Episode 45: An Antioch Roundtable – “Understanding White Supremacy Culture.”

The Antioch Podcast was initially conceived as a podcast of recorded conversations among friends and leaders at Madison Church – the multi-site church who hosts our podcast – about learning to lead in multiethnic churches. We started making these recordings in the autumn of 2016 with a team of three leaders, completely unaware of what changes were on the horizon for our church, and our nation.

The rhetoric of Donald Trump leading up to, and following his election, widened racial animosities in the United States. Once in power, the rapid number of policy decisions his administration made disproportionately had a negative effect among communities of color, making fellowship in multiethnic churches all the more difficult. Madison Church also was affected. A number of key anti-racist staff members at Madison Church felt this strain in particular, making it difficult to want to engage in additional discussions about race and injustice. Race fatigue is a real thing, and I respect when people need to have boundaries around their time, especially for doing something as emotionally taxing as discussing race and injustice.

I talked with one of my friends and mentors, herself a person of color, who encouraged me to keep going with the podcast project, even if I was finding it difficult to gather a table of friends together to do this. I was concerned that my whiteness – my singular white, cisgender, middle-class, male viewpoint – would affect the kinds of conversations and insights that needed to be expressed on a podcast about leading in the multi-ethnic church. And yes, it is important for white people to take ownership of doing some of the hard kinds of anti-racism work that people of color too often find themselves doing, particularly in the wearying area of educating other white people (whom we will likely have more affinity with) about the injustices people of color so often face. But in proceeding with the podcast, I didn’t want to be a lone cowboy, and I strongly believed that I needed to continue to be informed by – and accountable to – other people of color.

Here is why I felt strongly about this. No one of us is free of bias, and I was quite concerned that my unchecked biases would erode the multi-perspectival DNA these kinds of issues need to be informed by. Every one of us has a viewpoint to contribute to the body of Christ. We need each other, even when we don’t know how it is all going to work out. That is when it is especially important to rely on the Holy Spirit, knowing that Jesus is the head of the church, and the trinity will continue to have ownership of it after our moment of influence has come and gone.

So, for a couple of years now, I’ve tried to do interviews, with the mentorship of my friend, mainly focused on listening to voices, perspectives, and ideas of people of color whose views inform conversations about church leadership in a multiethnic world. But I continued to long for the possibility of pulling together a small group of people who regularly discussed topics relating to the anti-racist mission of the Antioch Podcast.

Fast-forward to the present. After numerous conversations, a couple of people agreed to give these podcast conversations a try. Both of them work professionally in denominational-level church ministry in the areas of both social justice and race relations, as well as being people who have invested decades of their lives in cross-racial conversation and advocacy. In addition to their knowledge and wisdom, Pastor Reggie Smith and Idella Winfield are my friends, who have shared their own struggles with me, and who have in turn listened to mine and help me process my own cross-racial journey. So, in the ensuing episodes of the Antioch Podcast, Pastor Reggie and Idella will be my partners on this anti-racist podcast journey. To both of you, thank you, and welcome!

This episode of the Antioch Podcast, the Antioch team responds to Dr. Tema Okun’s article “White Supremacy Culture”. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, here is her online author’s bio for her book The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race And Racism To People Who Don’t Want To Know.

Tema Okun has spent many years working for and in the social justice community. For over 10 of those years she worked in partnership with the late and beloved Kenneth Jones as part of the ChangeWork training group and now facilitates long-term anti-racism, anti-oppression work as a member of the DRworks collaborative. She is a skilled and experienced facilitator, bringing both an anti-racist lens and commitment to supporting personal growth and development within the context of institutional and community mission. She holds a BA from Oberlin College, a Masters in Adult Education from N.C. State University, a doctorate from UNC-Greensboro and is on the faculty of the Educational Leadership Department at National Louis University in Chicago. She is active in Middle East peace and justice work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA.

If you have not read Dr. Okun’s article, take a moment to read it by clicking the link provided in the shownotes below before listening in on our conversation.