Is diversity or discipleship the answer to segregation within the American church? David Swanson, pastor and author of Rediscipling the White Church, talks with Amy Julia about the segregated American church, the white church’s discipleship problem, and how rethinking discipleship can grow communities of welcome that break down barriers. (Scroll down for book giveaway details!)
“David W. Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church, a multicultural congregation in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. He helps lead New Community Outreach, a nonprofit that collaborates with the community to reduce sources of trauma, and speaks around the country on the topics of racial justice and reconciliation.”
“There’s something that’s been discipling us outside of Jesus that has left us content with that segregated status quo...Why is it that my discipleship to Jesus hasn’t upended or broken through some of the segregated patterns that are so normal in this country?”
“What makes us so incredibly unique is that we make up this family with other welcomed outsiders…and the center is always Christ, the center is always Jesus’ body, which welcomes us as these former outsiders now sitting together at the same table.”
“One of the attributes of whiteness is forgetfulness.”
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Thank you to Breaking Ground, the co-host for this podcast.
Head, Heart, Hands, Season 4 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast, is based on my e-book Head, Heart, Hands, which accompanies White Picket Fences. Check out free RESOURCES that are designed to help you respond to the harm of privilege and join in the work of healing. Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
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Those of us who are white have been formed to see ourselves as the center. There's no real distinction to us. We are the neutral background upon which others are placed and in which their distinctiveness is made visible. And this is really a kind of a heretical idea of what it means to be Christian, right, where we have been through the grace of Jesus into this family. And, and what makes us so incredibly unique is then we make up this family with other welcomed outsiders as well. And the center is as Christ. The center is always, Jesus is bod II, which welcomes us as, as these former outsiders now sitting together at the same at the same table
Amy Julia (48s):
Friends, I'm Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of social division and the season. We're talking about how we can respond to the brokenness in our own lives and in our society with our heads, hearts and hands. And today I'm talking with David Swanson about his book re discipling the white church. It is a terrific book. I highly recommend it. And the great news is that we are able to host a giveaway for the book with two copies. So if you want to know any details about how to enter that giveaway, please go to the show notes. And now here's my conversation with David Swanson.
Amy Julia (1m 30s):
I am here today with David Swanson. He's the pastor of new community covenant church out in Chicago and author of a book called Redis cycling the white church from cheap diversity to true solidarity. David, welcome to the podcast.
David (1m 46s):
Thanks so much for having me, Amy, Julia, I genuinely appreciate being here, man.
Amy Julia (1m 50s):
Well, I'm so glad you're here. And I think our listeners are really going to appreciate it too. And I wanted to start just by asking, we don't know each other, so I don't know your story other than what I've read in your book and from what I gathered in reading, it, it, this book came out of years of personal experience, both in terms of your childhood experiences and also your current experiences as a pastor. So I thought that maybe a way for us to get to know you a little bit before we dig into the content of the book would be just to hear about some of the experiences from your childhood and your time as a pastor that led you to write it.
David (2m 25s):
Yeah, yeah. So I'm a, I'm a missionary kid, an MK for folks who know the language I grew up in Venezuela and Ecuador and my dad was a, a missionary pilot. So we flew little airplanes and to, you know, hard to access areas. So from, you know, my earliest memories up until entering high school, we, we lived in, in South America and then moved to Southern California. So obviously I think in hindsight, that was significantly formational for me in ways that I wasn't aware of at the time and probably am still discovering at the very least appreciating diverse cultural environments and expressions.
David (3m 12s):
But I think also to a certain extent, having an idea of what it feels like to, you know, be a little bit on the, on the outside, not totally understanding how things work, you know, sticking out a little bit. Yeah, great experience. Great years loved, loved my childhood. We moved to Southern California in the early nineties. So this was OJ Simpson years. This was the ride King beating years caught on videotape, which was a real kind of Seminole moment. It was also time in California where legislation was trying to be passed. That would are the children of undocumented immigrants from attending public high school or public schools.
David (3m 56s):
So this was sort of my introduction to conversations about race and ethnicity and racial injustice. And in this country fast forward, went to college in North Carolina, met my wife there. And then we moved up to the Pago suburbs for graduate school and start to get to know the city of Chicago through some friends who were from Chicago, from the South side of Chicago, which is the majority African-American side of our, of our city. And so, yeah, pretty quickly was induced to the legacy of racial segregation and, you know, some of the history of a black one particular moving to the North escaping, you know, Jim Crow islands in the American South and so on and so forth.
