The full episode transcript is below.
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:06
[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:17
[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 0:54
Be the Bridge community, welcome to another episode of the Be the Bridge podcast. When I first got on the call with this gentleman, I wanted to say, “Finally, it worked out!” (laughter) But this is someone that I’ve wanted to have on the podcast for awhile to really do some continued discipleship work in this work of racial justice. And this person has written a book. And I wanted to introduce for those of you who may not know him, you need to know him and you need to buy his book, Pastor David Swanson. So it’s so great to have you here. And so you guys, so you know a little bit about Pastor David Swanson, he is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church, a multicultural congregation in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. He helps lead New Community Outreach, a nonprofit that collaborates with the community to reduce sources of trauma. And he speaks around the country on topics of racial justice and reconciliation. So he is at home here on the Be the Bridge podcast, because those are the exact things that we talk about. He has written articles for Christianity Today, the Englewood Review of Books, and The Covenant Companion. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. Thank you for joining us on this podcast. You know that in this day and time, you are a unicorn. (laughter)
David Swanson 2:47
Well, I don’t know about that. But I am beyond thrilled to be here. I have admired Be the Bridge for a long time and you personally, so it really is a huge honor to get to have this conversation.
Latasha Morrison 3:00
Yeah, and I’m so glad. And I know, I tell you. I was just talking to someone that’s in this work just this weekend. And I said, we need to have a communion of the minds, a coming together – which I’ll talk to you after this call, I just want to get everyone that’s apart of this podcast, get their interest piqued about what that conversation would be. But, you know, it’s rough out here in the streets, but God is at work and God is moving. And that’s how we know with the backlash and the pushback that God is in the midst. And so I’m encouraged at the same time, exhausted. You know? And there’s a tension in that. Like, you know, you can be encouraged and hopeful, but also just exhausted and discouraged at the same time. And that’s a fine line between that, but I know you understand that. But David wrote a book called Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity. And let me tell you, this is a book that we all need. I mean, I know you hear all the stories where we love to have the looks of diversity, but none of the work of solidarity or reconciliation. And diversity without justice and without reconciliation is really cheap. And it takes hard work. And so I really want to talk to you. What motivated you to write this book? And I can imagine, I don’t even, I can imagine just the name of it, you know, Rediscipling the White Church. (laughter) Just that alone. I know you have just garnered a lot of pushback. But what motivated you to write Rediscipling the White Church? And I love why you used the word discipleship. And I think, you know, in our conversation explaining why this work is about discipleship and the lack of it and just the spiritual formation that it requires to do this work, and you know, how we’ve gone off track in this. And so, I would love to know why did you write this?
David Swanson 5:42
Latasha Morrison 5:43
Because you knew that they were going to come for you, right? (laughter)
David Swanson 5:45
(laughter) I did. I did. I mean, you can’t always predict what it’s going to feel like when it happens. But yes, for sure. You know, I love the question about discipleship. To be honest with you, Tasha, it’s one of the things I love about Be the Bridge. Because I think a lot of what you all do is formational work. I have the chance to lead some trips with our mutual friend, Dominique Gilliard, where we do these intentional racial reconciliation trips through different Civil Rights significant places in the American South. And I can always tell when someone has done the Be the Bridge work when they come on one of these trips, because you can tell that there’s been some formation already, that their starting place is much more in depth. So, to get to your question, though, our church is a multicultural, multiracial church located in a historic African American neighborhood in Chicago. So for folks who don’t know, I like to say that Brownsville is the Harlem of Chicago. It has very similar history and legacy and significance. And so that’s where over the past decade, I’ve spent most of my time in ministry and thinking about ministry challenges there. But of course, also spending time in, you know, majority white settings as well, not as often, but enough to really feel that dissonance between those two different social locations. And, you know, over the past few years as I would sometimes feel like I was walking from one world into another world, it just felt like the ways that different Christians were experiencing reality was so very, very different. And I remember reading some polling data that was showing how white Christians were very supportive of politicians and policies that were, you know, without question going to do damage to their family in Christ who share faith, but not race. Right?
Latasha Morrison 7:10
David Swanson 7:24
And I just had this question: who is discipling these white Christians? Why is it that the discipleship that these white Christians are experiencing has not led them into deeper solidarity with the rest of the body of Christ, but has seemed to reinforce the racial categories and the racial formation of this country, so that those white Christians don’t even appear all that curious about how those policies and politicians are going to impact their sisters and brothers of color? That was the question for me that kind of sent me down this path of wanting to try to understand that dynamic. And then to try to envision what an alternative would be. You know, what would it look like for a majority white ministry or church to take seriously the call to discipling Christians, so that they stand more and more in solidarity with the whole body of Christ, so that our witness to Jesus could be that much more powerful.
Latasha Morrison 8:50
Right, right. That is so good. I mean, I think, going back to even the beginning of Be the Bridge, that was that pause that I had, you know, thinking what, how are we landing in two different spaces and reading the same Bible? You know? How did this ideology end here? Like, how did we even have slavery and the Black codes and all of this, all of these things on Christians watch? Not with us just standing on the sidelines watching but us being complicit and involved in it.
