Host & Executive Producer – Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer – Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By – Travon Potts
Transcriber – Sarah Connatser
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Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.
About Dominique Gilliard
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? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:16
[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 0:55
Well I am so excited! Y’all, I have my friend. He’s an old friend to the Be the Bridge community. Some of you guys may remember him in the Be the Bridge group. He was faithful for so long, and then y’all got on his nerves. Nah. (laughter) But I have my friend here, Dominique Gilliard. And, you know, as he goes by Dominique DuBois Gilliard. And so, he is the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the author of Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores. This book won a 2018 Book of the Year for InterVarsity Press and was named Outreach Magazine’s 2019 Social Issues Resource of the Year. And as you know that this is one of the books that we recommend on our Be the Bridge list, and then also he just wrote a new book. His latest book is called Subversive Witness: Scriptures Call to Leverage Privilege. And this was published by Zondervan. And so I mean, Dominique has so much that he does. As well as being the author and working with the Covenant Church, he is also an adjunct professor at Northpark Theological Seminary in the School of Restorative Arts, and he serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association. In 2015, Huffington Post named him the one of the Black Christian Leaders that are Changing the World. So we’re so honored to have Dominique Gilliard back on the Be the Bridge podcast. Actually, Dominique was on the Be the Bridge podcast before there was a Be the Bridge podcast.
Dominique Gilliard 2:56
It’s true. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 2:57
He did a Facebook interview, and we turned those things into audio. And that was one of the things that we’ve, one of the episodes that we dropped at the beginning when we started our Be the Bridge podcast. We had so many great interviews with people over Facebook Live that we turned those into audio files and used them on our podcast. And then, our community is familiar with him. Dominique last, I think it was last year, he spoke at our, one of our online student events that we had and so explaining that, breaking it down for them. And then when you left, Dominique, them their mouth was like, “Oh my God, like the things that we are not told.” (laughter) So I love your book, Rethinking Incarceration. And so, I know that we are going to love Subversive Witness. Just looking at it, going through some of the things, I’m like, “This is another good one. This is another good one.” So how are you doing brother?
Dominique Gilliard 4:01
Hey, sister, I’m so excited to be on with you and Be the Bridge fam. You were joking a little bit before we started. You know it’s one thing to do podcasts for general public but it’s another thing when you’re doing with your people. And Be the Bridge you know, I’ve been connected so long it really does feel like these are collectively our people not just your people.
Latasha Morrison 4:24
Right, right. (laughter)
Dominique Gilliard 4:25
And so, excited to chop it up with everybody and just engage because we are in a watershed moment for sure.
Latasha Morrison 4:34
Yeah, definitely. And, you know, for those of you who’ve been around Be the Bridge for a while, Dominique was in our group from the early beginnings. I’m not even sure how you found out about it, but we met online through that. And have since kept in contact, and now he’s in Atlanta.
Dominique Gilliard 4:55
Yup, yup. Just relocated.
Latasha Morrison 4:57
Oh I don’t know, we don’t need to tell people where we are. People crazy out there. (laughter)
Dominique Gilliard 5:01
It’s true. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 5:03
But he was dropping gems then. And then since has continued. But you know, like you said, we are definitely in a watershed moment. And I want you to talk about that moment. Why do you feel like we’re in a watershed moment?
Dominique Gilliard 5:18
Yeah, there is, you know, when we do this work, one of the things I think we can never lose sight of is the fact that we’re doing this work on the ground. And we’re also engaging in spiritual warfare, too. And there is this kind of clash that’s going on right now that’s been intensifying. And there is this backlash that has emerged in to the extent that, you know, when you have pastors and congregations who are simply trying to call their people to be repairers of the breach, and ambassadors of reconciliation, and co laborers with Christ, they’re being denounced as critical race theorists who are peddling a false gospel. And so I think, you know, there’s always been some tension around some of these conversations, some people who will diminish justice at the expense of trying to uplift evangelism, and some of those kinds of dynamics have been in play. But I haven’t seen a moment like this where people in congregations feel so emboldened to denounce ministers and leaders who are really just trying to faithfully call their folks into what the gospel commissions us to be in the world. And so that’s one of the reasons why I really feel the intensity of this moment. I think another element is, I’d say before about five years ago, it was like really not PC to be pretty overt, in kind of your racist ideology or supremacist ideology or even this kind of perspective of superiority, where I think there has been this way in which that has been kind of re emboldened in a way that we really haven’t seen since really the 60’s and 70’s. And so I think this is a moment. And I think for bridge builders, the thing that we have to recognize is that it’s also an opportunity. And I think that’s one of the things that’s really unique about this community and the ways in which we understand that this challenge is not just something that we should shrink away from or be scared of, but it’s actually an opportunity. But this is, without question, a watershed moment, and to really use the language of Dr. King, we need to understand the fierce urgency of now.
Latasha Morrison 7:52
So good brother. I think about that, too. Just even some of the things that are getting, I guess, attached to critical race theory. I mean, some of the simplicity of even teaching kindness or, you know, just…
Dominique Gilliard 8:11
Or factual history.
