Rejection and Silence: Our posture towards race in the Church.


Race in the Church

KKK is welcomed to a church service in Portland, Oregon, 1922. (Credit: Oregon Historical Society)

A couple of months ago I was hired to write a short article for a magazine publication answering the question: “What still needs to change within the Church?” I spent considerable time talking with people both inside and outside the Church, people with great affection for and yes even disdain of the Church. The overwhelming response from these individuals–which comprised of friends, random strangers, and my coffee baristas: Why has the church been so silent on issue of race? I was surprised this was the overwhelming response, but it also lined up well with my research interests. I listened to their frustrations, to their pain, to their hope and decided to make the issue of race the focus of the article.

I worked to strike a balance in the article between challenging what is, and a hope for what could be. The article was rejected under the guise, “We’ve decided to head in a different direction…” Once again it would seem the white church has chosen to sweep the issue of race under the rug, even though our culture is screaming for a response. The white church has chosen silence. (Yes, “white church” is a purposeful distinction.)

Professor, activist, and scholar Angela Davis is attributed as saying, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist – we must be antiracist.” The same rings even more true for the Church. In the wake of the Southern Baptist controversy over their initial failure to adopt a resolution condemning white-supremacy (they did succumb to pressure the next day and adopt the resolution), and the continual non-humanization of black folk within our society, the Church must stand up and speak out. We can no longer remain silent.

I was encouraged by several friends to publish the short article here with a brief explanation of what took place so that silence will not win the day.

Below is the original, unedited article.


Our damning silence on race.

“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11:00 on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated—if not the most segregated hours—in Christian America.” These were the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an interview on Meet the Press on April 17, 1960. Fifty-seven years later, has anything changed?

Of course Dr. King was speaking before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; he was speaking during the height of Jim Crow and Sundown laws. He was speaking before the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Selma, and the murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi. He was speaking during a turbulent time of heightened racial tension, school segregation, and racially motivated assassinations.

It is easy for us to look back upon that period in history and say, “Yes, absolutely things have changed.” In fact, according to LifeWay Research, over two-thirds of Christians agree that their church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse and almost three-fourths say their church is diverse enough.

But do our opinions mirror reality or does the church still occupy the most segregated hour in America?

In United by Faith: The multiracial congregation as an answer to the problem of race, the authors show that major strides in desegregation has taken place in almost every aspect of life in the United States, with one notable exception: the church. They assert that only 5 1⁄2 percent of congregations are considered racially mixed (meaning no one racial group occupies more than 80 percent of the congregation.) If that number is not startling enough, compare that with the reality that 48 percent of schools are considered racially mixed. This means that schools are eight times more racially diverse than churches.

Dr. King implored the church to take the lead in bringing about racial reconciliation in that 1960 interview. Instead we have maintained Jim Crow levels of segregation within the church–this is sinful. This must change. We must change.
It is time for the Church to step up and lean in. We must take a closer look at ourselves, our attitudes, and our posture. But first, we must repent of our segregation.

While we may no longer be in a position to lead the way in bringing about racial reconciliation, we can still make a difference. We can still be a window into heaven. But we must take the first step and walk across the street, drive to the other side of town, cross the railroad tracks of division and say “hello,” and “I’m sorry.” It is a long road towards wholeness within the church, but in stepping towards and listening to the stories of our brothers and sisters whom we have forgotten, we will find the promise of reconciliation is not as far away as we thought.

Fifteen Years of “I do”


anniversaryWe honor the passing of time by fives and tens.
Milestones. Markers we use to bestow a greater sense of honor and praise.
Fives and tens.

Well now our marriage has one of each.

I love telling people that I’ve been married for “almost 15 years,” and always for the reactions. Wide-eyed looks of shock and disbelief, quick mathematical calculations to determine how old I could have been, “What were you 12 when you got married?”

“No that’s crazy,” I’d reply. “We were 13… but we still had to get our parents permission!”

Sure, we weren’t actually 13 but we were still young. Two kids in their early 20s staring at the unknown hand in hand, “ready for anything.” If only we had known what that really meant.

For us, those markers hold a multitude of stories and experiences that have molded us and shaped us into who we are today: Five adventurous cross-country moves, ministry experiences that went beyond intense, great heartache and loss, new friends and fellow travelers who have revealed new perspectives and ways of seeing and interacting with the world, health scares, the exhilarating birth of our daughter, and the tragic death of dreams we once gripped with a fierce tenacity only to watch evaporate in our hands. We are not the same two naive kids who said, “I do” fifteen years ago–although I still believe they’re lurking in there somewhere cheering us on, “ready for anything.”

“I do.”

