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Why Anti-Racists Should Embrace “Being Divisive”

Why Anti-Racists Should Embrace “Being Divisive” 5184 3313 Corey Leak

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

“I have come to set fire to the earth.” These are the words of a First Century Palestinian Rabbi and social activist. Today most people who quote this man refer to him as “Saviour” or “Lord,” and remember him as a meek hillside teacher with a long flowing head of hair, soft features, and fair skin.

Jesus told people he wasn’t trying to bring peace or unity. Yet, Black people, speaking in favor of black freedom, dignity, and liberation from white supremacy, face consistent accusations about our stance’s alleged divisiveness. For many white evangelical believers in Jesus, “you’re being divisive.” is their go-to counter-argument against anti-racist reformers.

I’ve decided to wear “divisive” as a badge of honor. If one of the world’s most famous social agitators believed that the best strategy for social change was a disruption of the status quo, why would any of us think that passive submission to oppressive ideologies is a better method of change?

I’ve come to believe what most people mean when they lob the “divisive” grenade at an anti-racist is: “I don’t like what you’re saying or doing.” The reason they don’t like it is that they haven’t wrestled with their own biases enough to support anti-racism rather than trying to debunk or resist it.

White supremacy doesn’t just punish black and brown people, but it also rewards people who learn to leverage its oppressive hegemonic arrangement. People offer implicit and sometimes explicit support for racism, and in return, our anti-black society hands them participation trophies.

Anti-racism is about disrupting commonplace ideas, structures, and institutions that have hindered Black people since the birth of this Nation. We are not trying to make peace. We are trying to bring about justice.

We are working for justice in the way schools educate Black children. We are seeking justice in how police deal with black people they encounter. We are seeking justice in the way lenders do their business with Black people, and how cities zone and resource Black communities.

However, the quest for a more just society has never come without resistance. As Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without struggle.” Struggle connotes two sides creating tension by pulling in two opposing directions.

There is a struggle for racial justice because there are people who are pulling in the opposite direction towards more white supremacy. When we who are committed to a just and fair society pull toward egalitarian human behavior, folks content with the way things are pull back and call us “divisive.”

I imagine Jesus anticipated people considering him a divisive trouble maker, so he beat them to the punch and made the open declaration about himself. He lived in a time, like ours, where powerful people bullied, threatened, and oppressed their way to more and more power.

When secret police roam our streets capturing people using the agency afforded them by the Constitution of the United States to protest injustice, we don’t have time to defend ourselves from being called “divisive.” It’s time to embrace it so that we have the energy for the real struggle ahead.

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.

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.

The Talk – Part 2 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Poem)

The Talk – Part 2 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Poem) 3000 2000 Corey Leak

We had driven out of the neighborhood, and my mind was working hard to try and answer my daughter’s questions. I knew that she was asking a simple question that had deep philosophical handles. She wasn’t merely asking about this particular neighborhood. She was asking a universal question about race. She was asking about justice.

A few weeks before our visit to the gated community, our daughter came home from a dance and told my wife and me that she was feeling some tension. We asked why, and she went on to explain that she noticed how all of her friends had had at least one boy be interested in them this year. She hadn’t had any. She’s in middle school!!! I’m a dad who hates boys because I have three daughters. (no offense to any boys or parents of sons reading this) So, I was unapologetically glad to hear that I wouldn’t have to go all Bad boys 2 on a middle school boy.

But, I also understood that my daughter was beginning to feel the stinging truth of my dads words. She was feeling unseen, and that feeling was confusing and uncomfortable. She wondered if it was her dark skin that kept boys from expressing interest in her.

She is a beautiful young woman like her two older sisters and her mama. I think she knows she’s pretty, but what teenage girl wants to be the only one in their friend group the boys don’t like? Our daughter wants to know that black beauty, creativity, and work are rewarded. I believe that’s what was lying beneath the questions she asked me while we were driving through that neighborhood.

As a parent, I didn’t want to share truth with my 13-year-old that would leave her feeling hopeless or sad, but I also wanted to be honest. I began by telling her that there aren’t as many black people in America as there are white. I told her that if there are 100 Americans in a room, only 13 of those would be black Americans, and only 2 to 3 of the 100 would be “rich.” That alone makes it tough. How likely is it that one of the 13 blacks would be one of the 2 or 3 rich folks in the room? I honestly can’t tell you why I started there. Maybe it was because I didn’t want her to be bitter or because I didn’t want to blame whiteness right away. Perhaps I wanted to give myself a moment to calibrate emotionally before I told my daughter the rest of the story. For whatever reason, I chose to ease into the talk.