David (4m 40s):
And so when I entered ministry pastoral ministry, it was in the suburbs in a majority white church again. So thankful for that experience, that's really where I received my call to ministry, but always felt just a little bit out of place. You know, the, the kind of mono ethnic nature of, of that suburban experience was something pretty foreign to me and kind of had this draw to the city. So again, fast forwarding eventually was called by a church as an associate pastor into Chicago, and then naturally sent a few of us to plant the church about 18 months later on the South side of the city where these friends were from. So we're in a majority African-American neighborhood, it's an historic neighborhood Bronzeville for people who don't know is I call it the Harlem of Chicago and it has a similar history and legacy and insignificance.
David (5m 29s):
And we started a multiracial church 11 years ago now. So for the past 11 years, I've been learning like crazy. And, you know, just reading, building relationships, trying to understand some of the dynamics that have shaped our neighbor. So, so that has been, that's been my world for the past decade. And so the, the book, which I will get to felt like a bit of a shift to kind of get my back in the height church spaces, just cause I had been trying to learn so much in these multiracial and American spaces for, for quite a few years. Yeah.
Amy Julia (6m 9s):
So tell me when you say we planted this church, who's the we,
David (6m 13s):
Yeah. So this is one of the great gifts of being at a church that had a vision to start new churches, is that it wasn't just me or just me and my family. There was a small group from the church, some who already lived in the community and the neighborhood. And then, you know, over the, the year before we started, we were able to invite others to join us in that as well. So, you know, so when we started, we had maybe 20, 25 folks, both from the sending church and then from, from outside as well.
Amy Julia (6m 43s):
And what is that? Can you just give us a little bit of a picture of your church now? And then again, we will actually move to the book, but I'd love to hear about 11 years later, where, where is this church? What are, what are you doing? What are you look like?
David (6m 56s):
Well, yeah, it, you know, we're recording this still very much in the middle of the pandemic. So asking a pastor what their churches like right now, it's kind of guests guesswork a little bit, but we're roughly evenly distributed between Asian-American African-American and white. And so these forties, early fifties, we meet in a gym in the neighborhood where we'd been for about seven years and draw from kind of a relatively small footprint on the South side. But Chicago was a very segregated city. And so to be a multiracial church in the city usually means that you're, you know, you're welcoming people from, from different areas in the city.
David (7m 38s):
So we have a deep commitment to our neighborhood. And as we, we understand that people are going to be coming from deep, different neighborhoods to participate in the life of the church.
Amy Julia (7m 47s):
Awesome. All right. And we'll, we'll get back to the idea of neighborhoods and participating, but before we go any further, I want to talk about just defining some terms and part of why we need to do this is just because I'm not sure everyone will even be familiar with the word discipleship, but I also even want to talk about what the white church means, but I want to read one thing. You've written as a little bit of a framework into this question. So early on in the book, and this comes up throughout the book, you write the segregation within white Christianity is not fundamentally a diversity problem. It's a discipleship problem. And I think that's one of the, at least the thesis statements, right. For the book, I was like, this is not a problem of diversity.
Amy Julia (8m 28s):
It's a problem of discipleship. Right. And so I obviously it's in the title, it's a thesis statement of the book. Like I just want to make sure that we start with, what does it mean to be discipled and what would it mean to be re discipled let's start there.
David (8m 43s):
Yeah. So I, I think one of the things that's really helpful about the word disciple and discipleship for me is that it's not necessarily a Christian word and that becomes important in, in, in the book, but I am a Christian. And so I do think about it in those ways, in the ways that Jesus seems to engage with this. So my kind of short and simple definition of a disciple is somebody who follows Jesus in order to become like Jesus to do what Jesus does in the world. So there's this kind of three-fold movement of, of following becoming, you know, being, being transformed and then participating through the power of the spirit and what Jesus does in the world. And I think depending on your church tradition, you emphasize maybe one of those more than the other two.
David (9m 25s):
And I hope we can hold those three, those three together, but I sense that's what being a disciple is. And then, so this ship is inviting people to, to that, to follow, to become and then to do.
Amy Julia (9m 39s):
And so let's pause for a minute and talk about what we mean when we say white church. Okay. So we're talking about discipleship and re discipleship of the white church. So what's the white church. And why does it need read discipling?
David (9m 52s):
Yeah, I'll try to keep my answers short here. We've got plenty of time. Okay. Okay. That's good. So when I think about the white church, I'm thinking about churches that are demographically white, right? So the majority makeup is white, but also, and this is a little bit more nuanced, overly white. So I, I, a pastor of a multiracial church and sociologists of religion have shown repeatedly that many multiracial churches are in fact, culturally white, they're not multi or intercultural. They, they have a culture in the congregation that defaults to the majority culture.
