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This episode is the second part of our Cultural Views conversation on white Christian nationalism. (Listen to part one to get the full discussion!) Podcast host Latasha Morrison and Be the Bridge leaders Sean Watkins, Elizabeth Behrens, and Micah Smith continue to share why this conversation is needed, the importance of digging into the origins story of the US and our churches, and the difference between patriotism and nationalism. There are resources and practical steps given along with reminders of hope.

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If you are a pastor and listening to this podcast and want more information on how to be able to change your own discipleship and spiritual formation of your church, we want to invite you to go to our website, BeTheBridge.com, where you will find the Resources tab where we share Recommended Resources, a book list of resources from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that had been vetted by our training team.

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Terms:

Christian Nationalism: a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively “Christian” from top to bottom – in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies – and it aims to keep it that way.

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Resources Mentioned:

The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll

Equal Justice Initiative

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah

Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes by Justo L. Gonzalez

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Dr. Richard Twiss

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

Be the Bridge Recommended Resources

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration

Missio Alliance

Connect with Be the Bridge:

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Connect with Latasha Morrison:

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Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.

Latasha Morrison  

One of the things I see, you know, it’s hard to hear. There’s this statistic that says 70 to 80% of white evangelicals believe some form of Christian nationalism. How do we disciple people through this? What does discipleship look like leading people who have bought into Christian nationalism? Pastor Sean.

Sean Watkins  

Thank you so much. Don’t mind if I do. (laughter) Yeah. So I think we, you know, one of the things that we do, when we do our trainings, at Be the Bridge, especially if we’re working with a faith based organization or a Christian organization, the first thing that we do on day one, and I think the whole team has really kind of seen that, we walk through a biblical understanding of diversity. “I don’t want to talk about critical race theory; I don’t wanna talk about white Christian nationalism; any of the polarizing hot button trending themes that CNN or Fox News or Twitter or any of these other social media news networks, just put on it off to the side. Let’s just open scripture.” And so the first thing we’ll do is we just examine that. We look at the ways in which you see a diversity in God’s creation. From Genesis, the ways in which God calls Abraham to leave his country, his family, his father’s household. Well, if he’s leaving his country, he’s going to another country. Right? He’s going to be displaced for the rest of his life. Every conversation he has is going to be a cross cultural conversation. We look at Jeremiah and him trying to stand up to the state. And what happens? The king puts him in a cistern. Well, there’s a guy from North Africa that is a eunich that actually is the one who’s advocating for Jeremiah, this Jewish man, to be pulled out of the cistern. And so again, we just add culture to the text that we’re seeing. Same thing goes with Esther, she’s a beautiful woman of a different ethnic background. And that’s why she’s chosen. Right? We see racism and injustice all through Scripture. And so for us, it’s not a matter of trying to convince somebody of something that is not true or is, you know, antithetical to the gospel. It’s helping them to realize that the lenses through which they viewed scripture are off or not clean or not clear. And so one of the things that our training team, we always tell people at the very beginning is, “We’re not trying to change what you think. We want you to evaluate your experiences. What have you been taught?” One thing that I always say, I tell everyone, “Listen, you don’t have to agree with me. Just, here’s your homework assignment. Go home and segregate your books. Go home and segregate your books. Put every book that you have is written by someone white on one side, someone Black on another side, someone Asian and another side, someone Latinx or Latino on one side, and someone who’s Indigenous or Native American on another side. Now what I want you to be able to do is segregate your books and just see who you’ve been listening to. Who shaped your thinking, your theology? And so in doing that alone, more often than not, if someone is teachable, like Micah and Elizabeth were saying earlier, then there’s a softness of heart that emerges. Because you realize you’ve only been listening to one people group from one context for your entire life. And so I think that’s one of the things that we have to be able to do. This is a discipleship issue. And so I think it’s important for us to turn to Scripture, and then we circle back and say, “Okay, who’s been shaping your thinking?” One of the things that I do in a class I teach at Gordon Conwell is, there’s another book by Mark Noll. It’s called The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. And it talks about much of what Elizabeth and Micah were just talking about that one of the biggest reasons why the Civil War comes around is because you have Christians in the country, white Christians in the country, that do not know what to do about slavery and they do not know what to do about non white people. And it creates a theological crisis in the country that before the Civil War, the church was the leading influence in the nation. We talked about that separation of church and state. That was a letter that the Danbury Baptists actually wrote to Thomas Jefferson. That said the state needs to stay out of the church, the church needs to continue to be a prevailing influence. But again, those white Christians, right, the Puritans, the Pilgrims, and the Quakers, they didn’t know what to do with Native Americans or with African enslaved peoples or the fact that we had Mexican sisters and brothers that were living in the land. And you had the Asian diaspora that was like, “Whoa, they finding gold in America, people buying houses and building families? We want in.” So, what do we do with those things? And rather than saying, let’s figure out how to have a beautifully diverse nation, they said, “Nah, let’s just keep it for ourselves.” Well, you cease to be Christian, and you become a version of Christianity then. And so I think it’s important for us to recognize this is a discipleship issue. It’s not a political one. It’s not just an ethical one. It very much is, how does Jesus shape how you view the world? And how does Jesus help you to see different people that exist in the world? if you only see God at work in your culture, that’s a problem. If you see God at work in all cultures, well then there’s a posture of humility that you have when you approach cross cultural conversations. But if you’re right and you have the true gospel, and everybody else is wrong, as the old Black folks say, “Baby, if there’s something wrong with everybody, there’s something wrong with you.”

