culture

How Bethel Church Continues to Hinder Black Salvation

How Bethel Church Continues to Hinder Black Salvation 1096 478 Corey Leak

*Editors note: After the publishing of this piece, it has come to light that the event in the youtube clip below was not at Bethel Church, but at a conference where Bill Johnson (Bethel’s lead pastor) was speaking.

Evangelicalism is the tip of white supremacy’s sword. It has other functions, such as proselytizing the world and telling the story of Jesus. However, its most profound impact in America has been thwarting Black people’s attempt to break free from racial tyranny.

In recent years no white evangelical church has been more problematic to Black people than Bethel Church, an Evangelical Mega-Church best known for their contemporary Christian music and unmitigated support for Donald Trump.

Bethel has been guilty of more than a few transgressions to the black community dating back to 2018 when Brian Johnson, one of their senior leaders, posted a noose in an Instagram post insinuating that planned parenthood was more dangerous to Black lives than the KKK.

After Brian received backlash for the post, Bill Johnson – the lead pastor of Bethel and Ben’s dad, doubled down by reposting the image and caption followed by claiming the post was ok because a black man created it. To be fair, Bethel did ultimately issue an apology for the post.

A Bethel worship leader, Sean Feucht led a band of white evangelical worship leaders to evangelize the mourners and demonstrators at a George Floyd rally in Minnesota shortly after Floyd’s lynching.

Sean followed that up by leading a mass gathering on the shores of Huntington Beach, where he professed that the event symbolized a resurgence of the “Jesus People Movement.”

And, a week ago, a black “prophetess,” on Bethel’s stage declared that God told her she could eradicate racism by enacting a ceremony borrowed from Gandalf the grey.

While posting images of nooses and referencing the KKK is obviously harmful to black people and shows at minimum a lack of cultural humility, the other incidents I mention may need a little unpacking for some.

Let’s begin with the white Saviour trip to the site of George Floyd’s lynching. In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal lynching, advocates for black lives took to the streets to cry out for justice. They were grieving. They were lamenting injustice.

At the height of their grieving and crying out, Sean showed up with his guitar and band of merry worshippers to evangelize the crowd with bright smiling faces and contemporary worship music.

Not only did Sean not join what was already happening in Minnesota, but he tried to interrupt black lament and grief. White Saviours don’t allow space for Black people and our allies to mourn injustice. There is always an attempt to refocus our attention on something else.

In showing up in Minnesota the way he did, Sean Fuecht showed his commitment to the white evangelical brand of squelching Black agency and Black resistance of racial injustice.

Now to Sean’s subtle erasure of Black history on the beautiful Huntington Beach shoreline. Sean references the “revival” he witnessed on the beach as a second coming of the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s.

Why wouldn’t a “revival” taking place in California be reminiscent of an older revival that took place 45 years earlier than the Jesus People? That revival was Azuza street, and it was lead by a black preacher by the name of William Seymour.

The “spirit-filled,” pentecostal way Bethel and other charismatic churches practice worship has its roots in the Azuza Street Revival movement. And while failing to mention Reverend Seymour may seem like an innocent omission, it’s consistent with Sean and Bethel’s disregard for Black culture.

Lastly, the Gandalf incident… (Below for anyone who hasn’t seen it)

In the past, I’ve written about how many white evangelical leaders rely on trite, symbolic gesturing as their only answer to racism. Unfortunately, Black people who have received the baptism into a faith tradition rooted in white supremacy participate in these shenanigans all too often.

Symbolic gestures hold substantive change to racial hierarchies at bay. They keep people of faith who long for a racist free society from asking their leaders the tough questions about power and agency.

By standing on stage and declaring that racism was over because they chanted Gandolf’s words from Lord of the Rings, Bethel once again proved what we should’ve already known. They are an evangelical three-ring circus incapable of helping society move toward salvation.

Bethel’s leaders seem to believe that we find salvation in irrational belief, cultish practices, and mystical rhetoric. None of those help to protect future black people from suffering violence at the hands of white supremacy. Any salvation that doesn’t defend Black futures is no salvation at all.

Bethel’s black prophetess believed she was doing the work of God, and Bethel was all too happy to have a black shield to hide behind again. This moment during a church service is not just cannon fodder for memes, gifs, and remix videos. The moment is also indicative of a culture that ignores, opposes, and trivializes Black America.

3 Things You Should Ask Your Church To Find Out How Committed They Are To Anti-Racism

3 Things You Should Ask Your Church To Find Out How Committed They Are To Anti-Racism 6000 4000 Corey Leak

Chances are your church is on week two or three of a brand new series on racism. Some of you have seen more black faces speaking at your church over the last few weeks than you’d seen in the previous three years. 

