The full episode transcript is below.
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Latasha Morrison 2:44
[Latasha sharing about the That Sounds Fun Network listener survey] Hey Be the Bridge listeners! On every episode you hear, we share about various sponsors who partner with us to support this show. We strive to collaborate with awesome products and services that you will love. We don’t want this to waste your time listening to ads, and we don’t want you to listen to ads that are not useful, helpful, impactful. So we’re asking for your help. We have created a five minute survey for you to fill out that will give us great information to make sure that our ads are serving you well. And this is fun! One lucky listener will win a $250 gift card. That’s what I said – a $250 gift card from That Sounds Fun Network when they complete the survey. So if you go complete the survey you qualify to win the $250 gift card! And you can simply visit ThatSoundsFunNetwork.com to enter. Winner will be announced Friday, February the 11th. That’s Friday February the 11th over at the That Sounds Fun Network Instagram. So this winner will be announced Friday, February the 11th over at That Sounds Fun Network on Instagram. So make sure you follow @tsfnetwork. So you want to follow @tsfnetwork. That Sounds Fun Network. Thank you again!
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 4:14
[intro] How are you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding .
Latasha Morrison 4:26
[intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.
Latasha Morrison 5:03
Okay! Be the Bridge community. I am here with the one and only. You guys may have never heard his name, but after this you’re going to know his name. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for several years now. He also serves on the board of Be the Bridge. Not only is he smart, he also has a lot of swag. And for those of you who may not have heard, I want to introduce you to Dr. Will Gravely. He is the founder and lead pastor of Refuge Community Church. It is a multi-ethnic and cross-cultural church in Austell, GA, here in the fabulous Atlanta area. And he is also a visiting professor at Emory University. He’s been in the Atlanta metro area after graduating the one and only Morehouse College and completed both his Master’s in Divinity in Theology and the Arts. So not only can you preach, he can also rap and do spoken word and all the things. And so, he got his Doctor of Ministry and Church Leadership and Community Witness at the renowned Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Upon graduating from Candler, he received the prestigious Fellowships Seminarian Award for his contributions to cross-cultural worship arts as a master student. He and his wife Veronica founded The Stained Glass Project in 2016, a community development organization driven to connect and reflect local communities through their model, The Community Hub. And I want to tell you a little bit about this, too. The Community Hub model connects neighborhoods around the core human needs of health, unity and belonging in order to equip and empower neighbors to collaborate in transforming their own communities. Beautiful! Dr. Gravely serves as the lead strategist of the flagship community hub, a cultural arts center situated on 29.6 acres in the metro Atlanta. He could probably tell you a little bit about this. So I’m so excited to have Will on here. Will is also my friend. And, you know, it is an honor to have him serve on the board. He has a lot of wisdom. You know, I used to call you, you know that you were young, but now you know, you kind of getting up there Will. (laughter) You getting up there a little bit. But that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s just an honor to have you on the podcast. And this is Black History Month. You know? But like, I like to say that I am Black 365 days of the year, not just in February. And Black history is American history, and it is important 365 days of the year. But this is just the time when we pause to illuminate it a little brighter and talk about it a little more. But it’s not, you know, limited to February. But I wanted to bring you on because I know you are a wealth of information, especially about church history. And I wanted you to share your insights about church history. And then also, what is it like as a Black pastor leading a multi-ethnic church, multi-ethnic and cross-cultural church? Because there’s a difference between having a multi-ethnic church and it not being cross-cultural. So I think that’s important that a lot of times people don’t realize. So, we’re gonna jump in. And Will tell the people, I said a lot in the bio. I hope I did it justice. But you can, just tell the people a little bit about yourself. Just maybe some parts that I left out.
Dr. Will Gravely 9:19
Sure. Well, yeah, thank you Tasha. Again, honored to be with you and also to serve in the way I do with Be the Bridge. So thank you so much. Um, yeah, originally from the Philadelphia area, but like you said, came down to the Atlanta area for college. And so being exposed in education at Morehouse, I became familiar with figures like, obviously Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But also Benjamin Elijah Mays, Howard Thurman, and the like. And so that would be kind of the grassroots space where I found out more about the Black church. I’m a proud product of the Black church, and many may not know the Black church was not birthed in civil rights. The Black church, I would argue, actually starts in the time of Jesus, right? Not only with Jesus and his disciples being people of color, but also most explicitly with the Ethiopian eunuch, who carried the gospel back home, in the time of Jesus far before it ever reached Europe. And so the Black church has a rich history. We tend to focus on in the Americas, right, and it being a product of slavery. But Black Christianity was not a product of slavery. The Black church was birthed or framed during the time of enslavement, but the Black church in and of itself was birthed in the time of Christ.
Latasha Morrison 10:48
Oh, I love that. And I think that’s something that we forget. You know, just that story about Philip. And you know, it’s right there. And we all skip over that. And there’s so many other things we kind of skip over. So thank you, for just really getting us to look through a different lens that, you know, the Black church existed during the time when Jesus walked this earth. And so, why is the, you know, why do you think that Black church history is imperative? And it’s sad that we have to say Black church history. And we have to do that because history has been segregated. You know, but why do you think it’s imperative for not just Black people to know, Asian people to know, Latinx community to know, but why do you think this is imperative for the white church?
