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.


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. 


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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?


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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. 

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.

It’s Complicated (Abortion and Choice)

It’s Complicated (Abortion and Choice) 660 352 Corey Leak

We have a moral conundrum in front of us. I’m sure the title gives away that I’m writing about abortion, so some of you may take issue with me using the phrase “moral conundrum,” but that’s what we are wrestling with right now in America. The ethics of abortion are far more complicated than politicians, media, some people of faith, and internet memes would lead us to believe.

We aren’t the first society to grapple with unwanted pregnancies, women’s rights, and the question of when life begins. Does life begin at conception? Is that the moment a woman has a “person” in her womb? Many Christians use words written by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah to answer those questions:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

With that as the starting block for their belief about life, it’s easy for a Christian to start running with the idea that life beginning at conception is a no-brainer. According to the text from Jeremiah, an argument can be made that life begins before conception, so, for most Christians, it’s incomprehensible to imagine that a child isn’t a person at the moment of conception. The word before is relative. It has a broad reach that can lead us to any number of conclusions when reading that scripture.

What were you doing before reading this blog? Don’t think too hard about that. The answer is EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER DONE. Depending on how you interpret “before,” we could argue that every virile male carries lives around with them, and if that’s the case, should we consider the use of condoms abortion? What about male masturbation – is that terminating life? That’s part of the complication that comes from the how we read the words of Jeremiah, but there are more equally complex ideas we can find when we look deeper into the beliefs about life found in the Hebrew scriptures.

There is an ancient law given by Moses to the Jewish people after their liberation from Egyptian slavery. It’s found in Exodus, and Biblical interpreters struggled to understand what it means.

“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

The phrase “serious injury” is an attempt at translating a word from our earliest translations of Exodus. That word is “mishap,” and people were pretty stumped by what that word meant in the context of these verses. Ancient translators of these texts all had a slightly different take. Some interpreters believed that mishap had to do with what stage of pregnancy the woman was in, and others thought it was about whether harm comes to the woman. In the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, interpreters believed that mishap had to do with whether the baby was “fully formed.”

“If two mean are fighting, and a pregnant women is struck in her belly, and her child comes out not fully formed he shall pay a fine… But if it is fully formed  he shall give a soul for a soul…”

The people responsible for translating sacred text into other languages thought that there was a point in which a fetus was fully formed and therefore a living human being and a point where the fetus was not. For one scenario involving miscarriage, the penalty was a fine, but for the other, the sentence was death – a soul for a soul.  What were the criteria for “fully formed”? Your guess is as good as mine. The point is, even within the history of the Bible, there has been some complication around this issue, and not just in the Old Testament.

There are instructions given to women in the NT about being a wife to an “unbelieving husband.” The direction is to live with him righteously, and not to leave him. On the surface, of course, this verse has nothing to do with abortion, but if we examine the culture surrounding the instructions, we find that abortion would have indeed been a complex moral issue for women.

During the times the NT writers were writing women had almost no rights at all. In fact, throughout most of the world, women were slaves. Often masters would sleep with their female slaves, and if the slave girl got pregnant, he would command her to put the baby outside the city gates where the babies would die. She had no choice.  Men treated their wives in similar ways, and they too would have no say if the husband wanted to get rid of the baby.

Now imagine a pregnant woman who has come to faith in Jesus at Christian gathering going home to a pagan husband or master who has already decided he didn’t want the baby. She’d have to be feeling like God would want her to keep her baby, but the only legal way to do so would be to flee illegally. Maybe she’s considering leaving to save her baby, and then she reads (or hears read) a letter from Paul, the leader of the Christian faith at the time, telling her not to leave her husband. This woman has no choice. Regardless of her condition morally, mentally, or emotionally, she has to give up her baby. Even if she wants to choose life for her child, she can’t. Society had stripped her of her right to choose before the baby was ever conceived.

Pro-life people aren’t all close-minded, evil, oppressive patriarchs. They feel like their stance protects innocent lives, and we all have a moral obligation to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. We should preserve all life against violence and harm, and protect a woman’s right to choose. These two issues are not mutually exclusive.

We shouldn’t demonize the people who deem themselves speaking up for the voiceless babies in the womb for their moral passion. Likewise, women and men who are passionate about women maintaining agency over their bodies are not spawns of satan. We need to stop dishonoring people on the other side of our arguments using caricatures of their beliefs to make our points look better.

I’ll never forget hearing a woman I respect sincerely tell me that if she were ever raped, that she’d seriously consider abortion. Ever since then, I decided that my opinion on the matter is far less significant than the views of women who could have to choose between two awful realities. I have yet to hear, meet, or see on television, a pro-abortion woman. Sane people don’t celebrate the deaths of the innocent.

I know that the President has forever tainted the phrase, but in this case, it’s true. There are good people on both sides. It’s just complicated.

For anyone wondering, I’m a thousand percent in favor of women making moral choices about whether or not they want to give birth to a child. A woman, her doctor, and an involved, loving partner should inform the decision about what to do with a pregnancy. Society shouldn’t make that choice for her before she ever gets pregnant.