Perhaps you’re on this journey with your church with guarded optimism – hoping that you and your church will find yourselves on the right side of history.

Or maybe you’re expecting all this race talk in the church will be over soon, and you can get back to listening to expository sermons on the book of Acts. 

No matter what your disposition is on the stance your church has taken lately, there are three ways to know that your church plans on committing to anti-racism for the long haul. 

Ask someone in senior leadership about President Trump.

Churches and Christian leaders tend to take apolitical stances. It’s one of the reasons so many churches are only recently engaging in extensive content on the subject of race and racism. Race talk has a name – “identity politics.”

It may be challenging to get a direct answer from someone in senior leadership at your church about their personal feelings on the president. Try anyway.

Men and women of the cloth shouldn’t tell you who to vote for, but they should be able to articulate the moral ineptitude of the president with great clarity. 

A church committed to anti-racism will have leaders who can recognize the racist statements and policies this president has put forth over the last four years and the overt racism that plagued his business affairs from years before he became president. 

Certainly, no church committed to becoming anti-racist would ever endorse this president to their congregants. That should go without saying, but you never know. 

Ask about church oversight and leadership.

The pastoral staff and board leadership lead churches.  *Dr. James Cone said: “there is no justice without power, and there is no power with one, two, or three tokens.” Email your church and find out who makes decisions.

If your church is going to be about racial justice, then there should be black people and other non-white leaders at both the board and directional leadership tables. 

There can be no serious progress toward anti-racism if there is no such leadership in place and no clearly articulated plans to place voices of color in leadership roles.

Don’t settle for a picture or a list of names. If you’re committed to investing your time and resources into a church, find out what influence Black people an non-black people of color have at your church. 

Ask about the plan for creating an anti-racist culture beyond Sunday. 

The music, preaching, announcements, and kid’s programs are all part of the Sunday morning experience churches provide, but they are not the totality of what makes a church function. 

Every church has an organizational culture. They have values, language, and expectations for what behaviors will receive rewards and which behaviors cause them to part ways with employees. 

Ask your church what actions they are taking to address the climate of their work culture. Ask them if their staff is going through any implicit bias training or any other practices to ensure an anti-racist work environment. 

How your church responds to these three questions should give you a glimpse into how committed they are to anti-racism. 

The work is a marathon, but it’s reasonable to expect your church leadership has considered these questions before presenting racial justice talks if they are serious about long-term sustainable change. 

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

*The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone 

Spineless – Why Black Pundits are Failing Colin and All of Us

Spineless – Why Black Pundits are Failing Colin and All of Us 480 285 Corey Leak

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do this or not, but I am anyway. I’m writing angry. I’ve spent a week off of social media to give myself a break from the back and forth about Kanye, impeachment, and all the white cat memes – though I did miss the memes, they are hilarious. 

I came back to social media just in time for Colin Kaepernick’s long overdue “opportunity” to showcase his talent for NFL scouts. After three years of being denied the right to perform a craft he has proven to be one of the best in the world at doing; he was finally supposed to get his chance. Only, he didn’t. 

Saturday, the NFL proved once again that they are not trustworthy. From the unusual waiver they presented that Colin’s lawyers advised him not to sign, to the prohibition of media – the NFL revealed Saturday that they weren’t interested in dealing in good faith or transparency. So, Colin took matters into his own hands and wielded his own narrative by setting up a public workout, open to the media where he could display his talent, which, incidentally, was never really in question. The NFL seems to have a never-ending agenda to keep Colin and his advocacy for black people away from their product, but that’s not why I’m writing angry. 

I’ve come to expect powerful white people in America to act unjustly. I’m not shocked that the NFL acted in ways that are consistent with their character. They set up a work out that seemed like a valid opportunity that was, in fact, not what it appeared to be. They wanted to appear to be doing the right thing while maintaining the power that allows them the position to continue to do the wrong thing. They behaved just like the powerful white men before them who “abolished” slavery only to create an industrial prison system that continues to incarcerate black men at an inordinate rate. They behaved themselves in an untrustworthy manner and unjustly towards someone whom they have had a history of treating unfairly. Duh.

I will, however, never accept or stop being appalled at the sight of – black people undermining the cause of other black people courageous enough to fight for justice. I watched an Instagram clip of an ESPN personality, well known for his theatrics, yell into the camera of his phone about how disgusted he was that Kapaernick opted to tell his own story rather than leave it to the NFL. That same personality throughout the weekend and into this morning has been promoting the idea that black people need to accept injustice to survive while condemning the young black men at the center of this struggle. He also seems extremely reluctant to center the NFL as the real perpetrators of evil in this situation. 