Dr. Will Gravely 11:44
Right. Um, I think just, it’s a great question. Just studying the history of the Black church, becoming aware begins to dismantle this notion that Christianity is a white religion, or tradition that the churches in Europe are the flagship spaces of theology. Just by a casual exposure to church history, you’d understand how critical the Black church has been all the way from the time of Jesus up until now. Right? So a lot of people aren’t familiar with the Church Fathers, or as some scholars will call them, the Desert Fathers. And there’s four in particular that I think are those that set the foundation for what we know as Western theology or the Western church. We need to understand that as much as we center Christianity in Europe, the Western church is younger than the Eastern church. Right? And the Western church, many would argue, established by Peter as he led the church in his own way after Jerusalem, in Rome, that’s kind of where the Western church was born. But the Black church is important. So we go to the theology, core tenets of the faith, like the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, Jesus being a begotten Son, all of these concepts were thought through and penned by North African scholars, right. So some of them were Tertullian, for example, who was alive between 160 to 225 AD, and founded essentially the practice of apologetics, how to defend the faith. And for him personally, it was in the face of pagan religions and traditions. Then we have Origen, who was in Alexandria in Egypt. Right? And a lot of us, even when we think of Egypt, we don’t think Africa. Egypt is an African nation. And Origen’s responsible for framing the notion of the Trinity and the eternal nature of Jesus. Athanasius is another one who was rooted in Alexandria but was exiled several times under persecution. But he was actually present at the Council of Nicea that was responsible for determining what orthodox Christianity is and even was setting the foundation for the Christian canon or the Bible that we have today. And he defended the divinity of Jesus. And then lastly, and I might argue, had the broadest scope of works was Augustine or Augustine of Hippo. And it may not be obvious in his name, but he was rooted in Algeria. Right? So he wrote things like Confessions, On Christian Doctrine, On the Trinity. And in 387 AD, he was converted to Christianity and eventually became a bishop in Algeria. So this is the foundation of Christian theology as we know it. And later on, it went to people of European descent, which unfortunately, is the majority of those that we study in seminary spaces. But the root and foundation of all Christian theology was in North Africa shortly after Jesus ascended.
Latasha Morrison 15:01
And why do you think in some seminaries that this is not even mentioned? And I think I know, I was reading where, you know, and Western culture like they started painting these Church Fathers with lighter skin depicting them in a lot of ways as white. I mean, we see that the Catholic Church has done that even with Jesus. So, you know, and I do believe that that was intentional. You know, it’s a form of white supremacy in that sense. And so why do you think it’s important for seminaries to teach this history?
Dr. Will Gravely 15:41
Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And you made some great points, even posing it. For the sake of integrity first, not information alone, but integrity. This is where our theology came from. The Gospel went to Africa first before it went to Europe. And a lot of the, I would say, taking Christianity hostage that we’ve seen in not only American culture, but specifically tied to white supremacy, it couldn’t be as effective if we understood church history. So just giving credit where credit is due, these North African theologians are responsible for what we hold now as orthodox Christianity. And it’s important to know who they were for not only the integrity of the gospel and the integrity of the trajectory of the church, but also to oppose these notions of white supremacy, being that there’s a white god of a white faith and a white chosen people. I think it was easy to kind of whitewash this history, because there was a lot of Greek influence in North Africa. We even have these fairytale romances between Caesar and Cleopatra, for example. So there was a lot of mixing because of trade and markets with Northern African nations and Europe. I think the problem is because of Greek influence, there was a duality of names, where if you just showed the name without necessarily attributing where they were doing their work, it was easy to whitewash them as Greek citizens or Greek persons. Right? It’s kind of like Saul and Paul, in Sunday school, we’re kind of taught that Paul had a name change. But in reality, he was a Jewish person with Roman citizenship. So Saul was his Hebrew name. And Paul was his Roman name. And he carried these two names with him in life, depending on what context he was in determined which name he used. And unfortunately, I think something similar happened with the church fathers. It’s easy to look at somebody’s named Augustine as a Greek, white male and not a North African Bishop. You know, so that was kind of an issue.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good for pointing that out. So that’s why we have to look, dig a little deeper and do a little more hermeneutics and exegesis when we’re looking at the full scope of everything, the full narrative in the context of what we’re reading and the history behind it. What are some of the complications that you see, as it relates to the Black church now?
Yes, that’s a big question. I think, um, James Cone said it very well, probably about 10 to 15 years ago. We have since lost him, a great pillar of not only the Black church, but Black theology and liberation theology. But he essentially said that the challenge with the contemporary Black church is it’s exchanged the gospel of Jesus for a gospel of success. It has exchanged the gospel of Jesus for a gospel success. And so he said that in many ways, this has shifted the mission of the Black church. And not globally, but in certain pockets to where it is no longer about discipleship and the kingdom of God. But it is about a means to the American dream. Right? And I don’t really see that as much of a strong critique as he meant it. I can kind of see the historical context as to what led to that challenge in the Black church. So for example, the first schools that would educate us as Black people were seminaries. So the first places we could receive higher education were in being trained to be ministers, which meant pastors and ministers were the first ones to breach these cultural barriers and boundaries. They were the first ones to get more highly educated, the first ones to get higher incomes, usually the first ones to integrate certain communities when that was an option. And so I believe Black clergy were historically closer to being able to experience the American dream than the average African American or Black person in the States. Now the Black church, I believe, has a wealth of not only history of struggle and triumph but also theology. The way I argue it is, you have more God, if you need more God. You have more God if you need more God. And that’s sort of like a simplistic elementary way of saying, the more you have to depend on the Lord, the more the Lord is revealed to you. And Black people have historically been oppressed on every continent for centuries. And so our routing in faith traditions, in particular, Christianity, or The Way, has been deep and by necessity. So one thing I say is, even the Black church, as an entity, as an identity, the Black church was born by necessity, not narcissism. It was born by necessity, not narcissism. To even coin it the Black church, some people might argue, “Well, there’s a Black church and there’s a white church, what’s the difference?” The Black church was identified as Black because we were not allowed to worship the same God with white people. And so the Black church had to take on a faith life of its own, not being allowed to worship in the same spaces as whites. And so that’s why I think just studying that history is critical. And the state of the Black church has a lot to offer because there’s deep rich theology that has always had practical application, because we needed Jesus to break down barriers. We needed Jesus to define us and our identity and our value, our intrinsic Imago Dei. We needed it to be real. And so in many ways, for the Black church, there’s a deeper sense of theology more in truth and experience rather than just tradition.
