How do we find hope, particularly in white American churches, when our history and identity is intertwined with racism? How does knowing who we were—and who we are—help us move toward justice and who we want to become? I talk with historian Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise, about racism’s past and present reality, his sense of a growing darkness, and also where he sees hope.
Jemar Tisby is a Christian, historian, speaker, a New York Times best-selling author, and co-host of the Pass the Mic podcast. Connect with him online: jemartisby.com, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
“We can’t heal what we don’t reveal.”
“Not knowing our history or misremembering our history—telling part of the story—is actually an assault on our identity. We don’t get the full picture of who we are, whether as a corporate body as a church or as individuals.”
“Our own racial history as a church is about our identity. It’s about how we were, who we are, who we want to become.”
“If you want to talk about threats to Christianity, particularly in the United States, we need to talk about Christian nationalism.”Continuing the conversation:
White Picket Fences, Season 3 of Love is Stronger Than Fear, is based on my book White Picket Fences. Check out free RESOURCES—action guide, discussion guides—that are designed to help you respond. Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
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Hello friends. I'm Amy Julia Becker host of love is stronger than fear. Today. I am talking with scholar writer, podcaster and activist. Jemar Tisby is a PhD candidate at the university of Mississippi. He's also a New York times bestselling author. We're going to talk about his book, the color of compromise on the show today. And he's a thoughtful, gracious, friendly man with a deep faith in Jesus. So today we get to talk about racism throughout the history of the church in America, our current political moment, the problems that Christians have with critical race theory and what it means to take a stand for justice here.
And now I'm so glad you get to be here with us today. JMR. It is really an honor to have you on the show today. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. And I'm sitting here. You can see this. Nobody else can, but this is my hard back copy of compromise. And I am showing off because what it says is I got this book when it first came out on the bestseller list in recent weeks, but I bought it before then because it was deserving of that status, I think from the beginning.
1 (1m 18s):
But I'm really grateful that you are taking the time today to talk to me. And also I'm grateful for the time you took just to write this book, but I mean, there's so much really in depth research and yet it doesn't read like a history book that I'm going to get bored by, or that's too. There's so many history books where I'm like, Oh, I just want there to be an editor who will tell this person how to help this reach me, but this reached me. So you did a wonderful job and perhaps so did your editor, I don't know, but I would love for you for our listeners who are not familiar with your book and with you just to tell us a little bit about, I'll read the title, but you can tell us more about it and also what prompted you to write it.
1 (1m 59s):
So this is called the color of compromise, the truth about the American church's complicity in racism. So tell us about your book and what got you to write it.
2 (2m 10s):
My background and my story is tied into this book right now. I wear several hats. I'm a PhD candidate in history at the university of Mississippi. I'm the president and founder of the witness, a black Christian collective, which is a faith based media company, addressing issues of race, religion, and culture from a black Christian perspective. And I write and speak and do all of these things that are associated with, with books. So this book came out of a couple places.
2 (2m 41s):
Number one, I sort of got interested in the academic study of history during the height of the black lives matter movement in 2015, 2016. And it's really quite a simple story, which is when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson and all these protests happen and you have peaceful protest is being met with police in riot gear. And, you know, everybody's trying to figure out what's going on. And for me I've found that that, that historians often had the most helpful things to say.
2 (3m 15s):
And so this sort of took me down a path that ended me up in grad school. Wow.
1 (3m 20s):
Okay. So where were you at that time in your life trajectory?
2 (3m 24s):
I was just finishing up seminary and getting my MDF. I thought I was going to go into full time pastoral ministry. God had other plans, although, you know, these overlaps, it all blends into the story because part of what I was seeing up close was the recalcitrance of many white Christians simply to acknowledge black lives matter at all. And the particular need for a movement in the 21st century.
2 (3m 55s):
So, you know, the response of all lives matter or blue lives matter, or, you know, you guys are just being divisive or these are riots, you know, all of these things. And I'm like, how is this? How are we seeing things so differently?
1 (4m 9s):
Right, right. We're both Christians.
2 (4m 12s):
We live in the same church, same seminary. So that was, that was really, really frustrating because I knew it. But now it was like at a different level at a deeper level when you have a national movement happening at the same time. So at that time I was getting into my coursework in the PhD program. And I was reading book after book, after book. And they, they, they weren't even on the church, but if they mentioned the church 90% of the time, it was about how white Christians got it wrong on race. And so, so these worlds are colliding.
2 (4m 45s):
I'm getting increasingly frustrated and confused by the response of white Christians. And this is also during the lead up to the 2016 election where this current president voted in. So there's all this stuff happening, right. And we're seeing the world so differently. I'm like, what is happening right now? And then I'm reading the history and I was getting more and more, I call it a righteous anger because as you read the history, it's like, how could we not continue to have these movements? How could we not continue to try to work for racial justice?