David Swanson 9:37
Latasha Morrison 9:37
And a lot of times leading it. And so when we look at that, you know that there has been just some bad discipleship, some really bad hermeneutics, really bad exegesis, like all of those things. And so in order to shift that we need books like the one that you’ve written. One of the things that you say, in the intersection of race and Christianity, you said, “Many white Christians across America are waking up to the fact that something is seriously wrong. But often this is where we get stuck.” And that’s exactly what happens. There’s this awareness, but then and, you know, sometimes we move into that position of acknowledgement. But then we stop. And then we try to talk ourselves out of it or we try to project or place blame. But you said, “The prospect of addressing racial blind spots and assumptions can seem impossible, especially when the members of our communities are content with the way things are, or as is often the case in this country, when our neighborhoods and towns appear to offer little and no way of cultural diversity.” And we’re living out that legacy of the Black codes; we’re living out the legacy of, you know, enslavement. Because when you look at our neighborhoods and our churches, you know, our sporting events (laughter) are more diverse than our churches, you know, and our communities. There’s more segregated schools now than there were during the era of segregation. And it’s just unbelievable, because when you have geographical, systemic racism that was done geographically, you know, that is more than saying, “Okay, we’re gonna pass a policy.” The undoing of that is so complex. Why do you think this discussion of discipleship is so critical to the idea of race in the church?
David Swanson 11:55
Yeah, for a lot of the reasons that you just identified there. We live in a particular place, we have this particular historical legacy, which does not just exist in the past, which is very much at work and impacting the present day as well. I think that there is, what I call in the book, a kind of racial discipleship that has been at work on, well, on anybody in this country. Right? I’m thinking particularly about white Christians here. The way that our imaginations and our assumptions have been shaped by our society’s racial discipleship. This has left us content with the status quo, which is clearly by any measure, anti-biblical, antichrist. It has, the legacy that you’re describing, the status quo wrecks tremendous damage on image bearers of God. But because white Christians have not identified that racial discipleship there’s a sense in which we have baptized it in our churches as an acceptable reality for our life in Christ, that that racial discipleship is in fact compatible with our discipleship to Jesus. Now, we have no excuse for this because we have had sisters and brothers in Christ, men and women of color, particularly African American Christians, who for as long as this country has been a country have pointed out this disjointedness between the American status quo when it comes to race and Christian discipleship. People like Frederick Douglass, for example. Ida B. Wells, one of my Chicago heroes. These Christians have said to white churches, white pastors, white congregations, “You are not living into your discipleship in Jesus. You have sold (in Douglass’s words) the pure and peaceable way of Jesus for something that is profoundly harmful and destructive.” But because white Christians haven’t identified that, have not accepted that, have not been willing to hear that truth, we’ve brought all of that with us into our churches. So it’s my contention that because there is this deforming racial discipleship that has been at work on us so long, the only way to truly address this is with robust Christian discipleship which has been modeled again for generations and centuries by many African American Christians and others in this country. So I think as much as we need activism, as much as we need new information, as much as we need to understand our history and some of the sociological elements when it comes to systemic racism, if Christians do not include discipleship as part of how we are going to address this, we are not fully going to be able to counter that other kind of discipleship that’s been at work on us for so, so long.
Latasha Morrison 15:07
One of the things that, you know, as people listen to this…and there are various people that listen to our podcasts, but you know, we also like, with our podcasts, it is a tool, it is a resource for the members of our community to also share with others. Maybe others who are not in the space of awareness and acknowledgement, or maybe they’re just staying in that space, but they’re stuck and not knowing what are the next steps. Or there’s pastors out there that are trying to figure this thing out, and some because of fear. There’s kind of like a doubling down. And one of the things that I hear a lot, especially by white, you know, part of our white Christian family, and then there’s some BIPOC people that say this, where we don’t want to, talking about this is causing more division, that we are causing hate bringing all of these things up. What do you say about some of the pastors that are, you know, facing this in their congregation, those that are listening now? We have a lot of pastors that are part of our Be the Bridge community. And some of them, they’re having a hard time bringing along their congregations. Some of them have been fired because of addressing this. So, you know, what would you say to the Christian that really, “We just need to love one another, we just need to love our neighbor.” And I look at that, and I’m like, this is the essence of love. You know? Love brings about correction. And we see that in scripture. That’s what Jesus says to us.
David Swanson 16:56
Absolutely. That’s right.
Latasha Morrison 16:56
We repent of our sins. We confess our sins. And so, what would you say to the pastor that is experiencing that in his congregation? That where the pushback that he’s getting is, you know, “We just need to love and we just need to do what the Bible says.” Like, you know, we haven’t done that for the last centuries. (laughter)
Which is actually helpful for me to remember when I hear that kind of pushback. You know, there’s nothing new under the sun. Right?
Right. Right. (laughter)
David Swanson 17:28
I actually take a sort of perverse encouragement in that. Like, okay, the saints who went before us faced this kind of stuff, too. Right? They had to push through this as well. Yeah, but that’s so real. There’s I mean, every Martin Luther King Day, we see this on a broad scale. Right?
Latasha Morrison 17:46
David Swanson 17:47
Like appropriating of some supposed colorblind ideology.