David (10m 34s):
So, so this is what I'm picturing, I'm picturing those, those kinds of demographically and culturally white, you know, congregations and ministry spaces and the question of why need to be redisign coupled. Okay. So there's a lot to say about that, you know, and, and, and the question itself is worth kind of thinking about a little bit too, right? Because I think many of us who are white, we think, well, look, these are just matters of personal or cultural preference, or even just convenience, right? Like I go to a white church because this is a church that was close by, or I liked the style of worship or the preaching connects with me or, you know, so on and so forth.
David (11m 15s):
And there's certainly truth to that. We need to look historically and understand that historically white churches in this country were racially exclusive, you know, maintained a, a racial segregation, a part of what they understood. It meant to be Christian people. And, and this history gets played out in lots of ways. There, there really is no act church in this country. And I think by, by, by extension, you could think about other churches as well, without that history of exclusion, you know, where, where were black people were not welcomed into worship with, with, with, with white Christians.
David (11m 59s):
So there's a, there's a particular history there that, that we need to reckon really seriously with, but on a more kind of feel logical level. What, what really keeps me awake at night is the, the vision for the church that I read in the new Testament is one in which dividing lines and, and, and, and, and, and, and barriers of hostility are broken down by the gospel. There's this assumption that for, for those who have given their lives to Jesus, they now participate like actively in an embodied experience, the way with a surprising group of people, with a group of people who you wouldn't necessarily have done life with before, which maybe among sense as an argument for the multiracial church.
David (12m 44s):
But again, I want to nuance that a little bit. What concerns me is that from, from what I can tell, the majority of white Christian don't necessarily want that this is not a desire of our hearts. We're not troubled by the segregated nature of our, of our congregations. We would, many of us kind of pay lip service to diversity within the kingdom of God, right. And we would be thankful for that, but when it comes to a, a day-to-day basis that the segregated nature of our lives and our churches doesn't doesn't particularly bother us. So we missed the particular history of exclusion and segregation, and then there's been, there's something that's been discipling us outside of Jesus that has left us content with that segregated status quo so that we don't have it with a sense of love.
David (13m 38s):
And we don't, we don't kind of survey our, our relational networks and go, well now, why is it that as a Christian, my relationships more or less look the same as, you know, my neighbors who are not Christian, why is it that my discipleship to Jesus, hasn't kind of appended or broken through some of the segregated patterns that are so normal in this country? So, so for me, those are the, those are the kind of on-ramps to saying, I think there's some discipleship questions here that we want to raise that would get at why it is that we have been so long content with this, the status of basically segregation.
Amy Julia (14m 16s):
Yeah. I'd love to stay here for a minute. I'm thinking about you saying like for many white Christians, it's not something that actively bothers us, that this is the case. And I would say, even for those of us who it does bother our first step out of, it tends to be into what you described earlier as cultural whiteness, right? Like it might not be actually demographically, only white people, but culturally, and then for many of us that feels like, well, we solved the problem, right? Like now I'm in a worshiping space, even in a corporate body with people who aren't from the same demographic group as me and therefore I'm done when really what I've done is I've said, Hey guys, come be like me.
Amy Julia (15m 2s):
Okay, let's keep going. And so I'd love to talk a little bit more about whiteness, because I do think it's really relevant here. And a couple of the things that really struck me in your writing about it. So I've, I'll back up for a minute. I have thought a lot about what it means to be a white person and what it means to be a white Christian, what it means to be in a white church, which is true of my current and actually my church experience overall. And I've thought about the ways in which being considered, you know, white and America gives me these social advantages, whether that has to do with assumptions about what jobs I can do, or, you know, access to schools or towns or spaces.
Amy Julia (15m 46s):
I've also thought about the ways that whiteness has isolated me from lots of other cultural experiences. And I have participated in worship in some true multicultural spaces and recognized how much I am losing out on as a result of not having those relationships and being really, truly intimately connected with a wider understanding of other Christians who come from different cultural backgrounds in mine. And I know that I've participated in injustice as a result of my whiteness. So I know it's all a mix of things, but you brought up a couple of the losses associated with whiteness that I haven't always considered.
Amy Julia (16m 28s):
And one of the things you wrote, you said, okay, white people have been deceived and damaged by the narrative of racial difference. And it was when you were talking about the fact that we've lost any sense of cultural distinctiveness and just kind of been lumped together as white. And I'd love for you to just talk about that and why that's a loss like the cultural losses that have been sustained by this insistence. Again, we might not consciously be thinking I'm insisting on this, but this insistence on whiteness.
David (16m 58s):
Yeah, I think it was probably only 10 or 12 years ago that I, I realized that the idea of human particularity is really one of the ways that we need to understand Jesus and the incarnation that Jesus comes in a particular body with a particular accent, you know, at a particular time. And, and, and the, and the incarnation of the son of God, speak into our own humanity in a way that I think we see then carried all the way through revelation, right?