Two tiny words which carried us across this threshold of life and thrust us into an adventure neither one of us saw coming. Two tiny words full of promise, overflowing with a commitment to stay faithful and true, to grow together, to challenge one another, to support and encourage one another, to go wherever God may lead us…

Fifteen years ago I didn’t have the slightest inkling of what those two tiny words really meant. Sure I knew that it was a promise, but the depth of that promise, the fullness of that promise? These were words laid out in abstract. Words of a future my imagination was unable to conceive or comprehend.

With each passing year, with each new experience, new milestone, heartache and tragedy, those two tiny words take on a richer meaning out of which a new and more profound vow emerges.

“I do.”

You, Tracy Monts, have been the adventure of a lifetime.
Here’s to fifteen more years of “I do” and beyond.
Happy anniversary.

The First Christmas Sermon – by St. John Chrysostom


In AD 386 the first known Christmas sermon was delivered by St. John Chrysostom (aka ‘Golden Mouthed’ which is the meaning of his given surname). It is a beautiful and profound message of hope in these days of uncertainty for us to pause and consider.


BEHOLD, a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

Resources on Race and Racism


I get a fair amount of requests from individuals asking me for resources to study on race and racism in America. I do my best to respond to each and every person who asks, and I try to tailor the resource list to their immediate questions and concerns. However, some simply want a general resource list as a place to start. That’s what this page is for, a list of accessible resources regarding race and racism in America.

I will update this list on a regular basis as new information comes in or new resources come to my attention. All of these resources are available either online, through Amazon, or through Overdrive–a great, free way to download e-books from your local library. This list is in no way comprehensive, nor does it strive to be. Rather the purpose is to be a starting point, an accessible and generalized list for you to access and expand your understanding.

First Updated: 11/21/16
Last Updated: 2/21/17


No Name in the Street
by James Baldwin.
Baldwin’s 1972 book is as prophetic for today as it was then. Baldwin has a tremendous ability to draw you in with his narrative style just before hitting you hard with truth. In No Name in the Street, Baldwin walks through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X and Medgar Evers while revealing the then present state of race relations. Spoiler alert: It reads as if he were writing today. There are segments of the book that align with the new Oscar nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. When I went to watch the documentary there were segments that read almost exactly like this book. They make for great companions.


The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin.
This is a masterpiece of historical literature. Baldwin opens with an essay to his 14-year old nephew detailing the struggle of race and what it means to be black in America. It was, perhaps, the inspiration for Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the World and Me (described below). It is interesting to read this essay and Coates work back-to-back to see the difference between the times. There isn’t much. Baldwin’s second essay in this book details the role of race and religion, including his own religious upbringing and the paradox he faced there within.


The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

Edited by Jesmyn Ward.
Ward brings together a group of important voices to speak about their experiences and their pain as black men and women in America facing the never-ending cycle of racism. These essays, reflections, poems, and insights into the reality of life as a black person in America is an emotional journey that points out the realities of our day. Ward fashions this work in the timeless piece of James Baldwin’s collected essays in The Fire Next Time. The contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honoree Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel Jose Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas.
In the wake of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and his the subsequent acquittal of his killer, Douglas wrestles through the sociological and theological tension that exist within the black church and her own self as a black mother. As an accomplished scholar, Douglas presents the historical context of racism within America, its roots, and its far reaching effects on today’s society. She does this while wrestling theologically with the question of God’s Justice.


The Cross and The Lynching Tree
by James Cone.
Theologian James H. Cone examines the the history of the African American experience of lynching in America through the lens of the Cross. He takes these two emotionally charged symbols (the cross and the lynching tree) and explores their interconnection in the history of black folk.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander.
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander examines the imbalance of the U.S. criminal justice system and its targeting of black men in particular and people of color in general. “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it,” she argues and the effects of the War on Drugs have unfairly targeted and decimated communities of color.


The Souls of Black Folk
by W. E. B. Du Bois.
A seminal work that outlines and describes the black experience post-Emancipation, outlining both the struggles and the challenges that were foisted upon an entire people. Du Bois goes a step further in this collection of essays (first published together in 1903) to affirm both the dignity and the humanity of the black individual.


Citizen: An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankin.
“A provocative meditation on race.” Claudia Rankin’s poetic expression of the mounting racial aggression and encounters in twenty-first-century daily life, in what is often described as a “post-racial society,” challenges the non-black assumptions and expectations of what life in America is like and how the collective effects of racism are manifest. Rankin utilizes essay, image, and poetry powerfully to give a clearer picture of the black experience.


Between The World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences.

Howard Zinn on Race by Howard Zinn.
This is a collection of shorter writings and speeches by Zinn that demonstrate and reflect his views on the questions and issues of race, specifically around the Civil Rights movement. During this period, Zinn was the chair of the history department at Spelman College, a historically all black women’s college in the South. He firmly believed that bringing people of different races and nationalities together would create a more compassionate world, where equality is a given and not merely a dream.


