Immigrants, Independence Day, and Race


I walked through a sea of faces from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, all smiling wide from ear to ear. They were dressed in suits and turbans, in hijab’s, and sari’s, adorned in beautiful and brilliant colors to match the celebration of the day.

They stood in circles, smiling, lost in the joyous conversations of their native tongue while their children, playing and laughing, danced around them. Families walked hand-in-hand, swinging their arms with what seemed to be a newfound air of lightness. With their heads held high, exuding pride, families posed for pictures; two, three, even four generations on hand for this momentous occasion that could very well change their family’s destiny. As their smiles grew even larger than before, they clutched their certificates, and with a new and bright hope for a different future, they lovingly pulled their children close in a beautiful embrace. I felt as if I experienced a brief glimpse of what heaven might be like.

These refugees and former asylum seekers, immigrants, foreigners, “others”: after a long and grueling process of bureaucratic paperwork, filings and deadlines, civics and language tests, all stood together in the shadow of the American flag on July 4th and swore an oath of allegiance to this country and became her citizens, her standard bearers… fully and truly American.

“American.” There is nothing that can be done to take this achievement away, and yet somehow it’s a realization that they will never fully experience. Because of an accent, because of the pronunciation of certain words, because of a lack of pop-social history, being “fully and truly American” is something they will never truly experience: they will always remain a “they”, an “other” in a somewhat exilic existence—always American and yet known as something altogether other.

Comedian and Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, in his comedy special Homecoming King, shared his own experiences of “othering” as he weaved together his own stories to illuminate the lived tension of being American and yet something altogether other. Born in America, he highlighted his experience as a member of an immigrant family from India and the othering he experienced on the regular growing up in California. Both laugh out loud funny and punch in the gut painful, Hasan brings to the forefront just how far we still have to go as a people–a white, American people.

And sure, for some of us it is easy to write off a Daily Show correspondent, or a comedian and say ‘that’s anecdotal’ it’s not the norm… except it is–are you listening?. I have spent a lot of time listening to the stories and experiences of people who are citizens of this country–whether naturalized or natural born–tell similar stories. Friends of mine who of Indian descent (like Hasan) have been treated differently, profiled as terrorists at worst or non-American at best (is that really the best case scenario?). Or friends children who were born in this country, yet are of hispanic origin, told by people at the mall to “go back where you came from before you breed!” or “we only speak english in this country!”–even though they are being raised in homes with two languages (a benefit, not a curse!)

I have written on race here in the space a time or two or three (even providing some resources for the conversation)–in fact, this is what my dissertation dives into–even sharing about my short-lived lobbying career for immigration reform. Mainly these writings have been about the white-black divide (I put white first in this dichotomy because we have historically been, and currently are the aggressor) and the consequences of slavery. While this has been the main thrust and focus–this was, according to founding Father James Madison (and still is) America’s “original sin” (of which we still have not yet repented)–let us not negate the fact that this is a much larger issue. Our racist proclivity, as a white, American people must change not only individually but structurally speaking. We must open our eyes not only to what we have done, but what we are still doing today. Denial is no longer an option. It is past time for us to pay attention, especially as Christians.

You see, I have this terrible feeling in the pit of my gut–hence one of the reasons why I write so often about race–that many white, American Christians will stand on the outside of the gates of heaven looking in to see a sea of faces from every tribe, every tongue, every nation only to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at best, and at worst turn and walk away saying, “that’s not my heaven.” And while we may argue against this, saying “but I support missionaries in the Dominican or in India or in Kenya, I want to see every tribe and tongue and nation in heaven” our lived reality in our churches and our Facebook rants and Twitter posts reveal a different posture altogether. We are no better–in fact, in many instances much worse than the culture around us.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “Till We Have Faces” wrote, “No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city.” We must remember this, and turn it on its head to understand that ‘no one is an exile because all the world is one city’ (check Revelation 21). May we, white America, stop our exilic tendencies and begin to recognize and realize that this is what heaven looks like, and our role is to work towards and pray that “Thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.”

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.

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)

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

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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.

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.