After explaining the math, I shared a brief overview of American history. She had heard it before, but I guess she hadn’t understood what that history had to do with that neighborhood. We talked about slavery, Jim Crow, and modern-day racism. She was visibly bothered by it. Her heart is so tender to the world, and she asked me how people could treat other people with such cruelty for no reason at all. I had no answer.

I told her human beings had mistreated other people for stupid reasons since the dawn of time. Still wanting her not to grow up believing white people are evil, I felt like I needed to mention that human beings have all done bad stuff – not just white people. I want her to see the race issue wholistically without giving in to fear and anger. I don’t want her to hate. I don’t want her to be a victim. I also want her to see the world as it is because that’s the only way she will ever have the courage and resolve to work to change it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37eTvNjcaSY

My daughter has wrestled with similar tensions around the flag, anthem, and the pledge.

Seeing the world as it truly is gives us the inspiration to imagine a new one – a better one. I want my children to see the world’s cruelty and beauty. I want them to hear about things like the above stories. I want them to know these things are happening to people who look like them.

I have never given my dad’s speech to my daughters, but life has. School, church, and social media scream loud and clear: “remember, you still a nigga.”

I’m grateful that God has blessed my wife and me with kids who can accept that the world treats them as other, but still hope and dream of a just society. Almost a month before my youngest and I had our talk, she wrote the following poem. It’s the hope of a teenage girl who is fighting to imagine a new world.

“I Wish on the World”

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that people of color don’t get the stares

The loudness that we portray that they can’t bear  

That people of color can be treated equally

And cross the border legally

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that all immigrants can be able to come home

In American streets they can roam

That little kids won’t be taken away from their mothers

And live a life filled with color

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that world hunger would disappear

That the word without turns to fear

As people are sitting by the stores waiting for more

A chance to live life just before

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that self love was a priority

For putting themselves first as an authority

For women to think they are beautiful

And just like men are suitable

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that we as a people would treat the world with kindness,

And clear the blindness

The world that needs love

And that we need to take care of

I wish I wish I wish

I wish that hate could just dissolve

And for us to install

Acceptance as we evolve

I wish I wish I wish

I know our world has beautiful features,

I know our world has magnificent creatures

But what I ask you is,

What do you wish?  

The Talk – Part 1 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Question)

The Talk – Part 1 (A Black Teenage Girl’s Question) 3000 2000 Corey Leak

I remember my dad giving me the talk as a thirteen-year-old boy. It wasn’t a sit-down. It wasn’t an awkward, choppy speech delivered in an uncomfortable tone, and it wasn’t the last time we had the conversation. We were riding home from school one day when my dad looked over at me and said: “Remember, you still a nigga.”

Over the next few years, those words would be a repeated theme from my dad as he taught us how he believed the world would always see us. My dad didn’t want us to be shocked when we would inevitably have a racist encounter with someone in the world. He knew that we were just as likely to experience racism at school, work, church, or at a routine traffic stop. We were young black men, and we needed to be prepared to enter a world that would remind us of our blackness whether we liked it or not.

I used to hate that my dad would say that. As most teenagers do, I thought my dad was out of touch with a changing world. I didn’t want to grow up limited by the belief that racism would be an obstacle for me. I went to Christian schools my whole life with mostly white students, where the Biblical base of our education held explicit racism at bay. I had a lot of white friends that all treated me just fine. I didn’t notice my teachers ever treating me like I was any different than any other student, but my dad was skeptical. He believed that me and my brothers we singled out at school because we were the only black kids in our classes.

In hindsight, I can’t say he was wrong. I wasn’t much of a trouble maker, but I can remember spending a lot of time writing Bible verses on the chalkboard after school and mopping the floors of the classroom in detention. I remember getting in a fight with one of my teacher’s sons. We both threw hands, and only one of us got in trouble for it. You can probably guess who that was.

I can look back on several other experiences like the time Amy, the white girl I had a crush on in elementary school poured her apple juice on the ground and said “there you go” after I asked her for a drink. Or there was the one time in high-school when a white student looked me in my face and called me a “stupid black person.” I laugh at that one because he was racist enough to call me stupid, but not brave enough to call me a nigger. These are the things my dad wanted me to be prepared for.