On Being with Krista Tippett
“On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”

* Isabel Wilkerson: The Heart is the Last Frontier
* Vincent Harding: Is America Possible?
* Ruby Sales: Where Does It Hurt?
* Michelle Alexander: Who We Want to Become Beyond The New Jim Crow
* Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, & Arnold Rampersand: W. E. B. Du Bois and The American Soul

Code Switch from NPR
“Ever find yourself in a conversation about race and identity where you just get…stuck? Code Switch can help. We’re all journalists of color, and this isn’t just the work we do. It’s the lives we lead. Sometimes, we’ll make you laugh. Other times, you’ll get uncomfortable. But we’ll always be unflinchingly honest and empathetic.”

* Black and Blue
* 46 Stops: The Driving Life and Death of Philando Castile
* Can We Talk About Whiteness

Pass the Mic
Pass The Mic is the premier podcast of the Reformed African American Network. Every month Jemar and Phillip sit down with voices from across the reformed movement with the mission of addressing the core concerns of African Americans biblically.

* Processing Donald Trump with Jemar Tisby
* Interview: Soong-Chan Rah
* Sho Baraka’s Narrative and 13th
* Current Events: Keith Lamont Scott, Terrence Crutcher, and NMAAHC



* Everything I Know About Racism I Learned in the Church by Christena Cleveland
* Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
* Could Black People in the U.S. Qualify as Refugees? by Raha Jorjani
* Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters: That he was an ethnic minority shapes how we minister today by Christena Cleveland
* When Christians Won’t Say #BlackLivesMatter” by Kevin Wright
* White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
* There Is No Such Thing As Race By Robert Wald Sussman
* Does Race Exist? Two Perspectives by C. Loring Brace & George W. Gill
* Race: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Michael James



I Am Not Your Negro [Documentary]



A thought-provoking documentary on NETFLIX filled with scholars, activists, and politicians who describe and analyze the criminalization of African-Americans. The particular lens through which they examine is the exponential growth of the U.S. prison population and the “loophole” of the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Check out the trailer

NY Times Documentary: Conversations on Race
NY Times Documentary

* A Conversation with my Black Son
* A Conversation about Growing Up Black
* A Conversation with White People on Race
* A Conversation with Police on Race
* A Conversation with Black Women on Race

RACE – The Power of an Illusion [PBS Documentary]
Race: The Power of an Illusion
* RACE – The Power of An Illusion – Episode 1: The Difference Between Us (PBS Documentary)
* RACE: The Power Of An Illusion – Episode 2: The Story We Tell (PBS Documentary)
* RACE: The Power Of An Illusion – Episode 3: The House We Live In (PBS Documentary)

Abortion Politics: A conversation with a political operative.


Abortion Politics
“What brought you to DC?” I asked the guy sitting next to me at the bar. He was well dressed, tie loosened, and finally off work at 9:00p.

“Politics, just like everyone else.”

I love being in Washington DC, the frenetic energy, the pace, the seemingly endless potential to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s why I wanted to go into politics when I was in high school… and maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in ministry. There are some interesting similarities between the two.

My single-serving friend for the evening was a political fundraising director for Congressional campaigns. He seemed to be pretty good at his job considering he’d hit all of his financial goals for the 4 previous GOP Congressional campaigns he’d run… well over $1.5 million per campaign. We talked shop for a while, I learned an awful lot about fundraising from this guy in just the 20 minutes we talked.

As we sat there talking, he looked tired; ready for this political season to be over. (Aren’t we all?)

“Do you vote for or believe in the candidates you raise money for?” I asked.

With a snort he responded, “No way.”

“Why do you do it then?”

“It’s a job.”

“I get that,” I responded. “Is it easy?”

“Yeah,” he laughed sarcastically, “if you have no soul!”

I chuckled along with him even though I think he may have actually been a little more serious than sarcastic. But I was really interested in his response so I pressed a bit deeper. “Who are the easiest people to raise money from?” I asked, wondering how predatory political fundraising is… I didn’t expect his response.

“Christians. Without a doubt. Christians.”

He had no idea that I am a pastor. No idea what I did for a living. Perhaps one of the benefits of being an evangelical pastor and not wearing a clerical collar.

“Why are Christians the easiest?” I asked.

“All I have to do is talk about abortion and they’ll support anything and anyone. In fact, abortion helps me get them to double max all the time.” (I had learned earlier in our conversation that a double max is the $10,500 total for a married couple for the primary and general election.) “And then,” he continued braggadocious-ly , “I get them to pledge a vote to my candidate, even though he won’t be able to do anything about it… And my candidate knows it. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”

“My candidate won’t be able to do anything about [abortion]. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”

You know that moment when you keep talking and reveal too much behind the curtain? Yeah. That was that moment. But I don’t think he cared… or maybe it was a moment of confession from someone who was starting to wrestle with the current reality of our political system.