Latasha Morrison 8:13
Yeah, factual history. And, you know, it’s like you’re being punished for being truth tellers and truth tellers with facts because we have actual factual documented. You know, and so it’s just amazing. But you know what, but never before have I seen a time, and we’re not that old, (laughter) you know what I’m saying, but I’m just saying like, there are so many books that are being written. Someone was telling me that you know, “There’s a lot of books now being written to counter this narrative on reconciliation and racial righteousness and systemic racism and social justice, all these things,” and I was like, “First of all, historically that’s all that has existed. That’s not new. What’s new to the conversation is all of these – your book, my book, Jemar’s book – like all these books now that are really speaking truth into these spaces that we haven’t had before.” Not at this magnitude. Every time I look there’s a new book coming out. And I’m like, “Yes. Yes!” Because we know that not all books are going to reach all people. But when we have such a wealth of books, and good books, that gives people choices. You know? And so, I’m excited about this continued conversation that we’re having. And, you know, God is showing up. Look at the fruit. What’s happening? I know Rethinking Incarceration did really well, and that was your first book. And I know this one, if I have anything to do with it is definitely gonna do well too.
Dominique Gilliard 10:05
Man sister, I receive that.
Latasha Morrison 10:05
Cause we’re definitely fans of your work and your writing, and just of your mind and of your wisdom that you have. And I wanted to just read this introduction, and I want you to kind of talk about this just a little bit more. You said you wrote this book to “animate the stagnant faith of discontent sisters and brothers who yearn to see and pursue the coming of the kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.” You said, “I pray that it revives the faith of those who have walked away from God, as well as those considering walking away, and transforms the witness of believers who are well adjusted to the unjust status quo. Subversive Witness seeks to name, address, and deconstruct the spiritual strongholds arresting the church and distorting our witness.” Illuminate that just a little bit for us. And I love how, you know, I think what resonated with me is the part when you said those that have walked away from God as well as those considering walking away. And I’ve seen this because of the denial and how we’ve allowed Christian nationalism and all the things to whitewash the truth of Jesus. And people are discouraged and I’m seeing that happen, and I know you’re seeing it too. So just kind of illuminate that a little bit for us.
Dominique Gilliard 11:52
Yeah. And I didn’t even bring up the insurrection attempt when we were talking about the urgency of now. Yeah, well we have…so one of the quotes I have in the book is from Bryan Stevenson, and he talks about, he says, “I believe in truth and reconciliation. But I don’t believe that they’re simultaneous, but they’re sequential. There’s truth that makes way for reconciliation to manifest itself.” And I think the church has been seduced into this facade of reconciliation where we can evade truth. And I think that’s been part of the reason why we’re seeing kind of this resistance that we were just talking about before kind of swell to the degree that it has. And one of the prime illustrations of this is when the church tries to have the conversation about privilege. And in most congregations, I’ve noticed that there’s really three responses that exist. So in the first congregation, there is a denial the privilege is a real thing. And it is denounced as unbiblical, and the conversation is stopped right there. In the second congregation, there is some kind of acknowledgment that privilege is a thing from leadership, but they determine that the conversation is too tricky of a terrain to navigate. And so they decide to avoid the conversation because of a fear of losing members and a fear of losing funding. And then the third response, congregations and congregants, I mean, pastors and congregants affirm that privilege is real, and they try to do the hard work of really reckoning with it, and trying to figure out what it means for their witness. But oftentimes, a lot of congregants come out of that conversation feeling a paralysis and feeling kind of stuck, and not knowing what to do with all these new revelations. And as I saw those predominant responses, I really kind of went back and spent time with God and in prayer and discernment and in Scripture, and I really started to see that there is this consistent thread throughout scripture that really offers us a fourth way. And that fourth way is that Scripture is clear privilege is real and it exists. And it addresses it multiple times throughout the biblical text. But scripture is also clear that we are always going to be tempted to exploit privilege for our selfish gain as opposed to taking Philippians two type mindset and really looking at privilege as something that we could steward and leverage to expand the kingdom and sacrificially love our neighbors. And so that was this thing that’s really kind of what really helped bring the book forth, me realizing how the church’s witness was being hamstrung by this and what that meant. And what it meant was that the things that are so important and so many of our communities, particularly in disenfranchised communities, the church was, by and large, was not creating space to deal with and name the trauma and the pain and the sin that was thwarting the Shalom that God created all of us to enjoy and to enjoy together. And so because the church didn’t have the integrity, hasn’t had the integrity to have these difficult conversations, folks who are feeling the weight of this sin and the impact of the oppressive status quo they’re walking out. They’re saying that, “I’m not hearing what you’re preaching is good news because it’s not addressing the material realities of my life, my community, of the way in which oppression is weighing on me and my family and our relationships. I’m not seeing how the gospel touches down to the ground and actually is being this transformative presence because we don’t even make space to talk about it in our fellowship.”
And so folk…I have so many friends, so many called and gifted friends who have left church because the church hasn’t created space for faithful conversations, conversations that are biblical, theological conversations, and we have allowed the rest of the world to…So let me reframe it this way, because I think this is a really important distinction. And I think it takes a certain level of maturity to hear this and respond to it. When, and I’ll just focus on the U.S. here. So when the country was participating in Indigenous land theft and broken treaties and legally legitimating and justifying slavery and Black folks being deemed three fifths of a person and legal property, these conversations were conversations that the church should have been having and the conversation should have emerged from our reading of Scripture, from our engagement with the biblical texts. But all too often, we lacked the integrity and the courage to have these difficult conversations and to raise our prophetic voice in the midst of a culture that was affirming all of these things. In the midst of a nation that was legally justifying all these things, the church should have been a countercultural voice bearing witness to the biblical truths in the in breaking kingdom of God. But oftentimes, we were voice affirming the status quo, and actually legitimating the oppression that was becoming institutionalized and inscribed into law. When we didn’t justify or legitimate, oftentimes, we shrank back and we were silent. And so what happened as a consequence of the church’s silence and lack of integrity is that folk outside the church picked up these conversations that we should have been having, and they framed them and they tried to move forward and kind of advocate on behalf of them. And so now, when ministers and leaders and congregants are trying to have these conversations that we always should have been having, folks are denouncing us as having political conversations. But they’re only framed as political because we didn’t do the work we should have done from the beginning, which was the biblical theological work and responding to the way that scripture raises these issues consistently and calls us into a countercultural way of engaging, a way that recognizes that the hallmarks of worldly empire are antithetical to the good news of the kingdom of God. And, we live in a world that normalizes economic exploitation, a world that allows for a sliding scale of humanity to exist and essentially makes it into law, custom, and practice. So, when we in our Declaration of Independence we call Indigenous People merciless Indian savages, this is an affirmation that the logics of this world, and this nation in particular, are not biblically rooted. Like when people call this a Christian nation, this is a direct contrast to the biblical truth we know that’s revealed in Genesis, that all people are equitably made in the image of God. And so when you have this normative anti-gospel reality that is the status quo, and the church doesn’t prophetically speak against that and to speak into that and to say that we, as the people of God, can’t conform to the patterns of this world and this type of logic, but we actually have to be set apart and folk who bear witness to something different – that’s where we we lost our way and really yielded our authority to lead out in these conversations.
