Racial Reconciliation with Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil and Wendell Moss
This week on the podcast, Wendell Moss, a Teaching Staff member of The Allender Center and Manager of Intercultural Relations for The Seattle School, hosts special guest Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil for a conversation about her work in racial reconciliation. Rev. Dr. Salter McNeil is internationally recognized for her work in reconciliation, is an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Seattle Pacific University, and is the Associate Pastor of Preaching and Reconciliation at Quest Church in Seattle. You’ll hear more about Rev. Dr. Salter McNeil’s background, the transformative changes she’s made in her work of racial reconciliation, and her exhortations to both the White evangelical church and People of Color in the church.
Please note there were some recording issues with Wendell’s audio during the interview which is why his audio comes across less clear in this episode. You can also read the full transcript below.
- Learn more about Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil and her work of reconciliation by visiting saltermcneil.com.
- Follow Rev. Dr. Salter McNeil on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
- Read Rev. Dr. Salter McNeil’s latest book, Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now
- Read Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice
- Other books mentioned by Rev. Dr. Brenda in this episode:
Wendell: Well, Brenda, like I was telling you when I was actually invited to interview you, and then they told me essentially that this was a chance to- to honor you, Brenda, I really felt my heart just got full all of a sudden, because we have been talking for many, many, many years, many years. And so, Brenda, I don’t think I’ve actually had the opportunity to outright sit with you, to talk to you, and at the same time have the privilege to honor you. From this boy who was a freshman at Eastern Illinois University to a man who is 48 years old. So Brenda, all that to say, it feels like an honor to be able to sit with you today. And, I promise you, I’m going to stop, I’m going to have to hold back tears because it feels like we’ve been coming to this moment. That’s what it feels like to me. So, how do you feel as we come into this?
Brenda: Yeah, I’m ready to go. As I said earlier, this feels authentic. Who we are to each other is not for a podcast, it’s just who we are. And so the invitation was for us to have a substantive conversation about the work I do, and who we are to each other, how that work and our thoughts as African American people in the work of reconciliation, how we see it, how we interpret the world around us. We talk about that all the time. So we’re just letting people in on a private conversation publicly, and I’m happy to do that with you.
W: Yes ma’am. Brenda, when it comes to racial reconciliation and this topic around race, you’ve been doing this since I’ve known you. I met you, the first time I saw you, was in 1993 and it was the Black staff and student town gathering. And I saw you preach and I remember my mouth just being in awe. And I believe you also spoke that year and you were one of the plenary speakers there. At the same time, this is probably during the Promise Keepers movement. So the topic of racial reconciliation is all over the place. And I remember hearing you speak and I had never heard anybody talk about it in the way that you did. I remember I’m talking with folks afterwards, and hearing a lot about you and then shortly after that, just beginning to hear more and more. And it didn’t take long, Brenda, to realize that not only is this, this woman is powerful, but this woman has been given authority, the authority by Jesus in this work. And she’s a voice to listen to. And Brenda, you have been a voice now for a long time. This has been your sweat and blood from when I met you, to your forming, Salter McNeil & Associates, and then coming to hone in, this is what you’re going to focus in on specifically and Brenda, there’s been a lot of names, a lot of folks who have been talking about this but Brenda, since I’ve known you, there’s been very few people who have had the impact that you had. We’re talking about campus, not just the campus but to the world. And so I’m just aware that your voice has been major.