The sinister result of growing comfortable with injustice is that we start to call evil, good and good, evil. 

We all know that we live in a world where black people don’t receive just treatment. Black people know that there is a certain degree of unfair and unethical treatment that we have to learn to come to grips with. That doesn’t mean that we should EVER look with contempt on the brave souls that refuse to accept the status quo and dare to challenge it. Instead, we should all get behind prophets like Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick. They are not gods and are subject to criticism like anyone else, but they have earned the right to be trusted when they take a stance. And at minimum, we should offer them the benefit of the doubt when something seems strange or off-putting. 

Black people, since day one of our struggle in America, have argued with one another about the best route to our freedom. But history has shown that we have to drive ourselves there. At no time in human history has a revolution been carried to fruition by the very oppressors responsible for the need for that revolution. Why is today different? Why are so many people ready to trust that the NFL was acting in good faith when it came to Colin’s original workout? White people aren’t as interested in black freedom as black people are. Insert Maya Angelou quote here… 

Colin believed the NFL the first time. He saw, as all of us watching see, that the issue has never been about his arm talent, speed, strength, or readiness. The issue has ALWAYS been about his activism. One white sport’s personality said this morning that “Colin is still an activist.” He said it as an indictment. As if the cause for which Colin and Eric are advocating for is no longer valid. 

People keep saying that if Colin wants to play in the NFL again that he should capitulate to the NFL’s terms so that he can continue his advocacy from the inside. The people saying that are missing the more significant point, and therefore failing to recognize the moment we are witnessing. 

THIS IS BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL! I speak for myself when I say: who cares if Colin ever plays football again if it means that he has to betray the very ideals and human beings he stands/knelt for. I’m disappointed that one fifty-year-old sports reporter, in particular, is missing this broader point. What he is either blindly or more dastardly, purposefully overlooked with his comments, is the cost of change. 

No change that humankind has ever witnessed was without brave men and women refusing to play by unjust rules.  

I’ve watched a perilous trend recently. I’ve seen people conflate common sense and acquiescence – comparing what black parents have to tell our children about encounters with police to Colin doing whatever the NFL asked of him to get his job back. 

I hope that seeing the two written out side by side can help you recognize the problem. Life is precious. Every human living in a world that threatens their existence should learn to do what they must to keep living. But what is life without freedom and equality? We black people are encouraged to keep our hands at “ten and two” when in the presence of the police so that we can live to see or bring about total justice for our brothers and sisters of color. We aren’t alive to continue to beg “Massa” to grant us our freedom and dignity. 

Colin proved once again that he can play. Professional sports are supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy – where the best talent gets the opportunity to compete every day to stay employed as athletes. He shouldn’t bear the additional burden of laying down his deeply held mission of advocating for the rights of black and brown people to get his shot. 

“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” – James Baldwin

Why “Harriet” Is Epic Story Telling

Why “Harriet” Is Epic Story Telling 737 491 Corey Leak

Last week my family and I went and saw the movie, Harriet. I LOVED it. But, I was surprised to learn how many black people felt some kind of way about the movie. I walked out of the theater convinced that black folks would almost universally love that film. The story features a black screenwriter, a black director, and black leading actors. How could anyone not like it?

After leaving the theater, I saw black folks on twitter talking about how historically inaccurate it was as well as people griping that it featured too many white saviors. But the critique I’ve heard most prevalently is the complaint about the movie presenting a black bounty hunter who helps round up runaway slaves.

I understand the criticism, and I know that there is a distrust of Hollywood when it comes to getting black stories right, but there are three tactics that Harriet used to tell this story that I believe are incredibly compelling. They are why I spent half the film with tears in my eyes, and why we all clapped when it was over.

History

Image result for harriet tubman

Harriet undertakes the monumental task of telling the story of a beloved historical figure for the black community. I consider it a win anytime I can watch a giant screen that’s featuring the images of black women doing iconic things with my daughters – especially if that story is about a historical figure like Harriet Tubman. 

The film is set in an actual place and time in American history. It doesn’t do a deep dive into the horror of slavery visually, but I like that. I felt like the focus of the movie was on the heroic actions of Harriet. We have seen plenty of movies that show the graphic horrors of slavery like 12 Years a SlaveAmistad, and even Django Unchained, to name a few. The use of slavery as a contextual background for Minty’s epic speeches and actions in the film served this particular story very well. 

Legend

Image result for harriet tubman art

Documentaries are supposed to be strictly based on verifiable historical facts, but great storytelling utilizes more than facts to get the message across. Great stories, the stories we remember and tell other people about emphatically, use legend.