And so that’s part of the backlash we’re experiencing now as folks, like you were saying you, me, Jemar, so many other people, Sandra Van Opstal, so all these different folk who are like trying to give us a more prophetic vision of what does it mean for us to really live out the biblical mission of being repairers of the breach. And I want to just sit there for a minute, because that phrase is so important because it tells us there are breaches that exist in our world. And these breaches aren’t just the breach that sin causes between us and God. When you look at Isaiah 58, those are physical material, tangible breaches that emerge from systemic oppression, workers rights concerns. These are tangible things. And so when we don’t have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to respond to sin in our world, be it individual, be it institutional, systemic legislative, then we slowly but surely do find ourselves kind of conforming to the patterns of this world, which Romans 12:1 and 2 tells us explicitly that we can’t do if we’re going to bear a faithful witness. So that’s why I think, you know, for me, so much of my heart is for folks in the church who have stayed, who see these problems, but have refused to leave, because they say that we know that these distorted manifestations of Christianity are not the true gospel. But I also have a real heart for brothers and sisters who just couldn’t stay anymore, because the church was doing harm to them. And it was essentially spiritually abusive in its negligence to speak to the trauma that their members were carrying to the sin that was so pervasive right outside of their four walls. And so I want to bear witness to the fact that there are ministers, there are leaders, there are Christians who see them, who see that pain, and want to affirm where they are, because the church is not just exclusively within the four walls. There are a lot of brothers and sisters who are faithfully following Jesus who just couldn’t deal with the church anymore. And they need folks who can see them and who can also speak to and equip them and encourage them in their walk as they continue to try to discern where God is ultimately calling them and how God is leading them to bear a faithful witness.
So good. Man, that’s so good. And I think that’s, whew you said so much there. (laughter) You said so much. And this is basically like, there’s so much the church could have done. I say this a lot, I say, you know, when we think about the church and you think about all the things that have happened historically and things that happen now, it wasn’t like it was on the sidelines saying, “Don’t do this.” And of course, you have outliers and people but we’re talking about the instituation.
Always a remnant.
Latasha Morrison 24:08
There’s always a remnant. But we’re talking about the institution majority. You have denominational splits over this. And now we look at it, it’s just rebranded different now. We’re dealing with some of the same things. I was looking at someone, they have a lot of followers, like a lot, and they were just basically saying they don’t believe in systemic racism. And I’m like, so what is your proof to back that up? What historical facts, what present facts do you have? And I’m just like, wow, it’s just baffling. These are Christian people. And they clearly have not read Dominique’s books. (laughter)
Dominique Gilliard 25:00
Or even, you know, for me or even the biblical texts. Like I mean, let’s be frank. Exodus 1:6-2:10 is about systemic sin and why racism is not in the Bible because it is a newer concept. You have ethnocentrism explicitly displayed where the flourishing of the Egyptians is rooted in the dehumanization, subjugation, and enslavement of their Hebrew neighbors. So like, and Pharaoh’s bigotry and his sinfulness ultimately oozes out of his individual life into the systems and structures that he’s tasked with stewarding. And so, for somebody to look at the biblical text and they are literally making laws like that, and to the point where it crescendos and says that all Hebrew boys must be put to death. If that ain’t systemic sin, I don’t know what it is. And it’s blatantly in the text.
Latasha Morrison 25:59
They’re not reading the Bible though. They’re not reading the Bible. They’re reading…(laughter) I have convinced myself they are still reading the slave Bible. They done took that part out. They done took Exodus out.
Dominique Gilliard 26:11
And let’s just sit with that. I mean the weight of ministers being complicit in literally distorting, intentionally taking scripture apart to serve their own purposes, like that’s the depth of depravity that we’re talking about. That’s the depth of brokenness that we’re trying to, that we’re commissioned to be reconcilers of. So when folks kind of shy away from the call or the commission of reconciliation because of resistance, I say we aren’t really historically understanding what we’re up against. Like, this isn’t just something that’s happened outside the church. These were ministers, leaders, these were congregants who were fully bought into the unbiblical notion that they could serve two masters, both Jesus and white supremacy. And scripture is explicitly clear, that’s impossible. And so yeah, we have to be aware, we have to know our history, because knowing our history allows us to understand how we need to be equipped, and how intensely fortified we must be as we try to combat these powers and principalities that are continuously at work. And one of the things I talk about in the book, real quick before we go on, is the church loves to talk about the mission of God. And we should talk about the mission of God. But one of the things I don’t think we talk about enough, which scripture explicitly points out, is that Satan’s got a mission to. And Satan’s mission is very clearly defined in Scripture is to kill, steal, and destroy our witness. And when we allow racism to establish a foothold within the body of Christ and we delude ourselves into thinking that racism is a political issue and not a biblical theological issue that should inform our discipleship and our pursuit of life together as the people of God, we allow Satan to mobilize his mission through our distorted witness. And I talk about one of the primary ways that Satan does that is through unbridled privilege, and the way in which it blinds us to reality and blinds us to the biblical truth that we are all inherently connected. And my well being and my flourishing should be connected to my incarcerated brothers and sisters flourishing. My sister or brother who doesn’t have enough to eat, doesn’t have stable housing, all across the racial spectrum, my brothers and sisters with mental disabilities, physical disabilities, like we have to have a new understanding of belonging. And that’s what the gospel is supposed to commission us into. And when we don’t live that way, we allow Satan to accomplish his mission in the midst of proclaiming that we are living on mission for Christ.