I was taken back. I couldn’t believe he said what I have been thinking for nearly 10 years now.

You see, I cast a vote in my first presidential election for George W. Bush on the promise that he would do something about abortion, and more specifically about Roe v. Wade. The conservative Bible College I attended ran Pro-Life campaigns on campus, went to DC to rally against Roe v. Wade, and all of that made an indelible imprint on me–which is why I also cast my second-ever presidential vote for George W. Bush. I was a single-issue voter, and this compassionate conservative president was going to make a difference in the right way.

And then he didn’t.
And neither did Congress.
Everything stayed the same.

You see, when George W. Bush was in office, the Republicans had control of the House and Senate for 4.5 years of his 8 years in office. That’s nearly 60% of his time in office. And together, they couldn’t do it… or wouldn’t do it.

…Four and a half years…

Of course when you believe in a cause and you’re promised an action that never materializes, you tend to become a little cynical. My cynicism surrounding abortion politics began to create a few different scenarios in my mind for what was really taking place behind the curtain. Of course the one scenario that stuck in my mind was that the GOP really didn’t want to do anything about abortion because it was a source of cash and easy votes. Well, the curtain has been pulled back thanks to my single-serving friend and the darkness of abortion politics has been revealed.

So, if you’re voting for a pro-life candidate or if you’ve given to a pro-life candidate maybe start looking at the rest of their platform to see if they’ll enact legislation that will help drive down abortion rates through policies that help support women and create better environments for them and their children, like Obama has done (13% decrease according to a study done by Guttmacher). Maybe there is still a way to “defeat” abortion… but it’s going to look a whole lot different than the rallies and picket signs we were encouraged to take up in the fight.

Update |
“I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why. is a great blog post that was recommended to me regarding this conversation of voting and the pro-life movement. Shannon, the author, lays out a thoughtful position on pro-life and why a tacit GOP vote because of their pro-life stance may not necessarily be the best way to go.

Race, the Police, and a Dissertation. What was I thinking?

1 comment

Race Dissertation
The mess sat there on the table in between us. I had just spilled all of my struggles, frustrations, the emotional toll that was ravaging my heart, my spirit; all of it spilt right in front of us. Dr. Crumpton looked me in the eye and with both compassion and conviction she grabbed my hand and said, “Let’s pray.” I can’t even begin to tell you, but this was one of the most meaningful and even enlightening moments within my PhD journey to date.

I haven’t been very upfront or forthcoming with my dissertation topic, mainly because no matter who you’re talking to it elicits a wide range of emotion and opinion. It’s a controversial subject for a white man to talk about: racism–––but really only with other white people.

In the early summer of 2014 I decided that for my dissertation I would research and study systemic racism within the justice system. A few years earlier I had been impacted a great deal by Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and her look at systemic racism within our prison system. My eyes were open, and in the words of the activists in this new Civil Rights movement, I became “woke.” I wanted to dive deeper into this subject, I wanted to explore more of its intricacies and nuance but instead of looking at the outcome (mass incarceration) I was more interested in looking at policing, which at the front line of the justice system is its the most visible representative.

Now before I go any further, a bit of a disclaimer. It is important to note at the outset that I do not have a complicated relationship with the police. This nagging interest was not borne out of strife nor experience. I have family who are police officers, friends who are police officers, have been protected by police officers, served in a church where we took care of and served police officers throughout the city in myriad ways–including as chaplains to the police department. This research is not a “hit job” on the “cops” but rather from a listening ear and a desire to understand.

This early, nagging question about policing and race took greater shape and focus after I read W.E.B. Du Bois’s book The Souls of Black Folk. “It wasn’t so much that black people were being dehumanized,” I thought, “rather they’ve never been seen as human at all by our policing systems and structures. They have remained as something ‘other.'” That was what I wanted to study. This what I wanted to test out to see if it held water.

And then Ferguson happened.

As the protests unfolded on tv and the police presence escalated while the nation watched, as the citizens of the city cried foul and the police strapped on riot gear and unleashed tear gas, I found myself wondering if this was really the right time to be studying such a phenomenon. I called my advisor (and now dissertation chair) Dr. Crumpton. “I can’t do this,” I told her. “This isn’t the right time to be studying something like this… it’s too raw, too emotional, to present tense.” “Take some time,” she told me. “Let it sit for a bit and see where you are, you’ve got more time to decide what you’re going to do. But know, that this is an important work.”

