The above tweet came across my Facebook feed (just think about that statement for a second and the intersections of a social media-drive world...but alas, that's barely related to the point of this post) on my birthday. Break out the cake and pointy hats!
The linked piece is by Dr. Russel Moore, President of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church. As is often the case, it appears Dr. Moore meant well. Indeed, his introduction to the piece sounds not just true, but convicting to white Christians willing to listen: "A church that doesn't reject racism, nativism will cut itself off from revival." Of course, that itself is the problem. White Christians have been listening to white Christians forever. If we truly want to move toward an integrated understanding of faith, we can't keep listening to only or primarily white, straight, old(er) men. This probably sounds odd, coming from this white, straight, young(ish) white man, who hopes one day to be an old man.
However, it's also desperately and obviously true that we need people of color as leaders in the conversations about diversity in the church. So, rather than explain what's problematic with Moore's post, I implore you to read Dr. Christena Cleveland's excellent tweet storm that responded to and critiqued Moore's article. Dr. Cleveland is a theologian at Duke Divinity School and her evaluation of Dr. Moore's article is on point, beginning with the article's optimistic but ill-suited title, "A White Church No More," which is only the tip of the problematic iceberg with Moore's article.
Instead, let me take this time to implore you this simple truth: who we listen to is a matter of faith. We can't imagine a God who truly loves black people, or truly embraces gay people, or truly calls women to ministry, if we aren't willing to follow the leads of African American theologians, LGBTQ+ pastors, or women presidents. If you aren't reading these authors, listening to these lectures, appreciating these artists, then a chasm will always remain between your conception of God and your experience of your neighbor. The image of God given to all people will be inconceivable to you in people unlike yourself.
Fortunately, some people have already done the work of compiling lists of people to read. Consider engaging these resources, and more specifically, the people behind them, as a spiritual practice.
For instance, Elle Dowd, a white ELCA seminarian and leader within the #decolonizeLutheranism movement, has put together a list of texts by women of color that introduces themes important for white people, and especially white men, to understand. You'll find that list at the bottom of this post, and her writing is especially helpful in helping to understand the experiences of women, bisexual persons, and advocates in #BlackLivesMatter. Traci Blackmon, a significant theologian in her own right, recently listed a number of Black women theologians, which deserves your attention. Dr. Willie Jennings, currently of Yale and formerly of Duke, wrote The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, which along with his class were the watershed experience that helped me comprehend theological anthropology, or what it means to be human creatures created by God in God's image. Lenny Duncan, a Black ELCA seminarian, compellingly writes about his experience as a formerly incarcerated in our prison industrial complex, formerly homeless in Philadelphia, and formerly unchurched. Thanks to the internet, the only obstacle remaining between these leaders and a straight white audience is that audience's decision making. Who will you decide to listen to? Who's voices will you pursue?
I'm not saying you should stop listening to me or white voices altogether. I am saying that we've privileged straight, white, older, wealthy voices too much, so you should devote your attention to people of color, to women, to the LGBQ+ community, to people outside of the wealthy Western castes. Consider their intelligence, their perspective, their lament, their frustration, their hope, all that they share, not only because they deserve it (they do), and not only because they'll change you for the better (they will), but because God calls us to a church diverse far beyond our wildest dreams. We can only experience that kind of church when we listen to diverse leaders and allow their convictions to shape our own.
Who we listen to is a matter of faith, and as long as we choose to listen to mostly white, straight, men, we handcuff ourselves to a dying form of church. Make no mistake, that form of church needs to die. But if we bind ourselves to diverse leaders, who more fully share God's image through the prism of their perspective, then we'll find we're bound again to a church experiencing Christ's resurrection. We'll find that we see God in places and people that we never expected. We'll see God's gifts manifest throughout all people. Of course, that's already happening. It's up to us whether we want to see that, to experience that, to know those people and know the God who so profoundly gifted them.
Elle Dowd's Reading List
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
The Autobiography of My Mother by Jimaica Kincaid
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
God of the Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
“Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth” by Warsan Shire
“Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur
“salt.” by Nayyirah Waheed
Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Color of Water by James McBride
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Assata by Assata Shakur
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.