Tandria Potts 26:14
[Voiceover] Wow, incredible insights. Don’t go anywhere. We’re gonna pause for a quick moment and we’ll be right back.
Latasha Morrison 29:26
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Tandria Potts 30:59
[Voiceover] Thanks for staying with us. Let’s get back to our conversation.
Latasha Morrison 31:04
It’s just interesting to me how we can believe in the depravity of man but then believe that there’s no systemic racism. It just makes no sense to me. But like what we’re dealing with is like you said, it’s spiritual blindness where people cannot see and we’re not dealing with flesh and blood here in that spiritual blindness. And so, one of the things you say also is, you say, “the church has largely failed to heed the John the Baptist call, chiefly because we have diluted how the Bible defines repentance, rather than actual turning away from sin to return to God and reestablish righteous relationship with our Creator, neighbors, and creation. Within too many congregations, repentance is defined and practiced as merely just oral confession.” That’s one of the things I hear a lot of people say they do not believe in collective repentance or collective confession, and when you say heed the call of John the Baptist to repent and what that looks like. That it’s not just confession, but it’s a complete turning away from. And what we see a lot in today is not even a complete turning away from. We acknowledge but we just kind of like, we don’t even do an about face. (laughter) We just kind of like, “Okay, I’m just gonna package this in another way and pretend that you don’t know, but I’m just gonna package it in a different way.”
Dominique Gilliard 32:48
Or, “I understand that I have a responsibility vocationally to acknowledge this.” Or, “I know that this is coming down the pipeline, and people going to find out eventually. So let me get ahead of it and acknowledge that this happened. But I’m gonna persist in the same behavior.” Because you know, that’s the real difference between, confession is a one time thing. Repentance is a lifestyle. It is a turning away from sin and back to God. And John the Baptist is clear that there should be tangible fruit that’s manifested in your life and your relationships and your engagement in the world because you have turned away from sin and turned back to God. And so you know, that’s the real thing that we really need to hone in on. How do we start to disciple our folks in a way that they understand the difference between confession and repentance? Because anybody can confess. But repentance becomes a lifestyle. And it should be something where it is obvious to folks who are in your life and observing your life that something is different, because of your submission to the lordship of Jesus.
Latasha Morrison 33:54
Yeah, that’s so good. And I love this. Because I feel like, I was like, “Mmm. I’m just gonna…” like, it’s just affirmation all in this book. (laughter) When you use that story talking about Ruth and Boaz and how she was able to glean the fields and how that’s an act of justice and righteousness right there that’s built into Jewish law. Like none of this, the things that we’re talking about how people wield their privilege, because God understands what it’s like to be human here on this earth and the things that we deal with the selfishness, the self centeredness, and so built into this system there’s justice. And you talk about that, the things like gleaning the laws and practicing Jubilee. And you use Acts a lot, and you walk through that whole story about the feeding of the widows. But you know, so many people look at the scripture, they look at the Bible and they don’t see those elements. And they don’t see that. When I read Acts 6 I see that that was ethnic hostility. And once you kind of exegete a little bit more to kind of dig deep in that, and you don’t see that. One of the things that you do in this book is you center the leadership of women of color, so you know I’ve got to talk about that. (laughter)
Dominique Gilliard 35:28
Latasha Morrison 35:29
Why was doing this important for you?
Dominique Gilliard 35:32
Yeah, I think, you know, for me as African American, it would have been really easy to write a book about privilege and just stick to race. Because all that means is I just got to point the finger out there. And so for me, it was really important to try to write with integrity. And the best way to do something with integrity for me is the model it. And so as much as we, as much as racial brokenness exists in our world, there’s gender brokenness that’s right there alongside of it. And for me, as a male, I thought it was really important when we talked about privilege to expand the conversation. We have to talk about race, because that’s one of the most glaring manifestations of privilege that exists. But it’s not the exclusive manifestation of a privilege that exists. And for me, just like we want our white sisters and brothers who come into revelation of these things to talk to their white sisters and brothers and have these hard conversations at their dinner tables with their grandchildren and all those kinds of things, the same is true for men. It’s time for our brothers in Christ to step up and have some real honest conversations about patriarchy, and the way in which we are complicit with it through the way that we interpret scripture, preach, teach, and disciple folks to read and engage the biblical text. Because oftentimes, it allows us to sidestep or to erase some of the themes that the Spirit is really trying to bring to the surface and trying to call us to reckon with. And so for me, one it was important to do that.