Tandria Potts 21:38
Wow, incredible insights. Don’t go anywhere. We’re gonna pause for a quick moment. And we’ll be right back.
[Latasha sharing an ad for BetterHelp] This podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy. We talk about BetterHelp a lot on this show. And this month, we’re discussing some of the stigmas around mental health. And I want to list just a few of the stigmas. For example, some people think you should wait until things are unbearable to go to therapy. But that isn’t true. Therapy is a tool to utilize before things get worse. It can help you avoid those lows. We should be proactive with our therapy and not reactive. And another stigma, we’ve been taught that mental health shouldn’t be a part of our normal life. But that’s wrong, too. We take care of our bodies with the gym, the doctor and nutrition. We should be focusing on our minds just as much. BetterHelp can help you do that. And I am so proud that even myself, I find it very helpful to be a part of our ongoing therapy program just so that I can function and work and deal with the ups and downs of life. You see BetterHelp is customized online therapy that offers video, phone, and even live chat sessions with your therapist. So you don’t have to see anyone on camera, if you don’t want to. I’m down for that one. I like that. And then it’s more affordable than in person therapy. You can be matched with a therapist in under 48 hours. And right now we know that this is a difficult season for a lot of people. And to have affordable therapy is imperative. Give it a try. And you’ll see why over 2 million people have used BetterHelp online therapy. And again, this podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp, and Be the Bridge listeners get 10% off their first month at BetterHelp.com/bethebridge. That’s BETTERHELP.com/bethebridge. And as a Be the Bridge listener, remember, you get 10% off. So make sure that you’re prioritizing yourself this year in 2022 and sign up for BetterHelp.
Tandria Potts 23:44
Thanks for staying with us. Let’s get back to our conversation.
Latasha Morrison 23:48
Yeah, and I find that so even studying lament in, you know, the Black church having theology around that because of our lived experience. And it’s really detached from a lot of white church spaces. And I talk about that in the book. And it’s just kind of like revolutionary to a lot of people that are reading it, but it’s something that has been our experience. Like it’s not new information for us. I mean, you know, there’s a book, half of the Psalms are about lament, half of the, you know, when you think about Lamentations. There’s so much lament in the Bible, but like if you’re looking through a certain lens, you can completely miss that. Or even how you identify yourself in the story. But I want you to I want to take a step back because for those who are listening, sometimes there’s some myths and some misconceptions around liberation theology. And I wanted to see if you can give an explanation to those who are listening who are wanting to learn and lean in, but they’ve seen it as something that’s like other, or have seen it as like…I mean some people even see it as heresy. You know? I mean, which is crazy to me. But, I would want you to kind of explain it because I think, giving people understanding. Because we love to talk about things and throw words out there when we don’t truly understand it. And so I want to give a deeper understanding to what liberation theology is and what it means to all of us. Because it’s not just, liberation theology is not just for Black people. You know? It shouldn’t be. But I mean, Jesus was about liberating. (laughter)
Dr. Will Gravely 25:40
Latasha Morrison 25:40
You know, so, can you give us a little understanding about that?
Dr. Will Gravely 25:45
Yeah, absolutely. So I think one of the issues is, there are certain hot button terms right now that immediately bring conflict, right? So this whole notion of liberal versus conservative, I think people hear the prefix lib, and just automatically think heresy, radical, all these other politicized terms. Liberation is about freedom. It’s about freedom. And if we look at Isaiah 61, the prophecy about Jesus, that He read about himself and kind of dropped the mic in the temple, He said His call was to set the captives free. To set the captives free. Right? And that’s not just in a spiritual sense, talking about eternal punishment, he meant in the literal sense. The least of these are those that are oppressed. And that’s why I love Howard Thurman. He did a lot of work around the least of these most explicitly in the book, Jesus in the Disinherited. Right? So liberation theology is simply partnering with Jesus in His mission to set the captives free. And liberation theology is for everyone to participate in because it is the mission and ministry of Jesus. Now, who that ministry and mission impacts are the beneficiaries of liberation theology. And that’s probably where the association comes from as being for Black or Brown peoples. Right? But liberation theology is for all of us as we partner with Jesus setting the captives free, in a very literal, tangible sense. And so what that looks like is standing up to not only oppressive systems, but oppressive people under the authority of the Kingdom of God and leveraging character of the kingdom, being merciful, being kind, being peaceful, and leveraging that other worldly strategy to accomplish very real world outcomes. And Howard Thurman was a great example of that. He’s actually responsible for connecting Dr. King and Gandhi and bringing this philosophy of non violence, a liberation theology, if you will, and partnering it with the American Civil Rights Movement.