Believe Her (Part 2)

Believe Her (Part 2) 3000 1556 Corey Leak

Believe women. That’s not a controversial statement, but somehow our culture has made it a polarizing phrase. Often times when people hear or read that phrase they interpret it as don’t believe men. It’s similar to how BLACK LIVES MATTER elicited a ALL LIVES MATTER response. Ironically these efforts to lift society to a greater level of inclusion, can make people feel left out. That’s kind of a head scratcher for me. Why can’t we lift the downtrodden without the rest of society balking at the idea of equality?

Both data and routine conversations with women reveal that our world is not a safe space for women to come forward. We rarely adequately punish the perpetrators. We call into question the validity of the woman’s story and we rush to the defend the credibility of the man. That is a gauntlet we ask women to run through to share their stories with us. No wonder most incidents of sexual assault or abuse go unreported. I want to take a moment and speak to one of the factors that put a barrier in front of survivors of assault. It is an important one that I believe we should spend some time wrestling with.

Last week I was faced with an interesting question about how I would want to be treated as a man if I were falsely accused of sexual misconduct by a woman.  First, the fact that so many people wanted to talk about false claims in the wake of remarkably credible testimony from Dr Christine Blasey Ford, is truly maddening. However, I will speak to the question I was asked.

If I were falsely accused I would want those closest to me to support me, and believe me when I tell them the truth of what happened. I would be frustrated and angry if my name were dragged through the mud based on an unsubstantiated claim about me. I would tell my side of the story to anyone who asked me and do all that I could to clear my name. I would certainly deny all the accusations and essentially call the woman who named me as her violator a liar. That’s my answer to a specific question about a hypothetical situation. Now, to greater issue with the question and the idea it springs from.

In an ongoing effort to make America safer after 9/11, TSA began requiring passengers to remove their shoes when going through security. This was after a man tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami. Several other measures were taken in the years that followed to make traveling safer for all. I’ve never stood in a long, slow security line (I don’t have TSA pre-check) and heard anyone say “Thank God we all have to take our shoes and jackets off. I feel so much safer!” We endure the inconvenience to ourselves for the sake of everyone’s safety.

If making the world safer for women to tell their stories means more men have to deal with an increase in false accusations, I’d consider that a worthy disruption of the current status quo in an effort to make the world a better place for all. I don’t believe we would see a dramatic increase in false claims, but if we did, would that be worse than a world where women don’t feel safe to come forward? Women have had to endure the pain and trauma of being silenced after being violated. All it took was one failed attempt at blowing up a plane with a shoe bomb for us to completely change the process of airport security. We can grasp the concept that creating safer environments sometimes requires that people be subjected to processes that are uncomfortable. That’s what I believe is at the heart of BELIEVE WOMEN. 

If men were to be subjected to more false accusations against their character as a result of society course correcting, that’d be a tax I think we should be less afraid to face. What’s truly ailing us in regards to sexual misconduct is bad behavior, not bad accusations.  I’d say we pay that tax so that the next generation of women live in world where their claims can be taken at face value without the burden of interrogation or disbelief. I know that being falsely accused of sexual bad behavior can ruin families, careers, and reputations. I’m not making light of that. I’ve heard stories of false claims that ruined lives, but I’ve heard far more stories of people who have lived their whole lives suffering injustice in trembling silence. As I shared this with my own wife, there was tension. She as a wife to a loving husband and sister to stalwart brothers, is disturbed by the idea of having any of us falsely accused. There aren’t simple solutions. I think we as a society should wrestle with what it looks like to change the current climate more than we go back and forth about whether a new world would be scarier for men. 

I know that there are women in the world who have deceitfully made accusations for personal gain or to be spiteful. I don’t think anyone is arguing that’s not the case. I would respectfully ask for that to be a separate conversation. That conversation in the midst of a movement to liberate women from being shamed for admitting they were victimized is insensitive and ill-timed. It’s like when a spouse is upset with their partner for not coming home when they said they would, and they pivot to a conversation about how hard they work to contribute to the household. The hard work is valid, and if they feel under-appreciated for the work they do, they should talk about it – after hearing the beef of their partner about not coming home when they said they would.

Showing love and compassion to people who need it often opens us up to being taken advantage of. The risk is worth it to take steps forward to becoming more just in how we treat victims of sexual misconduct.


How can you contribute to making the world safer for women to come forward?


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A Problem to Solve | Part 3 | (Because I’m a Woman)

A Problem to Solve | Part 3 | (Because I’m a Woman) 720 362 Corey Leak

Written by Stephanie Zibell

“Pastors, the lack of women in executive level leadership positions in the church is incredibly concerning to me and it should be equally concerning to you.”

This is the statement that I wanted to use to end this blog post.

My intention when I began to write this was for men working in church leadership to see the lack of women being represented in the church, and for them to decide to act on it. They would walk into their next meeting, look around, and begin to notice if the room had equal representation of both men and women.

Then I remembered my own journey towards advocating for women in leadership. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the context I was accustomed to and became curious, that I began to place a high value on the diversity of gender in leadership.

So, I decided not to write this as a persuasion piece for men who hold roles of leadership in the church, and who might be blind to what’s at stake…. I wrote it for the curious.