But then two, I think another tendency that we have when we preach and teach is to celebrate the males who start to play leading roles, but we ignore the fact that those men only got the opportunity to grow to become the leaders that they were because of the faithful witness of their mothers or women in the community. And I think I really try to make that point crystal clear with Moses. Moses is somebody who if it were not for the faithful witness of the Hebrew midwives who directly disobeyed a direct order from Pharaoh, if it wasn’t for his mom who was willing to break the law and to function as a fugitive, well to fugitively harbor him; if it wasn’t for Miriam seeing an open opportunity to go speak into Pharaoh’s daughter’s life; if it wasn’t for Pharaoh’s daughter actually experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit that really troubled the waters and actually liberated her from the indoctrination of her father. Like think about this, Pharaoh cast all of these laws and legislation, think about the bigotry that she was exposed to over the dinner table. Think about the way in which she was discipled to see Hebrews as peoples whose lives didn’t matter, and if they did matter the only reason why they did matter is so that they could be exploited for their labor. Like she was literally taught to see them as expendable people. But then when she actually encounters Moses, and she opens the basket, she doesn’t see what she was taught to see. The Spirit of God transforms her vision. And she sees that it’s somebody else who is…she wouldn’t have used this language, but somebody else made in the image of God. And she realizes that her humanity is tied to this person’s humanity. And this is part of what we miss in the Gospel, when we don’t uplift the role of women in the prophetic leadership and resilience that they display that made room for male leadership like Moses. Because let’s also be honest, the subversive women who were willing to put their lives on the line to bring him forth, they also were the ones who played a critical role in establishing his faith foundation. They discipled him so that he could become the great disciple that he was. And I think when we’re not honest about that, we miss opportunities to really press into a story like what’s going on with Pharaoh’s daughter? And how does she bear subversive witness? Because we don’t really get to the point that we really make these biblical texts materially real in a way that connects to our reality. We got so many sisters and brothers who come from homes full of bigotry, where they were discipled by their parents or their grandparents to see you and me as expendable as people who have no worth or value. But the power of the gospel is displayed in this story because it’s revealed that the gospel has the power to break generational cycles of bigotry. We don’t have to be forever defined by the legacy of our ancestors. We get a chance to write a new story because we encounter God, and God has the power to liberate us from those kinds of shackles. And when we don’t sit down with the text in the way that I tried to sit down with it in this book, we miss opportunities to see the goodness of the gospel in a way that invites us into a deeper community with one another and a belief that something else is possible. Because I think part of what holds us captive is I think, this is all we see, this is all we know, the status quo, the racism, the division, the brokenness, that sometimes we make the gospel too small. And we start to believe that, “Yeah, these were great stories of the past, but God doesn’t still act in that way today.” And it’s not true, sisters and brothers. It’s not true. And so I just wanted to really kind of press into some of those texts to give us an imagination of what the Spirit still has the power to do in our lives.
And to think about this, if somebody this close to the person who created legislation that was killing and oppressing and exploiting all these folks can be liberated from that type of bigotry and toxicity, there is nobody who’s beyond redemption. There is nobody who cannot be freed from the powers and the principalities, who cannot be liberated to participate and demonstrate the kingdom in profound and transformative ways that literally change people’s lives, that change the trajectory of our communities. And I do another thing with Zacchaeus in a similar way. Later in the book, where you know, Zacchaeus is to somebody who literally got rich off of stealing from his neighbors and oppressing his neighbors and participating in a system of sin. Like literally, he got filthy rich. And ultimately, he bears his faithful witness in the fact that when he encounters Jesus, and Jesus comes to his house, let’s be clear, Jesus didn’t just come to have a meal, Jesus came to call a sinner to repentance. And when he came, and he encounters God, he first confesses, but then moves into repentance. And he talks about how he recognizes that he got wealthy off of this stealing, but he recognizes that just saying I’m sorry would be inadequate; the gospel required more. And that’s again, one of the real reasons why we have to make this distinction between confession and repentance. Because the key is confession would have been, “Jesus, I stole from all these people. And I realize that that was wrong.” And then it would have ended there. But no. Zacchaeus said, “I realize that I have to not only pay back what I stole, but four times as much because I realize that my sin had a multiplicative impact on communities. And it harmed people and impacted people that I never directly encountered.” And we have to have that kind of maturity within our faith to be able to soberly assess sin and the impact of our sins. And then we can really start to meet and discern with God and community about what does it look like to make reconciliation of material reality. And for Zacchaeus, somebody who got filthy rich off of sin and stealing, it meant reparations. And I know that’s a scary word for a lot of folks. But it’s right there in the biblical text. And it’s really interesting that Jesus didn’t say, “Salvation has come into this house” until he actually has articulated this understanding that his reconciliation entailed reparations. And so I think, I just wanted to do that. But I don’t think that we can faithfully read the text in that way if we don’t center the role of women and women of color and the prophetic legacy that they’ve played and paved for these men we celebrate, including Jesus. If it was not for the prophetic yes of Mary and her willingness to be shunned and denounced and called everything but a child of God in her community, for what she know she didn’t do but everybody else assumed she did, you know, Jesus doesn’t emerge in the way that he does within the biblical text. And so we need to honor our women and really call forth the prophetic role that women of color have played, and the way in which they have played instrumental roles in actually laying the faith foundation for so many men that we celebrate and follow and model our faith after. But when we deny the women who played the critical role that brought them forth I think we’re not faithfully bearing witness to the good news of the gospel.