The tall tales of our heroes – the epic tall tales that we repeat to each other over and over are all stories of legend. They aren’t meant to be factual. They are just meant to help us understand the character, challenges, and ultimate victories of our heroes.

Legend is also what gave a lot of people tension about this movie. The criticism I’ve seen universally of the film is that it’s historically inaccurate. People were up in arms about the use of a black bounty hunter and other characters that were made up to serve the story. I chalked those things up to legend. They could be the offspring of stories told about Harriet by people who never met her and didn’t know her, but to them, she was larger than life.

When was the last time you heard a great fishing story that used the actual weight and length of the fish the fishermen caught?

Myth

Image result for harriet tubman visions

While the use of legend will make a two-foot, seven-pound fish ten feet and seven hundred pounds, myth makes that fish a sea monster that has terrorized the sea for thousands of years. Harriet uses myth to move the story forward by overdramatizing her visions. 

It is legend that she prayed and God gave her visions of the future. It’s myth that she was alerted to danger like Peter Parker when the Green Goblin is near. Still, the use of mystical power and supernatural imagination served to give the audience an image of Harriet Tubman that centered her as the iconic hero she is.

I don’t intend to minimize anyone’s feelings or objections to the movie. As I said, I loved it. And again, the movie’s screenwriter, director, and lead actors are all black.

Criticism is fair game for any content put forth for public consumption, but I think it’s vital that black folks are less bullish on publically tearing down our own stories. 

Why I Can’t Stop Talking About Race

Why I Can’t Stop Talking About Race 849 557 Corey Leak

No one in the history of humankind was born to be a person who speaks out about race. I’ve never heard a first grader say that they want to be an activist when they grow up. People admire revolutionaries like Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Malcolm X, but no one wants to BE them.

When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a doctor, and by the time I got to high school, I just wanted to grow up and be rich. As a junior in High School I knew that I was supposed to be a public servant of some sort. In my Christian tradition we would say I got the “call” to ministry. I knew I was destined to share good news with the world about the benevolent nature of Divinity, but I also didn’t want to be poor. Little did I know that some day clergy would be some of the richest people in the world. Go figure.

Even though I knew I was uniquely wired for being a religious leader, I would never have imagined that I would be in reality or perception – an activist.

I’m not sure there is a day that goes by that I don’t have at least one conversation about race or racism, and I wouldn’t say that’s an enjoyable place to be. Perhaps you’re thinking: “Why don’t you just stop talking about it?” That seems simple enough. I could choose to not bring up race at all in conversation, in my podcasts, or in my writings, and that would….

Wait… what would that do? Would it eliminate race from being a topic of discussion for me? Let’s see… If I stopped talking about race today…

I would still have people asking me about race and racism. I would still have friends, family, or otherwise cracking jokes about me being the “radical race guy.” I would still have black children who come home and share their exhaustion with being black in the suburbs. Lastly, I myself would still be a black man in America. The luxury of being insulated from race conversation is simply not afforded to me.

Talk to any activist, civil rights leader, or clergy person of color about why they are outspoken about race, and they will tell you that they have no other choice. The bell can’t be un-rung. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Racism/Injustice is a menace to society. We who recognize it as such know that it is not only an existential threat to us people of color, but it is a threat to all human beings – privileged or not.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Dr King

There are lots of reasons I started and continue to talk about race and racial injustice. Here are three of them.

  • We still live on unjust soil.

If I were to sneak into your house in the middle of the night, take the only pictures you have of your parents off your walls, eat all your food, and dump all the medicine in your medicine cabinets in the toilet – leaving you sick and one of your children dead, how often would you talk about that? How often would your surviving children? How would you feel when you saw me or my children healthy and thriving out and about?

America’s most vile racist acts of injustice are not in the ancient past. People who are alive today witnessed and experienced lynchings, segregation, and state-sanctioned assassinations of Black leaders. These actions happened here on American soil, on the streets we live on, in the hallways of the schools our children attend, and at the hands of people still alive today.

  • Society screams “White Power”

I’ve talked with several black people who work in corporate America. Every one of them has told me that they are the only black person in the room over 90 percent of the time that they are in high level leadership meetings. Each of them face micro-aggressions. Each of them have felt that they had to work twice as hard due to being black. Each has been passed over for promotions by less qualified white people with lesser performance ratings.

Think about the wealthiest, most influential, and powerful people in the world. Are most of the names you’re thinking: Bob, Bill, Mike, Chris, Steve, Rich, Don, Frank…? Why is that? Do you believe that is coincidence? Is it a benign happenstance of natural selection?