Latasha Morrison 27:58
Yeah. And I think, you know, even going back to that scripture, when we think of the narrative of what Jesus said, like who, you know, He names those that were, that needed freedom. Right there. And so, and when Jesus was walking this earth, it was the widows, it was the orphans, it was those living under the Roman Empire, the Jewish community, those that were only subjugated to the law. And, you know, now he’s bringing grace and mercy. And I think we have to look at the full context and I think we don’t do that well. In seminary or in just reading Scripture, there’s this thing called the meta narrative, that I think is important when you’re, when you’re really breaking down scripture and looking at all the pieces before we start saying, this is heretical, this is heresy or something like that. So, anyway, you kind of explained why there’s separation of church history today. And I think that’s important. Because I remember someone, you know, saying, like, “Well, there’s a white church and there’s a Black church. I mean, there’s, you know, Chinese churches. There’s, you know, there’s Filipino churches.” You know, like what? I mean? And it’s like, you’re looking like, “Oh, my God,” like, and I know, some of you are listening, and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.” And it’s like, but that’s why history is so important to understand why these churches exist in this context. Like you said, we were not allowed to worship the same God in the same space. Even in death, like when we died, we weren’t even allowed to be buried in the same, you know, the same place. So there’s so many layers of this that, you know, that really has to be restored and redeemed in our story as the Imago Dei. One of the things I wanted to talk about as we’re in here, I know you lead a multi-ethnic, multicultural church and describe to me what that means. Because a lot of times people will say, “Well, we have Black people at our church,” or “We have Asian people at our church.” But what does it mean to be multi-ethnic, first? And then we’ll go into the cross cultural.
Dr. Will Gravely 30:33
Okay, excellent. Yeah, multi-ethnic is breaking down your identity beyond these larger racial groups. Right? So we understand, many of us, race as a social construct. There was no such thing as white, no such thing as Black, etc. And it was a term that was created to kind of group people together for political power or social power. Ethnic identity is rooted in culture and lived experience, shared practices, which is more of a rich and authentic identity, even deeper than race. So you can realize you can have one, you can have a one race church and a multi-ethnic church at the same time. Right? And that’s a good thing. But, and that’s kind of a segue into the cross cultural piece, it only matters, it’s only a value, if you can experience the different ethnicities and cultures that come with the diversity. Otherwise, you’re just kind of creating stats for a sheet. Right? And so ethnic identity forces us to look at culture, rather than race is more superficial in how we look. So that’s why it’s important, especially when we look at Revelation where Jesus is coming back for a church of every tribe, nation, and tongue. That’s ethnic identity, not race. Right? So that’s really important for the kingdom of God.
Latasha Morrison 31:56
So you know, just to break that down a little bit more, so you can have a Black church. And that Black church could be multi-ethnic in the sense where, if you have people from Ethiopia, if you have people from Kenya, if you have people from Nigeria, those are all different ethnicities. You know, when you’re defining ethnicity, but if we would just define it by race, you know, you would say, “Oh, they’re all Black people.” Same thing with, you know, Asian churches. It’s totally different in being Chinese and Japanese, like, that’s like Korean and Vietnamese, like, those are different cultures, different ethnicities. But race just puts everybody into a pile based on your physical characteristics and say, “You’re Asian.” You know? And it’s like, that’s so far from their identity, you know, when we think of their ethnic identity, different languages, I mean, different parts of the country. But we don’t say, Russians are Asian. So I mean, I’m just saying. (laughter) Yeah, but, you know, so now leading this, I know you’ve come into, your pastoring a church. What has been some of the challenges of pastoring a multi-ethnic church?
Dr. Will Gravely 33:17
Yeah, so I think there was an ideal we had in our head that didn’t match the pathway that we had to navigate. So upfront, people love the idea. Right? The idea, but then when you start to build the integrity of it is when you run into some issues, okay. So the idea is about us sharing space. Sharing space. But the goal is for us to share a strategy, for us to share a common identity even amongst our distinct identities. So like, we are a family, whatever ethnicity, whatever identity and experience I bring, we now are a family as Refuge. And so, that was the challenges up front, the idea of it didn’t make anybody uncomfortable. So we had to make discomfort a part of our culture. Right? So the only way that we know things are going well is when everybody’s uncomfortable. If any one group subset is loving the way things are going, we’re leaning too far in one group’s direction. Right? The challenge with that is, you know, pastoring is personal, it is very personal. There’s this connection a shepherd has with their their sheep, their people. And so a lot of the heartbreak along the way was seeing people up front who had fallen in love with the idea and the concept, falling off later when it was focused on integrity and building community. So that was the hard part. And then, being accused of certain things. Right? When the church started, we planted Refuge with a group of about 26 people and 90% of those 26 were white. The community at that time was the opposite. Like 80 something percent Black to include West African and other groups, and then Latino as well, our Latinx brothers and sisters excuse me. And that’s what became strange, right, is we got accused of, “Hey, we’re becoming a Black church.” And it’s like, “No, we’re just finally started to look like the community. That’s been this way for the past 10 years.” Right? But that was some of the challenges. It can feel very personal and there’s heartbreak as you lose people simply because they’re giving up based on their lack of comfort.
