Something happened to the national conscience on May 26, 2020, as cellphone video emerged of now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—hands tucked casually inside of his uniformed pant pockets—kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds, snuffing the life out of him as three other cops looked on.
Almost immediately, people in Minneapolis took to the streets, defying social distancing orders to demand justice and denounce the police. As the COVID summer wore on, every state in America and dozens of countries around the world saw similar protests (and even now, protests continue). Antiracism books flew off shelves, launching history and race authors onto bestsellers lists. Christians who had never taken to the streets before, including often silent Asian-American communities, spearheaded solidarity marches for Black lives.
So it would seem that through his final breaths, Floyd persuaded Americans who had previously been oblivious, antagonistic, or shy about confronting racism to propel their bodies onto the streets and, in some cases, face off with militarized police forces. Many of these newly-persuaded protesters were noticeably White people—seen among crowds pulling down statues of Confederates and colonialists, chanting “no justice, no peace,” and holding placards aloft that declared White Silence Is Violence.
Floyd’s murder may have indeed been the catalyst for the surge of corporate diversity statements, a football team finally changing its racist name, and acknowledgement by the NFL that Colin Kaepernick was, in fact, right. But revelations about the earlier unjust killings of Elijah McClain in Colorado, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky at the hands of law enforcement or White vigilantes certainly added fuel to fire.
Outrage over their deaths have been expressed in calls to “defund the police”—that is, abolish the police or reallocate funds from police departments into community services—and resulted in noteworthy changes. Among measures targeting police accountability and bias crimes, Georgia passed a hate crime law; Aurora, Colorado, banned chokeholds; and Louisville, Kentucky, banned no-knock warrants in a law named after Breonna Taylor (whose killers remain free). Despite these changes and intense scrutiny, police keep killing Black people, and at a disproportionate rate (20 percent of people killed by police in the wake of Floyd’s death were Black, while Black people are just 13 percent of the U.S. population).
And now, as the season changes, White people say they are tired. But it’s not the same kind of soul-crushing fatigue experienced by Black activists and others who regularly engage in justice work.
Support for the Black Lives Matter movement has waned among Whites and Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center, and White Christians have become less motivated to address racial injustice, with fewer even acknowledging America’s race problem compared to last year, Barna Group reports.
The one group that consistently presses on because they cannot afford to take time for granted—or rely on “good White people”—are Black folk.
An ‘Unprecedented’ Time
In the Bible kairos is used to convey an opportune time for a crucial event. In the New Testament, Jesus uses the Greek word often to speak of special divinely-appointed moments; God moments.
In their 1985 “Challenge to the Church,” a group of South African theologians working to topple their Apartheid oppressors plead with fellow Christians and their countrymen, insisting: “This is the KAIROS, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action.”
According to Dr. Irwyn Ince, executive director of the Institute for Cross Cultural Mission (ICCM), God is always working. Their clients have been predominantly White.
He seems to be working on the hearts of White Christians.
In the past three months, Ince’s Washington, D.C., organization aimed at preparing Christians for cross-cultural ministry has seen a 600 percent jump in inquiries.
“And it’s directly related to the reality of racial injustice and racism being put in bold release in the public square, and churches trying to figure out ‘what do we do with it,’” Ince said.
Ince is also assistant pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C. and author of The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best. He is also the first African-American man elected to be moderator of the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly.
Because of his work and experiences in a predominantly White denomination, Ince has a unique vantage point when it comes to taking the church’s pulse on race.
Like Ince, the Rev. Michael McBride, or Pastor Mike, has gained certain insights over the last 20 years working at the intersection of faith, racial justice, and community mobilization.
A survivor of police abuse, McBride leads The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, California, as well as campaigns addressing gun violence and mass incarceration among young ethnic minorities. As a former member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, McBride also works with the Black Church PAC to address the need for strong political leaders invested in racial equity.
Although he’s hopeful that his young daughters will see a brighter future, he blames White Christian Nationalism for the current “nightmare” many Americans of color find themselves in.
“It’s definitely the rise of white nationalism, Christofascism, [and] Christian nationalism that has been catalyzed by Donald Trump and his sycophants,” McBride told FM. “It’s quite terrible to have to live through it and endure it. So yes, it’s a daily nightmare. And I’m hoping we can wake up from it after November.”