And then 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot by police while playing in the park…
and John Crawford III by the police in a Wal-Mart and the Grand Jury in Ferguson came back with the decision not to indict Officer Wilson.

My doubts only intensified. Not only to wondering if I could do this, but would researching such a subject even be possible in this climate?

Dr. Crumpton once again told me to take some time, let it sit for a bit and see where I am. But know, “this is an important work.”

As I began the year-long journey towards PhD Candidacy, I was caught in limbo. A piece of strategy that I wanted to employ, after talking to several other PhD graduates, was using my Candidacy research towards my dissertation. Knowing I could skirt the issue of policing in my candidacy, I decided to write about Du Bois’s book The Souls of Black Folk. That would be a safe decision, and perhaps open me up to new avenues of thought in race towards my dissertation, right?

My Candidacy paper was entitled: “The Negro and the Imago Christi: W. E. B. Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk”. In it I concluded that Du Bois is calling attention to the humanity of black people, arguing to gain their humanity in the eyes of the white world, for the presence of a soul, and countering against the theological and cultural positions of the day that black people were animals at best.

And all the while Walter Scott was shot by the police, and Freddie Gray, and Rekia Boyd, and Samuel DuBose, and Sandra Bland, and Mario Woods… and the list grew and grew.

I can’t do this. This is too much. I’ll never make it through this gauntlet. Can’t I write something different? Something emotionally easier? Something on servant leadership? This is a leadership studies PhD, who would say no to servant leadership?!

But it was too late. I had already ventured to far into the rabbit hole. The subject would not relent, it had pursued me and captured me. I was at its mercy.

Just before she prayed for me, Dr. Crumpton brought a spiritual angle to PhD studies that I hadn’t before considered. “Sometimes,” she said, “the dissertation topic is something that God reveals to you and calls upon you to study.”


And you know, at the same time I think she’s right. I do have a sense of calling in this, and while the “what to” and “what for” are not necessarily clear at the moment, I do have a sense that something lay just beyond this.

Dr. Crumpton grabbed my hand and prayed for me. She knows that this is not only a difficult subject, but an already difficult journey has become that much harder as a result of this calling.

And so here’s where you, the reader, come in… I’m pretty sure this is outside of the norm for a PhD Candidate to ask, and it may sound strange but I need you to pray for me too. I am 8 months into my dissertation, 8 months into my research and the emotional toll of the subject has made for many sleepless nights, stress, anxiety, anger and tension in my heart and my head. I need your prayers, I covet your prayers, and I humbly ask for your prayers with both a sense of gratitude and a profound appreciation.

Grace + Peace be with you.

Four: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Fourth Year of Life.


a dad reflects
She sat there with her book wide open and looked up at me with her big brown eyes and melted my heart, “Papa. I love you. I missed you.”

I cried. I missed her too.

I have been traveling for the past week leading up to her fourth birthday and in a year filled with tremendous transition from moving across the country, to working on a dissertation, to Tracy’s job transitions, to changing pre-schools and having to make new friends; Elliot has been a champion throughout this entire season of crazy. Her third year of life was full of so much change.

Change is hard and as I look at this little girl who is growing up right before my very eyes I am caught between tears of sadness for what has past—note to self, don’t look at old pictures of your daughter the day before her birthday unless you want to sob—and with joy and pride for who she is becoming. She is resilient and with the big situations in life, she’s patient. Of course she still wants her cookies RIGHT NOW! But don’t we all? I find myself at times given to sadness by the amount of change she has had to experience in such a short amount of time. There’s a large swell of guilt that I feel for creating such a monumental amount of change in her life. A guilt for not being able to make it easier on her, for ultimately being responsible for all of this. Parental guilt is hard, real hard. And yet in the midst of it all there is this sweet and kind and smart little girl who seemingly takes it all in stride.

I sat there with her as she laid in bed, her music playing softly in the background, I asked, “Elliot, what are you most excited about by turning four?”

Without pause she responded, “I’m excited to start listening to you and momma!”

You see, for a little over a year now Elliot has promised that she will start listening to us when she turns four years old… you know, when she “grows up.” And she remembers this promise… and the night before her birthday she’s excited to follow through. And so am I. But as I think about this little moment, she knows how much this little promise means to Tracy and I. We’ve talked about it pretty regularly over the past year. And here, on the night before her birthday she’s thinking about us. She’s thinking about what she can give to us instead of thinking about herself. It’s as if this promise is her fourth birthday gift to us. And that seems to be a core part of who she is as a person. In fact, just last week she was busy helping put together her birthday party goodie bags for her friends and as she put different items into the bag she would remark, “Oh they’re going to love this!” That’s my girl!