David (17m 44s):
The, the vision of a particular peoples with languages and traditions worshiping Jesus together, none of that goes away, right? None of that goes away after Christ return. I say that because this is one of the real devastating things that whiteness does, right. It removes those particularities. So my ancestors, when they graded to this country, they didn't come as white people. You know, they came as Swedish people or German people, right. They came with particular customs and histories. And very quickly, when you, when you come to this country, you realize that that dream that you came for is really only attainable by those who are white, or you can be as proximate to whiteness as positive.
David (18m 29s):
And, and, and so to become white, then the, you know, the fencings had to become the Swansons right, and, and symbolic of all kinds of decisions that needed to be needed to be made. And I don't know that we have grappled with that loss. What, what did it mean to make that exchange? What did it mean? And certainly some of that is conscious. Like I, I talk with, with more recent immigrants and particularly children's of children of first generation immigrants, who've had these conversations with their family. Why didn't you teach me the language? You know, why, why didn't we keep some of these traditions? And, and it's very clearly understood that we needed to set those aside in order to become as white as possible so that I could give you as many of the fits of this country, as I possibly could.
David (19m 20s):
Right. This one of the great sacrifices that immigrant parents often often make for their, for their children and the loss is I'm not sure that that we've grappled with so much. And so as white people, we have come to understand ourselves, not through God, given particularities place, language, history, tradition, culture, ethnicity, but rather through this sort of very vague label of being white. And even that we have trouble talking about, right? So that when we, as white people come to these conversations, it's really difficult for us, right. We don't necessarily even have the language of, of who we are and what it means to be who we are as, as white people.
David (20m 4s):
So there's, again, there's so much that needs to be explored there, but at the very least part of waking up to this conversation for white people means accustoming ourselves to a bit of mint to a bit of, to a bit of grieving what was lost, what was left behind in order to attain something else?
Amy Julia (20m 26s):
I think. Yeah. So a couple of thoughts in response. One is just, I remember when I was in like middle school, social studies hearing, and this was probably relatively new, I'm guessing at the time, like you might've heard that America is a melting pot and really we're a salad bowl. Like, you know, that sense of them trying to actually hold onto the idea that are distinctive different pieces to this conglomeration of people. But when I was reading your book, I was thinking back to like, okay, but to what degree was I a part of a melting pot? Whereas, you know, my Asian American friend was an Asian American. I did not even start thinking about myself as European American until recent years.
Amy Julia (21m 9s):
Right. And I certainly was never taught to do that growing up. And yet I also wonder about, so there are two things here on the one hand, the losses that we w who are white and don't understand ourselves as anything else sustain. But then I also think of the insistence that white Americans perhaps. And I don't know if this is, can be said about America more broadly, the insistence that if you, I mean, there are African-Americans who have been in this country by heritage, longer than I have, who are still seen as being right, like culturally distinct and coming originally from Africa. And of course, if I think about it, I'm like, and I culturally come from Europe, but I just wonder whether there's a kind of another loss in terms of I'm not willing, or we are not willing to see you as a part of us.
Amy Julia (22m 0s):
Right. So it's almost like it goes both ways in an unwillingness to acknowledge cultural distinctiveness, but also an unwillingness to say, and yet here we are all Americans together at the same time.
David (22m 16s):
No, I think that's so insightful. I think a couple of things, we're, we're recording this conversation a week and a day after the murders in Atlanta. Right. And, and this for many Asian-American people is one of the defining characteristics of life in America is being the perpetual foreigner or the perpetual outsider there. Right. I have friends whose families have been in this country for hundreds of years, as you know, and yet still the question is where from the assumption being a can be, we can't be here. Right. The other thing that, that your observation makes me think about is, again, theologically, those of us who are Gentile have been adopted into the family of God, you know, Paul's languages we've been grafted in, you know, fully welcomed, right?
David (23m 11s):
We're, we're, we're no longer in foreigners, but we are in a very real sense of well outsider to the family of God. And so, you know, this is one of the other really damaging things that race does is that it, it causes us to forget that in and it, and it causes us to place ourselves at that center, right? Where you see the distinction of, for example, that, you know, the African-American person or the Asian American person, but on a, on a deep, well, those of us who are white have been formed to see ourselves as the center. There's no real distinction to us. We are the neutral background, which others are placed and which their distinctiveness is then made visible. And, and this really kind of a heretical idea of what it means to be Christian, right, where we have been through the grace of Jesus into this family and, and what makes us so incredibly unique is then we make up this family with other welcomed outsiders as well.