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, acknowledged by the White House, the NAACP, and the Vatican for her work on the frontlines in Ferguson, Missouri, amid the 2014 uprisings after Michael Brown’s death, said she is appalled to see how civility has essentially been thrown out the window.
“It’s not like we had the Civil Rights Movement and now everyone loves each other. But there were expectations on behavior. There were expectations on public expression. There were expectations on how one had to treat another person, and now you have political leadership that not only violates that himself, but also condones and complements those that violate it with him,” Blackmon told FM. “So there’s this permission to be othering.”
Blackmon, associate general minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ, is also senior pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. She believes one of the primary objectives for the U.S. church in this moment is deciding “what is going to be our role in trying to play a part in restoring human dignity and decency into a society that’s been ripped apart.”
The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, is a decades-long member of the Southern Baptist Convention—whose claim as the largest U.S. Protestant denomination is overshadowed by its racist roots.
McKissic, who has successfully pushed his denomination to take official stances against the Confederate flag and the white supremacist alt-right, says the SBC can’t do much about its racist DNA. However, it can choose how to remember its slaveholding founders—and it shouldn’t be in a positive light.
The Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible author is on a new mission to persuade, or pressure, the SBC’s flagship seminary to stop openly celebrating its racist founders by maintaining their names on buildings. The school’s four founders owned more than 50 slaves between them and two of the founders served the Confederacy.
Although the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary acknowledged its founders’ theological defense of slavery and the school’s racist culture two years ago, its current president remains indignant about dropping the founding slaveowners’ names from its chapel and other buildings, including an affiliated college. The school bookstore even sells coffee mugs with imagery of its white supremacist founders.
“Who names something after their kidnappers? Nobody,” McKissic asserted.
For Van Moody, pastor of The Worship Center Christian Church and bestselling author of The People Factor, how those who say they represent Jesus choose to act in this moment will have a direct impact on the future of the church.
For him, “it’s a gospel issue and it’s a credibility issue.”
“I think if we don’t get this right, we’re gonna look up one day down the road and realize that we lost a whole generation of people,” he said.
Younger Christians who crave authenticity “are looking for our faith to be walked out in real time, not to be platitudes that we preach from an elevated position on Sunday morning or through our digital platforms,” according to Moody.
Feeling a sense of urgency about the times and overlooking his disappointment in “pro-life” White church leaders who choose to remain silent in the wake of Floyd’s and Taylor’s deaths, the Alabama pastor has embarked on a months-long teaching series to help Christians grasp how systemic racism has marginalized Black Americans on nearly every front and what the Bible has to say about it.
Moody, who defended meeting with President Donald Trump in 2018, believes recent high-profile police killings have “brought a national kind of awakening and international awakening to this issue.”
“It’s funny how many believers have been praying for a revival,” he said. “I think the revival is coming, but it’s not what they expected.”
These are just some of the issues and concerns that Black Christian leaders Faithfully Magazine spoke with expressed, and expound on in the following panel.
Representing different religious expressions and varying theological views, they all agreed that there is indeed something unprecedented about the present time, although what the nation is experiencing—racial animus even in the face of a racial awakening, political subterfuge, and the ebb of human decency—is not necessarily new. Yet, we are faced with an opportunity to decide which way we will go and what kind of nation we will be. Only time will tell if we will rise to the challenge, or miss the mark and face a prolonged reckoning.
Editor’s note: Faithfully Magazine made efforts to include more women’s voices in this panel, but due to technical difficulties, deadlines, and other challenges, was regretfully unable to do so.
Q&A with Dr. Irwyn Ince, the Rev. Michael McBride, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Rev. Dwight McKissic, and the Rev. Van Moody
To navigate this panel, readers can click on specific questions to jump to their related responses:
- What do you make of the present time we’re in and what do you see as the church’s most important role right now?
- Do you think this is a kairos moment?
- What things do you think need to happen to move the country and the church forward on racial justice?
- Do you think there is anything missing from the protests or conversations about racial justice?
- Are you hopeful?/What things keep you hopeful?
- Miscellaneous Questions
Some people say we are in “unprecedented” times. What do you make of the present time we’re in and what do you see as the church’s most important role right now?
Ince: It is difficult to make an accurate assessment in the moment. Very typically, we’re much better looking hindsight to see what was happening as we try to respond now. I understand that word, ‘unprecedented,’ utilized to describe this moment. I think it can be somewhat accurate, in terms of this generation. Since the Civil Rights era, you find this in the American context, this national outcry and uprising over racial injustice, police brutality, and the like. I just think it’s a combination of things. I don’t think it’s simply this moment, the pandemic shutdown and the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and these things being in public display. Yes, absolutely.