Latasha Morrison

Yeah. (laughter) You see, we always bringing up those old sayings.

Sean Watkins

Look. They right. They right and true.

Latasha Morrison  

I think, you know, I wanted to, when we think about this, I feel like there’s a crisis of discipleship. Because I feel like the very people who pastors who are leaving who should be discipling, sometimes it’s being reinforced in the seminary schools that they come from, this whole, this ideology and these experiences. And so, how do we, you know, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we have to exist as an organization is because there is a theological problem that we have. We are not an institution, but we’re having to make something right that has really been wrong. In 2000, I think it was in 2017, I was actually, I can’t remember the year…when was Charlottesville? That was 2017? They all start running together for me. I think it was 2017. But Charlottesville happened like on a weekend, but I know that Monday, that same week, I had to speak at a church in Michigan. And I remember at the end of the talk this guy coming up to me. And you know, he took his hands and he took both hands and he crossed them together, you know, doing them like this. And he looked at me and he said, you know, “The Bible and the Constitution are intricately connected.” He said the Bible and the Constitution, he looked at me, and he said, “I am a constitutionalist, and the Bible and the Constitution are connected.” And first of all, I’m feeling all types of feelings from what just happened in Charlottesville. You know, just thinking about the world my father was born into, my grandmother, my grandparents, my great grandparents, my family history and origin story. And I was like, Well, how bold of you to say this to an African American woman. And the thing, I looked back at him and said, I said, “You’re talking about the Constitution that says, I was three fifths of a person. The Constitution that wouldn’t allow my dad to be educated where he wanted to be educated. The Constitution that said that my grandmother couldn’t vote until she was in her 30s.” When you think about the foolishness of, and I want to say foolishness, of saying something like that with the history like we have, you know, how do you…a pastor that’s listening now, you know, what would be some practical things that you would say to start with some? Maybe we can list some books or something, you know, some readings. I am telling people right now, is, hey, why don’t you spend a year in the Gospels? You know, understanding what Jesus did, what Jesus said, how Jesus moved, like really getting to reacquaint yourself with Jesus. That’s one of the things that I’m doing. What would be some things that you guys would suggest? Because this person was a member of that church. We have people like, these people are being discipled. But not discipled into Jesus. And then I think there’s some pastors that just don’t know how to answer this or how to separate this like kind of what Micah said. Because it becomes a part of your identity and how you’ve been informed. What would you say, you know, to some of the pastors and Bible teachers and evangelists that are just listening now that are just in a loss with all of this?

Elizabeth Behrens  

I’m gonna say first thing is to take the American flag off of your stage, your pulpit. I’ll just come out and say it. Because honestly, you walk into, I mean, I grew up with the Christian flag on one side and the American flag on the other and if we don’t think that our theology is shaped by our place and our space then then we’re not being honest with ourselves. I just, whenever, you know, you get push back for saying that.

Latasha Morrison  

No, it’s real. It’s real.

Elizabeth Behrens  

But I like to think of okay. Think of Jesus preaching in the temple and if he was like, “Actually before I preach to you if someone could go ahead and bring in an emblem of Rome here to be behind me to honor our country, to honor this empire,”

Latasha Morrison  

To honor Ceasar.

Micah Smith  

And then sing their songs.

Elizabeth Behrens  

That is so outside the realm. “And then we’re gonna close with a song about God blessing Rome.” He wouldn’t have done it. And if in our head we’re saying, “Well, he wouldn’t have done it because Rome was evil. And the US is…” What’s your origin story about the US? If you say like, “No, it’s okay for us to sing that or to put the flag up there because the US is different than Rome.” How? Different than Rome how? Committed genocide, we’ve enslaved people, we put people in concentration camps, we’ve, you know, like. Yes, we are a different country than Rome was an empire. But like, let’s be honest with ourselves. Because if we are saying, “No, the US is different, because…” then we are buying into the white Christian nationalist origin story. And so if that’s the pushback, then you can say to your congregation, “Okay, we need to deeply invest in engaging our origin story.” And that may not start at a country level, that may be like, why was this church founded? And I think a lot of churches need to look into that and be open with themselves. Because you look at a lot, massive suburban churches that started because of white flight, because the suburbs were built to be white enclaves. And if a church is not including that in their origin story, if they are not including that when they celebrate their history, they do their 10 year anniversary, their 50 year anniversary, whatever it is. We aren’t telling the truth about where we came from, about why we exist, even at the micro level of this individual building, then we can’t expect people to engage in an honest origin story about something as broad as the country and the ideology around that.