2 (5m 19s):
And so part of writing the book was out of the sense that, well, maybe if more people knew the history, they would understand the need for urgent action right now, that really is. I hope the point of the book, it's, it's a book about the past, but it's really about the present in the future of the church history.
1 (5m 42s):
And you do a great job at the end of making that connection in your final chapter, which we will get to. But I think that is part of why I really wanted to talk to you today is to make that connection between the past and the present and to re and to recognize why that's so important before we get there. Can you talk a little bit, just give us some of the history because the church, and I say that in quotation marks, because I'm talking pretty specifically about the church, as far as churches that white people have attended in America.
1 (6m 15s):
When I say that, but the American church, if we're talking about white people in this country and racism have been bound up together, and that's been true honestly for a really long time. So I'm wondering if you can, I know you're covering 400 years, but in like, you know, two minutes or so, could you just give us some of that, like sweeping picture of how racism and the church have been interwoven in American history, because it really affects all of the things you just talked about and kind of who we are and how we are right now.
2 (6m 46s):
And actually thank you for asking about the history. It's really interesting how, when I talk about the book, how, how little we get into history, people recognize the importance of knowing it, but then they want to talk about right now. So I appreciate the chance to talk a little about the history. And I think the way I approach it in the book is a historical survey. And so each chapter is dealing with one particular major era of American history. And, and I think it's really important to know, like you said before, this has been happening a really long time, all the way back in the 1490s, when Columbus makes contact with North America, he's talking about native Americans in relation to their physical appearance to Europeans, and based on how similar they were, how good a servant they could be, whether they could be converted to Christianity.
2 (7m 38s):
And so already there's this sort of hierarchy of people. And then it only ossified after that. So there was a period, this is one of the points I'm making the book where it didn't have to be this way. Right. What we know it seems. So it seems almost inevitable, right? From the perspective of, of the 21st century that we would have this society based on race, but it never had to be that way. And it was the result of deliberate choices by people with power and money to create a system that gave them advantages and disadvantages others.
1 (8m 13s):
Well, the 16, 16, 67, maybe story, I just, to me, was one of those moments where it's like, if this had gone the other way, what would we have learned in any way we will you tell that story?
2 (8m 27s):
Yeah. So, you know, when you, whenever you read a book or do any research or history, there, there are certain events or facts that stick out. And this is one of the, so in 1667, the Virginia assembly, which is important to note was a group of white Anglican men. These are ostensibly Christians. They made a rule saying that that TISM would not free and enslaved native person of native descent, African descent, or mixed race descent. And that struck me for a couple of reasons.
2 (8m 58s):
Number one, the timing of it. So this is a hundred years and more before the declaration of independence before the ratification of the constitution. So there was never any period where America was all that great race in terms of race relations, right? And then number two, it sticks out because you have this confluence of race, religion, and politics. So you have this political entity, the Virginia assembly, making a policy about religion, that's based on race.
2 (9m 29s):
And so the, I think that's crucial because even though we can talk about race, religion, and politics separately, they're intertwined in a way that we can never completely pull apart. And so to talk about one is going to implicate the others as well,
1 (9m 44s):
And correct me if I'm wrong. But that the thing that also strikes me about that is that they felt as though they needed a policy. Because up until that point, there was a sense of, if you are a baptized Christian, we cannot enslave you. Right. I mean, we, because we are all Christians and that would be such a common identity that enslavement could not be a part of our relationship. I mean, is that,
2 (10m 9s):
Yeah, one of the reasons it sticks out is because the customer in England had been, you couldn't enslave a brother or sister in Christ. And so that, you know, baptism, which was your sort of spiritual adoption into the household of God meant that no one could own anyone else or enslave anyone else. And so they were breaking with tradition in making that law.
1 (10m 32s):
Then one of the effects of that, that you write about also is, so at that point, there was also essentially, I don't know if we call it a gentleman's agreement or not that if you are going to want to evangelize the people who are working on the plantations, you have to do so in such a way that would not essentially challenge their status as enslaved people. I mean, is that accurate?
2 (10m 57s):
So that's, that's a precise example of Christian compromise and complicity with racism. So there was this negotiation between missionaries and evangelists and plantation owners and powers that be so that it was just this really weird cognitive dissonance that people missionaries wanted to come over and save souls and station owners and slave holders were like, no, you can't do that because even they recognized there's a liberatory message in the gospel.
2 (11m 31s):
And that if you tell enslaved people that they're created in the image of God and that we're all equal and that we're brothers and sisters spiritually, well, they're going to have these wacky ideas about getting free. We can't have that. And so the solution was not to advocate for emancipation. The solution was, well, we will, pre-trade truncated gospel. That's not how they would have put it, but essentially that's what they were doing. We will, we will tell them about Jesus loving them and, and about eternal salvation, but literally in the baptismal vows that Francis lizard Lazard, who was a, a missionary, he said that you, you vow that you desire baptism purely for the sake of your own soul and not out of any desire for freedom, physical freedom.