Latasha Morrison 17:47
David Swanson 17:52
It’s just so disheartening. Yeah, so I think a couple of things. One, I want to be very empathetic to those pastors, because it is difficult work. Especially if you’re in a majority white space trying to do this work, it can be very, very difficult. And I think it’s appropriate to simply acknowledge that. It’s not impossible. And there are plenty of other settings that are difficult as well. But this has its own particular edge to it. And I want to validate that because frankly, we need more pastors and ministry leaders in these majority white settings who understand just how important this discipleship work is in those majority white settings. We need you there. We need you to be faithful there. We need you not to give up. We need you to understand your place within this broader reconciliation movement within the body of Christ. And that in a very real sense, you stand on one of the front lines of this work that we do together. So that would be one thing I would want to say. The other is that as Christians, we don’t have the luxury of lying. We don’t get to not tell the truth. That is basic for us. And so for myself, this is one of the kind of litmus tests when I’m doing this work. And I feel the temptation to in some way not tell the full truth. Maybe that’s to not tell the full truth about our nation’s history or to not tell the full truth about the nature of systemic racism today, or to not tell the full truth of how the gospel calls us to give our lives to this sort of work. I feel that temptation in order to appease the white people in the room or in order to keep them at the table. I always try to remember in that moment, I don’t get to lie as a Christian, as a follower of the One who is the embodiment of truth. I must always tell the truth. What this means is that we are incredibly dependent on the Holy Spirit, because we understand the spiritual immaturity when it comes to this that many white Christians have because they’ve not been discipled in this. And so we understand the tendency for folks to get defensive, for folks to deny, for folks to shut down the conversation, for folks to accuse you of becoming too political or too liberal or a critical race theorist or whatever the thing will be tomorrow. It’ll be something else. We understand those tendencies. And so we can be tempted to not tell the full truth. And I just don’t think as Christians, we have that option. And so we pray that the Holy Spirit would be the one who keeps people at the table. I regularly remind folks that this is profoundly spiritual work that we do. As much as we need other resources and tools, at the end of the day this is a work that only the Spirit of God can accomplish. So there’s that. And then here’s the last thing I would say. And I’m borrowing this from from my friend, Dominique Gilliard, who’s written….
Latasha Morrison 17:55
Which we love him. (laughter)
David Swanson 19:32
Yes, yeah. Just a phenomenal, wise friend. One of the things I love that Dominique has said in my hearing multiple times to pastors, mostly of white churches, is, “Don’t let the thing you can’t say to your church today be the same thing you can’t say to your church next year.” And there’s such pastoral wisdom there. Right? Because Dominique is reminding us that pastors and ministry leaders are called to understand where the people they serve and lead actually are, to recognize where they are. But we are never content to leave them there. It’s our vocation, it’s our call to continue leading people into more and more of God’s truth for them. So we do that, that that good biblical exegesis, but we do a kind of congregational or cultural exegesis too. To say, “Well, here’s where our people are. Here’s where they might be stuck. Here’s some of the inputs that might be impacting how they hear and see this call to reconciliation and racial justice. That’s where we are. That’s not where we want to stay, though.” So then what are the discipleship steps so that a year from now that congregation has more spiritual maturity to hear more of God’s truth for them, to be invited more into God’s mission for their lives, and to experience more of the gifts of being more deeply connected with the rest of the body of Christ? Where we are today doesn’t have to be where we are stuck a year from now. And I think that’s where discipleship comes in.
Latasha Morrison 22:25
That’s good. That’s good. I know you’re leading a multiracial, multicultural church. And that’s a big difference. You know, in a lot of churches…I think to say that you are a multiethnic or multiracial church, you have to have like 20% of your congregation. I think that’s about right.
David Swanson 22:48
That’s the definition. Yeah.
Latasha Morrison 22:50
Yeah. But, you know, what I’ve seen a lot is placeholders. Like you have a very diverse, maybe congregation. But maybe, you know, leadership is not diverse. Maybe when we talk about multicultural, like the Christianity is multicultural. Like that means that this is a global religion, it’s not a white religion. And so but that in western context, that’s how it’s seen. And that’s a lot of times how it’s portrayed in a lot of ways. You know? So you write that the multiracial church often perpetuates white culture rather than disciple white people. You know, tell us a little bit about that. Because I think a lot of times people are content with “Oh, I see Black people holding the doors at my church,” or “I see some Asian people on the worship band.” But my thing is what are they singing? What else are they doing? Are they in leadership? Are they around the table? Do they have a voice around the table? Are people listening? You know, there’s a difference in…you know, but it should really break our hearts. Sunday mornings should really break our hearts. And so what would you say? What are some of the things that you’ve seen and some of the things that you’ve experienced? Because to get to this point, you’re in a Black, predominately Black community, you said, and you’re a white pastor. What have you had to do differently? You know, what have been some of the things that you’ve learned in this context?
David Swanson 24:44
Yeah, I’m so incredibly thankful for our context. You know, ours is a neighborhood that in many ways has been held down by Black congregations over the past 100 years. We’ve been, we had the chance during the pandemic to meet in one friends churches parking lot. They weren’t meeting in person yet, we weren’t comfortable meeting inside, and so they allowed us to use their parking lot all last summer to have our worship services in. And this is a 100 year old Black church in the community that has been doing ministry all of these years. And so for us, our friends, our ministry partners, my peers, colleagues, mentors, for the vast majority of all of these, these are African American Christians in our community. And so this has just been a gift beyond description, as we’ve tried to nurture a multicultural church that does not default to cultural whiteness. One of the things that helped me very early on, our associate pastor, a woman named Michelle Dodson, who’s finishing up her PhD in Sociology of Religion right now, she recommended this book by Korie Edwards called The Elusive Dream, which is, you know, a little bit old now, but I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Latasha Morrison 26:09
Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about that.
David Swanson 26:11
And in that book…oh, my goodness, so good.
Latasha Morrison 26:13
She was on the forefront. Yeah, she was on the forefront of this work. Yeah.
