Just some thoughts on racism…

Racism is not a faith issue; It is a love issue. The opportunity to push forward in the face of differences becomes imperative as we seek to reveal the goodness of God. Racism robs us of community and sidelines us to minimal interactions. Yes, we will always see color but color does not have to be the determining factor for us to release and accept love from others. My young cousin says vehemently, “Racism is learned.” How man y times have we heard such language? The problem is that if it is learned then is it possible to unlearn it.

Honestly, racism and love mix about as well as oil and water. They can be in the same container but they will never blend. So for a person to say they operate in love but hates a group of people is problematic and at best untrue. Racism automatically places a blinder in front of your eyes…regardless. For many whites, racism is a non-essential but for the majority of blacks it is an everyday reality. Yes, racism is not a faith issue but my faith is surely impacted by racism.

How I see God is deeply impacted by episodes of racism? I may not understand it or may not be able to articulate it but racism is a major participate in our understanding of who God is. James Cone articulates this well in God of the Oppressed, as he shows, that for white people, the impact of racism is not a functional necessity as it is in the life of black people. Because it is such an everyday occurrence, we (black people) must rehearse our responses much the same as one prepares for a play. That may strike some as odd but in my world it is a reality. My father told me what to do when the police stopped me. I told my son what to do if the police stopped him. I told my son what to say when the police stopped him. We rehearsed what to say when those sworn to protect us become the threat or the perceived threat.

It is sad that as Christians we have failed to break through the structure of racism and allotted for our own treehouses in our own backyards –the church. We have exegeted our racism and made it doctrinally permissive. We have made a mockery of the faith and called it denominations.

Thank God that the younger generations have a different perspective of the chaos that we have made of humanity.

The Color of Flood Relief

As I was going from place to place the last week, I realized something interesting — there was very little distinction between who helped whom. I saw neighbors in neighborhoods worrying over every house, people working together in very diverse groups, and people stopping in the street to chat. This wasn’t my realization though. 

My realization is that I really like post -flood Columbia. 

I mean I like it a lot. 

I know soon we’ll get back to our busy lives and largely ignore each other again, but what’s happening right now  is the Columbia I want to live all the time. It kind of feels like the end of A Christmas Carol, and I’m wishing or could be Christmas every day. 
That’s where I am right now. I’m grateful. 

My hope and my prayer for postdiluvian Columbia is that we’ll allow our hearts to remain open, that we’ll continue to see a more cooperative relationship among churches despite race or denomination; that neighbors will continue to stop each other on the street. 

My prayer is that the waters in which we were submerged were a baptismal deluge, and that we’re raised together into new life. Maybe not a perfect life yet, but I’ll take what I can get and celebrate every small victory I can. 
Keep it up my friends, thank God for you all. 

Welcome to My Normal: An Identity Shaped by Tension and Injustice

I remember the Saturday night that the Trayvon Martin verdict came out –not guilty. I had been attending Pilgrim Lutheran Church (PLC) for the past month but decided that would be my last service after that verdict. The people of PLC were great people but I couldn’t help but feel tension. It is a tension that resonates in the life and mind of black people who are in community with white people. It is the tension that is felt when something explosive and quite oppressive happens such as the Trayvon Martin murder. Michael Eric Dyson implies:

“So there are tensions and, in fact, these multiple tensions define my intellectual projects and existential identities: …But I think they are useful, edifying tensions, tensions that help reshape ongoing evolution as a thinker, writer, teacher, preacher and activist.”

It was that very moment when the verdict came down that I solidified, once again, that my identity was emblematic of an existential problem in America –racism. How would my blackness be affirmed at that moment? Would the gospel presentation address the racism linked with this decision? This was what plagued my mind and brought me to an unprecedented tension. This was not reflection of how the people of PLC treated me but it was more of an issue of identity. I needed to be around people I knew were grieving so that I could see how I should deal with the grief. I still remember the coldness that I felt when they let George Zimmerman walk out of the courtroom and gave him back the gun that killed young Trayvon Martin. I still remember the tears that I felt rolling down my cheek and how disconnected I felt, “God do you like black people?,” were the words that I screamed.

My identity called for something more than an exegetical sermon it called for some people to identify with me and my pain. Maybe, PLC could have done that but I was reluctant to even find out. (Truthfully, I stayed at home that Sunday and never attended another church for about 7 months.) I was making sense of what it meant to be diverse in a society that deems you the problem. I was wrestling with the notion if God had any affinity for the lives of black folks.

As a 41 year old black male there can be this intense feeling of impending doom around every corner –wrestling whether God is on my side is a normal reflection. To those who have not been kissed by nature’s son this may appear to be frivolous or trivial, but in my world it is a real issue. My identity is locked in how I see and experience God. Thus, when the verdict came down then God appeared to be unjust. The body of Christ appeared to be unjust because there was silence from many within the church. It is Dr. Martin Luther King who says,

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

The injustice of silence speaks through proverbial sounds of privilege. When we refuse to address the sin of racism, privilege and prejudice, we give credence to injustice. The murder of Trayvon Martin was an act of injustice that should have brought the church to a standstill with prayer –yet, we turned a blind-eye and accused the murdered teenager for looking like a “thug.”