I think that people, like Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative and books like Just Mercy and Michelle Alexander and The New Jim Crow, people have been talking. There’s been kind of a groundswell of groundwork of seeing how racial bias and justice is still a reality. Systemic injustice is still a reality in America. So now we just kind of…put it in front of people’s eyes all over the world, and people are responding to it.
My heartbeat is this, [as expressed] in my book called The Beautiful Community, is to see the church reflect the heart of God as it relates to being a body unified in diversity. Yes, in local congregations but even more so, as the Church…in the United States of America. The responsibility, in my estimation is…for the church to engage differently than it did during the civil rights era.
So, what I mean is, the majority White church—let’s just start there. The kinds of ways in which it was not simply dismissive of the fight for justice and equality. But it, in large part, worked against it. This is antithetical to what we find in the scriptures, and so the church has a responsibility to wrestle rightly and be a voice, promoting what is good and right and just. So finding ways to do that, to engage in this conversation and speak forthrightly for the cause of justice. That is a part of the church’s responsibility.
McBride: Well, I am a survivor of police brutality. In 1999, I was physically, sexually assaulted by police officers. And so that is actually what launched my ministry into social justice beyond the pulpit. So I can remember back in 1999 how very few individuals were involved in any form or kind of social justice as it relates to the church, particularly in the Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical space. Fast forward some 25 years, you know, having been in Ferguson and many of the uprisings that followed subsequently, it is a blessing to see an effort that has largely been, as one of my friends said, rocky road ice cream in its representation to now having 31 flavors out in the streets.
But it’s important to, I think, remember and appreciate that even right now we’re seeing the protest fatigue of even some of our would-be allies who are finding that the kind of intensity of the protest and perhaps even the slow walking of the response by elected officials to run out the clock, knowing and hoping that people will just return back to a regularly scheduled calendar of distractions to demonstrate that protest alone will not bring about change. We need systemic and structural reform. Some say we need a revolution of values and a revolution of priorities, but we certainly need a very different and much more expansive imagination beyond protest by the 31 flavors that are showing up in the street. So I hope that we can get to that point eventually. Because that has to be the next step.
“I believe that we are in a heightened state of violence. And all of that violence isn’t physical. It’s emotional violence, it’s verbal violence, it’s spiritual violence.” – The Rev. Traci Blackmon
Blackmon: That’s a complicated question. What I think we are seeing culturally and socially in this moment is a different kind of awakening. And I wish that I could say that the process [of] that awakening was brought on solely by the state-sanctioned violence against Black people. In particular, the moment of George Floyd’s death as a focal point of this.
I believe that while George Floyd’s death might have been the last straw, that what we are experiencing in an awakening is also connected to the political climate of the last four years. Through a national leadership in our highest office and below that has increasingly become a more racially intolerant, more xenophobic, more blatant in white supremacist actions and thought, and more vocal about that in ways that we have not seen in my lifetime.
I’m 57, and I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Even at that time, there were voices in the highest levels of office in government that…always served as a check and balance of racist rhetoric, because we have a president and a Senate who are acting in sync in that way. We have judges that have been appointed, over 100 judges, and federal positions and Supreme Court nominees and attorney generals that are all speaking this racialized rhetoric. I believe that we are in a heightened state of violence. And all of that violence isn’t physical. It’s emotional violence, it’s verbal violence, it’s spiritual violence.
We see even in the realm of church, this division of church to be the religious right—so they call themselves, or the conservative arm, and the progressive liberal arm or the left. Yet, we all claim to follow the same Jesus in the Christian realm. We’re seeing those divisions in other faith expressions, as well. So what I believe George Floyd’s death did in the height of an epidemic, where people have been sheltering in place, where people’s lives have been interrupted and then to see this man, literally asphyxiated on the asphalt in Minneapolis with such casualness by someone who was in a uniform was just the tipping point that caused people of all skin tones and people globally to recognize that we could not be silent anymore. And that literally all of our breaths were at risk.