Micah Smith  

I would add, I have three words coming to me: curiosity, Christ, and an alternative. And so you can tell them I’m not a preacher because they didn’t all start with c.

Elizabeth Behrens  

I know, I was waiting for it.

Latasha Morrison  

I was waiting for it. (laughter)

Micah Smith  

But one is like, how do we instill curiosity? I feel like that’s something that’s missing. It’s a lot easier to say, “I’m going to quickly like demonize, vilify someone who thinks differently than me.” How instead do I find some curiosity about them? They might think differently than me. Why? What’s driving that? Where does that come from? And so you’re leaning in a little bit more in that sense, when you’re when you’re engaging from that direction. Not automatically looking at them as someone separate and evil, but saying, “Maybe, maybe there’s something to this.” Maybe not. I mean, I’m not saying you have to take on everything anyone believes, but you’re going to at least be able to entertain some different ideas and let those ideas challenge you. Maybe there’s something I’ve been missing. I often think a lot of times that I have a full understanding of how something works. And I’ll start by shutting off somebody like, “They have nothing to teach me.” But then they started talking, I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t know that.” And so like having that curiosity about other people’s story, about where other people are getting their information can be really helpful in starting to break down some of these walls in a non threatening way, and in a countercultural way, really, to how things are being done right now. Another one is Christ. I heard someone say recently that the biggest crisis in Christianity right now isn’t like orthodoxy or orthopraxy, but it’s a Christology, because Christ is missing in Christianity.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah.

Micah Smith  

And so I see that a lot. People are like, “We have to push this policy, we have to get power no matter who it hurts in order to like put this into place to protect Christianity.” “We’re going to spend a lot of time arguing over biblical concepts.” But who Christ is and how he engaged in the world is not a part of that concept. And one of my like, guiding verses is Matthew 22. When he’s asked, you know, What is the greatest commandment in the law? And it is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind, this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself, and all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” And I think we kind of just exclude that part. We’re supposed to be trying to honor and glorify God, not a nation, not a group, not a denomination. But honor and glorify God. With everything that we got we’re loving him. And I think those two, the “is like it” is so important to me because as we start to look at who God is and how God loves through his lived person in Christ, then we start to see, oh, he, he really values people, he cares about people in the margins, he challenges power. And so we start to be able to move past this idea that, “We don’t engage in this way,” or “You have to be a part of this partisan party in order to be a Christian.” All that sort of stuff starts to fade off, because your center is no longer in a political party or in a national story. It’s in Christ and how we best live him in the world today. And, then the third one that’s really big for me is an alternative. Because as a white person, I think one of the biggest issues people have with wanting to have curiosity and engaging in this way is that the only option we see to the current setup is that we lose power and everything falls apart. And all of a sudden, we’re an oppressed group and the nation goes to pieces. And, you know, it’s this flipping of power. And that’s not really what Be the Bridge is going for anyway. I don’t think a lot of people I’ve talked to even outside of Be the Bridge are saying, “Oh, yeah, what we want is for it to become this thing where white people are slaves and America is destroyed.” Like, like, what do I get out of that? But instead, it’s a different vision, and one that we have a hard time conceptualizing. We kind of lack the imagination for. And it’s a kingdom vision, where we’re all benefiting by getting rid of these concepts around white supremacy, around Christian nationalism. So that we can all join hands together with our full selves around the throne and worship God. And we can do that wherever the borders start and stop. You know? And that’s just a really different way of looking at how we even use conceptualized power. I mean, I don’t think power necessarily, in itself, is bad. God discusses how we use power a lot in Ezekiel. I spend a lot of time in Ezekiel. And reading through it is interesting how much he talks about, “Hey, here’s the Prince and the prince has power in this way. And that power is to make sure that justice is served. The people aren’t oppressed.” That even within Ezekiel it talks about how, you know, the tribes have their own land. And then people come in who are foreign, immigrating into these nations, are supposed to be treated as a person in that nation with the same rights and benefits. And so you think about power as not a way to grow your own influence, grow your own wealth, grow it grow more power to push the way things are done in the system. Instead, power is used to make sure that justice is served, that people are cared for. And, you know, there was one other thing I was gonna say along those lines, but just that different conceptualization of how power is used. And so all that shifts, but people struggle to see that. And so how do we give them that alternate outcome to the current system?

