“…the first time I saw a picture of white Jesus…”

All of our movies, the music we listened to, the books we read, the food that we ate—everything was a representation of Black American people and culture. I think that the first time I saw a picture of white Jesus was at a friend’s house; I remember thinking he was an entertainer or model, with his big blue eyes and blonde hair. At our house, a large picture of Martin Luther King Jr. was framed and hung up as if he were a member of the family, and I think the first time I used the word “handsome” was in reference to a print of Marvin Gaye we kept near the living room table.

– Jasmine Sanders, “Home on the State Street Corridor.” This entire essay is beautiful, a reflection on a part of the south side that looms large despite its demolition years ago.

Vacation Reading

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That’s a lot of books! Are you going to read all of them during your vacation? Of course not! One of the best things about reading is dipping in and out of books promiscuously with little concern about when any one of them will be finished.

Aren’t you going away for part of your vacation? Why not get an e-reader rather than lugging around all that codex? Shut your mouth! Next question.

Those are some serious looking titles. Is this your idea of light summer reading? Are they? I dunno. Have you ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Not exactly highbrow stuff. Wonderfully silly, actually. That’s the entire 5-part series in that photo.

You’ve been droning on about Donald Trump on social media- I almost expected there to be a couple of take-downs in that stack of yours. I know, I know. I’m sorry. But not really. The J.D. Vance one is the closest to my grief about that guy and I’m hoping it’ll bring me a bit of knowledge and empathy.

Any of these you’re especially looking forward to? I’m loving the McPherson book about the Civil War. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates mentioned in a while back and it’s lived up to expectations. I didn’t know how stupid I was about that war. But of the ones I’ve not started I’m probably most excited about The Fire Next Time. I loved Jesmyn Ward’s last book and am intrigued with this edited collection of younger writers on race.

It’s kinda strange that you’re interviewing yourself, right? Hey, you’re the one asking the questions.

Two Reasons Churches Must Pursue Racial Justice

Will this be a moment for racial justice or a movement?

A glimmer of hope among the recent clouds of racial trauma and injustice has been the decision by some churches to respond publicly. I don’t mean, of course, those churches – usually African American – whose liturgies regularly and normally engage with racial prejudice and violence. Rather, I’ve noticed church leaders who’ve generally been silent or just barely audible choosing instead to lead, preach, and lament in direct response to the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Many of these responses are safe and tepid, but I’m choosing to be thankful that small steps have been taken.

I fear, though, that as these stories fade so will any new-found courage to engage truthfully and Biblically with racial injustice. So here are two quick reasons that previously silent churches must make permanent their commitment to racial justice.

First, the New Testament does not imagine a person’s reconciliation to God that doesn’t also include her reconciliation with others. And while those others will include individual relationships, they also include those groups with whom her own people have experienced division, enmity, and prejudice. New Testament churches, as evidenced by their witness and cultural conflicts, expected to be communities made up of those who’d previously had nothing to do with one another.

Lest we think this relational reconciliation was like the inch deep diversity in many of our churches, consider the shift of power that was expected in these churches: women who led; slaves who became family; ethnic minorities who expected the authority to lead. In other words, there can’t be relational reconciliation without relational justice. And though the New Testament churches knew nothing of our racial constructs, we have to assume that our race-based segregation and inequity are exactly the kinds of divisions the gospel is meant to address.

Second, Professor Willie Jennings and others have shown that the racial constructs we take for granted today are rooted in heretical theology from the time of colonialism. Racism is birthed in a kind of supersessionist theology that replaced Jewish particularity with European witness. The devastating results are too many to list here, but they include the invention of racial hierarchies whose logic remains unquestioned in many of our churches. Though most church leaders will be quick to speak against racism, the priorities and assumptions of our missions and ministries make clear that we’re mostly ok with the racial constructs as they’ve existed for centuries.

Acknowledging the central role of Western Christianity in sustaining racial injustice and fostering its earliest beginnings is another reason why previously silent churches must commit to the long work of building just and reconciled communities. Repentance is ongoing and will lead to previously unconsidered and creative possibilities life together as the diverse, reconciled people of God.

It’s good that church leaders are choosing to respond to this moment of pronounced racial trauma. How much better to hear the invitation of this moment and begin to build a movement of racial justice that will bear witness to the God who is reconciling all things.

Photo by Kaleah Merriweather from our Sunday service.


Speaking Tentatively After Orlando

Is there anything to be said by Christians like me in this moment?

Early Sunday morning, as I was editing my sermon, I saw the news from Orlando. By the time our service began there was still a lot of confusion about the extent of the tragedy, but it seemed likely that the nightclub had been targeted for violence because it was known as a safe and welcoming place for the gay community. I said as much before the sermon, asking our church to remember that – regardless of what warped theology was given a microphone later in the week – there was nothing of God’s heart in these murders. I also asked the church to remember our Christian responsibility to speak up anytime LGBTQ people are slandered or maligned in our presence, to use any influence we have to create safety for those with good reasons to wonder if such safe places exist for them.

And that’s all I said- all I knew to say in that moment.

Yet with a few days having passed, with the killer’s hatred toward gay people becoming increasingly clear, with the slain men’s and women’s names and stories being voiced, I need to say just a little more. I might be wrong about this; maybe quiet listening and lamenting is a more faithful posture in this moment. But as a straight white man who pastors in a church and denomination which hold a traditional Christian position about human sexuality within a church (“side b” in the language from the Gay Christian Network) and who holds such a position* myself, I’ve come to believe that the onus is on me to renounce clearly the evil that took place on Sunday morning. I know many LGBTQ Christians will find anything short of a shift away from the traditional Christian belief to fall very short of a meaningful repudiation and, though I sorely wish this wasn’t the case, I accept it as part of this particular tragedy along with the countless less visible tragedies inflicted upon LGBTQ bodies by churches over the centuries.

Those of us pastors and congregations who are unable to step away from the historic and global churches’ teachings on sexuality find ourselves in a complicated moment in this country. There are people I care about who didn’t believe they could be at our church and I’ve worked with them to find a congregation that preaches Jesus and holds the “side a” position. It’s painful and complicated. But the complexity cannot keep us from speaking with great clarity about God’s love for LGBTQ people. It cannot keep us from publicly lamenting the great evil that was done to particular LGBTQ people on Sunday morning and, by devastating extension, to communities of gay people around the world. It cannot keep us from doggedly pushing for legislation that will make gun violence against all vulnerable people less likely. In cannot keep us from confronting fellow-Christians whose faux-outrage about gender-inclusive bathrooms and civil rights legislation makes this country less safe for LGBTQ people. And the complexity must not keep us from confessing and repenting – time and time and time again – for the many great and small sins that we’ve committed against people who are lovingly created in the image of God.

*I don’t mean to make this sound simple. It’s not. I don’t know how to talk about sexuality without talking about God, bodies, hospitality, vocation, culture, etc. And I still have much to learn.

Header Image: Community Vigil for the Victims of the Orlando Shooting (Governor Tom Wolf).