McKissic: I believe we are experiencing in America and the world, not only as it relates to police brutality and responses to that, but as it relates to just about every realm of society, we’re seeing a disruption. And I believe God is the source of that disruption, that’s designed to lead to a reset. A reset of doing things in a manner that would be more pleasing to God. It would honor His name, particularly among His people.
The George Floyd incident obviously didn’t just impact the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area. The entire world responded to the George Floyd incident in a way that I think is unprecedented. I’ve never seen a global response to an incident of police brutality ever before in my life to the extent that was a response to this.
As a result, businesses have weighed in, sports have weighed in, education is impacted, congregations, preachers, it has had a ripple effect on every area of society. So, I’m grateful to see the evangelicals acknowledge that there is a beast in the system. Many of them would not acknowledge that, or if they did, they would only want to talk about just an infinitesimal number or a few bad apples. […]
The evangelical church, we had a march in my city and about 2,000 people marched, and probably 1,700 of them were White people. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. The number of White people who have protested in this march probably are unprecedented. And many of them did it driven by Christ and culture and justice. So, I’m a little bit encouraged, actually, by what I’ve seen on that front. There was like a crack in the dam of the evangelical church being dismissive, insensitive and responding much like they did when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that letter from the Birmingham jail. Rather than just sit out [on] something like this, but see it as a problem in the same way they see abortion as a problem. But I think this was a wake up call. Things are beginning to change. I don’t think we’re there where [things] ought to be, but we did see movement and significant movement in the right direction.
Do you think this is a kairos moment?
Ince: I think that that is accurate […] God is always at work, I think. It is maybe a kairos moment in this regard, that He is giving us [an] opportunity to respond in a righteous way, as His people. We would rather not have Black bodies dying at the hands of law enforcement. We would rather not have policies that harm the opportunity for image bearers to flourish. But, we can no longer ignore its reality. Because it is in front of our face. So it is a kairos moment in the sense that God is saying, ‘OK, here it is. What are you going to do? What are you going to say?’
McBride: Well, I definitely think that we are at a crossroads as a nation, as a people, dare I say as civilization. Climate change, the rise of authoritarianism, the consciousness being raised of the masses to these realities. I think the future is unwritten. It’s left in our hands. And so if a kairos moment means that we have a unique moment in history, and we must respond with faithfulness, courage, and fidelity, yes, indeed. But this kairos moment is a result of many smaller moments, moments that people have to either make or choose to be a part of every day. And so yes, we have 50 days until an election. That’s a kairos moment and I hope everybody takes seriously that we gotta make many choices over the next several weeks, that will not betray the moment that we’re in, or else it will all be in vain.
Blackmon: No, because for me kairos time is God-appointed. I don’t consider this God-appointed time. I consider this the consequences of our sin, if I was going to put it in theological terms. It’s that moment when we have to come face to face with who we are and who we’ve become and decide who we’re going to be.
I spent most of my morning this morning in conference calls with my staff about preparing for this election, of course, and preparing from a church standpoint. So we want people to vote, we don’t tell people how to vote. I don’t have an interest in telling people how to vote. I want people to vote their principles, or at least what you profess [your] principles to be. I think if people do that, we’ll be OK. I always think that, Red or Blue. However, that wasn’t the conversation we needed to have. We needed to have, as the church, [a conversation about] what is going to be our role in trying to play a part in restoring human dignity and decency into a society that’s been ripped apart. No matter who wins on November 3…whether it’s Republican or Democrat, we still have a nation that has been torn apart. And who’s going to do the work of repairing and rebuilding relationships in a capacity to see one another as human beings, whether we agree with one another or not. Who’s modeling that?
There was a time when even in politics people modeled that. I mean that’s a part of the rule with John McCain, right? I’m not a John McCain fan, but I respect his service to this country in the military and certainly I respect his service to this country in the legislature. So who are the John McCains? Who are the John Lewises here, to a certain extent, who will cross over the aisle and have civil discourse with one another even if you disagree? Who are those people? That didn’t start with Donald Trump. I can’t put that all at the feet of Donald Trump. I don’t think Donald Trump is responsible for everything. I think Donald Trump exists because of the climate that we were creating. So who’s going to do the work of repair? At one time, it would be the church. But the church is complicit in the chasms that are formed in this country now.