David Swanson 26:15
She was. Yep. And still is. Still is doing really, really important work. So Dr. Edwards, she identifies that she does this ethnographic research in multicultural churches, and she finds that the vast majority of them are still culturally white. And this is because white people have not, are not used to being either in the minority or feeling discomfort in a church space. Right? So that we have been formed to interpret our discomfort as something being wrong, and certainly not a sign that God might be at work in our lives. On the other hand, the BIPOC folks in the room have all sorts of experiences being uncomfortable uderstand that God works in discomfort, but they also understand that white people don’t have that that same formation. And so the default in many of these churches is for people of color to accommodate to cultural whiteness in order to keep white people in the room and white people are clueless that this dynamic is happening. When I read that it was kind of like the scales fell from my eyes. And I realized, if we’re going to do this well and in a healthy manner, we’re going to have to directly and regularly confront whiteness. We will have to name it, we’ll have to talk about what it looks like, we’ll have to talk about how it manifests in very specific ways. But we’ll have to do that in a way that doesn’t just, you know, quote, unquote, educate white people, but actually is good news to the people of color in the room as well. And we’ve not always done that well, Tasha, as you can imagine. We’ve made tons of mistakes over the years. I’ve made tons of mistakes over the years. But I do think think that that commitment to identifying whiteness as a kind of sociological reality that is opposed to God’s desire for us, that would bring Shalom and reconciliation has been just so important. If I can maybe just tag one other thing on to this question. I’m aware that there are lots of pastors serving in majority white churches, and they’re not all white pastors. I just was emailing with a woman down in Georgia today who’s an African American woman leading a majority white church. And I think for some folks in those settings it can feel like, “Look, if I can’t become that multiracial church, then there’s not really any role for us to play in the broader reconciliation movement.” I think for a generation or so we held up the multiracial church as kind of the panacea. This is how we’re going to, quote unquote, fix racism in the church. And I think that left out a lot of people serving in these mono racial, mono cultural settings. And I want to say to those folks, we really need you as well. We need good, strong, healthy immigrant congregations that are reaching people. We need good, strong, healthy Black churches that are kind of hanging on to and remembering and translating into our contemporary moment the sacrifices, the leadership, the resiliency, the wisdom of those previous generations. And we need white churches, who are discipling white people into solidarity with the body of Christ. And we need those churches to understand that they have a role to play as well. Now, some of those churches will become multiracial and that’ll be good. But what will be good about that is they’ve done the discipleship work first. Right? They’ve tilled the soil so that they don’t actually just end up doing that cheap diversity thing.
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Latasha Morrison 31:21
I want to just make a kind of like a teachable moment, a discipleship moment even in this podcast. Because I know sometimes we use terms and people because they lack the understanding of these terms, they misinterpret them and come up with their own definitions of stuff and try to kind of change the narrative around it. So I want you to explain the system of whiteness, you know, when we talk about whiteness. This is something that we do in our Be the Bridge work, understanding the difference between ethnicity and race and how there’s this system of whiteness that we have in America and especially Western culture that has been created and generated that is very different from ethnicity, place and culture and language, which is totally different. So a lot of times when we use a word like this, people interpret like, “You’re saying something is wrong with me being white,” because they take on that full identity, this white identity not even understanding where this was created, why it was created, where it came from. And so when you miss that context, you sound real crazy out here in these streets. (laughter) When you’re arguing people down without the full understanding of the history of this word. And I mean, people are creating laws and policies around some of this stuff when it’s like 20 years from now, 30 years from now, the same thing that we look back on laws that were created and just laugh and just lose our breath over it. Like how can people in their right mind think that this was justified? That is how we are going to look in this moment in history, you know, 30, 50, 60, 70 years from now, because we did not take the time to pause and to understand and to listen and to empathize. We were on the defensive. We were too busy denying and deflecting. So can you explain that to people who are listening. A lot of our audience if they’ve done any work with Be the Bridge, they should understand it. But then there’s people, you know, they’re passing these, there’s people for the first time that would hear this. How would you explain this to someone that’s just stepping into that’s highly offended by the word whiteness?
David Swanson 34:06
Yeah, and I hope you certainly feel more than free to chime in with, you know, how you would talk about that as well. I think on a very basic level, when I think about whiteness, I’m thinking about a sociological, a societal system, which benefits those of us who have been racialized as white, who observably through our our skin tone, pigmentation look white at the expense of those who do not, at the expense of people of color – and in the American context, particularly African American people and Indigenous people. So that we’re talking about societal norms. We’re talking about what Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative would describe as a narrative, a narrative that privileges some at the expense of others, a kind of hierarchy that we are born into. And there’s a historical reason for this. There’s a historical story behind this, where people of European descent through this confluence of all sorts of different things happening related to exploration and colonization and the enlightenment and so on and so forth, begin to racialize people for the pursuit of of power and money and creating these hierarchies, these taxonomies of peoples. And then they would judge those people based on on how they fit onto that hierarchy. So when somebody says, you know, “Are you saying that all white people are inherently racist or inherently bad?” I understand that we’re missing each other in the conversation. Right? Because what we’re describing is a societal reality. And societal realities impact all of us. And they impact all of us whether we’ve chosen that for it to impact all of us or not, right. As somebody who doesn’t have significant disabilities, I engage in a society that privileges that reality in ways that a cousin of mine who’s a paraplegic doesn’t experience the same privileges. Right? We’re born into the same society, and so it impacts us in different sorts of ways. So I think your point is so important for white people in particular when it comes to culture and ethnicity, because these are God given. We find examples of these in Scripture. And there’s so much for those of us who are white to learn and to discover, to celebrate, to be grateful for. There’s so many ways of thinking about our own identity and the people who we are connected with, and the people who we can connect with. But when it comes to whiteness, we are talking about something that is not God ordained, is not God given, is a human invention, and is a human invention meant to privilege some and to oppress others. And that has then gotten worked into our society. Now, I don’t think there’s anything surprising about this, because who builds societies but sinful people.