Recent findings in Outreach’s report on “The 100 Fastest Growing Churches in 2017″ show us that of the 100 fastest growing churches in America, ONE of them has a woman leading it, and that woman co-pastors the church with her husband.

“The National Congregations Study”, a 2015 comprehensive report conducted by Duke University, found that on a National scale, about 11% of congregations are led by women. This percentage has stalled, and remains unchanging since 1998.

You don’t need a myriad of studies and reports to believe me. Any one of us can Google search “churches near me”, click over to a staff leadership team page and confirm these findings.

To take it one step further, “The 2017 Women in the Workplace” study found that nearly 50 percent of men think women who work in companies are well represented in leadership – where only one in ten of those women are senior leaders. A much smaller but still significant number of women agree: a third think women are well represented when they see one in ten in leadership. The Pew Research Group completed a “Religious Landscape Study” and found that the gender composition of the Evangelical Church congregation is 55% women and 45% men.

What this tells us is that over half of the people who walk through the doors of a church are grossly under-represented on their church board, executive team and from the stage. And as we saw in the Women in the Workplace report above, there is a large group of both men and women who are currently “okay” with this notion.


There are many reasons why churches are run by mostly men. I will focus on only one.

Like Corey has already mentioned in Part One of this blog series, there is a popular movement in many church environments where the staff holds a high value of “hiring people to do life with”. To be honest, for years I thought this was a pretty great approach.

What’s unfortunate about this approach is that churches who adopt this notion don’t realize the wealth of information, experience, perspective and wisdom they are missing out on when they choose to surround themselves with people who are a lot like them. They might not even realize that by hiring people who are friends and people they “do life with”, they will more than likely end up with a lot of other like-minded men on their staff.

I have come to believe that this hiring practice is actually a dangerous idea. The problem is, although it is veiled in community and the desire for belonging (which are both beautiful things), it breeds exclusivity.

Unintentional exclusivity is every bit as dangerous as intentional segregation.  

Corey asked me to speak about my experience as a women in church leadership, but I would be re-miss to not take a moment to say that as a women who is strong-minded, extroverted and unafraid of conflict, I am also white. Relatively speaking, it has actually been a fairly easy road for me to have a voice.

I cannot speak on behalf of the black community, hispanic community or the whole of any community for that matter, but if have felt dismissed and small and like I need to fit into a perfect little package to fit the narrative of a woman in church, I cannot even imagine the exhausting burden and disappointment a person of color, or more specifically, a woman of color, feels when entering a church with little to no representation in leadership.


As a woman who has worked in both Corporate America and the American Church, I have always felt that in order to get a seat at the table, I needed to downplay my womanhood.

Don’t be too strong or you might come across bitchy.

Don’t be too soft or you might come across as sensitive.

Don’t crack a joke or you might look like you are trying too hard.

Make sure you laugh at the weird joke or you might look like you are a prude.

And the list goes on…

I have spent too much of my adult life trying to sit at the table despite being a woman. I’ve positioned myself as the expert on various platforms, but never on the platform of my womanhood.

This feeling of inferiority was validated over and over by the words and actions of mostly well meaning men and the values they held.

When I am told that my income is supplementary because I was married and therefore, the offer is a lower amount.

When any administrative task is tossed my way, regardless of my job description, because the assumption is that I will be good at it.

When I am asked to co-lead worship with a man because “men can’t sing along when its in a female key”.

When I was the only female in a ministerial internship to become a pastor, and also the only person asked to baby-sit, run errands, and be a support to the wives of the men leading.

Although I was never told that I was less than because I was a woman, the narrative that I believed was this: In order to become one of the few females running a department, board, or executive team of a church, I had to be more like a man.

However, the more I became fully alive in and aware of who God created me to be, I became empowered to believe that I need to sit at the table because I am a woman. Coupling my expertise and ability with my unique female perspective and experience is the golden ticket. This perspective is needed in decision making  rooms in the church.


I think there are two critical keys to becoming a gender and racially diverse church.

Value and Exposure.

When something is a core value, it becomes an integral part of how you operate and make decisions. It is a guiding light of sorts. Something you will fight for even if it isn’t expressed.

If it is a personal and organizational core value that the perspective of both men and women is vital to the transformational work of the church, then how you hire, how you develop your staff, and how you create weekend programming will align with this value.

While many churches fill their meeting rooms with men, there are a lot of churches who are truly egalitarian. The church we currently attend is one of them and I am grateful for their strong example. Outside of the church, there are many organizations who are playing an important role in the advocacy for women leaders.

Find them. Read their work. Reach out for a conversation. Think of a women you respect and ask her to be your mentor. Expose yourself to people, churches and workplaces who think differently than you.

Exposure is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and the people around us. By exposing ourselves to new ideas, thoughts, experiences, perspectives and cultures, we have the opportunity to grow in empathy, advocacy, and understanding. Exposure breeds inclusion, so expose yourself to the churches and organizations that are already there and learn from them.

I don’t think that we will experience the highest level of transformational change in our communities until we make diversity a value in the church. Inclusion and representation matters to an individual and it is time that it matters just as much to the church.