Sean Watkins  

Yes, Micah, Elizabeth, those are both excellent points. I agree wholeheartedly. As usual, I’ll do a shameless plug. If you are a pastor and listening to this podcast and want more information on how to be able to change your own discipleship and spiritual formation of your church, we want to invite you to go to our website, BeTheBridge.com. And there on the tab, you’ll see “Resources” and click on “Recommended Resources.” We have a book list that’s their of resources from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that had been vetted by our training team. We don’t recommend books that we have not read. And we’re like, yep, that’s good, that’s middle ground or healthy. Yeah, the ones that are wrong and you read them because they’re wrong to figure out why they’re wrong. We don’t recommend them. (laughter) So, these books we like. So I would, that’s one. I don’t want to forget that. I would say, two things. One, I got the opportunity to be on panel. When I first got hired at Be the Bridge, I got to be on panel with Bryan Stevenson, it was during the pandemic. And if you’re not familiar with him and his work with Just Mercy and Equal Justice Initiative, they’re one of our sister organizations at Be the Bridge. Please Google them. There’s a lot of information that’s there. But it was the anniversary of the preaching, teaching, and ministry of Anglican evangelical leader George Whitfield, who I had never heard of before. And so I googled George Whitfield and found out that he was Anglican, Methodist, evangelical, from the 1700s, and a devout slave owner. And they sent us as panelists, a coin with George Whitfield’s face on it and one of his quotes on the back. And they began by saying, “Even though he was a slave owner, and that’s a complicated history, he has all these amazing ideals. And isn’t it wonderful that so many people can follow his ethics as we move forward?” And Bryan Stevenson and I both in the introduction said, “No.” You cannot say that this person, if he was alive today would view Bryan and I as property and that we, as African American men, should live up to that ideal. You have a disconnect. You have a blatant disconnect in values, that I should not want to idolize someone that didn’t see me as a human being. And so I think that’s one. It’s the narratives. And that’s really what Micah is talking about, Elizabeth as well, too. We’re trying to confront the narratives that people have been taught their entire lives. And you cannot confront a narrative that someone has believed their entire life and not get into trouble. Like Micah, I spent three years in the book of Ezekiel for my devotional, and Ezekiel 16, I think, for me is most profound. Because at that time, Israel believed something about themselves. They believed that because they were in the land, and because they had the Ark of the Covenant, they had, you know, their version of the Bible. Right? The decalogue, the 10 words, the 10 commandments. Because they were in the land and they had the Ark, that they were safe, they could do whatever they wanted to in terms of genocide, marginalizing women, and oppressing people groups. There are these narratives that they believed about themselves. And Ezekiel 16 comes in, and God through Ezekiel says, “Listen, the narrative that you believe about yourself is fundamentally wrong.” And it’s a very powerful chapter because God says, “This is what you believe about yourself on one side,” and the second half of that chapter is, “Here’s the actual truth about you.” I mean, it’s pretty graphic in terms of how they were born, how God found them, how God rescued them, how God delivers them, and wants to be in relationship with them. And how they refute all of that, and pretty much become a version of nationalists themselves. And so, I think again, it’s going back to the Scriptures like Elizabeth and Micaj have both said, and rereading it I think with with non western eyes I think is huge. But the other thing because of who I am as a person, Tasha you said the magic word, “What are some books?” I’m glad you asked! (laughter) I’m not gonna do all of them because then that just gives Elizabeth permission and we’ll be here all day.

Micah Smith  

Amen.

Sean Watkins  

(laughter) I think The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah is wonderful, Rescuing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Unsettling Truths, how the dehumanizing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery continues today. Again, that’s an excellent resource. Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes is an excellent resource by Justo Gonzalez. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Dr. Richard Twiss. Any of these books are absolutely outstanding. Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. There’s a litany…it’s on Elizabeth’s desk (laughter). There’s a litany of resources that are out there. And again, we have a number of those on our website. If you go to BeTheBridge.com and click on “Resources” and we recommend, we’ve got some of those books there. But just encourage you to be able just to start diversifying your readership. Again, if you are questioning, doubtful, or unsure of anything that we’ve said, again, I want to encourage you to go home and segregate your books. So it’s the first thing that I do, again, when I teach at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Before I start the class, I tell the students, “Go home and segregate your books. Before we get started, before you refute anything that I’m about to say, before you disagree with me and pull out all these theological treatises that are old as dirt, go home and pull out your books and segregate them and see who shaped your thinking.” And that in and of itself, I think can be a very powerful image. Because again, right, it helps folks evaluate their experiences. That for us to be able to say, “Oh, I’ve got thoughts and feelings about all of these issues around DACA or Black lives matter or anti Asian hate” and all of these different things. There’s a good friend of mine, Dr. Ray Hammond, who’s in Boston, Massachusetts, who often says, “No conversations about us without us.” And one of the issues of Christian nationalism is that it allows for all of these conversations about all these different ethnic groups without actually talking to any of those ethnic groups actually having them be included in the conversation. And so if you want to know, how you’re living, how you’re thinking, and who’s shaping your thinking, who are you inviting to the conversation? And if you’re having conversations about those people groups without inviting them, then that’s not a true conversation. That’s a dictation. Right? You’re telling someone who you think they are and how they should live and operate as opposed to the more biblical model, which is we have table fellowship. We are around the table together, and we are listening to and learning with each other. That’s what it means to be Christian. That the fruit of the gospel, I feel like I’m preaching, that the fruit of the gospel is not Jesus says you get to go to heaven, right, the fruit of the gospel is that a new community is formed, a diverse community around the table that comes from different nations. But it looks like Revelation seven and nine, this multitude of every nation, tribe, and tongue that no one can count. That’s the good news of the gospel. That these nations that don’t get along outside of the church, inside the church, we are equal, we are together, and we love each other. Because at the foot of the cross is spiritual unity and cultural diversity.