My dad was trying to communicate with my brothers and me that the world we were growing up in was one where we would be treated as “other.” He grew up during the Jim Crow era. He was a 31-year-old black preacher when Dr. King was killed, and he knew that even though that era had ended, his sons would still have to endure the trauma of not being white in a society that demonized blackness. All the black families in our town would have the same talk about what our blackness means in society. All us black sons and daughters would get the message. We would have to work twice as hard, be twice as educated, speak twice as articulate to make up for the deficit of being considered half as human.

Black families across America have this in common. We have all had to endure the sting of racism at some point or another, and with each new generation, we hope that we won’t have to have the same talk with our kids that our parents had with us. Perhaps someday black parents won’t have to have “the talk,” but as of today, we still do.

Three days ago, I was with my youngest daughter. She’s thirteen. We were attending her end of the year volleyball party inside a gated community here in the Bay Area. As you can imagine, the houses in this neighborhood are breath-taking.

Image result for multi-million dollar gated community

We drove past one multi-million dollar house after another. She and I would point out any particularly gorgeous homes we saw, and she asked me how much I thought each house was worth. I thought she would have been dreaming of one day living in a neighborhood like this, but when I asked her if she’d want to live there, her answer surprised me.

She told me she would be bored living in a gated community. She said it seemed stuffy. (no offense to any of you who live in gated communities) But, what I think she was really feeling came out in the form of a question she asked me after that. She looked over at me and asked: “Dad, how many black families do you think live here?” I said I’m sure there aren’t that many, but this neighborhood is mostly white. Of course, she wanted to know why, and it was at that moment that I knew I too was about to have “the talk” with my daughter.

To be continued…

 

 

I’m Not a Socialist But…

I’m Not a Socialist But… 2000 3000 Corey Leak

I’m not a socialist, nor do I claim to be an expert on what it is. Full disclosure, I know very little about it from experience or study, and my hunch is, YOU DON’T EITHER.

I find it disturbing how many Evangelicals talk about socialism as if it’s inherently evil and satanic. It seems that there is a “group think” going on with people regarding it.

“I’m not sure why it’s bad, but my pastor and most of my friends say it’s bad – so yea, BOOOOOO socialism!!!”

 

The irony of how Christians have approached this issue is that throughout scripture we find evidence of a way of living together that is characterized by sharing, not competition. Roman imperialism introduced a society where the rich and powerful benefited while the poor and weak suffered. Meanwhile, the writers of scripture condemned the practice of not caring for the widow and the orphan.

Widows and orphans were the most vulnerable in society. The early centuries were overwhelmingly patriarchal, so a child without a father or a woman without a husband were severely susceptible to poverty, slavery, or death. God’s instructions, according to Bible writers, were for the society as a whole to remember and care for the poor. From the first writings of Biblical text to the last, people who believed in the Jewish God were adamant that we should take care of those who can’t provide for themselves. They advocated for the sharing of goods, food, shelter, and whatever else a person needed without grumbling about whether that person should be able to do for themselves.

One of the more well-known examples of how followers of Jesus shared is found in the book of Acts. The writer tells us that the first followers of Jesus sold their possessions and lived together. At one point in the story of the early Christians, we read:

“No one among them was poor since those who owned lands or houses sold them and turned over the proceeds” Acts 4:34 CJB

In the following chapter of Acts, a man and his wife are struck dead, presumably by God, after withholding some of the proceeds from the sale of their property. There is no indication from the scriptures that anyone was forced to contribute, but it seems that these first century Christians were pretty serious about sharing their goods with each other for the benefit of the whole community. So it strikes me as odd that so many modern Christians are hostile to the idea of socialism.

The hostility towards socialism has lead to scathing critiques and unnecessary mischaracterization and hatred of people who support the idea. It bugs me every time I see a new meme belittling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who seems to be a good young woman contending for a better society.

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We shouldn’t have to agree with her politics to avoid disparaging her intelligence. Human beings should be able to discuss the flaws and merits of both capitalism and socialism without one person leaving the talk as the intelligent victor and the other the stupid loser. But perhaps that’s a by-product of a society built on competition. There always has to be a loser.

Am I suggesting that America should adopt socialism over capitalism? Not at all. As I said already, I’m not an expert. I am suggesting that Christians especially should ease up on the bashing of people who advocate for a system of government that helps us better take care of the poor. Who knows if socialism would work in America now or in the future. That’s beside the point. We should be open to all possibilities that can help make our communities more just.