David (24m 7s):
And the center is always Christ. The center is always Jesus body, which welcomes us as, as these former outsiders now sitting together at the same, at the same table. That's the, that's the new Testament vision. And again, I think this is as Christians, we need to have a particular concern about these conversations because they do cut really against some of our most important beliefs and convictions.
Amy Julia (24m 34s):
Yeah, absolutely. I was struck also in reading, just in thinking again about whiteness as neutral or normal and not needing to be there for explored kind of the default option and what it means to begin to be conscious of that as a cultural experience, both for me teaching my children how to do that in a, in a way that is again, like respectful, but yes, you're absolutely right. And what does it mean to hold our distinctiveness? And yet also see ourselves as being together in the family of God. And as you said, welcome outsiders. Another aspect of whiteness that you write about is the up on rootedness, right?
Amy Julia (25m 18s):
Like the fact that there's a transience that some of this has to do with affluence, which again, there's some correlation between whiteness and affluence, even though they're obviously not the exact same thing, but I'd love for you to talk about why it matters that we, especially people of faith are committed to particular places and what that has to do with discipleship, with race and with justice. Also, I would love to just hear you think about that out loud for a little bit.
David (25m 44s):
Well, the, I think the first time I started thinking about this was I heard Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil talk about kind of his, you know, through the lens of biblical history of God's sending people to, to really be formed by the world by God's creation. That, that, that God's effort was, was for people who would care for and be cared for by, by God's good creation. And, and, and, and the particularity that arises from this is good. It's, it's, it's, it's affirmed in, in, in, in our Christian scriptures. And again, race, race erases that, you know, race says those, those particularities are not, what is important about you.
David (26m 31s):
What's most important about you is this, this construction, and then these labor pools that we can now place on you, which will then put you on a particular hierarchy. And so the, the, the, the kind of haunting question for me is, does the creation, does God's good creation still retain that formational, you know, influence and power. And I think the answer is yes. So if, if one of the things that race does is to kind of detach us from place, right, to say, like where I come from, isn't all that important. What's most important is this, this thing that's been, been placed on me that allows some of us, the privilege of mobility, the privilege of moving, you know, from this place for college, then to this place for graduate school than to this place for the first job, to this place for a better job than to this place, because it has a, you know, the better school districts and so on, and, you know, conversely causes someone else to be stuck in a, in an oppressive place because they don't have that same, same mobility.
David (27m 30s):
You know, then, then, then what would it look like for us to say, actually, God's creation is still good and God's creation can still be forming people and communities of people who will commit being present to that place together, who will be formed by that place together, who will commit to kind of placing ourselves in the stream of what God has been doing in that place for generations be before us. Right. I think there's so much that can be explored there. I don't think any of this, you know, completely subverts the power of race. I think we're waiting until Jesus comes back for that. But I do re remain pretty hopeful about what it looks like for communities of people to, to, you know, to start to see their place with different eyes, to start to see the way that it can actually really be shaping and forming and curating a people together.
David (28m 23s):
So that those welcomed outsiders centered on Jesus are beginning to develop some common rhythms of life together and even some common culture together.
Amy Julia (28m 33s):
So what would you say when it comes to place? I'm thinking about where I live, which is Western Connecticut, small town, the town, and for some reasons of injustice, as well as some reasons of demography is vastly majority white. So what does it mean? How does this apply? Right. In my context, is it, you know what, yes. Just be rooted in your place and learn the history and be, I mean, for example, I know that in town, there was a group of abolitionists who were run out of town in the 1840s, you know? And so I do know a little bit of that history and I have become more connected to some of the cities that are nearby.
Amy Julia (29m 15s):
And, and yet I do, it's something I, and my husband wrestle with living in a small white town. Well, wait, should we be committed to this place? Or does following Jesus mean going to a place that has more actual diversity? So I'm curious how you would answer that.
David (29m 30s):
Yep. I think it's a super important question. I start with that question by thinking about the history. I sort of imagine, you know, what, what would it look like if every town like yours in that town, there was a church that was known for being the keeper of the memory in that, in that town. Like, if, if Eden to know what had happened, he would go talk to the Christians at that church, because these were a group of people who took seriously, God's command to remember God's repeated commands or remember to not forget. Right. And that command involves predicting the old Testament. Two things.
David (30m 10s):
You, you remember what God has done, but you also remember where you've messed up. Don't forget that stuff either, right? Because we're not going to repeat that again, to circle back to whiteness for a second. I I'm convinced that one of the attributes of whiteness is forgetfulness that the need to leave those things behind generations back breeds a kind of forgetfulness, which then breeds a kind of a sense of innocence. Right? If we forget the sort of like ugly and unjust history that led to this point, then we can see ourselves as being innocent. Right? Like I never owned any slaves. Right. I don't have a racist bone in my body. Like the kinds of things that we hear, right. There's this sense of innocence.