1 (12m 18s):
Wow. That was literally the Val.
2 (12m 21s):
And so that was the, that was the compromise. So you could evangelize as long as you didn't talk about their actual physical material circumstances, which as we know is a divide that persist to this day that just preach the gospel crowd are artificially inserting a division between the physical and material and the spiritual.
1 (12m 42s):
I mean, there is the title of your book, the color of compromise. I mean, just to go and again, back however many hundreds of years, but, but also forward into our present day and some of the divides we still feel. So that's just such a perfect and sad example. So I wrote a book also called white picket fences. And as you know, because we've talked about it a little bit, that was my attempt to understand my own social position. My status as a woman who has grown up white has also grown up as a Christian.
1 (13m 14s):
And I write about the chapter four is kind of the topic that we're talking about here. I have a chapter called a history of cancer. And what I'm writing about in that chapter is growing up in Eatonton, North Carolina, which was a small and functionally segregated town. And I, there, I loved history when I was a kid. I loved growing up in a historic town. There were these like placards all over the town and there'd been this thing called the Eatonton tea party. And everyone was very proud because it was earlier than the Boston tea party.
1 (13m 45s):
So I learned all of this history, but I never learned anything about the history of our town when it came to enslavement to race, to the Confederacy, to racism. And that was an ongoing daily reality. And it was really devastating for me as an older teenager. And then later as an adult to look back on that, but I want to bring up, there's a place in your book where you write the color of compromise is about telling the truth. So that reconciliation robust, consistent, honest reconciliation might occur across racial lines.
1 (14m 21s):
And so that makes me say like, why is it important as we try to understand our present moment to understand our history and how does looking back on this pain in our history, lead us to this honest reconciliation, this possibility for healing in the present, how do you see the pain and the healing, the past horrors and the present possibilities for reconciliation connect history is about, I
2 (14m 52s):
Think of the 10 commandments. How do they begin? I am the Lord, your God who brought you out of Egypt, you will have no other gods before me. That's an act of remembering God is saying, remember what I did for you, remember who you are, where you once were and where I've brought you. And because of that, this is who you now are. This is who you follow, et cetera, et cetera, in an, in a, in a derivative way, our, our own racial history as our church is about our identity.
2 (15m 24s):
It's about who we were, who we are, who we want to become. And so not knowing our history or even misremembering, our history is, as you indicated, you know, telling part of this story is actually an assault on our identity. You don't get the full picture of who we are, whether as a corporate body, as the church or as individuals. And so we want to tell history as robustly and honestly, and by the way, the Bible does this all the time, right? Like if I say King David, the first thing people remember is probably what he got wrong, not what he got.
2 (16m 1s):
Right. And, and, and you know, why can't we do the same with people who the Bible would think far less of perhaps than King David, who was a man after God's own heart? Why can't we do the same with Confederate leaders in general? Why can't we do the same with preachers and pastors and theologians who got it wrong on race? It can actually be instructive to go back and to say what they got wrong. And that gets to your, the second part of your question, you know, what, where's the healing? Well, number one, you know, King said, you know, like, like a boil that, that can't be healed unless it's exposed to light and air, that's this festering wound of, of racism in our nation and in the church, unless we expose it, which we have yet to comprehensively do, really, whether it's at a congregational level of denominational level and national level of personal level, we so avoid these truths because we want to perceive of ourselves as innocent, or at least having progressed beyond these sort of racist underpinnings.
2 (17m 5s):
But until we do that, we can't heal it. We can't heal what we don't reveal as many say.
1 (17m 10s):
Yeah. Amen. I think back also, you know, for me looking back at the past and recognizing that what I thought of as idyllic and good and really great, I mean, I was really grateful for my school. My church, my town, my family was really disorienting and painful to look back and say, wait a second. This place where I grew up and had lovely Christian people in my life was also a place where I went to an all white church and there was a black church down the road.
1 (17m 43s):
I went to an all white school. That was what I learned later, a trend. It was a part of private Christian that sprang up throughout the South, over the course of desegregation, actually taking effect. And I, again, I loved my school when, as a kid and I've really wrestled with understanding my history in its complexity. And I think of course, people, other white Christians right now don't have the same story as me. And there are many white Christians who did not grow up going to an all white school. Although I think there probably are many of us who did go to a very predominantly white church, but I'm wondering how we wrestle with that tension between being grateful for what we have been given and grieving the injustice.
1 (18m 25s):
That was a part of that while we seek perhaps to participate in undoing that injustice. So it's like holding together this history of racism and you as a Christian also, like you're looking this in the teeth and also holding up a commitment to the gospel and to the church, you know, you're not walking away from a commitment to that. So I'm wondering if you've been in any way disoriented by anything that you've learned about your church, because certainly, although you have an African American experience, it's still the church globally, the church in America, it's all of ours.