We’ve just seen a glaring example of how a society built on competition can lead to people with wealth, power and privilege to rigging the system in their favor.

Image result for cheating scandal

Yet, many people demonize socialism because of poor people who will take advantage of the system. Americans take advantage of capitalism every day. We have a culture that rewards people’s status and high-born birthrights. Meanwhile, that same culture leaves people with poor heritage and lineage to scratch and claw for the little they can reach. Yes, some Americans have made meteoric rises from the most impoverished parts of the country to achieve massive wealth and notoriety. That doesn’t mean the system is working.

Again, I am by no means an expert on politics. I’m not a political columnist, nor am I a supporter of one party over another. I believe that we need to be smarter about how we talk about our world. We need to be more compassionate about how we talk about other people, and we need to be more open-minded when we consider the complexities of a blended society.

 

The “N” Word We Need to Use More Often

The “N” Word We Need to Use More Often 960 413 Corey Leak

I once gave a talk about how circles are better than squares. It was a 9-minute speech with racial undertones.  In the talk, I used the n-word a couple of different times. I knew that it had the potential to make the room uncomfortable. I was sharing this talk in an environment of mostly white people, but it was the best way to get the point across I was trying to make. A few days after I gave the talk, I got some feedback from a 60-year-old white man who said that I shouldn’t use that word because it made him uncomfortable. It was bizarre for me, a black man, to hear that the n-word made a white man uncomfortable, but I understood what he intended to communicate. The word is hard to hear because it has such a loaded history. I get it. I know why we avoid using it in mixed company. It’s a complicated word with a long and arduous past.

But. There is another n-word that we seem to avoid these days that shouldn’t elicit visceral responses, but it often does –  unlike the word used to degrade blacks, this word shocks and offends in other ways. No one re-coils when they hear or see this word, but people react when it’s brought to bear on a conversation featuring strong opinions.

Image result for nuance definition

Try suggesting that taking an innocent life is tragic and women should have the right to choose in the same sentence and you’ll see pretty quickly that some people can’t handle the n-word. We live in a time where people are so convinced of their own righteous beliefs that they make little to no room for opinions that veer from their own even slightly. The mob mentality is strong these days. We are herded into tribal thinking before we have a chance to form our own opinions. People tend to parade gray areas as black or white, and if we don’t accept them as such, we can find ourselves without a tribe. This is especially true for those of us who subscribe to a religion.

Image result for religious

These days religion too often boils down to taking sides. “The only opinion there is to be had is the one that I hold based on my interpretation of the sacred texts or traditions.” Sure, no one would say that out loud. (At least I hope not) But, you can feel this kind of posture being taken by people the moment you suggest that there is another way to interpret the belief they hold so sacred.

Religious people believe that being open-handed with beliefs is tantamount to blasphemy or heresy and warn against leading people astray or getting too close to fires of hell. God’s judgment is always looming with people like that. God is an agent of vengeance looking on angrily as human beings struggle to understand the meaning and work through the pain of life. How tragic is this view of God? How sad is it that for people who have found meaning for their own lives through religious practice and beliefs, that they are so unwilling to allow space for people to think and reason for themselves outside of the limited scope of their self-righteous opinions.

We have reduced too many of our social conversations down to binary beliefs. Complicated issues like gender, race, sex, and women’s health are far too NUANCED for the dogmatic mind to engage in. If you’re already entirely convinced that what you believe is all there is to know about a subject, don’t join a dialog. There is no point. You waste your time and the time of the people you’re engaging in conversation with when your opinion is already the final authority on the issue.

We need more people willing to allow for NUANCE on issues. Because human beings have so many varied experiences and ideas about life, it’s impossible to move forward when there are only two options to choose. “Believe this, or you’re wrong” will never move us forward as humans. Only NUANCED thinking and willingness to enter into dialog with the possibility that my view isn’t complete without the opinions of others will.

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NUANCE makes it possible to believe in the validity of multiple arguments and ideas. When I embrace NUANCE, new facts, discoveries, or experiences aren’t adversarial to me. Instead, further details about something I’m passionate about add to and enhance my thoughts and feelings. I welcome the experience of others. I appreciate new studies and ideas because they provide new insights to factor.

If you’re a person who struggles with allowing for NUANCE, Here are a few things that can help you.