Later that night I snuck into her room. She had crawled out of bed and made a nice and neat bed right in front of the door and fallen asleep. I scooped her up, laid her back in her bed, brushed her wild and curly hair aside and whispered into her ear like I do every night, “Papa loves you.” I stood in her doorway and watched the last few minutes of her third year of life pass by. I took a deep breath and let a couple of tears escape.

She’s four. (And now she’ll start listening to us!)

Missing the Point 02: Race


We missed it. We missed an opportunity to speak life and hope; to walk with people through their questions and grief and suffering. We missed it.

This past Sunday many churches all across the country were packed. Some of them experienced “Easter-esque” numbers in their church attendance–and in the middle of the summer! (For the non-pastor/clergy among us, this is a really big deal. Typically church attendance numbers are paltry in the middle of the summer… it has been deemed the “summer slump”.) Tweets and Facebook posts rang out with, “The church is packed today!” “There isn’t a single seat available!” “Hurry up and get to the 11a, the 9:30 was full!” There was an expression of both shock and excitement. Where are all of these people coming from?! And rightly so, this is seemingly unprecedented!

But we missed it. On July 10, 2016 churches weren’t randomly full. People had come looking for spiritual guidance and wisdom for how to respond to the horrific tragedies of the past week in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. People went expecting the church to speak words of healing and unity, to create a space where dialogue could begin, to experience a space that sought God in the midst of such chaos and confusion. But instead, they experienced silence.


We missed it*. We remained silent. We remained indifferent. And all of those people who came looking for healing, and dialogue, and widsom will turn somewhere else other than the Church.

We have lost our voice in society for no other reason than we fail to use it. When the stakes are high, when the words of Jesus need to be applied to our current cultural situation, and in the few times when people are looking to the Church for answers, we climb into a hole or hide behind the pre-determined sermon plan and say, “We’ll talk about it another day.” But we don’t. And we won’t. We have abdicated our responsibility. We remain indifferent and we misuse the platform that Jesus has given to us. In many ways I do wonder how this indifference, this abdication of responsibility mimics the one-talent servant in the parable of the talents.

If as a church you offered up A Sunday Prayer or something similar, that is a start but it is not enough. If you incorporated a line or two in your Sunday sermon and believe that’s enough, or if you said nothing at all I want to encourage you: Today is Monday but Sunday is coming. It’s not to late. We may have missed a moment, but it’s not to late to enter into the conversation. The first place to begin is to simply say, “I’m sorry.” Be a true leader and apologize for remaining silent this past Sunday. Chuck your sermon plan for this week and the following–you can always come back to them later–and do something to engage the conversation. Invite voices from the “other side of the tracks” to participate in your service. Listen to their stories of pain and suffering. Learn from their experiences.

In The Imitation of Christ Thomas à Kempis wrote:
“But if Christ is amongst us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace [read: shalom or wholeness or complete unity]. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore trust not too much to thine own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

White Christians, we must drop our opinions and our limited understanding of what is happening to our black brothers and sisters. We must listen first and we must listen carefully. We need to hear their experiences and their stories. We need to turn our ears towards them with love and care, seeking after understanding. We can no longer sit idly by in silence and in indifference. It was Elie Wiesel who once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Let us not be indifferent to our black brothers and sisters.

Church, we may have missed it. We may have remained silent but we don’t have to stay that way. It won’t be easy. This conversation will offend many white people–just as this post certainly has–but as church leaders we were never promised an easy faith or an easy road. We were called to carry the cross of Christ. And yes, the cross of Christ is offensive. Let us not lay down the cross when it matters most to our brothers and sisters of color, but stand with them arm-in-arm walking with them through their pain and suffering until change can come.

* I fully realize that there were many churches that did walk into the deep end of the conversation regarding race. There were several churches that put together spaces for healing, where fruitful dialogue happened. This is beautiful, and if you are a part of one of these churches you should be proud of your church and your leadership. You should champion them, encourage them, and write them a note of thanks. But unfortunately, these churches were few and far between this weekend.

A Sunday Prayer.


A Sunday Prayer
As we watched the chaos, the suffering, the tears, the death unfold this week in Falcon Heights Minnesota, Baton Rouge, and Dallas; as we were flooded with images and stories of pain and the terror of a nation that is seemingly coming apart at the seams, this morning we pause to pray. To pray for our nation, for our black brothers and sisters, and for the law enforcement community. To pray for healing, for peace, for unity. In a world gone mad, in a world given to hatred, Lord we pray for your love to reign supreme; that love shall overcome.

For our nation Lord, for the all-too-common violence and death we experience; for the communities that are reeling from horrific actions, for Dallas, for Baton Rouge, for Falcon Heights, for Baltimore, for San Francisco, for Charelston, for Ferguson… for Chicago. For the lives that are shattered and torn a part from needless and senseless death we pray for healing, we pray for comfort, we pray for change. O Lord change us.