David (30m 51s):
That, again, as Christians ought to be very troubling to us, because we know we we're all sinful all profoundly and needed the grace of Jesus. So, you know, going back to the, to this particular town, what is the history that this town to becoming mostly white and the assumption for most white people as well? It's the accident of totally true. Usually there's, you know, there's some more points of history behind it. Like, like you've mentioned, I was on the West coast years thing with some pastors about some of these things. And I said, well, this is not really an issue for us because our city is mostly white. And, you know, we appreciate what you're talking about. So I was going to talk to him again the next morning, that night, I just Googled a little bit about there.
David (31m 34s):
And it took 10 minutes, you know, it was not, it was not real hard. And there's still, there's still laws on the books and their city in certain neighborhoods where black people are not allowed to purchase homes in, in that now clearly on a federal level, that's a legal and that wouldn't, but it's still on the books it's still exists, right? Like there were, there were forces of policy that led to the way their city happens to look right now. Right. But we forget those things. We forget this, that, those, those histories. And so I want to call Christians and saying, let's actually, as we, as we look at our majority white spaces, let's be the ones who understand why they are
2 (32m 13s):
The way that
David (32m 16s):
They are. So that's one, sorry. I'm this is a really long answer to your question. Number two. Okay. Okay. Number two then would be that in my experience, spaces are generally more diverse than white people think they are. I I've, I've had this experience so many times it was like, you know, my, my, my town, my suburb is totally white. And I would start asking questions like, well, who, you know, who serves the food at the restaurants that you go to? Right. Or who's in more rural Saturday, who's, who's, who's, you know, who's taking care of the fields, you know, the agriculture nearby. And so I do think that that's a piece to lean into a little bit as well, which isn't the same.
Amy Julia (32m 59s):
I have one friend to that point who lives half an hour away, but she has said to me, you know, she's like, yeah, it's just, it's not as hard as white people think it is to make black friends. Like, I mean, in the sense that yeah, sure. I live two towns over that is true. I don't live two States over, you know, and we both have children who go to school. We both have, I mean, there are things that we share in common and we can build relationships through those things. And sure. It's a little more effort to decide to go to the dance class in the town where maybe, I don't know, but yes, I do think to your point about the Googling and it took 10 minutes and there is a willful ignorance, ignorance.
Amy Julia (33m 48s):
And I think what you were saying about just the forgetfulness, I wonder how much the transience has to do with that as well. Because if my family had been in this town for that many years, you know, then there is more likely to actually be a memory much and much more, so a sense of responsibility or accountability to that memory. Then there is when I come into a town and I'm like, well, I wasn't here. Yeah. So I think those things are all related to each other. It's really interesting. Well, I want to move to the idea of relationships actually, because you end your book with a chapter about cross-racial relationships, friendships, and you also very intentionally do not start there.
Amy Julia (34m 29s):
So I'd love to ask you to explain why problems arise when we think that relationships are the key to undoing segregation in most of our, you know, American churches and most of our American culture too.
David (34m 43s):
Right, right, right. Right. Certainly not just limited to our churches. Yeah. So, so there's a couple of scholars, Michael's and Christian Smith who years ago identified these kind of three. I call them instincts and white Christian space, relational ism, individualism, and anti structuralism. And we don't need to go into all of those, but it's important to notice that, that these are sort of the tools that we grasp for when we are confronted with injustice and racial injustice in particular. And so what this means is that that white people, culturally, we've been formed when we think, okay, we want to do something about racism or racial segregation we immediately go to, so we need to start building friendships.
David (35m 28s):
We need to start building relationships where we are kind of formed an individualism. So Isen individually to make friends relational with another individual. And there's nothing wrong with me, friends. I mean, my life is so much richer because of the diversity of friendships that I know what, what we miss though, is that I can have an incredibly diverse friendship network and have done absolutely nothing to disturb the underlying material sources of injustice that are privileging me while simultaneously really, you know, making my new friends lives harder. And, and so the, you know, to, to kind of harken back to something you talked about earlier, the churches that can maintain the kind of white culture, it's, it's easy to not easy, but you can have a multiracial space that really is mostly for white people, because it's mostly about the relationships.
David (36m 18s):
It's not actually doing anything to, to address those material sources of injustice. So that's the, that's the, that was the concern. That's why I did leave it to the last and even debated including it at all, because my fear was we would just grab on to that. Oh, okay. So we just need to make friends. And yet I did feel like I needed to include it because as a Christian, I don't know how we think about any of outside of, you know, relationships.