[Latasha sharing an ad for A Spoonful of Faith] A Spoonful of Faith children’s book. A Spoonful of Faith children’s book is releasing February the 15th, 2022. I’m so excited! This is a sweet book. It’s a rhyming picture book that reminds young readers to make their dreams come true. “A spoonful of faith is all it takes!” And this is the debut book from illustrator Jenna Holiday. So I’m so excited about this. Jena Holliday is a graphic artist and freelance illustrator based in Minneapolis. Her mixed media illustrations are inspired by the diversity of people in the world, the love of botanical elements, motherhood, and faith in every day life. And I had the opportunity to see some of her illustrations, they are beautiful. And I think this is a book that everyone is going to want to have to make sure that your children’s books are very diverse and they represent people from all over the world. And also in 2019, Jena Holliday received the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist’s Initiative Grant. And she has stationery in my favorite place, Target! So her book is going to be everywhere, even in Target. So you don’t want to miss the debut book for Jena Holliday and it’s called, A Spoonful of Faith children’s book.
Latasha Morrison 37:14
Hmm. And that’s the thing is like, we seek comfort. And, I just pose this question a lot of times is: when did Jesus ever seek comfort?
Dr. Will Gravely 37:24
Latasha Morrison 37:25
You know, it’s like, but that’s what we seek. And then, we have to get under that is what makes your church becoming more Brown, or what makes your church becoming more, what makes that uncomfortable for you? You know, like, let’s deal with that. Let’s talk about, let’s give words to it. Rather than sometimes we use excuses like, well, we don’t want to say, “I’m uncomfortable because this is happening because the church is like singing this type of music,” or “I don’t feel like, you know, we should do this.” I was talking to a Black pastor that’s leading, and he said that he had some, he has several white members as a part of his church. And they were saying that they couldn’t invite their white friends to the church because the church was too Black. And then they also said that, you know, like, “Why do we even have to celebrate Black history?” And I’m just like, wow, like, I mean. I just talk to a lot of Black pastors that are really going through. And what would you say to that? If someone told you that, like the church is becoming too Black or why do you have to celebrate Black history? Why do we have to put it on display?
Dr. Will Gravely 38:48
Latasha Morrison 38:48
Let’s get underneath that a little bit, Will.
Dr. Will Gravely 38:50
That’s good. That’s good. I think early on in ministry, I would have led with offense, rather than seeing it as an opportunity. Right? I could stop right there. And rather than getting in defense mode and giving like history or facts or whatever, I typically now would return it with a question. So your question is, “Why is our church becoming so Black?” And I would say, “What’s wrong with the Black church? Why is that a negative thing?” Or, you know, “I’m uncomfortable.” “Well, let’s talk about why you’re so comfortable. What other types of spaces make you feel comfortable,” and start to, you know, take that apart. And then you start to realize that, “I’m actually only comfortable around other people like me. I actually do think Black culture and experience is less than, and that’s why I think it’s a negative thing that we’re becoming Black.” And one of the easier ways I would address this was, like I said, the church was 90/10, roughly, percentage wise of white to Black or people of color. And so I would simply flip it at that moment and say, “How do you think these few families, who you’ve known for years, have felt this entire time? And maybe do you see some spiritual maturity that they have that maybe you can learn from? Because they’ve been a part of the majority white congregation in their own experience for quite some time and didn’t seem to raise the same complaints that you’re raising right now. Let’s talk about that. Let’s unpack that.” And then slowly, people would realize, like, “Wow, I’ve got some issues. I’ve got some implicit biases. I have some issues in perspective, even when it comes to the faith, that might be a little problematic.”
Latasha Morrison 40:31
That’s so good. And I know so many pastors are listening to this, and holding on to every word, because this is the experience of so many pastors. And, you know, there’s a thing you know, I hear this a lot in churches that are multi-ethnic, especially churches that have changed, because the community has changed. So maybe they started out, more predominately white, the neighborhood has changed, and they bring in a Black pastor such as yourself. And they think things are gonna like, “We got a Black pastor, and, you know, he’s gonna do things the way we want it, sing the things we want.” You know, because I see a lot of churches that say they’re multi-ethnic, but if you close your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to tell it. And so, you know, there’s this thing that happens, even when I’m talking to pastors, you know, when they start talking about having to address some of the injustices and some of these things that people tell them: they’re talking about race too much, they’re being too political. And then, you know, you see this thing that we have named as white flight. And have you experienced that as a pastor? And can you define what is white flight?
Dr. Will Gravely 41:47
Yes, so unfortunately, I have. I would say, in a lot of the situations you named where there’s a majority white church that is trying to reach a community that has already diversified and they hire a person of color, not always, but typically, that church wants a Black preacher not a Black pastor. They want a Black preacher, not a Black pastor. What I mean by that is, they’re willing to have that face in the pulpit or that face on their website, but not to submit to that person’s leadership. Right? So as long as the power dynamics are retained, they don’t care who’s in that position. And that’s typically what is causing a lot of burnout for Black pastors that are in multi-ethnic, or leading multi-ethnic churches is there’s this quiet uprising, this quiet swell, that is trying to retain power dynamics. Because when a Black person walks in their autonomy and walks in confidence it’s always seen as rebellious. Right? Not healthy leadership, not strong decision making, not deep rooted conviction. A lot of white brothers and sisters are not used to seeing Black people walk in authority, because we’ve been historically oppressed for so long. Right? So that leads to white flight, is when those people that have quietly held power, or been in obvious positions of power, start to feel like they’re losing influence. Rather than them leaving the position of teacher and sitting in the seat of student, they would rather leave because too much of their life and their identity is connected to that. Right? So church being such a sentimental space, a central space in our lives, if somebody feels like they lost power or lost a part of their identity at church, it starts to dismantle everything else. And unfortunately, I got to see that firsthand where there are people that would say, “I’m not racist, there’s not a bigoted bone in my body.” The classic, “I don’t see color,” right, which is problematic in and of itself, who over time, realize they not only had implicit bias, but maybe some issues where there’s a bit of white supremacist perspective, but then of course, they left because the music changed. Or, “So and so was uncomfortable,” “the congregation is a little too animated,” “we’re going to church a little closer to home.” All the palatable excuses, but all the conversation behind closed doors was really rooted in culture. So that’s, that’s the white flight piece.
Latasha Morrison 44:12
Yeah, yeah. I was talking to a friend and, you know, they go to a multi-ethnic church and it was like a summer camp thing. And they were taking pictures that the buses all the kids get on. And it was like, all I saw was like, what appeared to be all Black kids. They were multi-ethnic because they have a lot of Caribbean people. And you know. But then when I saw video of the camp itself, it was more, you know, integrated. Like I saw more, you know, white kids and I saw just a more of a mixture. And I asked the question, I said, “Oh, I didn’t see, on the, from the video from the bus I thought it was most predominantly, you know, Black kids that went to the camp.” And they were like, “Oh, no, the white kids, their parents drove them up. They didn’t ride the bus.” You know? Or either most of the white congregation goes to a different service time, you know? And I’m like, so you basically have segregation within the church within the multi-ethnic church. Because how is that right? And how can you see that that is okay, or try to ignore the problem that you’re seeing? Because I think people realize, I don’t know if people realize that in eternity it’s not gonna be like that.
Dr. Will Gravely 45:38
There’s no sections. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 45:40
You better learn to get along now. If you’re having a problem down here, you may not like heaven. (laughter) So I’m like if you’re so uncomfortable now, you know…they’re not just gonna be singing Chris Tomlin. You know, like, and so, and nothing’s wrong with Chris Tomlin. But I’m just saying, just like nothing’s wrong with Kirk Franklin. You know? And so, so anyway, I just, it’s like, why do you think it’s easier for a Black person to go to a predominantly white church and be okay 50% of the time, than it is for a white person to go to a Black church and just feel so uncomfortable?
Dr. Will Gravely 46:27
Yeah, that’s the question. That’s the question. It’s because, I believe, we have to in every other area of life anyway. Right? Like, the average Black person has had to navigate majority white spaces, or at least assumes what they would do, they had to think about it and consider it at some point in their lives. Because of white supremacy, whiteness is normative. It’s normal. It’s the standard, it’s status quo. And so the average white person doesn’t ever have to think about their own racial identity or ethnic identity, let alone how to navigate other spaces. And so I think, unfortunately, we’ve just been used to it. And whether that’s generational trauma or generational tradition, it’s been taught in different generations that, “Listen, this is something you’re going to have to navigate.” Right? You see this from great grandparents all the way down to children of today. The typical Black parent is in some way, shape, or form, preparing their Black kids to be in white spaces in some way. And so I just think we have a lot more experience in it. And so that’s why I think it’s a little easier for us.
Latasha Morrison 47:43
What advice would you give to those that are, that are brothers and sisters that are white, that are on that journey where they are at a church that has a Black pastor, or a church that has an Asian pastor or Asian descent, or at a church where there’s a Latinx pastor? How can they show more support to the pastor? What are some ways that they can better thrive in that environment? You know, what kind of mindset would they have to have in order to do that well?
Dr. Will Gravely 48:25
Yeah, that’s excellent. And super helpful. I think people need to realize that Black or Brown pastors leading multi-ethnic churches, especially those that have a significant population of white brothers and sisters, are wearing a weight and are wrestling with a tension that never goes away. Because they’re always perceived as somewhere in the middle. Right? It will be a lot easier for many of us to just be comfortable in a Black church setting and just say, “Whatever. This is easier. I feel more mentally healthy. You know, it’s less stressful. It’s second nature. I’ll just lead my own people.” But for those of us that have the conviction to see Christ’s kingdom the way Christ defined it wherever possible, we need help and support. So what does that look like? As simple as words of encouragement along the way. We need to know that this is actually working. And not that people are doing it begrudgingly, but they’re doing it because they feel like this is what needs to be done. There’s a boldness about it. Right? Not begrudgingly. Secondly, it’s occupying those closed door conversations on behalf of the leadership or the mission of the church. Right? There’s a certain group of congregants that are never going to say what they really think to that pastor. They’re never going to share what they’re really feeling with that pastor. One, wherever those spaces are, wherever those conversations are happening, there needs to be some healthy loving counter to the complaints that people are feeling free to share. At the same time, with wisdom, the pastor needs to be aware of where their people really are so they can be discipled out of it. Right? So that community can really go deep enough to cover that click. And so, words of affirmation, I think the other thing that a lot of people miss is resources, relationships, financial support, etc. Because this needs to happen. In fact, Jesus won’t come back until it happens. So it’s a prerequisite, right? It’s going to help all of us. But a lot of times, because of white flight, or other things similar, a lot of people that could help refuse to help. And so typically, these multi-ethnic spaces are under resourced, whether that’s with strategic partnerships with people or in the material sense with finances. So those are a few practical ways to support.