  1. Seek out someone you respect who has a different take on an issue than you do. Perhaps even the complete opposite opinion than yours. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone, that’s a bigger problem. Seek help immediately. 
  2. Listen to the stories of people with life experience for something you have passionate views, but no experience.
  3. Educate yourself through books, blogs, podcasts, or articles. The more you educate yourself, the less dogmatic your opinions become. 

If you put these three things into practice, you’ll see how much bigger the world is, and you’ll find a new appreciation for other experiences, thoughts, and ideas.

After my conversation about how much I used the n-word in my speech, I started to feel like a white man being uncomfortable with me using it to drive home a point about the ugliness of division was his problem, not mine. The same is true for those offended by NUANCED opinions. It’s not your problem when someone is disturbed by your ability to recognize the validity of multiple points of view. It’s theirs.

 

The New White Moderate

The New White Moderate 805 535 Corey Leak

In Dr. King’s breathtaking “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he lamented the posture of white clergy towards the Negro liberation movement in Alabama. White people felt like the protests lead by Civil Rights leaders were unwise and ill-timed. If you’ve never read the letter, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve read it before, might I suggest you take another look at it as we approach MLK Day on Monday?

Dr. King highlighted one group of people, in particular, with which he had grown more and more frustrated. He said this group of people were more of a threat to the full liberation of black people than any white supremacist hate group. He was more disturbed by these people than even the Ku Klux Klan.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Being an advocate for social change today doesn’t require what it once did. Marches and sit-ins are no longer the only way to show that you support the cause of black people demanded equality. As a result, the new white moderate can hide in plain sight. They can hide because of all the access to wokeness social media gives us.

We live in an era where social media allows the new white moderates to borrow the wokeness of people deeply committed to social change by clicking the re-tweet or share buttons. 

The new white moderate is a white person who believes in white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and the overall inequity that exists within the American social structure. They read, watch, and listen to today’s thought leaders on race. NWM recognize racism when they see it. Many of them possess a heightened sensitivity to racism and can often see racism in comments or actions that appear void of malicious or racist intent. They are secretly discontent with the lack of diversity at their jobs, churches, or in their communities.

Today’s moderate is different than the moderates that sat on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Those white moderates were blind to privilege, implicit bias, and fragility. They didn’t have access to the menagerie of woke content that saturates the internet today. In today’s world, NWM have become well versed in the language, trends, and stories that boost their understanding of the issues that keep black and brown people from standing on equal footing with white people in America.

Moderates then and now hold some beliefs that prevent them from engaging in the minority struggle for equality. These ideologies hold their wokeness at bay and blind them to their lack of allying and advocacy. Chief among these ideas is the belief that Time will fix it.

I worked for an organization that was reluctant to take even the smallest steps forward in the dialog about racial inclusion and equality because the timing needed to be just right. I agree that the schedule for having a dialog about race, justice, and equity should be well-timed, well thought out, and well executed. The problem with the new white moderate is that the “right time” they are waiting for seems to be measured by the white fragility watch.

The time for dialog about racism is almost never right now.

I’ve heard white moderates say that a solution to racism is to “wait for old racist white people to die off.”. I’ll echo the words of Dr. King.

Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

In this past three years, my children have come home from high school and middle school with stories of 12 to 17-year-old students who use terms like nigger and coon. If we are to continue to wait for time to emerge as the long-awaited Messiah for racial justice, we are at least another generation away from seeing the change that many of us are so eagerly awaiting.

There is no way forward for the new white moderate or any of us that won’t cost us. No path of little resistance exists for people wanting to commit to significant efforts of change. Time will not jump into the fight and win the battle for us.

The new white moderate is a fifth-year senior in the aware stage of white wokeness. They are more progressive than those that are in denial about the effects of racism on our society but pose no threat to the systems and structures that keep racism in place. They aren’t willing to go public with their objections to the evils of racism for fear of what it could cost them financially or socially. NWM are comfortable in the privilege they so readily admit is an ugly stain on the fabric of our Nation. That privilege allows them to evade feeling any sense of urgency for change. It’s not their fight, but here’s hoping that one day it will be.

If We’re Being Honest

If We’re Being Honest 480 360 Corey Leak

I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have worked in churches for the past 20 years. I love Christians. I am a Christian. And as a Christian, I think that there are some topics that we should be more honest about.