“It’s funny how many believers have been praying for a revival. I think the revival is coming, but it’s not what they expected.” – The Rev. Van Moody
McKissic: This was like divine intervention. I think you can’t explain the response other than [pointing to] God, because that [George Floyd’s death] was the more dramatic case of brutality. But there are so many other cases of police brutality that didn’t get this response, so, yes, I would agree this was a kairos moment. I’ve watched corporations seek out how they can provide scholarships, how they can help Black businesses.… So [there have been] all kinds of tangible responses to this, positive responses because [even] the NFL has been impacted just in ways we have not seen before. So, yes, this was a kairos moment.
Moody: I do think that it’s not necessarily that the issue is new and not even that the information is new. But I think that every so often, God will open a door and a window for change, for revival. For a number of different words that I could use to explain the same thing, kind of a kairos, God moment. I do think, though, there are some times in history where people have stepped through them well, and there have been other moments in history where people have missed it. The verdict is still out for us in this present day. […]
I think that the unfortunate murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others… It’s really interesting, I think it’s brought a national kind of awakening and international awakening to this issue. It’s funny how many believers have been praying for a revival. I think the revival is coming, but it’s not what they expected. I think that God has really moved upon the hearts of people to recognize that this is ugly. This is sinful. This is not right. And I do believe that there are more people that want it to change. It’s unfortunate, though, that there are a number of people in positions of power that don’t. Once again, I’m not daunted by that. I just think that if more people stand up and represent Christ adequately, he’ll do the rest.
Where do we go from here? What things do you think need to happen to move the country and the church forward on racial justice? What are some things you would like to see realized?
Ince: I don’t pretend to be an expert on all things policy, but I’ll take it from this angle first. First, practically speaking, that this can no longer be a matter of debate with the church, that the church shouldn’t have a voice and a role to play in the promotion of justice or it shouldn’t be left only to a segment of the church that is most affected by injustice. There needs to be a shift, an ecclesial shift, in the conversation and a willingness for pastors of majority culture churches, White churches or majority White churches to speak into this, to engage issues of race and justice in their congregation. As a matter of discipleship. As a matter of saying how do you learn as a Christian to navigate life in reality in the public square as to what matters. So here’s the discipleship aspect of it. There’s a practical reality.
Then is the engagement of organizations that do focus on policy, and what does it look like for public policy that ought to be supported. For example—again these things are not new. One of the organizations that practically should be engaged and supported is the Center for Public Justice… [The organization] literally publishes guidelines for government and citizens from a robust Christian perspective, that does the work of saying what does good policy look like in policing and education and government, citizenship. What kind of principles for racial justice and policing should we be thinking about? So, practically speaking, taking advantage of or engaging with people who [are] doing good work and not relegating it to some side conversation [as] has been done, by and large.
McBride: Our strategy, we call it bring the HEAT. We want to reimagine public safety and policing in this country. So for us, HEAT is an acronym that talks about how do we reimagine the profession of policing around hiring, equipment, accountability, and training. That in the 300 years of policing in this country, we have not come to a consensus as a country that you can’t be a racist. You can’t hold racial animus nor socialize with overtly racist people—Ku Klux Klan members, alt-right members, the Proud Boys, the Booglaoo Boys—you can’t associate with these individuals and be a cop. We have not come to that consensus in 300 years of this profession. So I would like for us to at least have a baseline that you can’t be a racist and be a cop. I would like for us to have a baseline that we should reallocate 30, 40, 50 percent of our police budgets into public safety beyond policing community alternatives. We know strategies that reduce gun violence in communities by 30, 40, 50 percent without needing an overwhelming presence of police. Why not invest in those? We know that much of the violence in our communities is related to crimes of poverty. Why not solve the issue of poverty?
What does it mean for us to take seriously that policing does not equate to public safe? So when people say that the Black community needs police—no, the Black community needs public safety. And we need faith leaders to have an imagination around public safety that is not over-determined by policing. We need the faith community to not be the wet blanket on this historic moment just because we have members in our church who are police officers, just because we have members in our church who are police chiefs. Their membership in our churches cannot override the 95 percent of our congregations’ reality that policing, too often, terrorizes Black people. […]
It does not mean in my vision that we have to abolish every single police officer, but we should abolish the kind of policing that is embedded in anti-Blackness, in terrorizing Black communities in order to get to a ‘safe community.’ We have to abolish that kind of policing and reimagine it and I hope that that’s what we’re able to do in the next several years. Because budget implications are at stake, the literal lives and minds of our people are at stake, the country’s unity is at stake. This issue of criminal justice reform and policing is creating fissures in this country that will not easily be solved. So we have a lot of work to do, I think, in a short amount of time to make sure we as the church who believe in the Prince of Peace, become people not so committed to war and violence, and I hope we can pull it off.
