For many of us, Black History Month is great chance to dive more deeply into racial issues and celebrate the narrative of America that unfortunately often goes ignored in history classes (because there’s so much more to civil rights than Martin Luther King Jr.). Black History Month can also be one of many opportunities for churches—even predominantly white churches—to have intentional conversations about race, but it can be tough to determine how best to engage.
We sat down with rapper and entrepreneur Propaganda, who is a leading voice in the Church about race issues and bridge building, to get his thoughts on BHM and racial reconciliation in the Church.
Would you want to see churches celebrate Black History Month? And how can predominantly white churches make sure it doesn’t come off as tokenism?
Absolutely, assuming churches don’t just ignore black history for the rest of the year. To put it in perspective: If you have a kid and you designate a day to celebrate their birth, you wouldn’t look at your kid and say, “You know what, son? I’m not going to buy you a gift today, because every day in our family is important. We don’t celebrate just your one day.” That’s ridiculous. No, “Son, I’m going to celebrate you today and tomorrow, but today especially.”
There [should be] a context of black history being intimately integrated into the fabric and the structure of your church community, whether it’s from the stage or from the elder’s meeting.
Again, if we’re going to say, “We’re going to go through the book of Romans in June,” that doesn’t mean we’re never going to open the book of Romans any other time of the year. Don’t tokenize the book of Romans, you know what I’m saying? Because if your understanding of Scripture is that compartmentalized, then obviously you don’t get Scripture, and if your understanding of history is compartmentalized by months, then clearly you don’t get history.
What would you rather see: White leaders talking about black issues or white leaders giving the microphone to black leaders to talk about black issues?
I think it’s a both/and thing, but it has much more to do with a relational understanding. If you have a white leader talking about black issues, you would speak from a white perspective, being honest about who you are and your experience in America, not necessarily putting words in someone’s mouth but saying, “I’m looking at the same issues you are and this is what I see.”
And then, if your church is truly multicultural, you’re not going to have to scramble to find a black person to talk about black issues, because that dude is sitting right next to you or he’s one of your staff members.
It’s more a structural thing. When a white leader is speaking, I would want to know they have a true relationship with people of color and they’re speaking from that rather than from sort of a white guilt or any of those constructs that come from a position of privilege.
Beyonce at the Super Bowl brought the race conversation back up to the forefront. It reminded me of the criticism of that Urbana speech about #blacklivesmatter. What are your thoughts about the criticism that has come from the Church around specifically #blacklivesmatter?
I think the idea of a Christian having an issue with that is more telling of who that Christian’s actual master is. Often, what that reveals is sort of a Christianity that is really patriotism, a Christianity that is more about desiring to protect a way of life and a comfortability rather than a willingness to follow Jesus wherever that road goes. Specifically in the American fabric, our tribalism runs deep, but it runs deep toward patriotism and this picture of American elitism.
Essentially, if all lives did truly matter then we wouldn’t need #blacklivesmatter. The need for the statement, the need for the sentiment implies that we are not what we say we are. As a believer, that should be the most telling thing.
I think that as a country, if we just admit that we’ve made an idol out of our country, we’ve made an idol out of patriotism. Can we deal with this? I’m not saying you’ve got to hate America, but if you love our country, you’re going to dig in and deal with these things you gotta deal with.
How does the Church take lead on racial reconciliation and true healing? What’s your hope and vision for that?
I think there needs to be an acknowledgement of wrong, and even as a church, your participation in that wrong. Let’s be honest and say, “There were some believers out there who thought [slavery and Jim Crow] was ridiculous, and then there were believers out there who didn’t think it was ridiculous, and for that I repent. I was wrong. I participated and, let’s be real, benefited from these structures.” There was financial and economic growth that happened in the American church from gross national sin.
The work toward reconciliation happens first from acknowledgement and second from a structural perspective. You wouldn’t have to go find a black dude to ordain as a deacon and add to elder board if you legitimately had black relationships and read black authors in your seminary. If all that’s already integrated into the fabric of the person and the structure of your church organization, then the next step should become easy, because that is already who you are am and you’re allowing these things to shape the way you see the world.
I kid about having a varsity level white card. I can tell you exactly who Sufjan Stevens is. I went to see Wilco. I own a Jeff Tweedy album. I got a white card because I’ve got white dudes that truly live in my life and have truly shaped my taste. I think when you have that true biculturalism, then the next step as a Christian and as a body becomes extremely natural because this is the life we live. This is the way my Tuesday goes just as much as the way my Sunday goes.
Let’s not just go find black things to put into a white structure, let’s look at the structure. Are we still thinking like dominant culture? Maybe there’s another way to look at information. I think when you do that as a church and say, “How much of our ecclesiology is really just Victorian or Greek rather than truly biblical?” that that opens the door for the church to really start stepping toward reconciliation.
The most segregated hour in America happens on Sunday morning every week. Hearing what you’re saying, it’s not about just plugging in diversity to integrate for integration’s sake. It’s out of relationship and understanding.
Absolutely. And I think that really the indictment of Sunday morning being segregated really has to do with not so much the church itself but the social structures of church members. You’re going to go to a church where you feel comfortable, with people you know, people you relate to, people you’re going to live life with outside of church. If your social structure is monocultural, then of course that’s what it’s going to look like.
A lot of times we throw grenades at the church itself. The church may look like the community. If you’re in rural Kansas, there’s really only white people there. It’s not their fault, that’s the city. So in that case, you’re looking at diversity differently. Is it financially diverse? Is it age-group diverse? But again, I think it has to more do with the social communities of the members rather than solely being what’s happening on the stage.