(All of this entered my mind in that brief 10 seconds when Zimmerman was pronounced innocent.)

Conclusion

Eric Wolf said “The problem with being white in a world and in a denomination where being white is considered to be normal. When you’re normal, you don’t have to notice. It’s only if you’re not “normal” that you can’t help but notice; because if you don’t, many kind people will help to point that fact out.”

It becomes apparent that my “normal” and his normal are two different things. In my world, I am the norm but I also have to be vigilant and aware of the other norms in my space. And, the important thing about this reality is that it causes me to see and experience God differently. In all the places where Eric can walk with uncertainty on the Earth I have to be sure. I can’t be lackadaisical in my understanding of racism and privilege because it can get me killed. The moment that I forget that I am black is the moment, that, I think I can respond to a white police officer the same way that I have seen white guys respond. It is in that instance where my life will likely (be terminated.

The one place where I can wrestle with levels of uncertainty and feel a level of peace is in my view of God. Hopefully, God is just and will not destroy me if I forget that I am black.

From All the White Places: Seeking Racial Reconciliation In One of the Whitest Synods of one of the Whitest Denominations

The Problem with Being White To say that Brian Foulks is a Master’s candidate is like saying that Chuck Berry kind of plays the guitar. Brian is a multiple degree holder and is currently working on his third Master’s at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, … Continue reading From All the White Places: Seeking Racial Reconciliation In One of the Whitest Synods of one of the Whitest Denominations

Just a Few of Us: Being Black in the ELCA and SC Synod

I came back to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2012 after having a conversation with a professor that would later become a mentor. At his prompting, along with many others, I made a decision to enter into the ordination process of the ELCA. For me that brought mass levels of trepidation because of the horror stories I heard about the process. It became another process in my life that would become a part of my redemptive story. I knew the commitment would be stringent and I decided to make that plunge.

My journey was completely different because I already had pastoral experience and two master degrees- one from Liberty University and the other from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (the seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University). It was a step into a world that was foreign to my world – the “Black Church.” Yes, we serve the same God but my experience in life was vastly different than most of the Lutherans that I had met. Then on June 17, 2015 my life and work was flipped upside down as 9 black bodies were massacred while attending a Bible Study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. Honestly, my quest to finish the ordination process almost came to a squelching halt as I debated becoming a pastor in the AME church. I wanted to show my solidarity with the good people of the AME and the black community in general, and being a part of the ELCA seemed counter-cultural.

Yes, I wrestled with how can I be a part of a denomination that would produce a murderer of beautiful black people? How would the ELCA respond to such a tragedy? How would the SC Synod respond to such an atrocity? These are the existential questions that pummeled my mind daily. The queries that stood as constant reminders that as much as I we try to ignore it…color does matter.

My being a part of the ELCA in the SC Synod heightened my awareness of the lack of cultural competency that we have in America. I watched as white Lutherans tried to make sense of this terrorist act and to find answers. I watched as black people mourned yet again, wrestling with the constant reminders that there are no safe spaces; tired of forgiving white folks for their senseless hate at the expense of their black bodies. And, here I was in the beginning stages of being a part of this denomination.

Reflecting on the past three months has brought me to strange places in my faith. I wish I could say that I have it all figured out and I am comfortable in all the confines of the ELCA and SC Synod but I can’t. I see the stares, not sure if they are disbelief, utter rejection or simply shock, but they are noticeable. I still feel the overcompensation because of the overtly racist atmosphere that is cultivated in the south. It is understandable, but it also resonates with my soul that we still have so much work to do. There are many beautiful people in the SC Synod of the ELCA that I have met in the last three months. We have talked and broke bread as well as visited with each other during a Sunday service, but, I state again, we have such a long road ahead.

I have been asked, “Why would a black man decide to become a part of the ELCA –the whitest denomination in America.” (according to Pew Research) Then on top of that become a part of a synod that has only ordained one black clergy member.

How does one really reconcile that in their mind?

God is up to something a lot bigger than me…

Racism: America’s Heresy — Learning to Choose Jesus

Just Another Day on Facebook

This past week I posted this on my Facebook page and got a really big response.

Bear in mind, when I say “big” what I mean is “big for me” — over 100 Likes, 15 Shares, 80+ comments — which is my version of something going viral. The KKK ChallengeScreenshot of my Facebook post.

My own comment was this, as you see in the picture:

Dear KKK, since you’re a group of Christians, I’d like to introduce you to 1 John 4:20-21.

“4:20 Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

Pay particular attention to 4:20, that one is fairly important. I can’t wait to see your Christian response! 🙂

#racismisheresy

Now to be fair, I didn’t think I was going out on any big limbs here; and much to the credit of my friends and my own taste in friends, none of them said anything hateful, hurtful, or spiteful. I really just wanted to point out that it’s impossible for the KKK to be a Christian organization because their white supremacist program is antithetical to Christianity.

The thing I thought might draw some strange looks is the #racismisheresy hashtag.