Blackmon: Those of us who are called to be of a higher mind and a higher office theologically, whether we are on the right side or the left side, we have got to begin modeling again the ability to hear one another and to see one another and to respect one another and to care for one another’s humanity, even when we don’t agree. I mean, that’s a part of the priestly role, right? We have no civilization if we can’t be civilized with one another. We have watched, politically, people…[fight] about benefits that are life and death for people. Life and death. And we’re arguing over things that don’t matter. […]
McKissic: I don’t know how you can honor slaveholders without affirming slavery. I don’t know how you defend the honor of slaveholders and label them as being orthodox when they rejected the image of God—all men created equal in the image of God. I don’t know how you label somebody who thinks like that orthodox. I don’t know why you would invite people into a place where certain students who are aware of this, many are not, have to make peace with the fact that the library I utilize and the chapel I sit in and then the undergraduate program’s degree with my name [also has] the names [John A.] Broadus and [James P.] Boyce. Those were people whose names personified racial inequality and inferiority and who actually owned slaves. Plus, [these were] slaves of the founders of Southern [Baptist Theological] Seminary [who] generated the funds from those slave labors to fund this school. How do you do that with integrity? And how do you honor the slaveholders and not honor the very slaves that generated the money?
Take the name of Broadus Chapel at Southern [Baptist Theological] Seminary and rename it [for] somebody who—I can’t tell them how to name it—but the name of a person that certainly would not be so offensive and egregious and has gone on record not wanting Black people [at the seminary]. It took 100 years…before they would even allow Black people in there, because of the culture and the climate and the policies that those founding fathers of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary laid down. [….] Get rid of the names. Who names something after their kidnappers? Nobody. […]
The founder [Basil Manly Sr] of [this] school called free Blacks ‘incubus.’ He moved the school from Greenville, South Carolina, to Louisville, Kentucky, to get away from free Black people […] This is the DNA of that school, and there’s nothing they could do about that. But you can’t keep lauding and celebrating these people and selling their coffee mugs and T-shirts and putting their names on chapels. You can do something about that. Those people died unrepentant, they never repented for these actions and beliefs.
Moody: There [are] a ton of smaller things that I can point to, but it starts with the greatest commandment that Jesus gave, that the church love others as Christ loved us. I think if we get that right and honor and respect the dignity of people, because we’ve been all made in the image and likeness of Jesus. We’ve all been made in the image of God. So if we were [committed] to loving people and respecting them, then I think the natural flow from that are issues of police reform, are the issues of dismantling systemic racism.
Because all of these other things that we point to actually flow out of a lack of love and a lack of respect and a lack of honor. Even if I’m different from you, if I’m rich or poor, gay or straight, Black or White, I’m still created in the image of God. And if you really love the Lord, then you have to love me. It’s in 1 John 4:20: ‘How can you love the Lord whom you’ve not seen and hate your brother who you see every day?’ You can’t do it. If the church is really going to be the church and represent Christ, then the vertical reality of people packing out churches and all that kind of stuff has got to be lived in how we treat one another. If we would just get that right, America would be a much better place.
“It’d be great for us to have a deeper conversation around universal basic income, full job programs, reparations, you know, all of these kinds of financial empowerment and stabilization efforts that we know would put Black people on more solid footing.” – The Rev. Michael McBride
Do you think there is anything missing from the ongoing protests or conversations about racial justice?
Ince: One of the things I’ve been encouraged by is to see a large Christian response to the protests. So what’s different today is that it’s not staying organized and pushed out of the historic Black church in the public square. But, Christians are recognizing the need to speak up and not be silent and to engage, even in protest marches, to a large extent. So, I don’t know that I would say something is missing, in the sense that [there] should be a change in the protests. You might say, I, in my heart of hearts, would desire that there would be a Christian, Christ-centered, hopefulness and motivation that is at the heart of it. But I’m not going to force that on to the protests. I would say that the church has the opportunity to engage with that heart.