Latasha Morrison 45:33
So good. Thank you, brother. And thank you for speaking into that. I mean, you know, a lot of times we don’t make that connection, especially when we’re talking about disparities and injustice. But really calling that out, because that is a part of the culture. And what we see in Scripture and in texts is that that was a part of the culture then, and how Jesus stepped into the scene and was countercultural like everything Jesus did. And so thank you for continuing that legacy. And the other thing you talk about, you did something unique in this book. In Be the Bridge, we talk about trauma a lot, especially as it relates to BIPOC people and the impact of that, and the constant impact of trauma, and not just dealing with generational trauma but even current trauma that’s happening, the impact of the lives of some key biblical characters. You talk about this trauma and how it impacted. What inspired you to do that? And why do you think that more books and Bible studies need to do this, to help people have a deeper understanding of trauma?
Dominique Gilliard 46:51
Yeah, I think we need to do it because I think again, it makes the biblical text feel more real, more relevant. I think there are so many things that are going on in our lives, that we completely disconnect from the biblical text, and that makes the text field kind of archaic and not relevant for our lives. And I think trauma is one of those ways that I’ve really seen that happen. I think another thing that happens when we don’t acknowledge trauma and reckon with it in the biblical text, I think we start to see ourselves as people who are unworthy and incapable of being used by God, because we know the trauma that we hold, we know the scars and the brokenness, and we say, “God would never choose to work in and through somebody like me.” And so I think when we start to really reckon with that, and realize that this is the same kind of struggles that people in the biblical texts had, and Moses is a primary example of this, like Moses was running from the call of God on his life because he had so much trauma that he was trying to navigate. Like, think about this. So we just talked about Pharaoh and all the legislation and everything he was doing. Moses is raised in Pharaoh’s house. He is raised in the house where the head of the household thinks that he is somebody who should be put to death and has no value except as a slave. And so you know that he had to be hearing this kind of messaging and be seeing these things. And when he looked outside his windows everybody who looked like him were folk who were doing slave labor. And so think about the cognitive dissonance of Moses being raised in the palace as a Hebrew in the Egyptian Empire. And I think it’s no wonder that it takes Moses 40 years to hear and heed the call upon his life, because he’s trying to figure out, “What do I do with this cognitive dissonance of being raised in this empire?” And then ultimately, when he goes out and he steps out of the palace, first thing he does, God leads him to go see his folk, and he sees a person just like him getting whipped, because they’re not working fast enough. And his trauma takes over. And this is one of the thing that you know, so thankful for recent scholarship, like books like The Body Keeps the Score. Books like My Grandmother’s Hands, these books that are really making trauma studies more palatable and more accessible for more folks. And one of the things we know about trauma at this point, is that when you grew up in a context of trauma, I love the way Resmaa Menakem talks about it. He says, “When trauma is such an enduring reality, it distorts our behavior, and that distorted behavior can start to be seen as culture, if we’re not careful.” And so we also know that what we are retraumatized, when we get back in a situation that triggers our trauma, usually we respond in three ways – fight, flight, or freeze. And we see Moses in this moment his trauma takes over and he fights, and he ends up killing a man. And it was because he didn’t have an opportunity to deal with his trauma. And that trauma rewired his brain in a way that he wasn’t even fully in control of his body. And we see these kinds of dysfunctional behaviors. And these are things that we see in our churches. These are things we see in ourselves if we’re honest. And we got help, and some of us got the resources to get therapy. And so you know, so for me, I think it’s really important for us to start reckoning with this in the biblical text. You can’t read a text like Tamar and not understand the biblical text is laced with trauma. And the other thing that you can’t, well we shouldn’t be able to read a text like Tamar after reading the story of David and Bathsheba and not make the connection that while yes, David was a man that the guys on heart, and while yes David repented for what he did, he didn’t do what he needed to do, and teach his son to behave in a different way that wasn’t rooted in the same toxic masculinity as he was. And hence, because he didn’t Tamar has to pay the consequence. But we got to be able to make these connections, and our preaching and our teaching and our discipleship historically has not equipped us to make these connections. And when we don’t make these connections, we’re doomed to repeat so many of the same mistakes of our foreparents and we limit our opportunity to be the kind of transformative presence in the world that God wants us to be, that God commissions us to be as bridge builders, as ambassadors of reconciliation, as repairers of the breach. And so I really wanted to try to reckon with those type of questions on the ground in this book, to try to equip us to have a better hermeneutic, a better way of reading and engaging scripture so that we can have a more authentic relationship with God and a more faithful witness in the world.
Latasha Morrison 52:19
Man, this thing is loaded. I am so grateful for you, brother. That was a lot. You were you were just talking about Zacchaeus. And I wanted to go back there before we we close out. You were talking about Zacchaeus, and a lot of times when we bring up Zacchaeus, people will say, the argument is, “Well, that was about individual sin.” And I wanted to address that in this and how we connect this to also systemic exploitation. Because, you know, yes, it was about his individual sin, but his individual sin exploited thousands, if not more, like you said. And when you start talking about economic justice, when we start talking about you mentioned the word reparation, and this is a word that the Be the Bridge community should be familiar with, because we talk about that in our guide and also in the book. And so, this is a friendly word to us. We should understand that this is a biblical way. And you know, when you talk about repair, because reparation means to repair. So like you said, it’s not enough to just say, “I’m sorry for doing that.”
Dominique Gilliard 53:42
And keep all the money. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 53:44
Exactly. “I took all your money.” No, you need to fix what you broke. (laughter) You need to fix what you broke. It’s like me taking your bike, tearing it up, and saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” No, I need to replace your bike. And that’s practical to us, you know. But how can congregations help people think and be better bridge builders as they struggle with economic justice? And what would you say to pastors and Bible teachers and Be the Bridge leaders who are out there trying to make this connection for people?