I would argue it’s the result of an intentional strategy that has been successfully doing its thing for generations. And, as long as we have the construct of white power, none of us will live in a just society.

  • The source material for my faith is justice themed.

Evangelical churches don’t talk about race that often. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical church that talks about justice. I sat in, volunteered in and worked for many an evangelical church not realizing that justice was the central theme of the Bible. I thought that when the church talked about a social issue like race, even tho I am in fact black, the church was diverting from the Bible to talk about society.

It wasn’t until I went on about a 3-year journey into the context and history of Biblical texts and narratives that I began to realize how central justice is to the ideas, poetry, stories, and principles of Biblical literature.

After realizing that the Bible has a historical context and that that context has strong political, social, and ethnic implications, I began to feel like I had Divine backing to engage in social conversations. And not only did I have backing – I had a moral obligation to use my platforms to lift up the plight of the marginalized in society.

I guess you could say I’m fulfilling my “calling” after all. It is exhausting to talk about race and racism. It is not fun. It does not often feel very rewarding, but those of us who talk about it know that if we stop, future generations will suffer for it.

I wish we lived in a world where racism wasn’t a systemic issue that plagues the primary structures of our communities. I would love to live to see a time where no one talks about it because there is no need, and I’m doing my part to get us there – one conversation at a time.

Amber, Hugs, and Forgiveness

Amber, Hugs, and Forgiveness 760 428 Corey Leak

There have been so many great perspectives shared about Amber Guyger’s trial, sentencing, and absolution. I’ve been challenged, annoyed and conflicted by some of what I’ve read, so I will be using the N-word quite a bit throughout this piece. I need to warn you about that at the outset of this blog.

I’ve written like 1000 words about this and then deleted them. I’ve struggled to find a creative flow for my thoughts, but I said I’d answer those of you who asked for my thoughts. So, here you go. If you didn’t ask, here you go as well.

My Thoughts:

I don’t believe her story entirely. I’m confused about how her trial was so quick. Her trial ended with more unanswered questions than Game of Thrones. I mean, “Where did Drogon go with Daenerys?” pales in comparison to “How did she not know she was in the wrong apartment?”

We don’t know what justice looks like. We understand vengeance, rage, and punishment, but not justice. How could we? We’ve never really witnessed it. Justice is a divine concept that we will never get right until we slow down long enough to allow ourselves to imagine a new way of being that is beyond our punitive concepts of restoring peace.

Amber Guyger deserves to be forgiven. She’s a human. What Botham’s brother did in hugging and saying he forgave her was commendable. It was his grieving process. It’s not any of our place to judge the validity of how any other human chooses to grieve.

The judge acted emotionally and inappropriately. I understand that she was caught up in the spirit of the moment and felt compelled to suspend her official role as judge and move into what she believed was the compassionate role of Christian, but that wasn’t her place.

I agree with many of my colleagues who have pointed out that white America wants to project Brandt Jean’s forgiveness onto all black people as an example of how to get over the past.

I’ve often said that gesture has become the white evangelical tool for dealing with racism because it’s easier and less messy than accepting the end result of contrition – the vacating of privilege.

Turning the other cheek is admirable, but it can never be demanded of oppressed people by their oppressors. Too often black people are asked to be the express image of Jesus by white people looking for cheap absolution.

I hope the irony is not lost on you that black people get asked to show white people what the love, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus looks like even though every mainstream image of Jesus depicted in art or film is that of a white man.

Forgiveness is beautiful on the inside, but often hard to look at from the outside. Even the Christian idea of mercy for which a bloody cross is the symbol shows that forgiveness is painful and ugly. No wonder so many people were upset at the notion of Amber receiving mercy from Brandt.

Black people are not obligated to forgive Amber Guyger simply because two other black people hugged her in a court room. Forgiveness can’t be demanded, it has to be granted.

So, there are my raw thoughts about Amber, hugs, and forgiveness. I’m sure there are things you agree with and things you don’t I’m sure some ideas I shared seemed like I was taking “both sides.” I did warn you that I would be using nuance quite a bit.

Rest in power, Joshua Brown. Say his name.

My Tension With Kanye West’s Sunday Service

My Tension With Kanye West’s Sunday Service 1100 618 Corey Leak

“He’s fashionable, he’s reaching a lot of people who weren’t going to church and he sits with people who have diverse opinions.”

I’ve heard a wide range of thoughts about Kanye West’s latest artistic project – Sunday Service. Some people love it, and some people believe it’s heresy. I’ve been asked more than a few times over the last week about what I thought, so I decided to process those thoughts with you.