Latasha Morrison 50:56
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. I mean, this is, you know, and I know I just talk to so many pastors that are just going through. And they’re just like, “I just can’t believe it.” So they’re, you know, some of them are like, oh, you know, they want to do trainings and different things. And I’m like, okay, I think you really have to engage the Scripture and really disciple people. Because this is a part of their spiritual formation. They’ve been formed the wrong way. And so it’s like, you kind of got to do some of that undigging and really showing it so that it can become a conviction where they can begin to see, you know, some of the blind spots. And then I think you can do some of the training once you do that, that, really, I want to say that biblical, destructed and restructuring, you know. I think that’s important, because I think some of this comes from the lens, and even how people are reading the Bible. And so I think that’s important. So I’m so grateful, you know, for for all that you’re doing in the church and everything. What words of encouragement would you give to pastors that are leading multi-ethnic and cross-cultural churches?
Dr. Will Gravely 52:23
I would say guard your heart in this specific area. Don’t do this work because you have to, do this work because it’s holy. Don’t do it, because you have to, do it because it’s holy. Because feeling obligated is eventually going to become an obstacle. Right? It’s going to lead to burnout. One day you’re not going to have the energy and you’re going to say, “Forget it. It’s not worth it.” Because it’s holy, it’s other, we can start to expect that a fallen world is not going to be receptive and supportive to this. But this is the Lord’s will. This is God’s desire. This is Christ bride. Right? And then just being honest, from my own experience, there were moments where in my mind, I had given up on the notion of a multi-ethnic, cross-cultural church. And honestly, it’s kind of where our desire for community based transformation came from, is we don’t just have a spiritual issue, we have a social issue. Right? So I just want to encourage you, it’s all still relationships. That’s what the church is built off of. And loving your neighbor means being a good neighbor. So don’t feel obligated to do it. Just remember that it’s holy. And don’t do it because you have to. And that this is just a further expression of the faith that you already hold dear. Don’t give up.
Latasha Morrison 53:43
And what would you say to even pastors, maybe pastors like yourself that most of their congregation is Black, you know, and they’re trying to reach people, but they’re having a difficult time reaching people without people wanting to change? And what is the difference between that, I guess this is a loaded question. Because I hear pastors where they’re like, you know, they’re pastoring a Black church, and they’re trying to put out the net, and they really want to be multi-ethnic. But they’re having a difficult time. It could be because of space, you know, the community that they’re in. And then you have sometimes white churches just like, “Oh, well, we’re just gonna reach who we are. This is just who we are.” And so where’s the balance of that? Do you feel like every one of us should be trying to reach a multi-ethnic congregation or do you feel like some churches should just be white and then some churches should just be Black? I know I went there. I went there. (laughter) I just felt led by the Spirit.
Dr. Will Gravely 55:04
I feel you, I feel you, I feel you. Nah, let’s go. Let’s go. Yeah, so honestly, that was the biggest pivot our ministry had to take in 2020 is to really ask ourselves, what’s our why behind our multi-ethnic and cross-cultural identity. And to be real, some of it was just to be different than the status quo, not because we felt like this deep sense of mission to do it. And if we’re not careful, that marker becomes an idol itself, where you will do anything to maintain the look or feel of this multi-ethnic ministry, and you’ll have mission drift from what you’re supposed to do as a local church. Right? Like, this is an adjective, not a noun. Like you’re multi-ethnic, but it’s still the church. Right? So if you forget about grass roots locally rooted ministry, you’re not being a local church anyway. And so I think a local church should reflect its local community. And that’s why even we with our organization had to take a step back and say, we’re leaning less in the direction of multi-ethnic and the racial reconciliation piece, and giving local churches the tools to just reach the people around them. Because you shouldn’t have people driving an hour and a half, just so you can be multi-ethnic. Right? You shouldn’t be flying in your diversity. If the people in that community where you can throw a rock and hit their proverbial house (don’t do that). That’s who you should be. Right? That’s what you should be fishing for. And that’s one of the things I love about parish ministry, there may be some Protestant folks that have some issues with Catholicism. But one notion that they do very well, is that this local church is for this local community. And so I think if we focus on neighboring, and taking that literally, it kind of protects us from multi-ethnic being like this viral trend or multi-ethnic becoming this idol that actually makes us forget we’re a church too. So, to free people up, if you’re in a rural setting, and your church is white, or Black, go to the multi-ethnic identity piece or look for other ways you can see diversity – whether that’s age, income, education, just make sure you’re not creating a social club. And that’s what keeps us healthy.