For the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile we pray for your comfort. For the families of Walter Scott, Jermaine Reid, Philip White, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Aiyana Jones, Kumani Gray, Michael Brown, Miriam Carey, Sharonda Singleton, Tommy Yancy, Jordan Baker, Amadou Diallo, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland. We pray for their families and the many others who relive the events of the past week on a daily basis. For the conversations that fathers will have with their sons, for the fear that mothers experience every time their child leaves the protection of their home simply because of the color of their skin, we pray for your protection, for your comfort, for your peace O Lord.


For the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson we pray for your comfort. For the officers who are fighting for their lives in a Dallas hospital we pray for their healing. For the fear that husbands and wives experience every time their spouse leaves the protection of their home simply because of the color of their uniform, we pray for your protection, for your comfort, for your peace O Lord.


Mother Teresa once wrote, “To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another.” May we turn our prayers inward and ask that we may see God in our neighbors, our co-workers, our family members, the stranger, the foreigner, the alien. That we may see them through God’s eyes… as our brothers and sisters.

May we open our eyes to see the suffering of our brothers and sisters. May we open our ears to hear and listen deeply to their stories of heartache and pain. May we open our hearts to grieve and mourn with our brothers and sisters. May we draw nearer to them than ever before and may we open ourselves up to love. May we open ourselves to peace. May we open ourselves to unity and no longer perpetuate division. May this prayer not be the end of our engagement, but just the beginning. And may it be so through you Jesus, for as Paul wrote in Colossians, “you, Jesus, hold all things together.” For it is in your name that we pray, Amen.

Criminalizing the Black Body


Citizen Book Cover
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the color line,” declared W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903 at the outset of his classic text The Souls of Black Folk, but it’s not a problem anymore. We have done a thorough job of convincing ourselves otherwise, of covering up the issue and believing that progress has been made and that racism is simply a relic of another time. This treacherous lie is simply not true and is eating away at the fabric of our society as we watch more and more young black men and women die at the hands of the police. We have done nothing more than glide through varying cycles of positive change countered by numerous periods of regression, producing nothing more than “temporary peaks of progress, short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance” [1, p. 74]. White privilege is real.

From the inception of America with its founding documents and societal constructions, systems and structures have been invented, implemented, and reconfigured in order to bind the black man and woman with a status of non-human. Yes, non-human. It first began through legal designations. The moment the black man, woman and child were bought and sold by slave traders and shipped around the world, they were designated as chattel–legal personal property [2]. Lasting for more than 200 years, this legal designation was abolished with the thirteenth and fourteenth amendment to the Constitution; however the non-human designation continued in a far more insidious way: The criminalization of the black body.

Criminalizing the black body was no small task, it would require a dominant narrative to take hold and the cooperation of popular culture, hard and soft sciences, and legal institutions. In 1902, bestselling and highly influential author and Southern Baptist minister Thomas Dixon Jr. would be one of the first to popularize this notion. Dixon spun a tale of post-Civil War America that depicted emancipated slaves as beastly, amoral monsters. He explained how the “Negro” had turned from “a chattel to be bought and sold into a possible beast to be feared and guarded. . . . a menace” to society [3, p. 5, 33]. Dixon continued to build this narrative of the criminal black body in 1905 with his most popular novel The Clansmen by detailing the rape of a young white virgin by a ‘Negro’ who was described as:

“half child, half animal, the sport of impulse, whim, and conceit,… a being who, left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no words of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger” (p. 293, 304)

Dixon brings the emotional narrative to a close by describing the act of animalistic rape itself: “A single tiger spring, and the black claws of the beast sank into the soft white throat” (p. 304). This narrative was used to perpetuate the nonhuman nature of the ‘Negro’ replacing the idea of him as property with one that is inherently criminal [4]. In 1908, sociologist Kelly Miller reviewed Dixon’s writings and detailed the building climate of opinion surrounding his fiction, “The criminal propensity of the Negro is the charge that is being most widely exploited… he is made to appear a beast in human form whose vicious tendency constitutes a new social plague” [5](p.95).

Not to be outdone by Dixon, the filmmaker D. W. Griffith continued this narrative of the black man as a predator with his 1915 film The Birth of a Nation–the first motion picture to be shown in the White House. Griffith depicted the black person as unintelligent beasts who were sexually aggressive towards white women, a threat to their life and liberty [6]. The black man was now becoming a criminal threat and a liability to society.