Latasha Morrison 37:23
David Swanson 37:23
And so I think Christians should never be afraid to talk about systemic sin, because we understand that we are individuals with sinful hearts who build these societies. And so of course our fingerprints are all over them. And we’re simply talking about one of the ways that our sinful fingerprints are all over our society when it comes to the reality of racial whiteness, and how that continues then, to impact our imaginations and our assumptions and the stories we tell, because it has that forming quality to it. And, because the the the enemy of God is a deceiver and a liar those sinful systems do a very good job of making themselves confusing, about blending into the background. The apostle Paul calls these the patterns of this world. And the patterns of this world are hard to see. They just become the patterns, they become the wallpaper, they become the norm. And it is for us as Christians to have eyes to see those patterns to realize that what has portrayed itself to be normal and neutral and natural, is none of those things and is not inevitable. And we are called to live in a very different and much better kind of way.
Latasha Morrison 38:35
Yeah, yeah. And one of the things I think when you talk about practicing presence, I thought about Brother Lawrence, you know, The Practice of the Presence of God. But one of the things you talk about, like, how whiteness emerged historically, and walking people through how this system became the law of the land and how it was used. But when you think about the key factors that really subverted God’s intention in his creation of diverse people. I mean, you think about, like, you know, when we read about the Tower of Babel, and you know, and why God said, “Go and be fruitful and multiply.” And you know, why that there has been this creation of language and culture and how its beauty but we’ve learned to look at differences as being at odds of one another, rather than being a part of the image of God and His creation. Like we would get bored looking at the same birds, but we have a diverse group of birds to look at. I mean, everything in creation speaks of God’s creativity and his diversity. And and how that’s something that has been breathed into us, even as human beings. And I think that’s something that’s really important. What would you say, you know, why is this important for us to understand these key factors and why God’s intention is for a diverse community of people communing together, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth?
David Swanson 40:40
Well, thank you for using the bird example because I’m an amateur bird watcher. (laughter) So I resonated with that particular example a lot.
Latasha Morrison 40:48
I know, right. And I’m looking at birds now just, I’m looking at Cardinals.
David Swanson 40:53
Latasha Morrison 40:54
And I was just talking to a friend like, you know, the Cardinals, there’s different shades. The male is like red, I think.
David Swanson 41:01
Latasha Morrison 41:02
The female is lighter. And I was cracking up at my friend because she said, “Oh, I just saw,” she didn’t know that, and she was like, “I just saw the light skinned Cardinal.” (laughter). She called it like that and I was just laughing. I was like, if God does this, if he’s so intentional in creation, when we look at fish and trees, and just all the things around us, why would it be any different when it comes to human beings, when it comes to the human race?
David Swanson 41:39
That’s right. That’s right. Absolutely.
Latasha Morrison 41:41
He called it good. We are different. And I think when we learn to look through this lens and see each other as God sees us, we wouldn’t see it as something that sets us against one another, our differences, but something that brings us together and causes beauty that points back to God. So yeah.
David Swanson 42:04
Yeah. And what I love about what you’re saying there is that it’s a reminder that when we participate in the ministry of reconciliation and racial justice, we are actually moving towards something really good.
Latasha Morrison 42:19
David Swanson 42:20
And really beautiful and right. You know what I mean? Like, yes, there is so much that we are called to resist. There’s so much evil that that needs to be identified. There’s a lot of confession and repentance, that I’ve had to experience in my own life over the years. But because we are talking about the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ, we have to understand that everything God calls us to is good. That no matter how painful it might feel at a given moment, we can trust that God’s desires for us are always good, God’s promises for us are always good. And so that vision of a diverse people experiencing new life in Christ together and what it means to belong to the people of God together, learning how to nurture community together, coming around scripture and reading the Bible together and interpreting scripture together from those different places of experience and perspective, worshiping in music and song together, and bringing the gifts of different cultural experiences when it comes to worship music and being formed by that and the traditions that are attached to that. Right? I mean, the list goes on and on and on of the delight and the beauty that we experience when we…and I think we know this on a basic level, we understand. Right? Like, we don’t want all our friends to be exactly like us. We don’t want them to have the exact same personality that we do and only like the same food we like. You know what I mean? Like, we like friendship groups that expose us to new things. Like we want to be able to say, “You know, I never even would have tried this food if it wasn’t for you. And now I love it. Now it’s one of my favorite things to eat.” “I never would have watched that movie. But that was such a great move.” So on a basic level, we understand that. When it comes to race, we have kind of exempted, particularly those of us who are white, we’ve exempted ourselves from that. We’ve categorized that as somehow a difference that can’t be transcended. And thankfully, there are just so many people like yourself and others who can testify that in fact, the Gospel is powerful enough to invite us into those kinds of relationships, into that kind of community. And again, the word that I think we need to say over and over and over again, particularly when it comes to discipleship is yes, there will be sacrifice. Yes, there will be pain. Yes, you need to count the cost. I constantly am encouraging leaders, you have to count the cost ahead of time. But never ever, ever forget how good this is. What a gift this is. How transformative this will be for you. Like, you were joking about the pushback when we started this conversation, and it’s true. But I joke with people, what’s the alternative? Am I gonna go back? Like, am I gonna go back to just the majority white church? No way!
Latasha Morrison 45:21
David Swanson 45:21
This is just too good. You know, the gift of this, despite the pushback, is exceedingly and abundantly better than what my vision of community would have been without this reconciliation and justice piece. So I hope people remember that our God is just so good in these ways.
Latasha Morrison 45:45
And like you said, this is such a spiritual work. And because it’s spiritual work, you do have darkness that pushes against righteousness and justice. And why do you think right now that there’s just this push especially, particularly in predominately white spaces, white churches, this lack of desire to pursue righteousness and justice? You know? But you see the kind of like the opposite, especially in the Black church, or, you know, in churches of color of this approach to righteousness and injustice.