Latasha Morrison 57:31
Yeah. And I think you can have a predominately, maybe your church, you’re in a 95% white area, and that’s who you have in that area. But there’s still a way to bring about diversity in your teaching. It doesn’t mean that you don’t teach this thing. It doesn’t mean that you don’t celebrate Black history or AAPI. It doesn’t mean that you don’t celebrate, you know, that next is our make that a part of what your community is learning. It doesn’t mean that you don’t look at the children’s ministry curriculum and make sure that all of God’s children are seen, even if they’re not in your congregation. You know? It doesn’t mean that you don’t expose people to the writings and teachings of people that look different from them, even if they’re not in your community. And I think that’s such an important, where you can still do this work, because we should do this work. Because we are all created in the Imago Dei, and we’re all I mean, like you said, Revelation 7:9 like some of y’all gonna be surprised. (laughter) You gonna be really surprised. So you can still prepare people for that. You could prepare people for the Revelation 7:9 even in the predominantly white space or Latinx space where it’s not strange or foreign to them. You know? So I think that’s so good. This is a great conversation. Now, okay, as we close, what are some things that are…well, before we get that, what are some things, I like to ask this question. What are some things that are causing you to lament right now?
Dr. Will Gravely 59:26
I’m lamenting over how politicized everything has become. And one side of that is the culture but more deeply as the church. You can’t say a theological term and it’s not pitted as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, this or that. And I think we’re in a space that’s so dangerous. We have to do like mental gymnastics before we can even speak sound doctrine. Like we shouldn’t have to think twice about saying something Jesus said. We shouldn’t have to think twice about exegeting scripture in a healthy, whole way. Right? But that’s the concern is that things are so political, its political first. Everything’s political first. So I’m lamenting over that. I think the other piece is I’m lamenting over just the American church and how much of an institution it’s become. When we had such an opportunity for it to be a flagship of integrity when it came to Jesus’s ministry. And I connect it back to Constantine, but the American church has been functioning as an institution, rather than a movement, I feel like ever since the 17th century over here. So.
Latasha Morrison 1:00:51
That’s good. That’s a good word. I mean, there is so much to lament over. And what do you feel like the way forward? I know, when you said that I just remembered a friend of mine posted a scripture on Ezekiel, like just a quote from Ezekiel. And someone in the comment section said, “That’s CRT.” And she was like, “This is Ezekiel!” Like, you know, and so I want people to realize when we talk about everything is so politicized, like, I mean, to take, you know, a quote from Ezekiel and to say that that’s, that’s scary. That’s really scary on what’s happening within the church. And that we would, you know, it’s just something…I’ve just, that’s my prayer, you know, is that we would just be better neighbors to one another, and just not really seek to tear each other down, even when we make mistakes. You know? I don’t like how things play out. That’s one of the things I’m lamenting over. But what are some things that’s…what do you think the way forward is? And then the last question that we’ll close with is what is bringing you hope?
Dr. Will Gravely 1:02:14
Wow. Okay. The way forward for us, is going back to Jesus in the early church, and not trying to do a slight upgrade to 80’s and 90’s American church. Right? And I think what’s a little scary for my generation is that we start with what we inherited from the previous generation, but we don’t go back to what Jesus established. So there could be so much. Yeah, our generation, we typically start with what we’ve inherited from the previous generation, but not starting with what Jesus established. And the danger with that is we could be so far off from The Way, as I call it, Jesus’s ministry and model in the kingdom, that were simply pruning a branch that ought to have been cut off years ago. Right? And wondering why the fruit keeps coming. We need to start with Jesus in the early church. Period. Not this revival, not this mega church pastor, not this popular ministry, start with Jesus and the early church. And if we get the same results, so be it. But if not, this is what the Lord intended. So that’s our way forward, is to go back to this notion of neighboring and doing that well, and watching God multiply. What gives me hope is I see this intergenerational work and partnership happening. And that’s what’s going to keep this effective, is we’re not replicating what somebody else did, that we just didn’t know about. When all the generations come together, we can talk about what worked and what didn’t. We can talk about the fatigue of those that have been carrying it for decades, and handed off to the energy of those that simply need direction but are excited and encouraged and driven to do the work. So I love how generations are coming together. I think one other thing that gives me hope is even in the desperation of a year like 2020, it forced everyone to look in the mirror. And there is at least, even if people seem more polarized, there’s more clarity of perspective. I think we’re seeing more authenticity, even if it’s ugly. I think we’re seeing more authenticity, and we have a lot we can do with authenticity when we’re not carrying around these facades. So I do think those are two things that gives me hope.
Latasha Morrison 1:04:45
Okay, good. Thank you so much. Now you’ve heard Dr. Will Gravely. Resident of Atlanta, Georgia. Also Austell. Where can people find you, Will?
Dr. Will Gravely 1:05:01
Yeah, you can find us on Instagram. You can find this at our website, RefugeCommunityChurchATL.com. And in the next few months, we’ll be opening up our Flagship Community Hub, where we connect neighbors around health, unity, and belonging. So stay tuned for that as well.
Latasha Morrison 1:05:19
Oh, cool! So great to have you. We gotta check that out. You guys look him up. Dr. Will Gravely, it was a pleasure to have you here to bring about this knowledge in the month of Black History Month. We’re Black 365 days of the year, you know, but this is the time where we just taking a little pause, pushing a little pause button to illuminate voices and stories a little more. So thank you so much for joining us on the Be the Bridge podcast. Thank you, community, for listening to us and for downloading and subscribing. So make sure you share this podcast with those that you think it will benefit, and then those that, you know….share it with everyone! (laughter) Because it will be beneficial to everyone. So thank you so much for joining us on the Be the Bridge podcast.
Tandria Potts 1:06:14
Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.
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.
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