Dominique Gilliard 54:30
I think it starts with truth, truth telling. I think we have to be willing to tell the truth. And so I have a whole section that gives a whole myriad of examples of reparations that are happening in live time. And I also have, I started the session by this confession that the Kansas City Star did. And it was really this beautiful confession that was really enticed by the faithful witness of Bryan Stevenson, who when he opened up the National Memorial to Justice and Peace and different things, he was talking to different folks. And in the midst of it, there was a local paper who wanted to spend some time with him and get a shout out. And he really wasn’t prioritizing them. And they wanted to know why. And he said, “Well, I want you to go back and read your reporting during this legacy, when all of this suppression was going on, I want you to see what you were communicating to the world.” And they did. And then they came back and they said, “Okay, I understand why you don’t trust us now. What do we need to do to try to show that we’ve actually changed and to actually elicit that trust now?” And he says, “You know, I want you to confess and repent,” essentially. And they do, but then there’s this other paper in Kansas City who does the same type thing, because what he says is, “I want to start this national movement of confession and repentance essentially, where folks name their complicity in the racial animus and brokenness and systemic sin that have been normalized within the status quo.” And I think churches have to do the same thing. I think we need to go back and see if we’re a older church that has existed for a long time, we need to go back and listen to what sermons were being preached and what curricula was being produced during the Civil Rights Movement, during white flight, during you know, all of these things that were happening. And we need to be confessional.
Latasha Morrison 56:40
During critical race theory.
Dominique Gilliard 56:41
Hey, well you know. (laughter) Yeah. Yeah. And we need to be confessional about that, and the role in which we distorted the gospel to serve our own self interest. And that is going to be the thing that actually starts to help people to see that you’re serious about the fact that you’ve actually engaged in repentance, and not just confession. And when it comes to economic justice, we need to be honest about the ways in which we have been complicit with exploitation. And this, of course, this is not a universal truth, but too many churches have been complicit with the exploitation of our sisters and brothers behind bars. Sojourners, maybe two years ago, wrote an article about how many churches get their pews built with prison labor. Because we don’t want to pay the right amount, what it actually costs to get those things built, we will go and participate in ungodly exploitation to save ourselves a few dollars. Think about all of the churches who use the labor of undocumented people. And we choose them, not to say that we don’t want to give them work, but oftentimes we choose them because we can exploit them for their wages and not pay what we would otherwise would have to pay. And so I think, you know, those are part of the conversations. But when we go back and we realize the land that we’re on, you know, we need to acknowledge the Indigenous folk who used to be on this land. We also need to recognize if our church was built in a suburban community, it probably was connected to this legacy of white flight. We need to have these conversations about the way in which suburban development is rooted in a history and legacy of racism. You know, I always like to share this for tangible, the $120 billion worth of money that was invested in new housing subsidized by the government between 1934 and 1962, less than 2% of that money went to non white families. Like we have…
Repeat that. Repeat that again. Because for everyone that talks about there being no systemic racism, when you hear statistics like this, and you’re talking about up until 1962 – and this is before the Fair Housing Act, this is, both of my parents were born by then, I’m only one generation removed from this – because people don’t understand that word and what they mean when they say that. Repeat that again.
Yeah, of the $120 billion worth of funds that were invested in subsidized housing between 1934 and 1962, less than 2% of that money went to non white families. Which meant people of color were locked out of home ownership, while white Americans were essentially given exclusive access.
Latasha Morrison 59:54
And that’s just a small taste of the affirmative action, the laws and the policies and the systems that were formed to lift some up.
Dominique Gilliard 1:00:07
Latasha Morrison 1:00:08
And to continue to oppress others.
Dominique Gilliard 1:00:11
Latasha Morrison 1:00:11
And those are the things that we have to talk about. And those are the things that I love that you talk about, and that we talk about at Be the Bridge. It’s revealing those truths. And I’ll never forget, Dominique, I was in Gainesville, and we talk about redlining and we were talking about things that were happening now even as it relates to housing appraisals and bank loans, stuff that’s happening in Philly and different ones, because people intersect with systems. And when people are broken, they continue some of the broken systems. And so this lady we were talking about this as she was just like in shock and just offended. And I didn’t know if she was in shock or offended because of what I was saying. She was like eighty years old, I was like, “I don’t know if this lady is gonna hug me or hit me.” And I remember her coming up to me, and this is prior to COVID, and she grabbed my hand. And I was, like, “Uh oh.” I was like, “You know what, I’m just gonna have to let the eighty year old woman, I’m just gonna let her hit me. I’m just gonna let her hit me.” (laughter) She grabbed my hand and she said, “Thank you. ” And she was like, “Thank you because I didn’t know. If I had known…” And it’s on purpose that you don’t know.
Dominique Gilliard 1:01:34
Latasha Morrison 1:01:35
And it’s on purpose that people continue to not want you to know. And it’s on purpose that we don’t talk about this in school to give context to what we’re talking about today. So I’m so grateful for you, that you are writing the truth and that you’re speaking the truth. What are some things, you know there’s a lot happening, we talked about this watershed moment. And as we close, these are just some questions that I kind of like to ask our guests, our community. I don’t consider you a guest, I consider you a part of our community. But what are some things that you are lamenting in this moment, in this season?