1 (19m 5s):
And so I'm wondering how you've dealt with that same tension or whether you just have any kind of advice for people like me who are looking at that. Right.
2 (19m 15s):
I mean, I think this is really where the biblical truths come into play, you know, there, before the grace of God go, I, and really understanding grace that, that, you know, we get a lot wrong a lot of times, and Jesus loves us in and through that and, and sort of cleaning to that truth, even, not just for ourselves, but we got to apply that to, to the church body as well, that, that the church gets a lot wrong, but, but Christ has promised to build the church. So there's hope there.
2 (19m 46s):
The other aspect is recognizing that the church is much broader than one's own experience. So one thing I didn't get to do in the book was really talk about black church history and the black church tradition, which has a history of resistance and resilience and liberation. And so you want to talk about, you know, hope you look at some of these historic black churches and black Christians both past and present. You know, we have a lot of really great examples. Still. The recently passed away John Lewis, Congressman John Lewis.
2 (20m 19s):
I mean, this man went to seminary. He was set to be a preacher basically, but he applied his faith toward freedom fighting for, for black people and really all people. So we have some wonderful examples there. If we would expand our notions of church beyond our own personal experiences or the people whose books we read on our bookshelves, right? The church is global, for sure. And especially one of things I've learned is to look at the church on the margins, look at the church that is people buy the disenfranchised and the, and the oppressed.
2 (20m 55s):
And so, you know, one book recommendation is Jesus. And the disinherited by Howard Thurman does a wonderful job of describing sort of really the heart of Jesus as it comes to the poor and the oppressed, or as he describes it, people with their backs against the wall. That's where I think, because it's in that crucible of suffering, that's so much of this deep rooted faith takes becomes real. You know what I mean?
1 (21m 24s):
I do. Yeah. And I think about one of the things I've been so struck by this is probably you might know better than I true throughout our history, but certainly in recent years is the spiritual language that's used to describe our racial and social divisions. So America's original sin, or even someone like Tallahassee coats, who is an atheist talks about spiritual reckoning as something that we need. And you're like, well, what do you mean by that? You know, just because, but there's a sense of like, and there was a book by John Meacham, I can't remember, but it had angels and demons, like in the title, also dealing with race.
1 (21m 58s):
Like there's just this sense of, this is an issue that goes beyond even like this plane of existence. And it also though it makes me think the church actually has the tools that this society does. Not at least in whole have to deal with this because we know about forgiveness and we know about reconciliation. And we also know about being what you were just saying, rooted and established in a love that is deeper and wider than us. If I just try to sum it up the love for my neighbor.
1 (22m 31s):
I mean, it like hardly goes as far as my daughter, someday is, you know, much less like the person who is actually considered my enemy, but we do have this in terms of our scripture and tradition, at least. And I think for me, reading John Lewis's memoirs, looking back to Martin Luther King's sermons, there's such a sense of that rooted and grounded in a love that is not coming from their own willpower. And I take so much spiritual sustenance from that and feel like it could really Enlive in what the church has to offer our country right now in, as we, I think start waking up to the need for healing and doing that hard work of exposing the wound
2 (23m 17s):
And yes, a hundred percent if white Christians except the theology and the Christianity of people like John Lewis and Martin Luther King as legitimate. And so
1 (23m 31s):
Will you, so will you say more about that? A like how that has been de-legitimized or like seen as illegitimate and again, speaking of history, cause I think there's a direct line between the way white Christian saw King in the sixties and some
2 (23m 46s):
Of the conversations we're having still. Yes, yes. So yes, there is a history to it. Part of the history is the idea that old white men are the repositories of the Oracles of God. And so they have the real theology and this, this spans both conservative and liberal branches of the church where, you know, so much of theology that is taken as normative is coming out of Europe and completely ignores any sort of African or middle Eastern origins of our theologies.
2 (24m 23s):
And it also ignores, or subordinates theology is coming from people of different ethnicities, whether Latin American or Asian or native American. So, so there is a privileging in our discourse of a particular kind of theology, which then because it's coming from people of European descent who are then coded as white in the United States, it comes with that racial baggage too. And so, you know, some of the folks I write about in the book are heroes for a lot of people from Jonathan Edwards to George Whitfield, who were both slave owners and Whitfield so interesting because he goes from, you know, not saying much about slavery and not really being very pro-slavery, he wasn't anti-slavery, but he wasn't waving a banner or anything to then becoming very pro-slavery.
2 (25m 17s):
And he basically says to the governor of Georgia, he's like, you know, if you guys want to be financially prosperous, you're going to have to have slavery in Georgia because it wasn't originally founded with, with a pro-slavery ethos or, or structure. And then you can go up in time toward folks like Billy Graham, who to me was kind of the epitome of the white moderate that Cain talks about in his letter from a Birmingham jail and also kind of the epitome of compromise and complicity.