I’ve refrained from writing or talking publicly about the “revival” Kanye is leading because I have had conflicting ideas about the movement.

When I first heard about Kanye doing a Sunday morning service, my response was similar to my reaction when I heard that he said slavery was a choice.

I initially felt like this was a stunt “Yeezus” was using to center himself, and therefore I was extremely cynical. But, when I looked deeper within myself, I found that part of me was jealous that Kanye was creating the kind of faith communities I long to organize myself.

All that being said, here are my musings about Kanye West’s Sunday Service movement. They are in no particular order, and as I already said, some of them are probably contradictory. I feel tension within myself about it.

I don’t trust him.

I would personally never ask Kanye West for spiritual advice, and I imagine based on everything I’ve seen about what he’s up to these days, that he wouldn’t give it to me if I asked. He doesn’t seem to want the title or responsibilty of spiritual advisor.

My belief about spiritual leadership, which he is now positioned as whether he wanted it or not, is that the people we look to for spiritual leadership should be trustworthy in matters pertaining to Divinity. Which also carries with it the expectation of high moral character.

He’s by all accounts genuine.

I believe the countenance of those closest to us reveal our character. Kanye’s wife has been quoted as saying Kanye has had a genuine experience with God, and that is enough for me to at least look at what he is doing with less skeptisim.

People who have been in the space where Kanye has led Sunday services have said they believed the worship environment was authentically spiritual. I’m reluctant to dismiss the experiences of so many people who claim to have been touched by what they heard and saw.

I’m afraid.

If God uses Kanye West, who I have been angry with over claiming to be “Jesus” and cooning for Trump, then what does that mean for the faith I’ve grown up believing? My Christian roots, which I have am in almost daily conflict with, are unsettled by the idea that someone as weird as Kanye would be God’s agent of evangelism.

I am confronted with the idea that God can and does use people I don’t like or would not choose all the time. This movement Kanye has started has me looking at the man in the mirror, revealing that God does indeed use “undeserving people” every day.

Image result for michael jackson

His celebrity drives his influence.

It’s been over a decade now since he first time I was in a large audience listening to a prominent Christian speaker. I remember when she took the stage and a friend we attended the gathering with started crying. The speaker hadn’t said a word yet, but her mere presence moved my friend to tears.

I also remember that she opened her message by showing a video of a debt being canceled. The entire room exploded into cheering and clapping. I can’t remember anything about the content of what she shared about God or humanity, but I remember what if felt like to be in the room.

Her personality and fame gave her content more juice than it would have possessed had it been presented by someone with less cache.

Kanye is the natural progression of celebrity church culture.

Over the last 20 years or so with the emergence of Christian television and social media, we have seen a rise in pastors and preachers who are every bit as rich, powerful, and famous as any other celebrity. TMZ is as likely to stop them in the airport as they are Justin Bieber. (Often because they have been seen out with Bieber or another celebrity)

Image result for celebrity pastors

This is a pedestal we’ve created makes us believe that these men and women are more qualified to be God’s agents than the people who preach at and pastor small faith communities in urban and rural contexts all over the world.

The celebrity culture isn’t evil. It is a reality of the era we live in. The pastors featured by “Preachers N Sneakers” aren’t phonies or false prophets. They are the human bi-products of our desire for larger than life figures to point us toward God.

They say things in a way and with a style that moves us. We believe that swag invites “outsiders” to see what God and faith are all about, so we are happy to point our friends to the latest videos and tweets of famous preachers saying ordinary things in creative and flashy ways.

How is he different?

I bet you thought the first quote in this piece was about Kanye West. It wasn’t. It was how a friend of mine articulated why I should be careful in my criticism of what I perceived as a well known pastor’s lack of theological framework.

Those are my thoughts. Share yours in the comments here or on FB, Twitter or Instagram.

My Mental Health Journey

My Mental Health Journey 467 700 Corey Leak

A few years ago I was flying home from my dad’s funeral. It was a normal flight all things considered. I was obviously sad he was gone, and for the first time in my life I felt the existential reality of death. I felt like its imminence. I felt like I moved up one space in line for the trip every human being takes to the unknown. The place ancient people called Sheol.

After having a drink I fell asleep in the window seat next to my wife. I don’t often fall asleep on flights, but this time I fell into one of those really sweet sleeps that only alcohol or anesthesia can induce. I was at peace – until I wasn’t.

Suddenly I woke up out of my sleep having trouble breathing and feeling extremely disoriented. I don’t even remember how I got past my wife and the person in the aisle seat, but I rushed to the lavatory in the back of the plane, sat down, and splashed water on my face while saying “Jesus help me.”