David Swanson 46:31
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Our friend, Pastor Charlie Dates, Dr. Charlie Dates here in Chicago, he’s doing some good work around. He says, “What hath righteousness and justice to do with each other?” And of course, the answer is everything in scripture and as Christians. Yeah, I would suggest maybe a kind of cultural reason and then maybe more spiritual reason. Culturally…and there’s a historian named Carol Anderson who’s done good work around this. Her book is called White Rage, I think is her book.
Latasha Morrison 47:04
Yes, it is. She’s actually here in Atlanta, I think.
David Swanson 47:07
Okay. Yeah, I think that’s right. Yeah. So she shows she shows historically how every time in this country when there has been visible, Black progress, that there is always an ensuing white backlash. And she just documents this in incredible historical detail. And it’s incredibly discouraging to read this. Right? I mean, it’s just, but I think it’s so important that we remember this, that we are not surprised by this, that we understand that because there’s a real sense that this this country was was formed with this ideology of whiteness built into it, built on enslavement of people of African descent, it’s worked it’s way so deeply into us. So we got to remember that and not be surprised when that happens. I think a point B there would just to be, I remember I was in high school living in Southern California in the 90s and there was legislation that was being proposed at that point that would have kept children of undocumented immigrants from being able to attend public schools. Now, that kind of legislation would never pass in California anymore because the demographics has changed so much. Right? There’s a dynamic when people who have been in the majority feel as though they are losing their power, and it’s ugly, the thing that happens. And I think we’re seeing that dynamic happen across the country right now. And there are people who are leveraging that for their political purposes; they’re fanning these flames. The last thing I’d say, I think, spiritually, we understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that there is an enemy who is actively exploiting those cultural pieces that we just talked about, whose aims is to kill and to steal and destroy. That is what we are up against. And so as Christians in the work of justice and reconciliation, I think it’s particularly important for us that we not lose sight of that, so that we’re not caught off guard, we’re not surprised. And, here’s the really important thing for me, so that we will not miss what the Holy Spirit is doing in the midst of all of that. Right? Because the noise is so loud, and the attacks are so flagrant, the laws being proposed are so obscene, that could consume all of our attention. And we miss that God is doing something powerful right now in congregations and communities. Lives are being changed. People are being called into this work. People are repenting. You know what I’m saying?
Latasha Morrison 49:43
Yes, God is moving.
David Swanson 49:45
He’s moving, right? The mustard seeds of the kingdom are growing into trees. The yeast of the kingdom is working its way into the dough. And our call is to see that stuff and to align ourselves with it, to get around that, to find our role in fanning those little sparks into flames. So I hope and pray that in this cultural moment especially, we got to know that stuff, we got to pay attention to all that’s wrong, we have to see how the enemy is at work, we can’t be ignorant of that. But let’s also reserve the capacity, the spiritual capacity to see what God is doing, and to make sure we’re getting around that as well.
Latasha Morrison 50:22
Yeah, yeah. And that’s what I was, you know, telling, just even encouraging myself and others is that, we are not on the defensive here.
David Swanson 50:34
Latasha Morrison 50:34
You know, and just realizing that this work is good work. And this work is to, so that all may flourish. This is like, when we think about that work of reconciliation, the reordering of things in the way God intended. And this is good work, but it doesn’t come without consequences or without hardship or discomfort in the midst of that. One of the things you, I saw this tweet, you know, you were talking about like, every time there is progression, there is this backlash. And you can look throughout historically so. And you know, what we’re dealing with now, it’ll be something else in another five years. It’ll be something else. You know? But I read this thing where even talking about even the CRT stuff, where you didn’t hear until after 2020, when you have this national rise of really repentance. I mean, from corporate America to churches to individuals, you see this push. The difference between what was happening in this, I feel like it was the move of God that was happening. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, this was a diverse group of people. I mean, there were cities and communities that were standing, this was global. I mean, they were people marching in Norway. (laughter) This was touching every heart, and that caused a fear. And so you see, you hear, you didn’t hear the word CRT, it was like a fringe word that was brewing in the Christian spaces. And it really took political, became a political platform. And you see it today, and, you know, even the work that we’re doing now really has nothing to do with that. We all had to even look it up and be like, what in the world, to even explain it.
David Swanson 52:59
Latasha Morrison 52:56
But one of the things that was posted on Twitter, it says, “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper. Anything.” So now everything that you do is attached to this. And it’s like people are so caught up and not really pausing to even think critically in what they’re saying or what they’re believing. And it says, “You want them to read anything and to immediately think Critical Race Theory. We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” So anything that’s unpopular, anything that makes you feel uncomfortable now is classified as Critical Race Theory. And then the thing is, like, most of these, theorists, they live among us. Like they are here and can explain what they meant, what they said. But like this attaching of history and anything that we’re trying to do to give context to explain how we ended up here, you know. If you are a critical race theorist, you’re not really talking about reconciliation. (laughter) You know? And that’s the breadth of what we talk about. That’s the breadth of what you talk about. And then when, you know, the world comes up with systems and answers and solutions when the church is silent or when the church is on the wrong side or when the church is complicit. And so I’m grateful for this part of the church that is continuing to push, that is continuing to create, that is continuing to have these conversations to really form a more perfect union. You know? And so, one of the things that you talk about…and this is the last question because I want to hear are a couple things as we close. But you know, there’s this, with white Christians you talk about a lot…I always say that Christianity is first vertical and horizontal. And we can focus on the vertical a lot. And you see a lot of times, as being a part of white congregations, you know, for several years, I can see that it’s like your relationship is very vertical with God. In the Black church it’s very horizontal, it’s about community, it’s about the collective. You know, what impacts you impacts others. That’s kind of how you think. But it’s like you need both, you need this vertical and this horizontal to work together. And one of the things you see is in the explanation of, “We should just really focus on the gospel. We should just focus on salvation.” And, you know, and this thing where we should not, like, we can’t do both. Like you can’t focus on social justice. So it’s like saying that, okay, God is not concerned with the whole of who I am, the things that are that are unjust to me. How would you explain that to someone that’s trying to understand this, and why a lot of times white Christians think very differently about this?