Amy Julia (36m 43s):
Yeah. Well, and I agree with you that there's a, a sense of, we can let ourselves, I guess, off the hook too easily, if we're just thinking about relationships, but we also, even back to what you were saying about particularity particular relationships also can connect our eyes and our hearts to real people and real needs and real what you talked about mutuality. So it's not just me being aware of the needs of my neighbors who are black and Brown, but also me being a recipient of the gifts of those individuals and those communities. So I think the mutuality piece is really important too.
Amy Julia (37m 24s):
It also strikes me that I think the sociology definition of a multi-ethnic church is what, 80% white. I mean, so I'm always like, that's a lot of white people like bar. Yeah. It's a low bar. And so no wonder it feels white. Like, I mean, and I understand, I mean, I'm sure there are reasons why they chose that number in terms of studying it. But I also think that there is some work to be done if we're going to even try to call something multi-asset in our definition of it, that's kind of a side point, but I would love to talk a little bit about the ways in which churches can actually begin this process of redesigning bullshit.
Amy Julia (38m 11s):
You give lots of practices in the book and we don't have time to talk them all through. And hopefully this will prompt some people to actually go by the book and read and, and think about what would it mean to do this. But you know, if you've got a church that's kind of coming to you and saying, Hey, we want to do this, but we are new to the concept. Like we're just starting out. We're certainly not going to be multi-ethnic anytime soon, you know, what would that look like? What would the, of beginning re discipling look like for a church like that?
David (38m 41s):
Yeah. Yeah. So, so that would be just, just what you said. There would be great because I think historically majority white churches have said this isn't for us, right? The work of the ministry of racial reconciliation isn't for us, because we're all white or our town is all white that's for a church that's in the city or that's for, you know what I mean? Someone who's in a diverse environment that's for you. And so my, my attempt here is to flip that and say, actually, no, this really is for, for you. This is, this is our responsibility. And those of us who are in majority white settings have a particular responsibility. And we'll see that more clearly. Once we use the lens of discipleship, right?
David (39m 21s):
Rather than saying, this is all about pursuing diversity. Cause it's all about diversity. We've automatically written off a vast majority of the American church and told them you don't have a role to play in this and that that's, that's completely backwards. So I really affirm that like, like that church, that's say it's mostly white church say, this is great. You actually want to do something about this. Okay. Don't, don't try to start recruiting people of color right away. That's not your goal. Your goal is to ask why is it that we've been content with this racial status quo for so long? Let's let's do some, some introspect introspection. And now that we're developing a heart for racial reconciliation or racial justice, let's ask ourselves, what was it that left us to be content with, with the other, for so long, this is a, a posture of confession, right?
David (40m 10s):
It's saying, how have we been competed in, in sin? How have we by omission or comish and participated in sinful structures and decisions that have segregated us and damaged sisters and brothers in Christ. I think that's an important posture, but then what I want to encourage churches to do is not to throw everything out, to not completely reinvent the wheel, but to trust that actually God has given us the gifts that we need to begin doing this right now that we don't have to start a racial justice ministry. We don't have to start recruiting lots of people of color that, that if the goal is to his disciple ship, then let's, let's look around and find out what's, what's discipling us right now.
David (40m 53s):
What are our discipleship practices right now, for me, I'm particularly interested in corporate discipleship and how we're being formed together. I think that's really important for those of us steeped in individualism, but every single Sunday, particularly in non COVID times when our church has gathered, there are all kinds of practices that we are engaging in together. Whether it be, you know, Holy communion, you know, musical worship, maybe their service projects that we're engaging in our children are being discipled once are we, we kind of started looking around at what we're already doing. Then I think we can start to ask, okay, so what would need to be changed? What would need to be added? What would need to be edited a little bit so that these practices simply take on more of their God-given power.
David (41m 38s):
So that in addition to discipling us in these ways, they're now discipling us deeper into a solidarity with the whole body of Christ so that our, our hearts and our imagination and our assumptions are actually being transformed through these practices. So that over time we're finding that we imagine ourselves having more in common with Christians of color than with white people who don't share our faith. Right, right. We actually believe in live into desire that kind of common life together, even if we don't get to experience that as much as we would desire to because of the segregated nature of, of American life.
David (42m 19s):
Now, maybe over time, the Holy spirit leads that church to say, we do need to become multiracial, right? Like the discipleship stuff is happening. Our hearts are being changed. We are now much more hospitable to genuine expressions of intercultural ministry and not just assimilation. So that could be, that could be a possibility at some point down the road. But for me, the good news is we can all jump into this right now.
Amy Julia (42m 40s):
It reminds me, I have a friend named David Bailey. Who's been on the podcast a couple of times. And he runs a ministry called Aerobahn. And he says, you know, not all churches are called to be diverse communities, but we are all called to be reconciling communities. And I think that your book speaks to that as well. Just that sense of what does it mean to truly as a body be connected to the body of Christ. And that might not show up in the pews every single Sunday. And yet there are many, many things we can be doing to be shaping ourselves. Whether it's a pastor who is, you know, reading a quotation from a theologian of color, whether it is inviting, as you say, not on Martin Luther King day, but pastor of color, which actually, it's really interesting.
Amy Julia (43m 30s):
I'm thinking about our own church. I'm in the, as I said, this kind of white country church, but our pastor has relationships with many other pastors who are people of color. And so w we have as a church, essentially formed a relationship with one other pastor who comes up a couple times a year and preaches. And he is just this generous, gracious, wonderful man comes up with his family and stands in front of the church. So first of all, he's in a position of authority, which is awesome. And he stands in front of the church and he says, hello, cousins with his arms outstretched. And it's a really beautiful gesture that I what's really interesting is. So then he had friends who came a couple of times to our church.
Amy Julia (44m 15s):
And one of them who actually is from a native American background, ended up staying, becoming a member and is now the associate pastor at our church. So we now have a woman from a native American who grew up on a native American reservation, who is our associate pastor. She is in, at our church as a result of this invitation, essentially. So I do think there's more that God can do with these little acts of, and yes, it's an act of racial justice, but it was as much an act of as you use the word solidarity among the body of Christ that led to that. And it's, it's been pretty beautiful to see that even if it's just these little small ways for us to get more connected outside of our little, predominantly white town and community,
David (45m 3s):
We shouldn't underestimate those things. We shouldn't underestimate those, those, those small steps because small steps lead to bigger steps, lead to bigger steps, right. You know, five years from now, the thing that seemed impossible now, it seems normal, but that never happens if we don't start taking those, those, those smaller steps. And yeah, I, I didn't, I really didn't want to write a book that just made people tired to read it. Cause I can't, I just, I can't do those books. You know, it was like, Oh man, I gotta change my whole ministry that, you know, I really believe that God has given the church what we need. And it, it, it calls for some reimagination. It calls for a posture of humility.
David (45m 43s):
There's some lament here. This is, this is difficult work. Right. But the gifts are there. I'm convinced of that. The gifts are there both in the local church. And then like, to your example, in the, in the wider body of Christ, if we simply open ourselves up to them.
Amy Julia (45m 58s):
And the last thing I'll say is that an, the gifts are gifts, right? I mean, they're actually beautiful. They're enriching and they are life-giving and they are. I mean, I, again, I go back to participating in worship in a truly multicultural experience now probably 10 years ago, but I just was like, Oh, this is giving me a glimpse of the kingdom of God that I have not had before. And I carry that to this day as just something that I long for as much as I love worshiping with my brothers and sisters on a Sunday morning. So I think that's the other thing is just that we are not doing this for the sake of suffering or sacrifice, even though there may be what feels like sacrifice along the way we were doing this for the sake of the beauty of justice and of solidarity and of being a United with one another under the loving, gracious work of Jesus.
David (47m 1s):
That's I mean, that's, that's what makes this, this Christian, right? I mean, I have friends who are not Christian, who do racial justice work. I love, I love partnering them, love working with them. What, what ought to make our participation in that distinct is that we expect there to be death. We expect that at times, this kind of thing will feel like that, but there will always always be resurrection on the other side of that. Like it is genuinely good. I,
3 (47m 30s):
You know, it's hard, it's difficult, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Right? Like once the more you tasted C of the kingdom of God, of the body of Christ, you don't want to go back
Amy Julia (47m 47s):
Well, David, thank you. Thank you for these thoughts. Thank you for this book. And thank you for the, just the, you know, gracious and gentle approach that you take to giving us some of those small steps that can honestly nevertheless result in large change. I think
3 (48m 8s):
Thank you for that. Thanks for having me. Absolutely.
Amy Julia (48m 13s):
Thanks so much for listening to love is stronger than fear. Again, I want to remind you that we are hosting a giveaway of David's book. So take a look at the show notes, find out how you can enter. There is so much in the book that we didn't get to cover today. So I highly recommend checking it out. I also want to thank our cohost breaking ground. If you want more podcasts and articles and videos about a Christian from a Christian perspective about how to think about the past and understand the present and explore redemptive possibilities for the future. Visit breaking ground dot U S. I also want to say thank you as always to Jake Hansen for editing the podcast and to Amber Barry for all the work she does as my social media coordinator.
Amy Julia (48m 58s):
And finally to you, the listener. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being here. Thanks for sharing the podcast. Thanks for your feedback about how it's been going for you. And as you go into your day to day, I hope you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
3 (49m 15s):