Dominique Gilliard 1:02:21
Yeah, I am lamenting the fact that we still have so many of our BIWOC sisters to choose between being advocates against racism or patriarchy. That still today in 2021, we aren’t allowing people to be the fullness of who they are and affirm their total humanity because we are still so committed to doing activism in silos. So I’m deeply lamenting that. I’m deeply lamenting that, let’s just be generous and say every other month, we’re hearing some kind of story of kind of sexual abuse and assault, and a lot of it is connected to churches. It’s a travesty. And it is killing, stealing, and destroying our witness. And I would say, I am lamenting how…one of the things I say in the book at the end, towards the end is that I say that we can’t, as ministers, we can’t allow the gospel we proclaim to be dictated by what our members are ready for on their own. We are acquiescing to the disobedience of our members instead of discipling people into faithfulness. And I understand it’s risk, and I understand particularly in churches where they have kind of the governance where the congregation has the power to kick you out if they don’t like what you’re saying. So I understand that. I get that that’s a tension. But as ministers we got to have enough faith in God that if the Spirit is compelling us to say things, to speak truth, that God will sustain us and see us through if we faithfully step out on faith in that way. And so I’m deeply lamenting that it’s too many of our congregations we’re allowing our congregants disobedience to dictate what discipleship looks like, instead of us prophetically speaking God’s word in a way that disciples our members into faithfulness.
Yeah, part of what’s giving me hope is there a lot of sisters and brothers who are listening and opening themselves up to some of these conversations that just were completely closed four years ago. I am celebrating the fact that a lot of these conversations are becoming more normative and we’re seeing things that didn’t exist. Like we just got the Indigenous translation of the scripture that just came out a couple of weeks ago. I know our sister Wil Gafney is celebrating the fact that she put out her woman’s Bible commentary for everybody and it’s a number one seller. Like some of those things just haven’t been true for us historically. So I’m celebrating that we are actually making some progress in these conversations. I’m celebrating that you and Jemar were New York Times bestsellers, when the crap was hitting the fan last year and folks were like, “What do we do?” (laughter) And folks are turning at least to the right people. Because for a long time, you know, when we were in these perilous times, folks would try to turn and I didn’t trust the voices they were turning to. So I appreciate that there’s been a recalibration where I think people are getting more exposed. And there’s a more of a litmus test going on. Now, that’s not to say that the problem is solved, because let’s look at the bestsellers list right now. And the number of those folks who you were talking about earlier who deny racism is a problem or systemic in any way, they the best sellers. And so we still got work to do. So we can celebrate and still be sober about the fact that there’s still a lot of work yet to be done.
Latasha Morrison 1:06:56
And lastly, you know, we talk about righteousness and reconciliation, but sometimes we don’t imagine it, what it could look like. Snd so what does righteousness and reconciliation look like to you? What does righteous reconciliation look like?
Dominique Gilliard 1:07:26
Yeah, so I’m gonna use something metaphoric and I’m gonna land it. So one of the things I talk about, and people might have heard me say this before, is that you know everything in this world teaches us that blood is thicker than water. That is everything outside of the Scriptures that actually tell us that the baptismal waters are thicker than our biological bloodlines. And it’s baptism that must redefine who our family is for us today as the people of God. And for me, righteousness looks like us responding to oppression, injustice, systemic sin, for our baptismal family the way that we would if it was harming our biological family. When we see families separated at the border, we refuse to say, “Oh, well, that’s a Latin, Latinx issue, I don’t have to be concerned about it, because it’s not directly impacting me.” When I see sexual assault going on, I don’t just turn a blind eye because as a male, I’m not targeted in the same way. When I see, Indigenous folks advocating for the secular land rights, I am compelled to go and advocate as if the government’s trying to take my property. And so for me, what racial righteousness looks like is us functioning as an interconnected body, us being biblical and realizing that our flourishing is inherently connected and intertwined. And that it’s not a worldly definition of success that says that I do everything I can to make myself prosper. But I realize the biblical truth that I’m blessed to be a blessing, that what God has entrusted me with is to flow through us, and not just to us. We have to have this broader Jeremiahish understanding of the gospel, that we are commissioned to be people who seek the peace and prosperity of our communities, which means all of us, and not just some of us. And when we do that, that’s where our own flourishing is found. And so for me, when we get that worldview and we actually start to live into it in ways that cost us, that subvert the status quo, i.e. subversive witnesses, then that’s when I think we’re really starting to pursue racial righteousness and reconciliation, and really tangibly trying to live into the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s just not theoretical.
Latasha Morrison 1:10:09
Amen, amen. And just ending on this, we are blessed to be a blessing. Simple. It’s what the old folks used to say. (laughter) And it’s something to it.
Dominique Gilliard 1:10:22
Latasha Morrison 1:10:22
And I’m so grateful for you, brother. And you know, we’ll put all the things, you guys get this book – Subversive Witness: Scriptures Call to Leverage Privilege. You will not regret it. I am so glad that you are writing and continuing to write. And I’m so glad you preaching. (laughter) Because as you guys know, he was talking but if I had an organ, I will put like a few little bit keys behind it. (laughter) But I’m so grateful for your voice and just for your brilliance and your wisdom, and just how you deconstruct the Scripture, and the work that you do in that to really unfold and reveal God’s truth. So I’m grateful for you. Thank you so much for joining us on the Be the Bridge podcast, Dominique DuBois Gilliard.
Dominique Gilliard 1:11:25
Hey, ma’am, thank you, thank you. And I have just a quick note. There’s also an accompanying small group video based curriculum that goes with the book because I really wanted to empower people to do this work in community,. This is not work that we can do by ourselves in isolation, we need folks to encourage us, to walk alongside us, to pray for us, intercede on our behalf, and stand with us as we do the bridge building work.
Latasha Morrison 1:11:50
So there is like a small group. So like, basically, the Be the Bridge groups could read this book and do the study.
Dominique Gilliard 1:11:58
Latasha Morrison 1:11:59
You see, there’s another thing for our groups to do. So we’re so grateful for you. And we’ll make sure we put the links to all of that in there. And we’ll actually get this information to our group leaders, too. So grateful!
Tandria Potts 1:12:14
[Voiceover] 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
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