Latasha Morrison  

Why don’t we see that, just, you know, going back to that, like, in this pluralistic society, why don’t we see? Well, why don’t white evangelists evangelicals see that as good and God ordained? Like, why, you know, as a Christian, why wouldn’t you see that as a good thing?

Sean Watkins  

Just real quick, because I was talking and Micah and Elizabeth are both introverts, so I’ll just give them a minute. Because my coffee has kicked in. (laughter) General Electric, GE, like 60 years ago, and you can go on YouTube and still see the commercial, General Electric, 60 years ago, they did a commercial, they said their most important product was progress. Think about that for a second. Not the light bulb, not the microwave, not the refrigerator, not the television, the radio, for Black people, the iron, bless that wonderful name. Right? None of those things were important. The most important part they said was progress. That’s good. But it’s also very dangerous. Because progress on the wrong road will get you nowhere. For those of us that are directionally challenged, like myself, I am lost when I get in my car with the GPS. Doesn’t matter how far I go, if I’m on the wrong road, the further I go, the further I get from where I’m actually trying to arrive. And so I think that’s one of the dangers that’s happened for white evangelicals in the nation. Not all, but for too many, that you’ve had really for the better part of 700 years, people who’ve read the same books over and over and over again and created this theology, this political imagination that excludes every other ethnic group. It’s been tremendous progress, but it’s progress on the wrong road. And so now here we are in 2023. And we have really, to be honest, a brilliant, intellectually sound, theologically robust theology and philosophy that comes out of conservative white evangelical camps about how God is committed to them and to the nation. It’s brilliant. It’s intellectually sound, it’s theologically sound. It’s just wrong. And that’s the issue. Right? They’ve thought through everything. But the foundation, the launching pad, the start place was off. And so as a consequence, it’s completely off course. It’s completely off course. 

Elizabeth Behrens  

When it comes down to when I, when thinking about talking to white Christians, and especially those who are deep into even spaces like white Christian nationalist spaces, is there is this acceptance of diversity or maybe even thinking like, “Yes, you know, like, God made all the colors. That’s fantastic, that’s fine.” But they’ve been so dis… they’ve been more discipled by the media they’re consuming, the books are consuming, the fact that all their theology is coming from white spaces that they’re okay talking about diversity and even saying that diversity is something you can pursue. But as soon as you bring up racism or white supremacy, things shut down. Because part of that theology has been so deeply individualistic, that felt like that your faith, your salvation is just like you and God and having fire insurance, that they don’t have a concept, they don’t have a theology of community, a theology of diversity. It’s like, “Well, yes, diversity is okay, but I don’t get that from my Bible.” And so there’s just not that depth to the theology there to be able to pull from. And that comes back to this discipleship piece of part of discipling people away from white Christian nationalism is going to be discipling them into these bigger, broader conversations about racial reconciliation and the things that we teach on and train on and coach on preach on all the time here. Because the two aren’t really removed from one another in so many ways. And also, it’s, that media piece is so complicated. But, you know, I’ll see people who are, you know, they’re going to church on Sunday and they’re absorbing information there, that’s generally also from the same white theological centers that are very individualistic, and then they’re also, you know, consuming tons of media that is pushing the same white Christian nationalism message which is all over the place in the media, but not just Christian media, mainstream media as well. And then maybe they’re also reading your book, Tasha. And so if you think about the, you know, when we think about the arc of discipleship, the amount of how much influence can an hour reading a book a week compared to that many hours of being flooded with an individualistic theology and an origin story of white Christian nationalism, and news stories that push that we should fear immigrants and that we’re losing our culture and that we’re swinging away from our roots. You know, like that’s really where the discipleship is happening is in those spaces. And what they’re hearing on Sunday isn’t countering what they’re hearing in those other messages. And so, until we look at this broad range of how and where and why people are being discipled and into what, I don’t think that most of those people would probably say, “No, I’m not racist,” or “I’m fine with diversity,” or whatnot. And that doesn’t counter that deep other messaging they’re getting elsewhere. Right? Like, the only thing that really counters that is if we really talk about like, “Okay, what does that mean? How do we talk about the fact that you’re okay with diversity, and yet, you’ve chosen a white neighborhood and a white school and a white church and a white workplace and white friends?” You know, like, there’s a disconnect there.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah.