David Swanson 56:24
It’s such an important question. Because I think that this is one of the things that sabotages our reconciliation efforts, is we don’t recognize what you just said. There’s a kind of diagnosis that needs to happen there. So, you know, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith wrote their book Divided by Faith over 20 years ago.
Latasha Morrison 56:44
David Swanson 56:45
And they identify some of these things. They talk about the white evangelical tendency towards anti-structuralism, relationalism, and individualism. And we don’t need to go into all of those. But it is to say that like all cultures, white culture, in particularly white evangelical culture, has some attributes to it, that are not, you know, just wholesale bad, but they do exhibit a lot of, you know, formational power. And so, yeah, so that individualism piece then gets overlaid on to our understanding of the gospel, where we think and celebrate and theologize around a God who saves us as individuals and only as individuals. Thanks be to God, God does save us as individuals. Right? That’s not the issue. The issue is if we reduce the gospel to just that individualized perspective. And as you’re reflecting, what we know from looking around at other Christian traditions, is that people have been able to hold a more, let’s say, kind of biblically robust vision of the gospel, to say that, yes, of course, God is deeply concerned with individuals lives. And of course, salvation is offered through Jesus to individuals. And also in Jesus all things are being held together. And Jesus is the ruler of the entire cosmos, who created it and who, through His life, death, and resurrection has brought new creation. Jesus, in Revelation, is the Lamb who was slain, but also the triumphant Messiah whom we will all, all the nations will gather around in worship. And so this, I think, is the invitation is to say, not to leave behind the individual truth about the gospel, but to say Jesus is actually a bigger Lord than just that. Jesus’s salvation is more comprehensive and powerful than just my own individual proclamation of faith. And understanding then that when we can do that, we’re actually setting ourselves up for more success when it comes to reconciliation, because now we have a deeper biblical imagination for why this reconciliation is so important, for what it would look like to love one another within the body of Christ, to set aside my preferences for yours, all sorts of practical implications as we begin to see ourselves again, not just me and Jesus. Yes, me and Jesus, but also within this wider family of God. And this family of God is not segregated. This family of God does include all of our sisters and brothers. And in a really practical sense, we can begin to ask ourselves, in my region, in my community in my town, who belongs to the body of Christ? Have I had the joy of experiencing life together with those members of the body of Christ? If not, why? What would need to change? What would need to be different about our discipleship practices? So that we actually get to experience more and more of this communal orientation of the people of God.
Latasha Morrison 1:00:07
So good, so good. I want to just close, I have a question. I want to read Ephesians two verses 14. It says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh, the law with it’s commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near. For through him, we both have access to the Father, by one Spirit.” Ephesians 2:14-18. How can we, as Christians, as followers of Christ, live up, live into this? I don’t want to say live up to it, but live into this.
David Swanson 1:01:21
It’s such a beautiful passage. Yeah, so I’ll give one very quick answer. For me, it’s a reminder that I was once far. I was brought near. That I am an outsider who has been grafted in to the family of God. Paul elsewhere uses the agricultural imagery, right, of a tree whose limb has been grafted into another. That’s me. I’m the limb that’s been grafted in. I am not the insider, I am the welcomed outsider. And when I remember that, that changes a lot for me.
Latasha Morrison 1:01:59
David Swanson 1:02:00
Right? Because I understand that the gracious hospitality that was offered to me. I understand the welcome that was offered to me. I understand how people accommodated me in my brokenness and my sinfulness. And that then ought to change how I think about welcoming others, that I am not the orienting center, that I do not have the authority to sort of rightly interpret and place on a hierarchy anyone else, that I am one welcomed outsider among many who now gets to welcome other welcomed outsiders into this family of God. And that at the end of the day, it’s not my responsibility to reconcile anybody to anybody, that this is only something that Jesus can do through the broken body in the shed blood of our Savior, the one who put to death that hostility. That’s beyond my capacity. I’m the beneficiary of that. I am the one who was, despite myself, welcomed into this. And I get to now offer that same welcome to somebody else. There’s a kind of way that our churches are meant to be so saturated with hospitality because we all understand who we actually are and what a miracle it is that we get to belong to this family together.
Latasha Morrison 1:03:26
Yeah, yeah. And what are the things that…what is something right now, David, that you’re lamenting? what is something that you’re lamenting as it relates to this work?
David Swanson 1:03:40
Yeah, it probably would be around the backlash that we’re experiencing. I lament that it’s happening, because it’s not theoretical. Right? It impacts people’s lives, impacts people’s livelihoods. But I do lament, particularly, that we’ve been caught off guard by it, that we were not better prepared. I wish, personally, for example, that in 2020, as there was so much positive momentum, that we would have been having conversations about the backlash that was to come. That we would have, and maybe, I’m sure there were wise Christians who weren’t doing that. But I do lament that we still get surprised by the tactics that are so so predictable, and so so cyclical in their orientation. I lament that there are so many Christians who are still held captive to the the idols and the ideologies of our day, and who, despite the good gifts that that are offered to us by our God, have had been told that they are to be content with the status quo, that the status quo is actually as good as it’s going to get when in fact God has so, so much better for us.