The idea that racism isn’t just a bad idea or the usual sort of socially hateful thing, but that it’s actually a heresy, is one that I don’t think is terribly controversial when you really get down to it. But it is rare for us to brand something as heresy in today’s age because even in the orthodox Christian faith (those who confess the Trinity, believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that one day Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead), we’re a seriously diverse group of people. If there’s a belief, there’s a group out there who disagrees with it or thinks of it differently.

But when does diversity of opinion become heresy?

Racism isn’t listed in the classic Christological Heresies that we learn about in Sunday School — what, y’all didn’t talk about Arianism, Modalism, Apollinarism, or Monophysitism in Sunday School?

Okay, then you probably would learn about them in a college level religious studies course at any reputable institution, or in seminary at least. I guess not all of us read books about heresy in our spare time as high school students. At any rate, racism certainly isn’t a heresy that’s widely thought of as being one, even though at this point any rational person should be able to agree that it’s wrong; but wrong does not always equal heresy.

…heresy begins at the point that we must choose between Jesus and our own opinions. Christianity isn’t a faith rooted in who we hate together, but in the idea that the world hates us because we reject the notion that we can love God and exclude anyone.

The reason the Christological heresies are well-known is that they’re points of doctrine, and became important when Christianity was figuring out what it really meant to be Christian when it was no longer defined by being the whipping boy of Roman persecution. Disagreeing with the orthodox understanding of how God is Trinity is heretical because this understanding is at the center of our self-understanding. You can choose to believe God is Trinity — Three Persons, yet one God — or you are choosing to not be Christian. You can choose to believe the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he will judge the living and the dead — or you are choosing to not be Christian.

This is why racism is heresy. As 1 John 4 says, if you say you love God but hate your brother or sister, you’re a liar. You can choose to hate people based on their race, but you’re also choosing to not be Christian.

Simply put, heresy begins at the point that we must choose between Jesus and our own opinions. Christianity isn’t a faith rooted in who we hate together, but in the idea that the world hates us because we reject the notion that we can love God and exclude anyone.


Jesus Stares Down Prejudice

This heresy is actually one that has a name, and it’s Phyletism, from the Greek root phyli- meaning race or tribe. This type of decision against God is an old one, even though it’s fallen out of favor for us to name as such. How old is this, you might ask?

If you look at the ministry of Jesus, he never really excludes a single person. Even the Pharisees, Chief Priests, and scribes are people he continually urges toward repentance — even with Pilate, Jesus pushes him in an attempt to make him choose a side. Jesus is someone who opens doors that are closed by his culture. Because he’s someone who obeys the will of God above all else, he opens doors that he would prefer closed — he’s a First Century Palestinian Jew, with his own cultural predispositions after all.

[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. — Mark 7:24-30

What we see here is Jesus wrestling with his own racism. The meaning of Jesus calling her a dog (kynos in Greek, translated as harmlessly as “little dog” or as offensively as “little bitch” depending on the commentator) is obviously that Jesus meant to be insulting and dismissive toward her to get her out of his way. He was tired, he was ready to be alone, and then this woman who his people despised was there to ask him to help her? Of course he would send her packing.

Her response was much kinder than his in this case — she reminded him of who God is, and because Jesus always chooses the will of God when his will is in conflict with God’s will, Jesus repents and cleanses her daughter of the spirits.

This is really important: perfection doesn’t mean that Jesus would be the best baseball player ever if he played baseball. Perfection means that Jesus always chooses the will of God, and God’s will is love for God’s people. Jesus hears her response and changes his mind because hating the Syrophoenician woman would be counter to the will of God.

Jesus recognized that he can’t choose God and his own cultural racism.

We can’t choose Jesus and racism.

We can’t choose Jesus and hatred.

We’re either Christians or we embrace the bigotry of our culture.

You cannot love God and hate your neighbor.

If you say you do, you’re a liar.

I didn’t say that, the author of 1 John said that. But along with everyone else, I have to face that this is true about me, too.

Yes, this is an uncomfortable truth. It’s uncomfortable because we’re all trapped in the bonds of prejudice and cannot free ourselves. If you heard some of the stupid things that go through my brain you’d be ashamed of me and for me. But racism goes deeper than simple impulsive prejudice, because racism is the act of intentionally showing favor toward one group and malice toward another. It’s the result of choosing to live into those impulses intentionally — it’s intentionally choosing my brokenness over Jesus. It’s intentionally choosing to do evil to someone when we have an opportunity to do good, and it’s choosing what’s good for me

Racism is America’s heresy because it’s forged into the very fabric of our culture from the very earliest times in our history — white people are “normal” and catered to; everyone else, especially black people, are different, other, and expendable. We who enjoy the privilege of being white, male, straight, and comfortable in our own gender enjoy just about every advantage our nation has to offer — privilege and power combined to give us the easiest possible start and grease the wheels the whole way.

It’s America’s heresy because it’s so engrained in the fabric of our nation’s culture that many of us don’t even notice it when it happens, because our “normal” is permeated by it. It’s so normal to us and we’re so blinded to it, that when we hear about it we believe that it can’t be true, even if we know it is.

It’s time to step out of the comfortable lie and face the truth that our culture nurses and embraces this heresy.

Let’s learn to choose Jesus.