Church Now Conversations
with Lisa Sharon Harper
Church Now Conversation Notes with Lisa Sharon Harper
November 11, 2020
We have come to a moment that we have a choice of where we are going to go.
No other thing that is shaping our understanding of the world and our experience of it- our faith, relationships, our future as a nation and as a church- than the question of human hierarchy. There is no thing more significant right now than that question. There is no question of human hierarchy that is more urgent or deeply rooted than the question of race.
Talking about implications of race: not race as the color of your skin, but the political construct of race. Not just social or scientific, but political construct. How it’s born out in our society. How should we be living together as a nation and as a people? For us in the US, most fundamental ways we shape our life together were first shaped around this question of race. Race is about one thing: it’s about power. Not about ethnicity or culture or nationality. Race is a construct.
Need to look at history:
- Plato’s The Republic: Determines how the public should live together. Race is the different metals people are made of. What metal they are made of determines how they will serve society. Race was constructed to order the republic.
- Aristotle: (Plato’s student) Coined term “western supremacy”. Understood humanity to be defined by whiteness, maleness, and able bodied-ness. If you had those 3 things, you were fully human.
- Papal Bull: Said to friend if you come across land that is not civilized, you can claim land for the throne. Civilized is to be like us. If you could prove you were civilized, you could keep your land. Because the people were determined to not be civilized, they took their land and determined they could enslave the people. He did not understand all humanity to be humanity. He understood it to be the same likeness of what Aristotle determined years earlier. He helped to lay foundations of religious supremacy.
- Elizabeth Key: Born to a black mother and white slave owner. Slave owner decides he’s going to recognize her as his daughter. He has her baptized-she’s a Christian and he’s an English citizen. She is civilized/human because of those things. But she was still enslaved. She took her case to court and won. Other slaves had the same situation and started taking their cases to court.
- Virginia then changed from English common law to Roman common law which states the line of citizenship no longer comes through father, but through the line of mother. If a mother is enslaved, her child is enslaved as well as future descendants. This started race based slavery.
- Carl Linnaeus (botanist): people who look like me are on top, next is red americanus (indigenous descent), under that is yellow asiaticus, and on bottom black africanus. He has assumed responsibility to categorize and name people groups throughout the world. (Is that a demonstration of humility? Only God should decide who is what)
- 3/5ths compromise: In order to create parity between north and south, they counted black people as 3/5th’s of a human being, but having no vote. It didn’t take long until they were not listed as a human being.
- Naturalization Act: Only people who can become naturalized citizens are free white persons. Defined later as men and their property. We see that the ones set up to benefit from this construct are white men.
What is being said through this construct? Only ones that are fully human are white men who are able bodied. That is the struggle that we’ve been struggling against since the beginnings of the US. Struggle of indigenous peoples. Cherokee removal tool and other Native American peoples and the genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, Chinese Exclusion Act, women suffrage, Japanese internment acts, Zoot Suit riot acts, civil rights movement, attacks on LGBTQIAP movement, environmental justice movement, disabilities movement, struggle of the right to flourish in all spaces. It all comes from the same sources.
Right now, we are being called to make a choice. A time of reckoning. How will we live together going forward? Will we care for all humanity? Our underlying beliefs about God, ourselves, and our neighbors are being revealed before our eyes. Demographics are shifting. Within 25 years, people of European descent in the US will be less than 50% of all Americans. 1st time in American history where people of color will make up the majority. In the most powerful nation in the world, people of color will be leading. This messes with American whiteness and its conception of itself. This challenges the “rightful” place of white men to rule. It is this change that is pushing us to the brink right now. We’re coming into a time now of people experiencing the world in a way they haven’t for a very long time, possibly 3,000+ years.
We can choose to war against each other for supremacy or choose the beloved community. (justice, equity, peace, truth out of Psalm 85) This is the vision God calls us to. Are we calling the church to this?
Q & A:
Q: Where does a ministry leader start?
A: First practical thing to do right now is to create protected space for honest conversations. Need space to process what people are hearing outside the doors of our church. Without that, we leave our congregations to those who have a separate agenda. 2nd, bring our people back to the Scripture. Re-embed it and an understanding of the Scripture. De-colonize the Scripture and the narrative of the Scripture. Don’t confuse Calvin’s reforms with scripture itself. A lot of division within our congregations can fall along racial lines. How are we reading the texts in Scripture? From what lens: written in halls of our empires or as written in the caves from people on the run enslaved by empires--two lenses are vastly different.
Q: How do we work toward an awesome kingdom living vision when we will encounter pushback? What are the guidelines for these conversations? Do we need a moderator?
A: There are places that can help. Yes, you need a moderator. There are guidelines. There are simple constructs that don’t need a moderator; a story circle. Through boundaries in conversation, you create protected space. A circle is set up and allows people a couple minutes to share their story from their gut. You can ask questions like: What was your first experience in the world when you realized race is a thing? How are you experiencing the world and what is happening in it right now? What are you receiving from the circle today? Circles are best when they are diverse. You can partner with another church.
Q: What recommendations do you have for how to widen our lens? Or who can help us read the Bible from different perspectives?
A: Through Freedom Road Institute. They offer a webinar series on how to decolonize the Bible. It is training on how to study the Scripture in a de-colonizing way. Read theologians who are not white: Soong Chan Rah, The Very Good Gospel-Lisa Sharon Harper, James Cone (The Cross and the Lynching Tree), Chanequa Walker-Barnes (I Bring the Voices of my People), Richard Twiss (Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys).
Q: Can you speak to the rise in critical race theory?
A: This comes from the Scripture and comes from the reality of American experience of race. How political constructs of race came to be--how have the laws in our land shaped our experience of racial hierarchy in America?
Q: What do we do with this information?
A: Go onto Freedom Roads website and listen to the last podcast. Conversation with Brian MacLaren talking about white men right now. Talks about what is going on for white men in this context right now? There is a huge shift that must happen.
Q: What do you want to leave us with today?
A: Walk away with hope. There is confusion today of how we got here. There are things that can be done that can shift our thinking and plant new seeds of how we see the world. We have the ability to change the way our churches move forward and the way we see who we are in relationship to our neighbors and to God. Be determined to decolonize your own theology. Have the courage to walk into a time of dis-equilibrium. Leave this time determined to grow your humility.
This journey is often a time where you lose friends. We are not here to be liked; we are here to be a good citizen in the kingdom of God. We are here to flourish--our flourishing is dependent on the flourishing of all. We are here to speak truth--we cannot hide truth. We need to give people Jesus. If we lose a friend because we give them Jesus, then so be it.
**These notes are not all-inclusive of the presentation by Lisa, it is a summary only. For full information, please watch the video.