Hell

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We know very little about hell, but talking about hell honestly in many Christian circles is the fastest way to lose friends and be labeled a heretic. Just ask Rob Bell. Throughout the literature in the Bible, hell is used in various ways. It’s used to describe where everyone goes when they die (Sheol/Grave) in the old testament, and metaphorically by Jesus alluding to Gehenna which was a valley where trash was burned and before that where children were sacrificed by fire to a pagan god named Molech. Beyond that, a “lake of fire” is mentioned by John in his epic book of Revelation which is an imagery-rich commentary on politics. Scholars debate exactly what John was saying in his book in much the same way we drew deep meaning out of the “This Is America” video without talking to Childish Gambino about what every detail was really saying.

If we’re being honest, most Christians don’t know why they believe what they do about hell. Most would likely say they get their beliefs about hell straight from the Bible, and they aren’t lying. They truly believe that, but most of what we have believed about hell isn’t directly from scripture. It’s from an era well after the original texts were written. We have the Medieval Period to thank for much of our modern beliefs about the afterlife. I would argue that what we read from scripture about the afterlife is left to our own imagination. The idea that those who reject God will live forever in a burning torture chamber is highly debated by Bible scholars, and not as cut and dry for people who read what is actually written in scripture on this subject. Being wrong about hell is scary, and I understand why for so many Christians believing in the Evangelical tradition about hell is safer than not. I guess it never hurts to have fire insurance.

 

Marriage

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There is little debate in Christian circles that marriage is a commitment between two people to love and care for each other exclusively, and “traditional marriage” is between a man and a woman. We teach marriage principles learned from the psychological community as though they were strictly Biblical. “Biblical marriage” crosses a broad spectrum. Old Testament men married multiple wives. Paul suggested people not get married at all, and Jesus never married.

He did talk about divorce, however. Jesus said that the only grounds for divorce were in the case of adultery. Which means that other reasons deemed perfectly understandable by most today like… abuse, addiction, indifference or general unhappiness, all fall short of Biblical grounds for divorce.

If we’re being honest, Christians have for some time made concessions for divorced people out of a desire to be compassionate. Most of us wouldn’t dare tell an abused partner to go back home and “stick it out” because Jesus didn’t give them permission to leave.

I wonder if it’s not time to extend the same compassion to our LBGTQ brothers and sisters. I personally know people who considered divorcing their spouses because they were unhappy who also believe that homosexual marriage is an abomination. How can Christians extend grace to people who have done something God hates (Malachi 2:16), yet remain staunch in their resistance of same-sex partners entering into a commitment to love and care for each other exclusively?

 

The Bible

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The Bible is viewed by most Christians as the inspired word of God. It’s as if God himself hand wrote it and dropped this leather-bound book with that mysterious silk paper out of heaven and onto the earth. Over the years we’ve made silly arguments about what it is, what it says and what it means. Being Biblically literate has become a badge of honor above loving our neighbors for some Evangelicals, but how much do we really know the Bible for real?

If we’re being honest, the Bible is puzzling. It’s mysterious. Its “facts” don’t always line up, and some of its ideas are underdeveloped. If you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds human” you’d be correct. It does. That’s the point. As much as there have been arguments made about the perfection of scripture, it’s long past time we admit that it’s not perfect. Too many human hands have been on it for it to be perfect. The writers, editors, and translators were all human beings, and we the interpreters are also human beings. Our faith to believe that God inspired the writers of the Bible has to come from outside the Bible itself. Trusting its words in our modern context is also trusting that the human beings who canonized it totally nailed it.

You see, Christianity as are all world religions, is about faith. Faith isn’t knowing. Faith is faith. We believe some things. We don’t know why sometimes, we just do. Life often presents us with pieces of a puzzle, but not the whole thing. We piece it together as best we can, but sometimes there are large parts of the picture missing. That part we fill in is faith. It’s foolish to try and convince ourselves or others not to look at the pieces that are missing or worse, to try and act like there aren’t pieces missing at all. There are lots of things from the Bible that we as Christians don’t know, but we believe. That’s beautiful! That makes us fully alive and fully human because we aren’t using our energy trying to do God’s job of knowing everything. There are many things we don’t know, but we believe them. Believing and knowing are not always mutually exclusive, but they can be. (SELAH)

We have tried to make the Bible the authority on science, history, politics, and religion, but outside of religion, the Bible isn’t the most accurate accounting of those categories. Trying to make it authoritative on the subject matter it’s not intended to be the authority on diminishes its beauty and lessens its effectiveness in the world. The same can be said of us Christians. Maybe it’s time we just are honest about who we are and what we truly believe.