Micah Smith  

And also, you’re okay, with, like, speaking of diversity, you’re okay with Black friends as long as they assimilate into your viewpoints, which is pretty common. It’s like, “Oh, we’re diverse. We have, you know, these 10 Black people that sit over here, and they go along with what we say. Otherwise, we’ll slowly moved them out.” So you know, you got to be aware of that concept, too. It’s like, do people get to fully belong in that space, even if they don’t fully hold your perspectives?

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah. And what about…this is the final question, then we’re going to close up. But what about some people who really see nationalism as patriotism. And so I want to make sure that we address that. These are, you know, those of you who are listening, with our Cultural Views, you know, we have the training team, actually, who is on this podcast today. Micah is the Chief Operating Officer of Be the Bridge. But one of the things we’re doing with our Cultural Views is we’re taking that we’re going to be launching a Be the Bridge Academy, a learning academy. And Sean can give us, tell us a little bit more about that when, as we get ready to close in just a moment. But we are actually going to have topics like this within the academy, where you can go back, and you know, listen and watch. And so, this will be there too. Because we can’t dive into everything on this podcast where you know, but I know one of the things where people are, really don’t understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. And I know, I think I asked the question, but I don’t know, if we got a chance.

Elizabeth Behrens  

We didn’t. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  

There’s so much to cover, I wanted to make sure that we address that. Because I know that is one of the things that comes up where some people feel like just being, when you say nationalism that you’re just talking about patriotism. And patriotism has evolved into a whole nother narrative in and of itself. You know? I always say, you know, my grandfather served in two wars in his time in the military. And in both of those wars, he did not have his full set of rights. When I think about that, I’m like, that’s a patriot, you know, to me. But we’ve conflicted that. And even as I say those words, they’ve taken on a life of their own, that has this like negative triggering effect, even with me. So even as I say those words. You know? I’m like, I don’t even use those words anymore because of that. But I wanted us to make sure we just give like, an example, or just a brief description of the difference in those. Where some people don’t feel like, you know, “I’m just a patriot.”

Elizabeth Behrens  

Yeah. I would say the big difference there is like, the quick and easy definition is, patriotism is: “I live here, I maybe even love my country in a broad, nebulous sense. That means I care about it, I want good things for it, I’m willing to serve, give up part of my time or my energy for it.” That’s patriotism. Nationalism on the other hand is saying, “Not only do I feel those things, but I feel those things because there is a hierarchy.” Which we know God is not a God of hierarchies. He says, I’m the only thing that’s above anything else. And it’s saying, “Not only do I love my country, but I love my country because my country is objectively superior, objectively the best; it’s at the top of the hierarchy. And so I have to serve in a way that upholds that positionality of the nation. I have to act in a way that upholds that superior position.” And that’s where we also see the alignment in, whenever we have hierarchies, we’re looking at, you know, we’re talking about racial hierarchy, we’re talking about a gender hierarchy. We’re doing those things. And we’re saying like that means that whatever is the top of those hierarchies, is what is being lumped together and defined together. So when we’re talking about nationalism, we’re talking about hierarchy. When we’re talking about patriotism, we’re talking about care and concern and willingness to serve.

Latasha Morrison  

Okay, so good. Now, you know, a lot of this as we’re closing out. There is a lot in this to lament. But I want to just close out with, because all of this we’re lamenting. Because this is impacting the church, this is impacting our witness, this is impacting this next generation. This is why many Christians of color are saying that Christianity is a white man’s religion. This is where this is coming from when we think about all of this. So there is a lot to lament you know around this. But what I want us to do is as we close, what hope do we have? You know? What hope do we have? I know a lot of us don’t lean into optimism easily. But I would want to know what hope. And Sean as you talk about the hope you have, I would like for you to talk about the up and coming Be the Bridge Learning Academy that’s coming soon.

Sean Watkins  

Absolutely.

Latasha Morrison  

And we don’t have to give any dates or anything. We can just say soon. (laughter)

Sean Watkins  

Because Be the Bridge outgrew its previous platform and the time that we had to launch, we realized, “Oh, well, we’re doing a lot, we need somebody else that can do a lot with us.”

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah, there’s some technical things in the background that we had to work on. But which is great, because we’re doing our due diligence, and we’re making sure that is sustainable, lasting, and life changing. And so it will be launching very soon, shortly.

Sean Watkins  

Right, right, right.

Micah Smith  

It’s taking a little longer, but it’s gonna come out better in the long run.

Latasha Morrison  

Yes.