McBride: Well, I do think that we need to have a much more robust vision of the social contract with this country and Black America that does not respond to our worst conditions with more violence, incarceration, policing, etc. And so what does it mean to reimagine the state’s response to Black people economically? It’d be great for us to have a deeper conversation around universal basic income, full job programs, reparations, you know, all of these kinds of financial empowerment and stabilization efforts that we know would put Black people on more solid footing. That requires a certain kind of political education that I think is not readily available to everyone because many of us are just everyday fighting to make our ends meet. But we who are in the streets, we [who] are organizers, we who are faith leaders, we who are activists and advocacy folks, I hope that we have a deeper political vision for this country beyond representation.
Representation is not enough. If the country is adrift, we need rudders for justice. We need a compass for hope and peace. We need champions for equity. So we need to expand some of that. But you know, I’m not one who criticizes folks who are doing everything we can. I mean, folks think that being an activist and a protester in this moment [means you] wake up every day with joy. It’s quite a burden. So a lot of us are doing the best we can under the conditions where we’re enduring.
Blackmon: What I think is missing is what’s always been missing, [which] is an accurate historical narrative of this country, of the history of policing, of the racialization of our judicial system. None of that is in the narrative, so it is like taking a Scripture out of a story and just talking about some Scripture and not looking at it in context, or pulling up a scene in a movie not knowing what came before or after it and critiquing the movie on [that] thing. […] So tearing down statues was never about statues. It was about the lies that this country represents and idolizes through those statues. That is not the truth of this country. […] These Confederate people were not heroes, they were treasonous, and yet we have statues that concretize them as some kind of hero, which is a false narrative. […]
For me, hearing the phrase ‘defund police’ is not so much about not wanting police, though there are people who think we would be better off without law enforcement, but it’s about paying attention to the social services that are underfunded. And the way that police units are funded at military-type rates that support a structure that would say certain people should be controlled, instead of investing in a better life for all of our citizens. There’s a deeper conversation than what happened just in a chant or in an action or in the street. […] So there are things, yes, that I think are deeper than what we’ve seen, but they’re not hard to see if we want to look.
Are you hopeful?/What things keep you hopeful?
Ince: In the main, I’m hopeful. Not because my hopefulness is in people to do the right thing or respond in the right way. But my hope is in God and His promise. His desire, His plan, His purposes. It’s going to happen, the question is whether or not we’re going to get on board with it and engage [in] the hard and messy waters. So, honestly, I am hopeful. But I know it’s hard.
McBride: Music. I’m a lover music. I love great inspirational gospel music, but I also love the kind of music that speaks to the soul. I also am inspired by meaningful friendships and relationships that are life-giving that give me joy, remind me of joy. My children continue to keep me grounded in, you know, a world that is not ugly and devoid of beauty.
And obviously my faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. All of my experiences with the Creator and the Almighty, they’ve been too many to allow me to fall into despair. So I have a sense of history. I know that my ancestors, our ancestors were in fields picking cotton hoping for a day where they will be able to live in homes. Now it’s my turn…as I live in a home, to project into the future for a day where my daughters won’t have to be terrorized by anti-Black systemic racism. So history keeps me honest, as well. I’m just one leg in a relay race so I can’t get tired or drop the baton. I have to be ready to hand it off and hopefully, that will happen relatively soon here.
“I don’t have hope that changing to a different president is going to fix [everything]. But I do have hope in the human spirit, and I have hope in the God that is with us, even when we mess up. I have great hope in that.” – The Rev. Traci Blackmon
Blackmon: I am hopeful. I mean, seeing people rise up, even if it was at the expense of a man’s life. His life was worth more than that, but seeing people rise up and begin to show up differently, that gives me hope because something has been awakened to remind us that this is not who we have to be, this is not who we are, you know, and that always gives me hope. My hope is not in political leadership. My hope is in God and in [the] human spirit. And I believe that when we get back to a place of seeing one another without all of this rhetoric that people emphasize with pain. […] That moment of watching George Floyd die, I believe, made people realize just how out of breath we all are. That’s what I think.
That gives me hope that we can still realize that, that we can go from a place where the man who took a knee on a football field, not because he was against the flag but because he wanted to call the flag to its highest and remind us that what we’re supposed to be living up to, has ruined his entire career. And in the aftermath of George Floyd, football owners and football teams [are] being given permission to do that. Law enforcement officers taking a knee in the streets, because they realize that this is too much. That gives me hope.
I don’t have hope that changing to a different president is going to fix all of that. But I do have hope in the human spirit, and I have hope in the God that is with us, even when we mess up. I have great hope in that.