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Not Safe For Church

Not Safe For Church 4224 2604 Corey Leak

A friend messaged me this video yesterday and asked what I thought of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6KPJONhj7w

Initially, I wanted to have a conversation with the pastor….

I’m not sure I’ll ever get to have that conversation, but I do have issues with this video on several levels. I’ll share a few.

Theologically

This one time Jesus (Jewish Rabbi) took his disciples to a town called Caesarea Philippi, and while there he had a ground breaking conversation with them. I imagine most Christians are familiar with the story. It’s in Matthew chapter 16 if you’d like to read it for yourself. What’s obscure to modern readers about this story is that the town Jesus brought his teenage students to was not a nice town. The town was dedicated to the Ceasars and was the home of a pagan temple for worshipping a Greek god.

Rabbis forbade “good” Jews from going to Caesarea at all, so the fact that Jesus not only went there, but took his disciples is pretty unusual. More remarkable is the fact that this is where Jesus says one of the most famous phrases in history.

“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.”  Perhaps you’ve always thought these words were talking about religious institutions versus a raging fiery place where the devil lives. Most of my life that’s what I believed, but that’s actually not true. The word church means gathering of citizens, and the “gates of hell” is an actual physical place that you can visit today. Ancient people believed it was mystical because of the literal mist that would come up out of the opening of this mysterious looking cave. They believed it was a doorway to the underworld where the god Pan lived. They would engage in pretty obscene sexual acts to worship Pan that would be NSFW to this day.

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Yes, Jesus and the teenage boys with him were within hearing and watching distance of some really nasty stuff while having this conversation. Anyone who’s watched GOT and tried to follow the story line without enduring all the sex scenes can identify with how hard it is to try and pay attention to what’s being said over the debauchery happening in the background. Jesus is saying some really important and ground breaking things to his closest disciples while there is an orgy going on nearby. Of all the places to start talking about this new kind of gathering called church, why do it in Caesarea Philippi? Why not Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish faith? What statement does this make about what Jesus’ intentions were for church? It’s unlikely he has this talk where he has it by accident.

Could it be that Jesus is making a statement about who is welcome? This announcement about church and its impact could have been had within the friendly confines of a Jewish synagogue or inside the temple, but instead it’s happening out in the wild where “those” people are. That should inform our belief about church and the messiness that Jesus intended “his” gatherings to be part of. If Jesus could sit with his disciples in a place where people literally had sex with goats to worship a pagan god, how should we imagine he would treat a transgender man or woman in church?

Morally

Let’s suppose you are a person who truly believes that in order to keep faith based space “holy”, you have to keep all the really bad sinners out. What is gained from embarrassing a human being in front of a whole room? I have a moral issue with stripping another human being of their dignity simply because I believe they are acting in ways I disagree with. I wonder how many people in that room, including the pastor, could remain in that church if we were to put all the unsavory behaviors, practices, or thoughts on display for a whole room to judge? This hierarchy of morality is neither godly or appropriate for society. Shame on all of the people in that room who clapped and shouted amen at that reprehensible act of grand standing. It was wrong, and I hope this pastor is lead to see that it was wrong and apologizes to whoever he was targeting with his tirade.

Personally

Often times our negative feelings about others are triggered by something we see in ourselves. I pray that I don’t have any degrading caricature of true religion left within myself, but I know that I once did. I can remember one of my first sermons as a youth pastor. I was full of personality and wit, and for some reason I decided to direct my wit and humor at the LBGTQ community. I was grossly homophobic in my language, and thought I was right to talk the way I did. It’s one of my greatest regrets in life. It breaks my heart to know that someone in the audience was probably made to feel ashamed of who they were because I was trying to prove I was cool.  My final issue with this video is me. I’m sorry I have used words publicly to shame people. On behalf of the Christian church in America to anyone who has been hurt by rhetoric like you watched in the above video or that I used as a young, insensitive, dummy, I’m truly sorry. Every human being is on a journey, and you don’t deserve to be degraded for yours. It’s my hope and prayer that churches and pastors that dump shame on people learning to accept who they are close their doors unless they learn to practice inclusive faith that makes room for everyone to belong.

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