I felt like I was dying. Since I grew up Pentecostal my instinct was to believe that I was being attacked by a demon – some kind of airplane devil or something.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I was experiencing a panic attack. I learned that because on the next flight I took the same thing happened.

After that the second incident, I googled my symptoms and read what panic attacks are and how to cope with them. That was the day I decided not to white knuckle this issue.

Side note, “white-knuckling” might be the only pejorative reference to something “white.”

I didn’t “feel” an overwhelming amount of grief over my dad dying, but I believed that the panic attacks were a signal that something was new in my emotional headspace. I wanted to find out what that was, so I sat down with a counselor and processed what I was feeling about death, life, religion, and my own mortality.

I also explained to the counselor that I had had panic attacks, and they introduced me to “mindfulness exercises.” I assumed that like any other time I was prescribed medicine from a doctor, that would cure me, and I’d like to say that was the end of the panic attacks – but it wasn’t.

I continued to see a therapist to discuss depression, anxiety, and more generally, how I felt about myself. However, every time I got on a plane, I would feel panic trying to come on. In fact, I still feel anxiety about flying – especially alone. I think I had one or two more episodes while flying before one session with a therapist changed everything for me.

There was nothing terribly profound about what the counselor said to me. I can’t remember the exact words, but I remember that they told I needed to accept the new reality of my mental state.

I suffer from anxiety, so when I get on a plane I expect to encounter my old friend panic, and while that’s not a practice that is designed to prevent panic attacks, I haven’t had any since my therapist introduced that idea to me.

Perhaps you’re reading this as a person who quietly suffers through anxiety alone because you believe that it’s something to be ashamed of. Maybe you’re someone whose religious experience precludes you from seeking professional help. To both of those inclinations I’d say REPENT.

I don’t mean repent in the tent preacher revivalist sort of way. I mean it in the old Jewish way of changing your thinking. Try to consider that there is no shame in carrying a disease that plagues millions of people around the world, and consider that science is teaching us things about the human brain that the Bible writers had yet to name or discover.

All that to say, if you’re struggling with or even casually encountering depression, anxiety, or panic, seek out professional help from a licensed mental health professional. There is nothing weak or sinful about asking for help.

About My New Podcast – Existential

About My New Podcast – Existential 1944 1944 Corey Leak

My new podcast (Existential) will be debuting in just a few days from now! (Tuesday 9.3.19) I hope this isn’t your first time hearing about it, but if you are…MY NEW PODCAST (EXISTENTIAL) WILL BE DEBUTING IN JUST A FEW DAYS FROM NOW!!! There, now you’ve heard about it twice. Before you listen to the podcast, I want you to know why I’m doing it and why you should listen to it.

Two years ago I was working at a large evangelical church. I would describe my job as the gatekeeper for how the church communicated its message on a macro and micro level – the former being each weekend service and the latter being who the church was and what it was about through web and social media content.

I’m not sure that’s how they would describe the job, hence one of the reasons I no longer work there. But, that’s a story for another day perhaps.

If you’ve heard the story I’m about to tell before, bear with me. I often forget who I’ve told stories to and who I haven’t.

I remember sitting in the auditorium of the church on a Saturday night and getting a text from my oldest daughter. She was 15 at the time. She texted me to see if I had heard about all the “Charlottesville” stuff people were talking about on social media.

She was relatively new to twitter, and she would pretty regularly send me funny videos from “black twitter” I initially assumed that there was a huge festival that featured some of her favorite artists performing and she wanted me to know about it. I wish it had been.

I honestly don’t remember what she said about what was happening, but I do remember that whatever it was made me get on Twitter during the sermon I was listening to in church that night. Who am I kidding, I was probably going to get on Twitter during the talk anyway.

You’ve done it too.

When I opened the twitter app, I was aghast. I’m not sure if I was more bothered by what I saw happening in Charlottesville or the fact that my 15-year-old teenage daughter had witnessed it. I don’t need to tell you what happened. You know.

Image result for charlottesville rally

From that day on, I had this burning desire to talk about the stuff that was happening in the world around me. I wanted to say things and be part of discussions that were directly related to issues that affected people daily, especially the things that directly affected POC.

I would find myself sitting in church services and having my mind wander off to issues of gender, human sexuality, race, and the guy in the oval office. Did you catch that? My mind would “wander off” to these issues from my seat inside a church building.

I was starting to realize that I needed to find another platform to speak about the social issues that mattered to me. It seemed as if the church was focused more on heaven than it was on earth, and I couldn’t unsee what I had seen.