2 (25m 49s):
Right? And this is one of the things that I wanted to bring out is that when we think about racism and racists, we tend to think of the extremes, right? The people putting on white robes and hoods burning, crosses holding a noose that completely ignores the droves of people who knew all this was happening and didn't do anything about it. And that would, I would say, would be the majority of Christians. And so with Billy Graham, you know, from inviting team to say an opening prayer at, at one of his rallies to just a few years later saying King needs to put on the brakes a little bit to in, I think it was the eighties saying, you know, I should have participated in the March on Selma and, and he didn't at the time when the movement was happening, you know, it's just, I think a very instructive story about how somebody who in the fifties before Brown B board took down the rope at his crusades, dividing white and black people.
2 (26m 47s):
And yet he's also, you know, trumpeting, this anti-communism message, which on its surface. Okay. But, but when you understand it's applied to civil rights activists, right? Because they're talking about equality and, and, and white Christians are saying, well, that's the same thing as communists talking about, you know, completely equally sharing resources and it's going to lead to despotism, et cetera. So anyway, all of that to say, I don't even remember what the original question was, which was a history
1 (27m 20s):
Just yeah. But like how I think Martin Luther King, how he was viewed in his time by white Christians and also how that relates to today.
2 (27m 29s):
That's right. That's right. Great. Thank you. So, so MLK of course, when, when he was killed, which I say that advisedly, he didn't just die. He was assassinated. He was killed, was very unpopular, deeply unpopular nationally, especially for his anti war, anti militarism stance at that point. But many Christians today who now quote him in his day would have decried him. Most likely. They looked at his Christian theology. I mean, this man is a minister.
2 (27m 59s):
He's got a PhD in theology. You know, he's got all the credentials you could look for. He was, he was a preacher's kid of a prominent church, but his theology was not seen as legitimate. It was seen as heterodox. It was seen as too liberal to be followed, mainly because he was talking about racial justice and that persists to this day so that, you know, people like John Lewis, I think of Bree Newsome who most people, I think forget.
2 (28m 30s):
But when, when she took down the Confederate flag in front of the state house, in South Carolina, she had a message to say, you, you come before me with guns. I covered before you in the name of God, right? This is a very faith filled kind of activism, but that kind of activism that fights racial justice and says it's because of my Christian faith that I do, this is often undermine what's happening right now. And your listeners may have heard this what's happening right now to delegitimize Christians fighting for racial justice is the accusation of critical race theory.
2 (29m 8s):
I don't know if you've heard this.
1 (29m 9s):
I have, and I've been thinking a lot about it, but I would love for you to talk a little bit about it.
2 (29m 13s):
I want to hear your thoughts too. I'm, I'm thoroughly frustrated by it because it's a relatively recent phenomenon. And I saw this grow from a seed from, from a small group of people to now. It's like every time I talk about racial justice, people ask the question about critical race theory. So it's spread, it's been on the biggest platforms, lots of people responding to it. So I'm frustrated because this is in the tradition of gaslighting and stiff arming people.
2 (29m 47s):
You were fine with that.
1 (29m 47s):
Will you just say what gaslighting is? If no one, if someone does.
2 (29m 53s):
So when it comes to race, it's people saying there's no, there, there it's black people expressing our experience and perspectives and people saying, well, you're making too much of it or you're being divisive. I'm sure that's what they meant. Are you sure? That's what they meant. Exactly. Questioning your very sort of perspective on things. And it's so frustrating. So it's come up a lot. And here's my response to that is not to go point by point and say why critical race theory is helpful or not helpful.
2 (30m 26s):
But to say, if you want to talk about threats to Christianity, particularly in the United States, we need to talk about Christian nationalism. That's what the conversation should be about. Critical race theory. You can throw out all you want. At the end of the day, it's two things are happening. Number one, you're trying to discredit the person who is making a legitimate point about racial justice. And number two, you are actually deflecting from where the real problem is, which is Christian nationalism.
1 (30m 54s):
Well, so yes, on the Christian national nationalism, but I think also on the equivalent of today's Mo white moderates, right? Like, because if we can put the black lives matter movement, hook, line, and sinker into the category of Marxism, then we can just put it back on the shelf in the closet and say, we don't take that out. And we've learned not to. And I think what I've thought about is two things. One, I have become more and more convinced as over the past.
1 (31m 27s):
However many years that healing the social divisions within the church is critical central to the work of the gospel in the world. And I would say that based on Ephesians three, that the mystery of the gospel for Paul was that Jews and Gentiles were reconciled in Christ. But that sense that we all belong in the family of God, no matter what those dividing walls are, that is the mystery of the gospel. Like that's the mystery, that's the power. So that, first of all, it seems to me again, as you said, like, let's stop talking about critical race theory for a second and just say, what is central to the gospel?
1 (32m 5s):
And we're not paying attention to that. So that's the first thing. And then secondly, I keep thinking about Paul on Mars Hill when he's preaching. And he says, Hey, look at all you spiritual seekers here. That's so great. You've even got a statute to an unknown God. He doesn't say, let me wag my finger at you for being pagans. He says, that's awesome. You want to know, God, let me tell you about him. And that's what I see when I see critical race theory. Do I think from a Christian perspective, it's all true. No, but do I think that there's some truth there that can be affirmed and that we actually walk in solidarity in saying that yes, like oppressed people deserve their rights, like, well, yes we do.
1 (32m 47s):
I mean, I can absolutely do that and I can do that because of the love of God. So I, I agree with you a hundred percent, but those are my current thoughts.
2 (32m 56s):
The other part I'd love that and bringing it back to the area because I think you're absolutely right. And the other part is I haven't seen other folks who are leveling this accusation present effective alternatives, right? So, so it seems to be an endeavor that's completely dedicated to tearing down, but not really proposing much of an alternative that doesn't essentially equate to just preach the gospel and everything will be all right, which is, which is sort of a detached.
2 (33m 27s):
When I say just preach the gospel, the way it usually gets deployed is if we teach the right things, people will believe the right things and act the right way. But we know the human heart based on what scripture teaches us. And it doesn't work like that. No, nor are we these disembodied heads that don't have emotions and desires and passions that were against what we intellectually know to be true. Right. So, so it doesn't work on not just a pragmatic level, it's just that it's not the way we're built, right.
2 (34m 4s):
It we're we're body, soul and mental beings, right. So we have to address all of those things. And from what I've seen, you know, it's not like there's this whole alternative protest movement that's happening right now among Christians. Rather, we're having to follow a lot of people who don't follow Christ because they're actually further along the path to promoting racial justice than many people.
1 (34m 31s):
Well, and I think it also goes back if we go back to the beginning of this conversation and that sense of baptism is just about your soul. And so there is this really deep and long through line that says Christianity is just a spiritual matter and keep it in its proper place. Or, and if it's going to get really mucked up, you know, and it's like, no, no, actually from it, I mean the whole concept of the incarnation is that Christianity is not just a spiritual matter that in fact, God came in the flesh and healed in the flesh and taught in the flesh and resurrected in the flesh and will return in the flesh.
1 (35m 11s):
I mean, all of those things and not just for our spiritual salvation, I've been actually doing some work on healing stories in the gospels. And just knowing that the word for made well or healed in the gospels is literally the same word in Greek as the word for save, wow, Oh, English translators will translate it depending on the context to kind of have a more spiritual or a more physical meaning, but there was no differentiation in terms of what was written and spoken at the time, because that connection between the physical and the spiritual, it hadn't been divorced.
1 (35m 47s):
And I think one of the, again, one of the things the church has to offer is that reconnecting of ourselves with the body and the spirit, but one of the things we're resisting in conversations like, Oh, we're not going to get involved in all of that protest because it doesn't have to do with the center of the gospel is we're just keeping the spirit and the flesh disconnected in a way that I don't think is at all, what Jesus lived or taught or offered to us through his life and death and resurrection.
1 (36m 17s):
So I'm curious, I want to get, make sure I get to this because I find that it's really easy to put racism, whether that's racism in American history, racism in the American church, and you touched on this a little bit with the white robes and burning crosses. But again, to say it was certainly happened long ago and far away, especially for those of us who live in someplace like Connecticut. Right? So I experienced this when I moved to Connecticut, I was 10 years old.
1 (36m 48s):
And all of a sudden I'm in like an all white town where everyone's talking about how it was so racist, where I used to live. And I'm like, but you don't even know any black people. Like, I, I mean, you're right, that there was racism there, but what are you talking about? You know? And so I've always been a little bit perplexed by this, but I just think at the same time, I do think the way racism works outside of a context where there's explicit bigotry and explicit, overt hatred through words and gestures is more insidious and subtle, perhaps like harder to see unless you know what to look for.
1 (37m 24s):
So I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about how white churches in other parts of the country than the South have perpetuated racism participated in the perpetuation of racism, you know, really whatever you want to talk about on that.
2 (37m 38s):
Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up because I live in the Mississippi Delta on the Arkansas side and it is what one author called the most Southern place on earth and comes with all the stairs is 90 degrees by 9:00 AM down here. My commute to school is literally through cotton fields. And so I try not to draw too big a distinction between the South and other parts of the country. If there is a distinction to be drawn, it is the physicality and the geography of race down here.
2 (38m 10s):
Right? So, you know, going to school at a place like the university of Mississippi, which has up until literally just last week, a Confederate statue at the entrance of campus, few hundred yards away from the bronze statue of James Meredith, who was the first black person to integrate in 1962, amid white race riots, where two people ended up dead. So, so that sort of history that, that is visible and all around you is something. But I grew up in the Midwest in the Chicago land area and we actually had a lot of visible or aesthetic diversity.
2 (38m 47s):
So people from Eastern, Southeast Asia, people from a lot of folks from Mexico, Honduras, and central and South America, a lot of black folks, white folks. So I grew up in this context where we wouldn't have used this term at the time, but it seemed post-racial right. It seemed that, well, look at all this diversity, people are around getting along with one another. We're fine. But like you said, you got to know what to look for. So most of the time when we saw that diversity, it was at a gathering spot, like a mall or a sports game.
2 (39m 22s):
But then after that, you went back to your segregated neighborhoods. I remember one of my earliest memories of racial inequality was in middle school and I was on the basketball team. I did not play it didn't play well, but it was on the basketball team. And we, we were at this blue collar Catholic school that was essentially a mission school. And it was nothing almost no, no one, but black and Latino kids there. And then we had this pockmarked Jim wood gym floor that had just been lacquered over again and again and again, cause nobody could ever repair to pay to fix it.
2 (40m 0s):
We didn't have locker rooms. We had to change in like the custodial closet room. Then we went to this Catholic school in one of the suburbs where like all of the CEOs from Chicago live and we went into their gym middle school, same age, they had this rubber floor. And I was like, I didn't even know a rubber floor existed. Everything was clean and big and nice. And that's where you have to start to look right? Like our schools are, are hyper segregated.
2 (40m 31s):
And because of this racist funding model, they're also very on equal in terms of resources. I am so concerned about this upcoming school year because I live in a County. I live in a city where the County was listed in a USA today article as the fourth course County in, in the U S and in my town, which is 75% black, which you can trace back to the history of sharecropping and race-based chattel slavery, 41% live at or below the poverty line.
2 (41m 4s):
The state rate is less than 20%. So it's double the state. And even higher than that, if you look at some other areas around the country and you know, this is a rural area, so it comes with those issues. But what you got poor folks in urban areas who are going to be expected to do virtual classes. And I remember reading an article about a family, a single mom, three or four kids. They had to take turns on her cell phone to do their online coursework. They didn't all have iPads or computers or laptops or anything like that.
2 (41m 38s):
So anyway, I'm going on and on and on, because this is so critical that we recognize how race continues to function, not just across geographies, but apart from individual intentions and motivations. Right.
1 (41m 53s):
And I also think about the example you just used of schooling. It's something I've been also spending a lot of time reading about and thinking about as far as the kids in our state, who will not have access to the same education as my kids do. And just how unjust that is. And that was true honestly, before virtual learning, but it's become so visible to me even as we've been even more separated from each other because of, you know, staying at home. But seeing my daughter with her school issued Chromebook, doing, you know, engaging with her teachers and knowing that there are kids in cities, in Connecticut who certainly don't have their own Chromebooks that the school gave them years ago.
1 (42m 31s):
So they've been using for years, which prepare them and their teachers for this moment, but also knowing they don't have connectivity in their neighborhoods. And then that the school is basically providing worksheets if they can get them. I mean, so that alone, but then I also think about, and I very much believe that we should have actual government work done so that we can change our educational disparities. But I also think about the ways in which if churches saw this as a justice issue, that matters to the heart of God.
1 (43m 4s):
I don't know what creative things we could do, but wow, there are a lot of churches that do have access to wifi. There are a lot of churches that have educators in them. There are a lot of churches where you've got people who care about kids and who might be able to come up with creative solutions. There are a lot of churches that just have money for heaven sake. Like there's so much just in that one little area where no, we cannot solve the education crisis in America, but might there be a healing role for Christians to play when it comes in this moment to kids who are not getting the education that they absolutely deserve to receive.
1 (43m 45s):
So I'm with you. Okay.
2 (43m 47s):
I don't know if you're ordained, but you better preach.
1 (43m 52s):
I'm not ordained, but I do both officially and unofficially. Well, I have one more question and then I want to just make sure we record again where people can kind of find out more from you. So my last question is just to say, do you find any hope for the future of the church? Where does that come from? What does reconciliation look like? What are you seeing that actually does bring you a sense of?
2 (44m 18s):
So I think we have to understand sort of what sends a sense of not hopelessness, but gravity in the present moment. Seeing with my spiritual eyes, I see a deep and growing darkness in our world. I mean, I am on social media, but even I have had to step back because the doom and, and it's not just like bad news, it's, it's deeply troubling and disturbing news of human rights abuses.
2 (44m 54s):
And, you know, things keep going from bad to worse as the Bible might say. Right? So I think we need to be very sober about the times that we're in, which should also cause us to say, you know, to respond to the question, choose this day whom you will serve right now. Now I think, I think for Pete, for many people, especially if they're relatively shielded from injustices and oppression, whether through money or race or gender or something else, it can feel like wow, last happening.
2 (45m 30s):
But I don't know if like, you know, something more is going to happen or is there going to be another time when I get involved or I'm letting you know right now, now is the time like this is a massive movement for racial justice in particular, but for justice in general. And a lot of people say, well, if I had been alive during the civil rights movement, I would have marched. I would have boycotted. I would have protested. Well, guess what we are in the next wave of the civil rights movement right now, don't pretend as if you would have been involved in if you're not getting involved now.
2 (46m 2s):
So now is the time and you asked what gives hope. It's in the midst of this present and growing darkness that you see, God's remnant. God's people who are not all the ones who call on jesus' name. Right? Many, many call Lord, Lord, but they're not really dedicated to the Lord, but there is a remnant that God always has that is serious about Jesus and serious about justice. I know some of these folks, their team members at the witness of black Christian collective they're folks, I get to interact with like you who are taking this seriously and want to be part of the solution.
2 (46m 43s):
I think there's a, an awakening right now in the souls of Christians who, who realized that now, perhaps for the first time in their life, what it looks like to put their faith into action, particularly on, on behalf of the oppressed. So that's what gives me hope is knowing that, you know, the way God works is it's often not through a huge group of people. You know, it's through that small group, that's, that's truly dedicated whose faith has been refined and, and who continue to work for God's glory and for the love of their neighbor.
2 (47m 21s):
So I look for those points of light in, in, in small places and on the margins and praise be to God that that truth shines in the darkness.
1 (47m 31s):
Hmm. Yeah. Thank you. Well, I want to end just by giving one more plug for your book, the color of compromise, because not only does it do an equally engaging job as you have done right now in just telling the story of the American church, but you do also conclude with ways for people to get involved that are accessible and that are actually going to be a part of what you just said, like deciding right now that I'm going to be a part of this movement for justice, but will you also just end by telling us people want to know more about jemartisby and the work you're doing?
2 (48m 6s):
I'm so glad because this is certainly the beginning of a conversation and not the end or the continuance of a conversation. So if you want to keep the conversation going, there's a bunch of things you can do. You can go to our online book study for the color of compromise. So it's on Facebook, facebook.com/groups/the color of compromised facebook.com/groups/for color of compromise. My next book is available for preorder. It's called. Yeah.
2 (48m 35s):
Yeah. So the last chapter of the color of compromise talks about what we can do. Practical steps and strategies. And it's based around a model I've been developing called the arc of racial justice, which is an acronym that stands for awareness, relationships, commitment. So I just get to touch on it in the first book, but in the second book, it's entirely structured around the arc of racial justice. And is it is a book from beginning to end about practical ways to address racial justice.
2 (49m 6s):
And so for people looking for the next step, asking the question, all right, I believe you, but what do I do? How to fight racism, courageous Christianity, and the journey toward racial justice is available for preorder. Now you can also visit our websites, the witness bcc.com. And lastly, we started in October of 2019, something called the witness foundation. This is a fellowship program. We are looking to pilot it this upcoming year.
2 (49m 36s):
And what we want to do is address the racial wealth gap as it affects black Christian ministry. And so we know that according to different studies, what the median white family has 10 times the assets of the median black family, and this affects our ability to do ministry too. And so what we want to do is say, well, if we can offer grants of 25, 30, 30, $5,000 or more to promising black Christian leaders who are already doing good work, what might they be able to do even more now that some of this burden of the financial aspect.
2 (50m 9s):
And then along with that, we're, we're, we're having mentors, we're doing programming and training where we're going to build their capacity as leaders. And so if you want to financially support that, you can go to the witness foundation that CEO, the witness foundation does C O you can find out all kinds of dozens
1 (50m 28s):
Of people have already donated. We'd love for you to make a tangible contribution to racial justice. In this way, we will make sure that all of those addresses and links get into the show notes. And hopefully people will be quick to explore more because I know I'm going to be looking at pre-ordering your next book. And I'm really grateful for the work you're doing. I don't really know how you do it because you also are writing dissertation. Yeah. The answer is not well, I don't believe that, but I'm grateful that we got an hour of your time because it is clearly precious.
1 (51m 3s):
And I'm really, really grateful. Thank you for being with us. I enjoyed the conversation and thank you for your great questions. Hey friends, if you are new here, I just want to mention that there are some other really great episodes from earlier in the season. So I encourage you to take a look at those previous episodes and subscribe to this podcast so that you can stay up to date in the future. I've got some great guests who are coming on the show later on in the season, Kara Meredith Esau, McCaulley Dominick Gillyard Sabira Gordon.
1 (51m 39s):
So I'm really excited to share those interviews with you in the future. I'm also really grateful for those of you who are telling other people about this podcast and these conversations. Please keep sharing, share, you know, send a text to a friend, sharing this episode shared on social media, but let people know if this conversation has been helpful or encouraging to you, please let other people know about it. And if you have like a whopping three to five minutes to spare, I would also really appreciate you taking the time to rate or review love is stronger than fear.
1 (52m 10s):
Wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you so much for listening and I'll see you again. Next time.