a springboard for the conversation with the Antioch Team this week.
It is an undisputable fact that many of the founding fathers of the United States owned slaves. But before they agreed to commit lives and resources to revolt against Great Britain, they wanted assurances that any future government would permit them to continue to amass personal fortunes off these privately-held unpaid labor forces. To accomplish this, Thomas Jefferson, who was himself a slave-owner, became the person tasked with crafting the initial draft of the document now known as the Declaration of Independence.
But Thomas Jefferson was a complex and even contradictory man. In this episode of the Antioch Podcast, we discuss the person, philosophy, theology of Thomas Jefferson, and how his views continue to affect race relations in the United States even today.