So I began to use my social media platforms to make statements and engage people in dialog about issues that mattered to me.  It seemed from the response that this stuff mattered to more people than just me.

After about six months of feeling this tension and dipping my toes into cultural conversations online, I found myself sitting in the head pastor’s office with the executive pastor, who was my boss. The meeting began with words I’ll never forget. “Get ready for a tough conversation.”

In that conversation, I learned that I would need to find another place to work because it wasn’t working out with me in my role. From a job performance standpoint, I was surprised, but I can’t say that I was surprised from a relational perspective. It was time. They just initiated goodbye before I dared to say it myself.

A month after the “tough conversation” I started blogging, and without the need to preserve my standing with a job at an evangelical church anymore, I started being more candid about issues of justice, faith, and culture. I’ve continued to share candidly to this day, and now the next phase of tough conversations will be in the form of a podcast.

I’m calling it Existential because the podcast will be conversations with humans about human stuff. Every issue we have within religion, politics, or race all begin with humans.

Often the reason we fail to find our way to real justice in the world is that we lose sight of others and even our selves as human. Existential aims at reminding us that we are all human.

Image result for people

I’ll have conversations with you and other friends of mine about how the issues that polarize us affect us as wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, husbands, sisters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Each episode will explore issues of justice, faith, and culture from the human perspective. We will condemn racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all forms of bigotry. I’m not trying to heal the world by making all of us blind to the realities we face.

I hope that we find ourselves more willing to see the humans on the other side of the issues, agendas, or arguments we all feel so strongly about and that we can contend for a better world together – one conversation at a time.

Jay Z, Colin Kaepernick, the NFL and “Harold’s Grass N Feed”

Jay Z, Colin Kaepernick, the NFL and “Harold’s Grass N Feed” 1484 989 Corey Leak

I’ve been asked enough about what I think about Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL that I thought I would share my thoughts here in the form of a story.

Imagine you work for Harold’s Grass N Feed and one day on your way to work you see a cow being slaughtered inhumanely at Bobby Lee’s farm a few miles from Harold’s. You are so disturbed by how Bobby Lee nem treat their cows that you decide to make a demonstration at work.

Bobby Lee comes into the grass and feed store all the time, but you don’t care because you believe the cows should be treated more humanely. You know you’re putting your job on the line, but the injustice you’ve witnessed is too great for you to stay silent.

Soon after your first demonstration, other co-workers join you, and the display draws the attention of the local media. They ask you why you’re demonstrating. “I don’t believe we should slaughter animals inhumanely in this town,” you say into the camera. “I’ll continue my demonstration until something changes.”

Soon after the media picks up the story, it becomes all anyone wants to talk about all over town. Some people are angry that you’re protesting at work – especially Bobby Lee. The local PETA group is thrilled that someone is bringing attention to animal rights, and others are on the fence. The local media LOVES it because people keep tuning in to hear the latest developments.

Months pass and Harold calls you in and says they have to suspend you indefinitely. It turns out Bobby Lee called and said he would be shopping at Menard’s as long as you were making a fuss at work. Harold knows he can’t outright fire you, so he finds a way to get you away from the store by suspending you quietly.

Months go by, and you’re basically unemployed. A few of your co-workers continue to protest, and tho the media doesn’t talk about the cows every day anymore. Bobby Lee’s farm is still killing cows inhumanely every day, and now, more and more people are becoming aware of the cruelty of Bobby Lee’s farm.

People are curious about why you aren’t at work anymore, and that becomes a part of this story as well. From time to time, the media will talk about how many days it’s been since you were last seen at work.

Harold insists that they’re just not scheduling you, but it has nothing to do with your demonstrations.

Due to the rising pressure from the local PETA groups and the conscientious people of the community, Harold feels the need to get involved in advocating for the cows. Harold doesn’t care about the cows, but he knows that he doesn’t want his store to be on the wrong side of history when 50 years from now the town re-tells the story of the cows.

Harold decides to take some money and bring in a consultant to help put together a campaign to save the cows. He decides to hire a well-known figure from the community named Jerry. Jerry agrees to help, and they have a press conference to announce their new initiative.

Jerry is a friend of yours who you met when you began to demonstrate several months back. He’s worked with PETA on other animal rights projects and is highly respected amongst animal lovers. Jerry has been an outspoken supporter of you getting back to work, but he never talked to you about his plans to work with Harold.

The media covers the story of Harold and Jerry’s new collaboration to commit dollars and action to save the cows, but Harold continues to keep you suspended from work indefinitely.

How do you feel about Harold and Jerry? That probably sums up my thoughts on the partnership between Jay Z and the NFL.