Sean Watkins  

That’s right. That’s right. I almost said like a fine wine, but I’ll keep it, like a good cake. There we go. (laughter) I think three things just as I woke up and chose violence. And Elizabeth can’t name names and me not name names too, so. That way we both will be like, you know, if anybody comes for us, they’ll come for the whole team. I think going back to Tasha’s last question real quick. Like how, what is going on with this? There’s a gentleman who spoke who shall remain nameless, but he said that stayed with me. He talked about how Navigators was founded in 1931, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Young Life in 1941, Youth for Christ in 1947, Fuller Seminary in 1947, Youth for Christ in ’44 rather, Fullest Seminary in ’47, Campus Crusade and ’51, Youth With A Mission in 1960, and Gordon Conwell in 1969. Those are the leading evangelical institutions in our nation. I was on staff with InterVarsity for 13 years. They’re on 550 college campuses. Campus Crusade, prior to the pandemic, as amazing as they are, right, they had a quarter of a million high school and college students going to their discipleship programs every year. Some of these organizations have been around for 70 years. That means we’re talking about parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, doctors, lawyers, pastors, theologians, judges, attorneys, police officers. We’ve had men and women that have been a part of these organizations, really, from middle school or high school days on up until if they come on staff and work with them their entire lives. And we have a nation that is divided theologically on the issue of race. And so it’s not enough to say are these organizations culpable, but rather, how culpable are they? That we have this many people that have never thought about discipleship through a racialized lens. And so that’s one of the reasons…we say those names, not to shame them. But we say that from a place of conviction to be able to say Be the Bridge has work to do as an organization, you’ve got work to do as organizations, we all have work to do as organizations and as people. And one of the ways in which we want to speak into that really is through our Be the Bridge Academy. It’s recognizing that there are gaps in our all of our spiritual formation, there are gaps in how we’ve been taught to view the world, there are gaps in terms of how we’ve been taught to see and understand and learn from other cultures. I never had a Native American teacher, elementary, middle high school, college, master’s degree, I’m a PhD student. I have yet to have an Indigenous theologian or an Indigenous professor. I can count on one hand how many Latino professors I’ve had and two hands for Black professors. Right? And so its this reality of, we’ve never evaluated who’s shaped our thinking before. And so we have to do that hard work to make sure we’re including those voices. That’s what the Academy is. We want to provide resources from every cultural background, for every person at every stage of their journey. If you’re at a beginner stage, we’ve got some introductory courses. If you’re at That intermediate level, In other words, you are aware of your own ethnic and cultural background, But you want to learn from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds; we’ve got some courses for you. If you are a leader or a leader of leaders, if you are pastoring a church, if you are an executive in your organization and you’re like, “How do we think about some cross cultural competence training for our team?” We want to have resources for folks at every level of the organization, every level of the church, every person at every stage of their journey. And so we’ll be launching that this year, God willing, once we put everything on the platform that shall remain nameless. So I’d say that. The last thing I’ll say and then I’m done. What gives me hope. Oprah Winfrey said it best, probably about seven years ago. I was watching 60 minutes. And they were talking about Bryan Stevenson and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as Lynching Memorial, and his other museum From Slavery to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama. Oprah’s opening words, however, have stayed with me, and it’s what gives me hope. She said, “There’s a reckoning happening in our country right now.” And that gives me hope, that we have reached a point in American society, as Dr. King said, “Where no lie can live forever.” And what we see happening right now is the death of the lies that America has taught itself and taught its citizens for centuries. That’s what gives me hope. It’s a very painful, difficult season right now. It’s Friday, and it’s on the way to Easter Sunday. But we have to go through Good Friday in order to get the Resurrection Sunday. And that’s what gives me hope. It’s the fact that we have all of these different ethnic groups, including a lot of our white brothers and sisters that are saying absolutely not. One of the things that I appreciated once January 6th occurred and they had the committees, one of the highest ranking generals in the country, Dr. excuse me, General, I made sure I wrote down his name too, its General Mark Milley, General Mark Milley, who’s a five star general, he stood up and said, “I want to understand white rage. I need to understand white supremacy. I need to understand how myself as a five star General, who has taken you know, an oath to defend the Constitution and the nation can then have its citizens try to overthrow the government. I need to understand this.” And for a sitting general to say, “I’ve never thought about this before. I’ve never examined it before.” I thought it was nuts. “But seeing what just happened. There are gaps in my leadership as a five star general. I need to learn and grow.” There’s a reckoning happening in the country to where, I think, what every other ethnic group has believed in part, we all are slowly starting to believe. You can’t have reconciliation when you have conflicting narratives. And we’ve had conflicting narratives for far too long. And now, we are starting to tell one story about the true history of the United States of America. And once that story is done being rewritten, we will be a healthier, wiser, more courageous, more confident, more humble nation, because we know the truth of the past. We don’t run from it, but it inspires how we live in the present and also where we’re going in the future.

Latasha Morrison  

Micah, what is giving you hope?