This criminalization of the black body went beyond popular culture and was widely supported and furthered by the medical profession. Medical journals propagated the degenerative evolutionary conclusion of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologists, biologists, and ethnologists [7]. Considered the lowest species on the Darwinian hierarchy, a permanently inferior creature, predisposed to savagery, the black person possessed an overdeveloped sexual appetite which was deemed an existential threat to the very foundation of white society [4, 7, 8, 9]. This existential threat and overdeveloped sexual appetite was the result of a complete lack of morality from the black individual. One doctor wrote:

Virtue in the negro race is like angels’ visits–few and far between. In a practice of sixteen years I have never examined a virgin negro over fourteen years of age [10]

The overdeveloped sexual appetite of the black person knew no bounds. Dr. William Lee Howard surmised in a well respected medical journal, “The attacks on defenseless white women are evidences of racial instincts that are about as amenable to ethical culture as is the inherent odor of the race” [11]. George Winston painted an even darker picture of the black man’s criminal, sexual appetite for white women through a telling and cumulative narrative that embodied all of the current cultural fears:

When a knock is heard at the door, she shudders with nameless horror. The black brute is lurking in the dark, a monstrous beast, crazed with lust. His ferocity is almost demoniacal. A mad bull or tiger could scarcely be more brutal [12, p. 109].

According to Frederick Hoffman, the rise of the criminal black man was not due to poverty, discrimination, or from a lack of opportunity and education but rather an inherent and innate tendency towards crime and immorality.

This well-formed narrative of moral depravity fueled the belief of the criminalized black body. While its easy for us to say, ‘That was a hundred years ago, things are so much different now!’ this belief is what gave rise to the lynching culture in the United States, including the fourteen-year old boy Emmitt Till in 1955 for perceived flirting with a white woman in a convenience store [13]. Lynching culture was created to protect white society and deter the amoral, criminal black body. Lynching culture was not made up of vigilantes alone but were aided, abetted, and participated in by police officers who would help arrange this skewed form of justice. Lynchings were scheduled, promoted events where whole towns or neighborhoods would gather together in celebration of “justice”. People would even gather around and pose for pictures with the black victim.

While we may want to believe that lynching was something that happened so long ago, the last officially recorded lynching was less than 50 years ago, in 1968–however, many argue it was actually 1998 in Jasper, Texas when James Byrd was chained to the back of a pickup truck by three white men and dragged to his death. While we may have placed lynching in a historical context that lives outside of the confines of our lived reality, if you’re 47 years of age or older you were alive during the last lynching.

The criminalization of the black body is the second iteration of our mass project of non-humanization. I would argue that the long-standing project started by the likes of Thomas Dixon whereby we have criminalized the black body is what has led to the death of so many of our black brothers and sisters: Walter Scott. Jermaine Reid. Philip White. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Rekia Boyd. Sean Bell. Tamir Rice. John Crawford III. Aiyana Jones. Kumani Gray. Michael Brown. Miriam Carey. Sharonda Singleton. Tommy Yancy. Jordan Baker. Amadou Diallo. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. (And on and on and on the list goes.) Each and every one of these black men and women were treated as criminals first, deemed worthy of immediate and swift justice at the end of a barrel instead of the end of a rope. The criminalization of the black body is nothing new, its a part of a long history of non-humanizing the black man, woman, and child. The trajectory of our history has not changed, it just looks a bit different.

[1] Bell, D. (2005). The Derrick Bell Reader: Critical America. New York University Press.
[2] Browne-Marshall, G.J. (2007). Race, Law, and American Society. Routledge.
[3] Dixon, T. (1902). The Leopard’s Spots: A romance of the white man’s burden. Doubleday, Page & Co.
[4] Fredrickson, G.M. (1987). The black image in the white mind. Wesleyan University Press.
[5] Miller, K. (1908). Race Adjustment: Essays on the Negro in America. The Neale Publishing Co.
[6] Stokes, L.M. (2007). D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of A Nation: A history of the most controversial motion picture of all time. Oxford University Press.
[7] Brandt, A.M. (1978). Racism and research: The case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The Hastings Center Report, 8(6), 21-29.
[8] Corson, E.R. (1893). The vital equation of the colored race and its future in the United States. The Wilder Quarter-Century Book. Cornell University.
[9] English, W.T. (1903). The Negro problem from the physician’s point of view. Atlantic Journal-Record of Medicine 5,459, 470-471.
[10] Quillian, D. (1906). Racial Peculiarities: A cause of the prevalence of syphilis in Negroes. American Journal of Dermatology and Genito-Urinary Diseases, 10, 277.
[11] Howard, W.L. (1903). The Negro as a Distinct Ethnic Factor in Civilization. Medicine, 9, 424.
[12] Winston, G.T. (1901). The relation of the whites to the negroes. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 18, 105-118.
[13] Douglas, K. (2015). Stand your ground: Black bodies and the justice of God.. Orbis Books.