B: Thank you. I appreciate it. I do. And lest anybody thinks it’s because I’m special, that’s not the truth. The truth is, longevity in this work of reconciliation is tied to the fact that this is not a good thing. It’s a God thing. God is the author and the finisher of this work. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, hey, you know, I think I’d like to go into reconciliation. That’s not what happened. And so there’s a verse for me that guides the work that I do and the life I live, Jesus said in John, Chapter 5 verses 17 through 19, after he’d healed a man on the Sabbath who had been sick for 37-38 years, and was by the pool of Bethesda that particular day, Jesus stops, asked him do you want to be made well? This person, this man gives reasons why he hasn’t been able to get into the pool when the water is stimulated by the spirit of God, and Jesus doesn’t allow any of that to sidetrack him. He basically says, stand up, pick up your mat and walk. And instantly this man is healed. And later, the Pharisees and the religious leaders learned that Jesus is the one who has done this work on the Sabbath. It’s against the rules, according to the religious leaders. So they come and take him on. And Jesus says this in verses 17 through 19 of chapter five. In the book of John, he says, first of all, my father is always working. So, first thing that Jesus says about this work that we’re called to do is the prerequisite is to believe that God is working, that it’s not because Brenda Salter McNeil got born. God is always working, and that’s the presupposition that we, as the people of God, the followers of Jesus, we are to come into every single situation with the belief system that God is working. right? So that’s the first thing. There’s an orientation to the way we see the world around us, which is no matter where we are, God is doing something, and then our job is to stop and pause and to begin to look and see what God is doing. And that’s when I love being Pentecostal. I’m telling you, I grew up around people who believed and some people, and I’m really glad we’re having this conversation because one of the things that has changed for me is I’m standing real strongly in my blackness, in my cultural heritage, without apology because when I got to seminary, being a Pentecostal was looked down on like, oh, that’s kind of suspect, right? But the truth is, that was a belief system that believes that the resurrection is true and that God is alive and well today! It wasn’t like a Easter thing that we celebrate, but a reality in which we live. God is alive and well, and working every day, everywhere God is working, so I believe that and I come into my situations with that belief frame that was given to me from my foundation growing up in the Pentecostal church. And then Jesus says, so don’t be mad at me that this guy got healed on the Sabbath. God didn’t take this day off, and then he says, verily verily I say unto you, the son can do nothing by himself. He only does what he sees the father doing and whatever the father does, the son does likewise. So I promise you, my longevity in this work has been a lifelong process of following what I see the father doing. And I am in my sincere heart, trying my best to do what it is I see the father doing. So I got to Occidental College and I thought I was going to specialize in women in ministry, because way back in the day, that was the hot topic issue. I got to Occidental College as an intern, finishing up my seminary education, had to do my practical ed, or practicum, and my practical was at a college campus, right? I got saved on a college campus about seven or eight years prior to that. Now, all these years later, I’m giving this practicum experience on a college campus. I go to that college campus thinking I’m going to work with women on the campus because that was what brought me to seminary. And I walk in and I see 200 college students gathering for worship, small groups, etcetera, and only two of those 200 were people of color: one Latino brother and an African American young man who was dating a white young lady in the fellowship. Other than those two people, there were no other people of color in that room. And I felt like I had been caught into a time warp. I felt like from the time I was a Christian at Rutgers University to the time that I am now coming to do my graduate education, so little had changed in the church when it came to the issue of race. We were as segregated then as we were now and I thought to myself, what is it about racial reconciliation, race as an issue that is so difficult for the church to heal? Why are we so far behind in this? That question was like God tapping me on my shoulder, showing me what the father was showing me to pay attention to. I started asking that question, and that question started me to develop this ministry of reconciliation with college students like you, which is what got me preaching to college students from all over the world. Because Brenda Salter McNeil was simply trying to do what I saw the father doing. And the father told me, pay attention to that. pay attention to that. It’s not that there’s a lack of women in this room right now. There’s a lack of racial diversity in this room.
W: Come on, come on. And Brenda, what I love is what you just hit: the emphasis on the fact that you are doing what you see the father doing because one of things that, out of the many talks that we have had over the years, Brenda, it’s really this work is too hard if you don’t believe it. What I’m hearing you say so well, that the only reason that I’ve been able to not only enter it but also endure the labor in this work is because you are convinced that this is what the father is at work doing and you are in partnership.
B: Absolutely, absolutely. So I’m not trying to prove that I’m woke. This is not a fad for me. This is not because something happened in the society around me. I believe that God has called the people of God to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We’re not supposed to be married to nationalism. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of God, and it really ticks me off when I watch Christians so underrepresent the value of the Kingdom of God. Because it’s doing a detriment to the world around us. If we could actually be the ambassadors that we’re called to be and literally be stronger representatives of the Kingdom of God than our denominations, or our country, or whatever else we allow to become our primary way to present ourselves to the world, if we made the Kingdom of God and the values of the Kingdom the thing that we represent strongest in the world in which we live, as sojourners so says Scripture, or pilgrims passing through we would live differently. We would talk about things differently. We would care about different things. We would support things in a different way. But this all starts with God. I really mean that. What God wants for the world, that’s what I’m looking for. I want to see a world where the lion and the lamb lay down together. So I do care about creation care. I do. I do believe that war and gun violence is not what God wants. Because the Bible says that the Kingdom of God is the place where people beat their swords into plowshares. Into something used for growth and fertility and cultivating life. That is what I preach about. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. I believe that this is why we’re on Earth, that the people of God are here to be a microcosm of the Kingdom of God. And that’s really all I’m trying to do.
W: And Brenda, what you’re saying so well: on Earth as it is in heaven.
B: That’s exactly right.
W: I heard you preaching kingdom, that this is about bringing forth the kingdom. And what I think you’re letting us know is: your foundation has to be set and sure and clear on the Gospel. In order to do this work, it has to be following the father. And it has to be the kingdom. You have to be convinced of it. So, Brenda, thank you. Brenda, Since I’ve been with you, this was more than equals. Chris Rice, Perkins, I mean, all these types of books that talk so much about racial reconciliation. What does it mean? The lion with the lamb. But Brenda when I first went into this conversation, there were very few people who were talking about racial reconciliation and justice at the same time. They almost felt like two different conversations, racial reconciliation and justice and often Brenda, I think you noticed they are often talked about as opposed to one another. You’re talking about justice, now you’re too radical. Justice is almost, that’s not about your organization. And so, when I met you, racial construction is probably the language I most commonly heard, Brenda, over the years, you shifted. You have shifted to talking about justice.
B: Yes, I have, brother. Yes, I have. And it’s getting stronger every single day. It’s getting stronger every single day. Because I have a quote that I have. I knew I was going to say it at some point, but I’m going to start with this. Audre Lorde says this, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And I thank the great, powerful, prolific Audre Lorde, for those words, because when we got started with reconciliation, just like you, said, Promise Keepers, it was in vogue. People were talking about reconciliation, and then people like myself and others were asked to preach about reconciliation. But now that I look back, I realize that in the white evangelical world where we were, as InterVarsity staff, Promise Keepers, there was this sense, unbeknownst to me, that reconciliation through the Christian white evangelical lens was reduced down to diversity and getting to know each other. The word reconciliation literally was code for we should all get along. And people like me were told, if you don’t bring up controversial issues, you see, because the fear was that people like myself had a hidden political agenda that I was trying to bring to the table through the guise of reconciliation. So really, I had a motive to bring a liberal, leftist, radical Marxist, you know, name whatever fearful word you want to grab. Communist, and so because who can say, you know, I’m for racism! It’s just not cool. You can’t say I like racism, so you can’t say that straight up. So if I’m preaching about reconciliation, racial reconciliation, you got to kind of say you’re for it because it just sounds bad to say that you’re not. But then what I didn’t understand was slowly but surely, what white people did was say, but do it on our terms. Say it like this. Not like that. We could hear you better if you prove to us that this is in the Bible, you know what? If you didn’t say things like, if you didn’t bring up these issues and you know what they are. So I’m gonna say ’em. Sexuality, if you don’t bring up abortion, if you don’t bring up gun violence, if you don’t bring up any of those things right? Don’t bring up immigration. Don’t say that because see, that’s political. If you would just talk about the Bible, see, we would hear you. And I could almost start crying now because I did that. I have no hidden motive. I have no hidden agenda. I had no intention whatsoever of trying to make people think like I think or believe what I believe. I was on mission for God and I wanted people to know as my audience that I was not coming to manipulate anybody. I’m back to where I started. I believe this is a call on the people of God to represent the kingdom of God. And so I didn’t bring in any of the issues that could be perceived as me having anything other than a call from God to mobilize the people of God to represent the Kingdom of God. And I preached my guts out. I gave everything I had. But let me tell you what I have discovered. What I now know, and this, I’ll come back to Audre Lorde’s quote in a second. This got proven to me when a white man who I don’t know evidently heard me speak someplace had heard that I’m much more clear about the call to justice and reconciliation being married together. Reconciliation is not this watered down diluted Kumbaya party that the evangelical church has made it where you make a statement like the Southern Baptist and you still say that you don’t believe in critical race theory. So we’re sorry we’re sad, but we’re not going to deal with the fact that we have been complicit in the dehumanization of people, of taking their property, of not thinking about what might be necessary to rebuild the communities that we as a church helped people to destroy. And then we’re supposed to all just get along and make friends. That’s not reconciliation that is something else. So this white man said to me, and I don’t know who he is, bless his heart. Amen! Bless his heart. But on social media, you can say things to people that you wouldn’t say to their face. And he said, and I quote, we liked you better when you just quoted Bible verses. What he was trying to say was see, we need black people and brown people and indigenous people and Asian and Latino people to be a speaker for a thing here and there because we feel better to show that. See, we got diversity. You spoke for us. But we only want you to speak using the kinds of things that make us feel a little bit challenged biblically, But do not think that you’re supposed to name the agenda. Don’t think that you’re supposed to be the person who raises the solutions that you’re actually calling us to embody and to give ourselves to, just preach Bible verses, we could take a little prophetic tongue lashing and that was great. But basically, we have no intention of dealing with those kinds of issues that are destroying people’s lives and causing them not to reach their full God-given potential. That’s what’s changed for me, because now I know that the master’s tools will never be able to dismantle the master’s house. That if in fact, we as people of color are actually going to help this work of reconciliation to really make a difference in the world, we can’t keep doing it on white dominant culture’s terms. This is not supposed to placate people or make people feel sort of like reconciliation lite. This is about changing the world. This is about causing the people of God to represent a God who is able to heal our land. That’s what I’m doing now. So I deleted him from my Facebook page and anybody else who is coming for me. Just know that I will delete it instantaneously because I don’t have any more energy to waste on those kinds of circular arguments. I’m not having it. I don’t have time for it. People’s lives are on the line, and not just black and brown people. Wendell, I’m a college professor and you know this, I am finding more young white college students leaving the church because they see the hypocrisy and the complicity of their parents and grandparents and the Christians that they used to look up to. They don’t understand this type of whiteness that they’re seeing, and they know that it’s injustice, and they don’t want to be around a church like that, so I’m speaking to everybody now. The church has got to repent. We have got to turn this around.
W: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. You know what I heard? You know what I heard from you? I heard transformation from you, this process, this is transformative. Is that fair?
B: Absolutely, absolutely. And I’m calling for transformation. We’re supposed to be agents of transformation. So when that guy said we liked you better when you just quoted Bible verses, let me tell you something. What I believe about preaching the Bible says you will no longer be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I preach like I’m crazy because I believe that the word of God can transform us. And if we would let the word of God do the work of the word, it would literally transform us, and we would become agents of transformation. And I take that word crazy back. And I tell you something I’ve learned. There’s certain words that are triggers for people and diversity includes disability. So I want to just say I would repent of that word. I would use a different way. I preach my heart out because I am literally preaching because I believe that the word of God can literally transform us. And I want to see transformation in the church. I want to see transformation among the people who say they’re Jesus followers.
W: Yeah, and Brenda that word transformation.I love the focus on that word. Even for me, Brenda, this process has changed me, has transformed me, and it demands transformation. And I even hear you say this is going to take a transforming of your mind. This is going to take a transforming of your mind. It will demand it.
B: That’s right. And that transformation is going to transform how you see the world around you. What you vote for, who you associate yourself with, the truth you now tell, the way you use your influence. This type of transformation is not about making a friend and having a potluck or eating with chopsticks or speaking another language. All those things are great, but this transformation is revolutionary. This type of transformation will cause us to see ourselves like Esther speaking truth to power, scared and shaking and wondering if we’re qualified, but also knowing that we can no longer sit on the sidelines and do and say nothing that we’re living in the time that’s demanding us to be actively engaged in healing the world around us. And that’s more than writing a check. That’s more than crying or hashtagging something. This is literal, transformed lives that are trusting God to use us to become agents of transformation in the places we find ourselves.
W: Yes, ma’am, and Brenda what you’re making me think about is, I remember as a college student I was talking about racial reconciliation on the campus. I remember talking about it in the way that won’t get me in trouble. That won’t get me killed. That will make everybody feel okay. And so to talk about justice just felt dangerous. And you use the word my comply, that there was a sense of some complicity of what commonly the white evangelical church wanted in talking about racial reconciliation and so Brenda, I was just talking with Sister Linda yesterday, and I still grieve that. I still grieve that. But yet that makes me even more grateful for the transformation that is, that has taken place, being able to finally be able to tell the whole story, to tell the whole truth, which is what you are saying so well. But not talking about a more robust gospel.
B: Exactly. And you know what I would say, Wendell? I’m not sure, I hear you saying I grieve it, and I think that it’s been a journey, right? Reconciliation is a process. It’s a journey. And I think that we have stayed on the journey long enough that people can see, even we can see ourselves, our own evolution, our own transformation. And so I think we were right in our earlier years of working at this, to assume that if we met people halfway, you know, that if we, you know, didn’t say all that we felt from our black African American experience but tried to learn how to ebb and flow. We live in a racialized society and almost everything we’ve done: going to college, going to graduate school, has been interwoven with whiteness. We wouldn’t be where we are in life if we hadn’t learned how to navigate this world right? And how to understand white dominant culture and how to succeed in it. We wouldn’t be where we are had we not learned to do that? Right? I think, though now what’s happened for me is: I feel like if that worked, I’d still be doing it. if I thought that doing it on white dominant culture’s terms would have produced the type of racial healing, the type of equity and the type of kingdom values where we say we’re pro life and we’re pro life on certain things. But we don’t care when that life is an innocent person whose children have been taken away from them and 600 some children still cannot be reunited with their families. And I can’t imagine a mother or father whose infant was taken away from them, and two years later they have never seen their baby. They don’t know what’s happening to the baby and the baby was too young when taken from the parent to even know how to recognize their own mom and dad if they ever get to see them again. That is tragic. And so I am all for a person being pro life. But to say that you are pro life and not care about those children, you see there’s a problem there. There’s a problem there. And so that’s what’s caused me to say what white evangelical Christians or white Christians and I’m being really straight here. I’m serious about this. It has been white people who told us that we do reconciliation on their terms, and if we were to do it on their terms, we would embrace this message of reconciliation. Well, in 2016, when I watched the presidential election of a person who clearly stated some very, very harmful things about people of color, about the disabled, about women, right? All of this, and Christians, 81% of Christian said, you know, this is just fine with me. That’s okay. We want this kind of person. We want this kind of rhetoric. That was the huge ah-ha. I mean, catalytic event for me was the clarity that 30 years of my life, of preaching based upon what white evangelical Christians said, if you do it this way, this will lead to reconciliation. That proved to me that that was not true. That proved to me that what would happen is we’ll listen to you and we’ll hire you and we’ll have you come. We feel better when you come to such a nice person, but we’re not gonna change anything. And fundamentally we still have the exact same belief system and world view that we had before you preached. And then I began saying what Audrey Lorde says: The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. So now I’m asking white evangelicals to not tell me what to do. How about you listen to us? How about you allow us this time to tell you on what terms we should approach this work? Because those whose lives are being impacted by these policies, being impacted by the lack of racial justice, we know better than anyone else what it would take to bring racial healing. So how about white evangelicals and white Christians and if I’m talking to you, I mean it. It’s your turn to be humble. It’s your turn to listen to people on the margins. People of color. It’s your turn to say you have an expertise on insight that we don’t have, and this time we’re going to stop assuming that we know the solution and we’re going to trust our brothers and sisters of color to lead the way this time this issue is yours to lead. We need your expertise on what racial reconciliation really means.
W: And Brenda, I can’t help but just outright go here, as you have just prophetically just spoken to the white church. Brenda down in Montgomery, I remember doing a seminar on racial trauma, and I remember making a statement about racial trauma. Nobody escapes it and I specifically said, not even my white brothers and sisters escape it and I remember I think this one white brother raised his hand and he just had this look on his face, and there was a sense of how can you say that? I’m white. Racial trauma only happens to folks of color. How in the world has this possibly impacted me? How’s that work? And when I remember I shift about three or four points. But that was just this look of: I’ve never heard someone talk to me about how racism and racial trauma even affects me as a white person and Brenda what you have just put words to that makes it so, when you think about the white community, what’s the gospel of reconciliation for the white community?
B: I’ve got a few things to say. Each community has its own work on needs. In specific seasons, in this season, the white church, the white Christians, non-Christians, the white community literally has to dismantle whiteness. We didn’t create whiteness. I mean, James Baldwin is right. I am not your Negro. That brother meant that: I am not your Negro. So the real question is, why did you have to create one? Because race is not a biological construct. It’s a sociological construct, and it was created by people who needed a racial hierarchy. We needed a racial hierarchy of human difference so that some people would be superior and other people would be deemed inferior. You must interrogate that. You must dismantle that. And you must ask yourselves, what’s up with us? Where does that come from? And what has it done to hurt us? How has it dehumanized us? People used to have a belief system that you were English, that you were German, that you were Polish. That you had an ethnic identity that you could delve into. You could understand the struggle of your own ethnic origins. And somewhere along the line that became more politically expedient to bring all those people together and become white. It is time to deconstruct that because when you dehumanize others, you dehumanize yourselves. That’s what you were saying to that man in your seminar on racial trauma is having a negative impact on the souls of everybody who has come under this false narrative of a racial hierarchy of human difference. And white people have got to take responsibility for that. Interrogate how it has damaged their own sense of identity, and do the hard work of reconnecting to the truth of the narrative of who you are. That’s the work that white Christians need to be facilitating in churches all over this country. So don’t ask me about my story another day. I don’t want another person to say I just want to know more about you. I know about myself. I’m working on my story. You should work on your story. So there’s some books to help you. Daniel Hill White Awake. Another book by Daniel Hill. White Lies, and a book by David Swanson called Re-Discipling the White Church. I am a mentor to those two white pastors and they are best at what they do. And white folks, don’t read anything else about black people or brown people. You go read about white people. It’s your turn to do your work. I feel like preaching all of a sudden! Don’t push me.
W: Look, look and see what you’re preaching, Brenda. And what I would want every white person here is to see that whiteness has taken away your face.
B: It’s true. Say it again.
W: It has taken away your face. I want you, I want a pause and selah.
B: Hey, Amen. Amen. Amen. This narrative of racial difference is truly… and we can see it now. In our country, I have never seen our country as divided, frightened, potentially hostile and volatile. This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve seen this. But this is the outcome of decades of this type of thinking that goes unchecked, unrepentant of, unconfessed, and we keep trying to put a bow on it and make it sound good. We got to stop that. Really? In my class, my students and I read a book by Jamar Tisbey, Color of Compromise. And if you read the complicity of the church with racism and injustice, it’s been ongoing since the inception of our country, and we need to tell the truth. again. I’m back to the Bible. The Bible promises us that the truth will make us free. And so we gotta call a thing a thing. It’s time for us all to tell the truth. And so people think that I become like, mean or more bold or something. I’m just trying to tell the truth, and that’s all I’m doing. I used to kind of pull it back a little bit. And now I’m just telling the truth because I truly believe that the truth will make us free.
W: Yes, ma’am. Brenda when I think about brown and black folk, we’re tired. Brenda, we’re weary. I am. I mean, you’ve talked enough. You are too. Again, we better know that the father is doing this or it’s over. When you think about our faces, when you think about brown faces, red, Brenda, what do you want to say to us?
B: Yes! Yes, to my siblings, those of us who embody diversity and reconciliation in the very skin that we’re in. We cannot be a part of the conversation because our bodies are doing work in this racialized society, whether we want them to or not. You know and so really, I was doing something at my local church and a couple of the people, one Latina and another sister who’s from the continent of Africa, said, you know, I don’t wanna be on the diversity team. Every time the word diversity comes up, it’s always assumed that those of us who are people of color have got to be on the diversity thing. And we’re tired, and that’s straight up real. And that’s valid. And so the first thing I would say to us, we are living in a, and this is your expertise, Wendell. We’re living in a racially charged traumatic environment right now. I’ve never seen a president who will not concede. I’ve never seen people coming to the governor’s office with automatic weapons threatening to kill the sitting governor. This is scary. And the church, let me just say, this is what the whole church, the white church should decry this. But every Christian should say we don’t go to the governor’s office with guns! But silence is violence. So when white people, Christian and otherwise, let that happen and don’t say anything about it, but then say, you know, they were looting in the streets in Seattle! I just feel like, oh, so looting in the streets bothers you. But these people with AK-47’s are going to kidnap the governor and kill her, that doesn’t matter to you. Now, do you hear something wrong? I hear something wrong with that. So I feel like I’m not going to say one thing to these young people out in the street. If you’re not going to say something to these grown people with assault weapons killing people and threatening to kill people, that should be something that we are all on the same page about. This is not about gun control. This is about people literally walking down the street with assault rifles and we let it go. This is the kind of stuff that’s hypocritical, right? And this is the kind of stuff that feels traumatic in my body. The kind of stuff that, when I hear about Ahmed Arbery going for a jog. A young black kid going for a jog. 30 years old. And you know my son. You were there when I when I was pregnant with my baby. You’ve known me before I had children. So can you imagine Arbery going for a jog? Literally. Just going for a run or you going for a run and you stopped to look at our house that’s been under construction. You’re wondering how it’s coming along, and people in that neighborhood shoot and kill my son. What? Everybody! should say, God forbid, that shouldn’t happen, to anybody’s child regardless to what color they are. But when white Christians stay silent about that, it feels doubly traumatic in the body of a black or brown mother because it says to me, my baby is under threat for simply jogging in the skin he’s in. He has nothing. He didn’t do anything wrong, and somebody took it upon themselves to shoot that woman’s child. Not good. Horrifying. So for my brothers and sisters who are from various communities of color, take care of yourself. Take care of yourself. Your need to renew yourself, to recharge yourself, to reconnect with God and people who love you. And when they look at you, they look at you with love in their eyes. They see beauty every time they see your face. You need to be in that kind of a healing space. And so I thank you so much Wendell for recommending to me My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa, that’s what black and brown folks need to be doing right now. We need to be reading things that affirm our identity. I really do mean that. Including those people whose gender identity is not of dominant culture. And I say that to say this, we have to stop somehow believing that it’s okay for some people to be traumatized and other people not. It’s not okay for anybody to be traumatized. Whether we agree with them. All people are made in the image of God, no exceptions. And no one should feel a sense of trauma just by being. I really say our work right now is to protect ourselves, to pray, to find places of joy, drink water. You know, do yoga, find ways to really take good, good, good care of yourself because this pandemic has a second effect of keeping us from being able to be in some of those spaces where we did find that kind of connection, that kind of care for each other. So find it, seek it out. And then the other thing I would say is this, and then I know it’s time for us to get ready to close, but I’ll say: decenter whiteness. If I’ve done anything, I have come to know that we have spent far too much time going around and round in circles trying to convince the white church to listen to us or white people to hear us. I’ll say black lives matter. Don’t all lives matter? I can tell you this. I’m not having that debate another day. I am absolutely done. I am done answering that question because nobody is trying to suggest that all lives don’t matter. What we are saying and I’m not even going to try to explain it, is that there are times that we have to identify where the problem lies and begin to focus on that.
W: Jesus left the 99 to tend the one.
B: Good example exactly. So I’m done. I’m absolutely done. What I think is people of color should do is stop using/wasting so much of our time begging white people to listen to us. I think that what we can do is use our agency and our authority and our expertise to be in community with ourselves and others who are asking forward thinking questions. You see, there are conversations that we can have, Wendell, with people around the world who literally want to hear our story of resilience. I’ll never forget when Derek and I went to England for the first time, we were seminary students and Dr. Bill Pennell took us to England to lecture on the black church in America and we went to Oxford. We were at Oxford! And I was just like, people want to hear us talk about the black church? They took notes on us and we were still seminary students, because the Anglican Church in England, and I think that this is still true today, was going through a serious period of decline where more people, more churches were closing their doors because they didn’t have enough people who were coming to churches in the way that they had in the past. And the reason that this was happening was because of industrialization and multi ethnicity coming more into cities like London and other places where the church was not built with those people in mind. And so when a church ceased to be a church, it was called a redundant church. It was in the state of redundancy, because if we don’t have redundant churches in the United States too! We have redundant churches who exist for themselves, and they actually are not doing anything but being redundant over and over and over again. And the Oxford Center for Theological Studies wanted to interview people whose churches had learned to thrive in the midst of changing demographics. Where the urban environments brought in greater diversity, greater industry and still was able to continue to grow. And they found that the black church in America was one such congregation or Christian organization that seemed to thrive. And that’s why they were so interested in our story. So to my brothers and sisters of color, I will tell you that there’s a world waiting to hear your story. We can have conversations with Afro-Brazilians. We can have conversations with Afro-Haitians. There are people whose children are being taken away from them at the border, and we have a history of knowing through slavery what it is to have children who have been taken from their parents violently. We can be in solidarity with that conversation, and together we can move forward healing our land. And we don’t have to wait to get permission from our white brothers and sisters and the communities around us to give us permission to do that. We can go ahead and lead and be the people of God. Who are on mission for the Kingdom of God. And we don’t need their permission to do it. So let’s go.
W: [laughs] Brenda, the folks of color who are hearing this podcast. Do you hear? Do you hear? I’m gonna, I don’t have to add it.
B: Amen. Amen. There’s a world waiting for us, I promise you. And it’s time for us to take our prophetic place on the landscape of history. It’s our turn. And there’s a world, not just a country. There’s a world waiting to hear our perspective. New Zealand, Australia, the Aboriginal Community, South Africa. When I went to Kenya, the young people wanted to talk to me about African American stories, and I’m telling you, and it’s not just the academics. They want to talk to beauticians. They want to talk to cosmetologists. They want to talk to people who take pictures and photography artists, they want to hear people whose music we have got an international opportunity if we would dare to stop centering whiteness.
W: And Brenda, nobody is telling us. Nobody is telling us that we have a story. Nobody is telling us. You’re telling me, you’re telling us that we have a story for the world. And not only that, but you are saying that the world is waiting for us.
B: Amen. They want to know, why won’t we come? Why won’t we share? And so let’s decolonize our own minds. Let’s decide that we don’t need permission. We can take the reins now and know that our story, our resilience, your expertise and racial trauma, that this is not just unique to us. This is happening around the world. But we have resilience. We have made something out of nothing. We have defied odds and still we rise, says Mother Maya Angelou. So come on. Come on, let’s go. This is something that the world wants to hear. This is necessary, and anybody and everybody can join the party. But we’re not waiting for you. So if this is our white brothers and sisters listening, yes, join this kingdom family, but join this kingdom family and learn how to listen. How to sit at the feet of people whose lives have given them the unique, prophetic authority to speak about these things. and learn from us. and join us. But let us lead this time. This is the time for the people of color who have been positioned for such a time as this, to be the Esthers in the room. In Jesus’ name.
W: Come on now. Come on, come on. Becoming brave.
B: [laughs] That’s right. Nobody would have picked Esther to be the next queen. But God uses the simple things of this world to confound the wise. It’s our turn. I can feel it in my spirit and I mean it. This is our turn. And if we would step up and step out, speak up and speak out! We’ve got something to say.
W: Yes, ma’am. And for y’all wondering why I said becoming brave, that is Dr. Brenda’s latest book, Becoming Brave. Go get it. Please go get it. Brenda, to make one final shift. I’ve been having a hard time not crying in this whole thing, because I’m sitting here talking to you, Brenda again. You refer to this all the time. We refer to 1996 or Urbana ‘96 all the time where we had your one of your Latina prayer warriors pray over us in ‘96, and had the audacity to prophesy that you and I would be still together in the future. That I would know your kids. I just graduated from college. And I remember when she prayed that, and said that, I remember feeling excited, but also, how is this gonna happen? And so, when I shifted again, and then again, they kind of became this thing of okay, how is it still gonna happen? And then all of a sudden I got a phone call in 2000 saying we’re coming to Washington state, and we’ve kept in touch over the years in between that I still come back in. But then you step back boldly into my space and your husband even becomes my boss. Brenda, so that that prophecy in ‘96 just became real and I’m just reminded Brenda that every conference, every time I speak as somebody who does racial trauma, Brenda, that all started with me learning from you. But I think there’s also a sense of partnership with you, even while geographically apart. You know, there’s just kind of relationships where you just kind of always gonna begin where we left off. There’s a bond in the ministry partnership that won’t snap. I mean, we went from you kind a big part of me staff ending the Black Student Conference in Chicago called Vision. You have passed the baton on to me to do that. In fact, Brenda you passed me many batons. and I’ve been in your life for a long time. And so it’s not enough to say thank you, but I just, I mean, what’s it been like? To have a freshman, to a 47- 48-year-old man?
B: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you two things. First of all, for everybody listening, I love Wendell Moss, period. He’s like a son to me, and you don’t go looking for these things. We’re back where we started, right? This is something that the father has done. It wasn’t like I said, let me go pick myself somebody, alright? So I believe that this is a relationship that God has brought. And I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from you and I want to end with this. What you’ve described is something I’ve been doing for over 30 years, right? But I didn’t have language for it. But I believe that each of us should clarify our mission and our purpose. Because once you have that beacon of light in front of you, it guides you and keeps you on the path of the thing that God has called you to do. So my purpose, my mission is to inspire and empower the next generation of Christian leaders to be practitioners of reconciliation in their various spheres of influence. So, Wendell, I didn’t have language for it way back then in the nineties, but what you saw me do, then is what God has given me for language for now. I’m called to pass on everything that I have to the next generation of Christian leaders. I’m supposed to inspire you and empower you so that you can take your rightful place and lead from your place of strength and influence. And if I have done that, I have done my job. My purpose for being on this earth. So may God bring the fruit of your life and the fruit of many lives. It’s my honor to invest in you, because that’s what God has called me to do.
W: Brenda, I’m honored to tears. And I will end with this, Brenda. Thank you for your words but here specifically for me, 25 years. Thank you. Thank you.