McKissic: I am very hopeful. I believe change is going to come.
Moody: One of the places of hope comes from the pattern in the Bible that I discovered many, many…years ago. I was as a kid…just reading through the Bible, and I discovered this pattern in the Old and New Testament that often God does His best work at the worst times.
We’re in a really bad place as the church. So these are the worst of times, probably the worst times for Christianity in my lifetime, by far in America. So I’m hopeful that, even though it’s bad, this is the pattern for when God really steps in and does something great. […]
I just pray that we would rise up, that we would rise up as a country and choose morals and choose integrity and choose respect. But I’m also prayerful that the Body of Christ would rise up and would be the church. I hope to see it. I really do. I’m desperate to see the church adequately represent Christ, because that’s the only hope. So it’s weird, my hope comes from desperation. There’s no other source. There’s no other thing that can fix it, but Jesus and the church. I’m hopeful that maybe it takes this… It’s kind of like the children of Israel being exiled. Maybe it takes this exile, if you will, for our hearts to really, really get it together. So that’s what gives me hope.
What do you make of studies saying White Americans are shrinking back from talking about racial justice and supporting the justice movement?
Ince: […] I’m not necessarily surprised by this study when you consider the church at large because the engagement of this issue, racial injustice, is hard. It is costly. It will require heart examination and it does require, in particular, my White brothers and sisters…to do some kind of hard examination that they may not want to do or be comfortable doing. So there’s a resistance to it.
There’s a sense, in my estimation, that when idols of hearts are exposed, even the idolization of America, as opposed to racialized society where these issues are no longer, by and large, [trending]. Maybe in little individual instances, but not by and large present. When that kind of idolatry is exposed, we Christians (or people in general), we respond to the exposing of our idols in one of two ways. We respond either with grief, sorrow, confession, lament and repentance or, with violence. I don’t necessarily mean physical violence. I mean we respond to the exposing of it violently, because it means we have to reject something that we’re holding dear. And I think that that’s in part what’s happened in this resistance to want to engage the issue of racial injustice in America. There’s a violent response to it, a violence heart response to it. So it doesn’t surprise me to see that statistic, that there’s less of a desire to engage this conversation, even though in my own personal experience because of the work that we do, I’m seeing more desire to ask for help to engage it.
Is there a difference when pastoring inside the church from pastoring and being an activist in the streets?
McBride: Well, my work as a public theologian or social change agent is an extension of my work as a pastor. Beyond my own personal trauma as a survivor of state violence, you know, I pastor people who experience this every day in their lives. I pastor young people who get harassed by cops. I’ve pastor parents who are terrified of [for] their children who are currently caught in the system much less…want their younger children being caught up in the system. I’ve had to bury too many loved ones by state violence and or by neighbor-to-neighbor violence. So this is not an altruistic exercise for me. I bear [on] my body the wounds of state violence and I pastor people who are being wounded by state violence. So I think proximity as both a survivor and a pastor really informs my approach as a faith leader. And I think that kind of experience is something we all must choose to lean into. That pain says I choose to side with the underprivileged, I choose to side with the poor, I choose to side with the vulnerable. And so all of us must make a choice as faith leaders to choose to side with those who, as Dr. Howard Thurman says, have their backs up against the wall.
Any pastor in this moment who chooses to side with empire and chooses to side with the powerful, I think are choosing against God. Because the God of Scripture never sides with the empire. So if you’re siding with the empire, then you are likely on the wrong side of not just history but of the overwhelming witness in Scripture. So we must disciple people away from racism, disciple people away from human hierarchy, disciple people away from violence, both being an agent or a complicitor of violence, and help people become peacemakers. That’s what Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Dr. King says we who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war. This must be, I think, our call as faith leaders in this moment to be faithful.
Have you seen any positive shifts in the SBC on moving forward on race?
McKissic: I was encouraged for J.D. Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to adapt…the three words, ‘Black lives matter.’ I’m appalled that there’s an element within the SBC that objects to those three words because those three words have an association with an organization that they are fairly displeased with. But those three words have nothing to do with the organization, they are true independent of the Black Lives Matter organization. Those three words would be theologically accurate. But J.D. Greear came out and uttered those words. I think Danny Akin did [and] the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Adam Greenway. So I was very grateful to see some SBC leaders go on record saying the lives of Black people matters, just a simple truth.