Micah Smith  

I’m gonna give two things here. One is that you do not have to save America. And you do not have save Christianity for Christianity to still persist. And I say that in the sense, especially of sometimes I feel like we feel so much weight on our shoulders. Like, “It’s on me to save Christianity.” And a lot of people do that, think that it relies on saving America. But if America just disappears, there is no United States, Christianity will still exist. It is growing in parts across the world, even if it’s fading here. And it will still be here, even in that case. It existed, was very healthy, thriving in Rome, before it became the state religion. So you know, we need to have that mindset. And that takes a weight off our shoulders, I think a lot of times to say, “God’s got this, we’re just trying to align with him.” Right? So keeping that in mind. The other one was that I was at a conference a week or two ago. I did a call out, so I’ll do a shout out here to Missio Alliance. It was a really good conference that they put on. And one of the panels I was listening to is a diverse panel of speakers talking about race and the church, which is not necessarily a hopeful topic in a lot of cases. But something that they all made a point to reference was the concept that when you look at these things at a 50,000 foot level, it just looks like a mess and there’s no hope. But what they hold on to is these small stories and communities of people who they hear about all the time, who come up and say, “Hey, this is what we’re trying to do.” “Hey, this is work we’re doing.” “Hey, this is what I’ve learned.” And just these individuals and small groups who are becoming, who are growing, doing their own work, where it always needs to start. And then that’s starting to come out into like their family units. It’s coming out into their school, it’s coming out into their congregation, it’s coming out into their workplace. And so there’s these little places where they are seeing a lot of hope. And that’s so true for here, too. I mean, I ran into someone at that conference that talked about the whiteness intensive we used to lead, Elizabeth. And you know, and there’s I hear you talking about that a lot, Tasha, when you go around and you speak different places. And so just knowing there’s people out there, like there’s all the noise, but underneath that there’s people who are listening and wanting to do work and really changing things is something that really gives me a lot of hope. And yeah, that’s something that Be the Bridge is really about is about, the community thing. So we plugged The Academy, I also want to make sure we’re plugging our community groups, our discussion groups, they can also find on the website. There’s a lot of people doing a relation building across racial lines there that is leading to some real changes. And so just that’s something, those are two things that give me hope.

Elizabeth Behrens  

I would say it was several years ago in a very dark period for me, spiritually, theologically, dealing with a lot of church and family trauma and things, just lots lots going on, that I really started digging into some spaces outside of traditional Christian spaces. Right? Church on some Sundays was like, “Okay, I can’t shadow those doors, but I can go sit in my garden; and I can, me and God can have a chat about this and his people and what they’re doing to people.” And really leaned into some Indigenous theologians and theology of land and theology of space and of really creation theology that was much deeper than anything I’ve ever been given. And so I think what’s giving me hope is that. With that as a backdrop, with that having influenced my thinking and as someone who’s a little bit obsessed with my garden, in the Fall, you cut everything down and you bag up the leaves and I put them in this big pile behind the shed of my house. Right? And it’s everything that’s died off. It’s everything that can’t survive the cold, everything that can’t survive the harshness that’s coming dies off. And you you bag it up and you put it in a pile and over the winter it breaks down, it composts. Right? All of those those leaves and that brush, everything, it turns to dirt, essentially turns to dirt. And then in the spring, I take that compost and I spread it out throughout my garden, and I plant new seeds, and I plant new plants. And no matter how long a cold winter feels and no matter how dark it gets and no matter how lonely it is, every single year, Spring comes. And what was dead and needed to die off, died off and it feeds the new growth and it feeds beauty that comes back.

Micah Smith  

That’s beautiful.

Elizabeth Behrens  

And so I lean on the fact that our Creator gives us Spring every year.

Micah Smith  

Amen.

Latasha Morrison  

Yes. I love it. New life. You know? All things are becoming new. And c’est la to that. And so I think the thing that gives me hope is knowing that people like you Sean, Elizabeth, and Micah are locking arms with the community, with the body of Christ to disciple people into a greater truth. I think that is a broader truth. I think that is the encouragement that the work that we’re doing, it matters, and that it is making a difference. You know? Lives are being transformed for God’s glory. And so I think that we can have this conversation and somebody’s gonna listen and there’s something that was said, a scripture that was quoted, a statement that was made, a book that was cited, that is going to shift it for people. And in that personal shift that they will have, the places that they intersect, their church, their community, their families will shift because of that. And all of us here are here because of something like that happened to us personally. You know? And so, I am grateful for this conversation. I’m grateful for you for listening. This is going to be in two parts. We did not even get to cover book banning. We hit on it a little bit, just a little bit. What we’ll do, Sarah, is we’ll come back and we’ll do a cultural views continuation. We’ll do a separate book ban. I don’t know why we thought we could cover white nationalism and book bans. We couldn’t even cover white nationalism. (laughter)

Micah Smith  

Did you see who was on the call? We are not short winded.

Latasha Morrison  

I know! Sean, Elizabeth, Micah, me trying to cover white nationalism in one hour was not going to happen. (laughter)

Sean Watkins  

Uh huh. We said good morning in five points. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  

So let me just say this and then we can have a wrap up. Thank you for listening. Thank you for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. This is Cultural Views with Micah, Elizabeth, and Sean.

Narrator  

Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The Host and Executive Producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.