Latasha Morrison 1:05:03
Yeah, yeah. What are some of the things that’s bringing you hope in this moment and in this space?
David Swanson 1:05:13
Yeah, I mean, my hope is in Christ. My hope is an eschatological hope. Which is to say, I really believe that Jesus is the universe’s only true Lord. I do believe that Jesus is placing all of God’s enemies under His feet. I do believe that there will be a day when Jesus returns and makes all things new and all things well. And I need my hope to be there because my eyes don’t see all that well. And my faith can be pretty small on any given day. And I’m prone to misinterpret the work of God or to just not see it at all. And so I need a hope that is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus, so that I can keep saying yes to Jesus even when it doesn’t seem like there is any hope. And the beautiful thing is that when our when our hope is rooted in Christ in that way, we actually start to see hope in some surprising places and some surprising ways. So for me, after having written this book, Tasha, can I be totally honest? I didn’t know if anybody but my parents would read this book. (laughter) Who wants to read this book? Right?
Latasha Morrison 1:06:20
Join the club. (laughter)
David Swanson 1:06:19
And so I’ve had the privilege of talking with so many pastors and ministry leaders, many of them white serving in white churches, who honestly and earnestly want to be a part of this – not somewhere else, not going to a more diverse space, but who feel called to that majority white community and church say, “I want to do this here. I want to be faithful here.” To me, that’s nothing short of miraculous to see that person see their context as a legitimate place to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Ah, that is incredibly hopeful to me.
Latasha Morrison 1:06:21
Yeah, yeah. The loudest voices are never the majority of voices.
David Swanson 1:06:34
That’s right. That’s right.
Latasha Morrison 1:06:36
And there is a remnant of people that are locked in, that are locking arms with us, that are committed to this work of spiritual formation, that they are saying, “Not on my watch; we will not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors before us or those before them; it stops here, it changes here.” And so there are people that are buying these resources, that are educating themselves. That hearts have been turned, there is transformation happening. So in the midst of all the pushback, in the midst of everything that’s happened, that is a part of that hope that God’s work will not return void. That God has his people, and he has his people of peace in the right place at the right time. And you know, some of those stories, it saddens my heart, laments for people who are on the end that are trying to uproot the work that God is doing, that their story would never be that no one ever tried to tell them, their story would be that someone told them and they refused to listen. And that is the story of so many of the saints before us that had the same Bible, had the same resources, had these same words, but stood on the side of enslavement, that stood on the side of segregation, and Black codes, and all the things of marginalizing groups of people, that did not stand with the stranger or the foreigner. There are choices that we have. And I always tell people that, you know, sometimes the just things are not legal. And sometimes the legal things are not just.
David Swanson 1:06:36
Yes. That’s right.
Latasha Morrison 1:08:28
But we are to stand on the side of justice and righteousness. And the Spirit of God always give witness to that. And sometimes we override what we know is just. You can see it in even some of the historical documents where there’s this tension. There’s, you know, things that we didn’t want to mention in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, because there was a conviction about it. But it was over written. You know? And those things come back. We will give an account for those things.
David Swanson 1:09:38
Latasha Morrison 1:09:39
I think this is the opportunity that we have now. The world was presented with the opportunities in 2020. There was a grace that was given to us to stand on the side of justice or righteousness. And some will prevail, some have leaned into that, and then some are pushing against that. But God’s work will not return void. And that’s, I think that’s the hope that you and I both have. Our hope is not in people. It’s not as systems. It’s not in politics. It’s not in partisanship. It’s not in anything of this world. But it remains in Jesus Christ.
David Swanson 1:10:24
Latasha Morrison 1:10:24
So thank you, brother, for doing the work that you’re doing. Thank you for continuing and leading well in this. We need people to…there’s one thing for me to say it, but it’s a whole nother thing for you to say it. And so we need people during this time to not so much be in shock and awe, but to use their voices for good, you know, to stand for justice and righteousness. And as my friend, Kathy Khang would say, to raise your voice. And sometimes that takes a skill set that we have to learn in how to raise our voices in a world that sometimes wants to silence us. And so we cannot stand idle in the midst of injustice. We are called to use and leverage our privilege that we have in the spaces that we’re in. So thank you for for doing this work. I’m definitely praying for you. I am so serious about, I think all of us in this space, we have to support each other.
David Swanson 1:10:51
Latasha Morrison 1:11:39
You know, we all have our parts and our parts don’t look alike, but the parts that we have connect us. And so I think there’s just a unification that God wants to do with us in the midst of all of this. So expect to hear from us soon about some things and how we can all support each other, that we don’t feel like we’re alone in the midst of the fire. But I’m so grateful for your work. And thank you for joining us on the Be the Bridge podcast. So, the book is Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity. This is a great book. This is another tool that God has given us to do this holy work. And so we’re so excited to be able to platform your voice and this work on the Be the Bridge podcast. So thank you, community for listening. Make sure you take this conversation in, but not just take it in, but also pass it on to someone else. So thank you so much, David, for being on our podcast and just bringing wisdom and clarity and just discipling us as a community.
David Swanson 1:13:17
Such a gift, such a gift. Incredibly honored and like you said, I mean, I felt like you were describing the body of Christ, the different members, the different parts. All doing our part and what a gift to not do that alone. So thank you.
Tandria Potts 1:13:33
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 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.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai