Changing the World, Lessons From Books, Love and Faith, Nonfiction

The Bold and Brave Rebuke of the Slaveholder’s Christianity – What We Can Still Learn from Frederick Douglass

I recently finished a re-read of THE NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS: AN AMERICAN SLAVE for The Musings of Jamie Book Club (you can join here on FB or sign up here for updates via my newsletter) and because it had been so long since I’ve read it, for much it was like reading it for the first time. One quote I’ve always remembered is one you’ll also see below:

“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

A powerful quote indeed, but I had forgotten the rest of the Appendix, which is a fearless and fiery rebuke, that makes me want to stand up and applaud. Douglass wrote this nearly 20 years before the Civil War would start. His words, his direct call out of the hypocrisy of “Christian” slave owners must have inspired so many to continue the fight. As it is public domain, I am sharing the rest of it here. May we all live with such boldness.

From THE NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS: AN AMERICAN SLAVE:

I FIND, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation.

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.

The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me.

He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery.

We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls! The slave auctioneer’s bell and the churchgoing bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heartbroken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together.

The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other — devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

“Just God! and these are they,
Who minister at thine altar, God of right!
Men who their hands, with prayer and blessing, lay
On Israel’s ark of light. “What! preach, and kidnap men?
Give thanks, and rob thy own afflicted poor?
Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then
Bolt hard the captive’s door? “What! servants of thy own
Merciful Son, who came to seek and save
The homeless and the outcast, fettering down
The tasked and plundered slave! “Pilate and Herod friends!
Chief priests and rulers, as of old, combine!
Just God and holy! is that church which lends
Strength to the spoiler thine?”

The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, “They bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All their works they do for to be seen of men. — They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. — But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. — Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess. — Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Could any thing be more true of our churches? They would be shocked at the proposition of fellowshipping a sheep-stealer; and at the same time they hug to their communion a man-stealer, and brand me with being an infidel, if I find fault with them for it. They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors.

Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean, by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify.

I conclude these remarks by copying the following portrait of the religion of the south, (which is, by communion and fellowship, the religion of the north,) which I soberly affirm is “true to the life,” and without caricature or the slightest exaggeration. It is said to have been drawn, several years before the present anti-slavery agitation began, by a northern Methodist preacher, who, while residing at the south, had an opportunity to see slaveholding morals, manners, and piety, with his own eyes. “Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”

A PARODY.
“Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
How pious priests whip Jack and Nell,
And women buy and children sell,
And preach all sinners down to hell,
And sing of heavenly union.

“They’ll bleat and baa, dona like goats,
Gorge down black sheep, and strain at motes,
Array their backs in fine black coats,
Then seize their negroes by their throats,
And choke, for heavenly union.

“They’ll church you if you sip a dram,
And damn you if you steal a lamb;
Yet rob old Tony, Doll, and Sam,
Of human rights, and bread and ham;
Kidnapper’s heavenly union.

“They’ll loudly talk of Christ’s reward,
And bind his image with a cord,
And scold, and swing the lash abhorred,
And sell their brother in the Lord
To handcuffed heavenly union.

“They’ll read and sing a sacred song,
And make a prayer both loud and long,
And teach the right and do the wrong,
Hailing the brother, sister throng,
With words of heavenly union.

“We wonder how such saints can sing,
Or praise the Lord upon the wing,
Who roar, and scold, and whip, and sting,
And to their slaves and mammon cling,
In guilty conscience union.

“They’ll raise tobacco, corn, and rye,
And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie,
And lay up treasures in the sky,
By making switch and cowskin fly,
In hope of heavenly union.

“They’ll crack old Tony on the skull,
And preach and roar like Bashan bull,
Or braying ass, of mischief full,
Then seize old Jacob by the wool,
And pull for heavenly union.

“A roaring, ranting, sleek man-thief,
Who lived on mutton, veal, and beef,
Yet never would afford relief
To needy, sable sons of grief,
Was big with heavenly union.

“ ‘Love not the world,’ the preacher said,
And winked his eye, and shook his head;
He seized on Tom, and Dick, and Ned,
Cut short their meat, and clothes, and bread,
Yet still loved heavenly union.

“Another preacher whining spoke
Of One whose heart for sinners broke:
He tied old Nanny to an oak,
And drew the blood at every stroke,
And prayed for heavenly union.

“Two others oped their iron jaws,
And waved their children-stealing paws;
There sat their children in gewgaws;
By stinting negroes’ backs and maws,
They kept up heavenly union.

“All good from Jack another takes,
And entertains their flirts and rakes,
Who dress as sleek as glossy snakes,
And cram their mouths with sweetened cakes;
And this goes down for union.”

Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds — faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts — and solemnly pledging myself anew to the sacred cause, —

I subscribe myself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
LYNN, Mass., April 28, 1845.

From: Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.

If you haven’t yet, please take some time to read the full Narrative. It’s available online and at any book store!

Changing the World

What’s Next? Policy Change

As I’ve been posting more on social media about race in America, I’ve had people reach out asking “what do I do next? How do we fix a problem so big?” I get it! It is often overwhelming, frustrating and feels too big to attack. But change can happen! One way is for policy change and keeping people accountable.

Here’s a starting list. I encourage you to look them up, see where your cities/counties/states line up, do your own research, and hold you political leaders accountable. Please remember this list is by no means exhaustive. There’s a lot of work to be done.

POLICY CHANGE

Police Accountability and Reform

  • Look up what policies your city has enacted to help decrease police violence. You can go here to read more about policies that help decrease police violence and where your city stands. Start a conversation with your city leaders about these policies.
  • Require Implicit Bias Training for officers
  • Instate body cameras
  • Public reporting that provides an annual report, including a disparity index. Having records and tracking things like vehicles stops and arrests, along with demographic information helps to reveal disparities and can hopefully help departments address the disparities. Here’s a valuable thread to read up more.

Criminal Justice Reform

There are incredible organizations out there doing this work. Equal Justice Initiative is one of my favorites. Learn more here.

  • End putting children in adult prisons: The U.S. is the only country in the world where kids as young as 13 have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • Support organizations who overturn wrongful convictions
  • Abolish private prisons: We should have a prison system that is rehabilitative and restorative, not one that profits off of mass incarceration.
  • End the Death Penalty: To quote Bryan Stevenson, “The question we need to ask about the death penalty in America is not whether someone deserves to die for a crime. The question is whether we deserve to kill.” This is also tied to wrongful convictions.

VOTING

Don’t just vote in the presidential elections, but vote locally. Mayors, school board members, district attorneys, etc are all major role players in what gets passed (from police accountability to programs helping lower income kids in school). Do the research of where your candidate stands on these issues.

EDUCATION

Continue on your personal journeys. Join groups like Be the Bridge (and read the book!). Read books like Just Mercy. If you are white, see the ways you’ve benefited from white privilege, uncover implicit bias, and find ways to use your privilege to help.

Changing the World, Love and Faith

I’m Tired

Artist Link: http://www.instagram.com/shirien.creates/

May has sucked. Yes, the pandemic, but that’s not really why. It’s because racial injustice in America is having some kind of day.

Ahmaud Arbery.
Breonna Taylor.
George Floyd.

How was this all in one month? All these stories out for the world to know about in four short weeks?

Not only is it horrific, exhausting, maddening, sad, and awful, but the silence of so many, especially fellow believers, is deafening.

DEAFENING.

Not one lament.
Not one tweet.
Not even a thought or a prayer.

(Yes, I know there are people who care, who aren’t or don’t post on social media. Of course I know that.)

Yet, when the pushback came, many of these same silent people had plenty to say about the riots that broke out. No one wants riots, but what does this tell me? They care more about inanimate things than human life.

I have plenty of more thoughts on this, but I’ll stick with someone y’all may have heard of:

(Please read more about the speech here. It was given in front of a predominately white audience. You can find the full speech here)

 

Please stop asking for “more context.” Please stop the whataboutisms or black on black crime. Please stop making excuses. Please stop saying “well, I have a Black friend.” Please stop. Just stop.

Weep and mourn with your fellow brothers and sisters. Then be moved to action.

Until the hard work of looking inside and looking at the history of America and race is done, people cannot fully understand all the dynamics of the protests or the “isolated” incidents that actually happen all the time, and change will never happen. It’s not a partisan issue.

Yes, pray. Pray, pray, pray, pray. Pray God changes hearts and that people’s eyes would open. But also do the work. Hard issues will never change without people doing the hard work. MLK Jr. (who was hated when he was alive by many in the church) and so many others absolutely prayed, but they also did work.

Read books.
Watch movies.
Follow voices of people who don’t look like you.

But please stop making excuses or ignoring the truth. Humans who are made in God’s image are dying because of racism.

That alone should be reason enough to stop, listen, and learn.

 

If you are wondering where to start, here’s a list of books and movies.

Changing the World

A Mix of All The Things: INSPYs, New Devotional Writers, & How to Help Australia

2020 has kicked off non stop! I hope you had a wonderful end of the year and today I want to share a bunch of updates!

First, it’s the 10 Year Anniversary of the INSPYs! Do you have a favorite fiction read from 2019? Nominate it today!

About the INSPYs: Recognizing the need for a new kind of book award, the INSPYs were created by bloggers to discover and highlight the very best in literature that grapples with expressions of the Christian faith. We feel nothing compares to excellent faith driven fiction, but it can be difficult to weed through the multitude of books published each year in both the Christian marketplace and the general market to find the very best of them. We found ourselves longing for a way to really bring attention to the books that inspire and move us.

Second, I’m officially on the Beloved Women Writers Team. Led by the fabulous Christina Patterson, I get to be part of a team of incredible and encouraging women. I’ll have devotionals posted throughout the year, but I encourage you to follow along for daily encouragement in your faith! My first devo is live! You can read it here.

Finally, here are a couple of links if you want to help support the efforts in Australia (donate here or here). It’s so heart breaking to see, so please continue to be praying!

Changing the World

We Cannot Remain Silent

Apathy is what allows atrocities to happen.

I honestly don’t know how else to start this blog post, but as more reports came out over the past several days about the detention centers and the conditions innocent children are living in, I have been at a loss for words. I have felt completely helpless. Yes, I can tweet 24 hours straight, but what could I actually do to help these children right now? Detention centers turned away donations and children have been moved (to, as far as I know, unknown locations). I don’t have all the answers, but I can use my voice and my dollars to do something.

This isn’t about a political position. Right now I honestly don’t care where you stand on immigration. I would hope that no matter your feelings on immigration and asylum seekers, that you would be horrified by how these innocent children have been treated. Children have died. At the hands of our government. Nothing is worth that cost.

And when people have tried to legally seek asylum, they have been turned away. This happened to Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria Martinez only a few days ago. Because they were turned away, they then had to cross the Rio Grande, only to be swept away. The photo of their bodies crushes you. My prayer is that anyone who sees this photo will be moved to action.

So here’s a list of places to donate and ways you can help. Also, if you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, please take some time to read up and educate yourself. Some links are below.

How to Help: Organizations to Donate To

World Relief: Our expertise gained in aid and development work gives us the ability to not only meet the immediate needs of the vulnerable, but implement programs that lead to sustainable growth and development—transforming once vulnerable regions into thriving communities.

Preemptive Love: Help Asylum Seekers at the Border. They fled some of the world’s worst violence. Their future is uncertain. Stand in the gap.

RAICES: Your support helps us continue our mission to help separated families, detained families, unaccompanied minors, and others who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Also, contact your Representatives and Senators. While we all try to figure out policy, we can do things now to provide support and relief.

There are several other lists out there and wanted to include those as well:

Resources to Learn More

Changing the World

What The Hate U Give Teaches Us About Replacing Otherness with Imago Dei

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas made its debut in 2017 and has become a pivotal novel for the times we’re in. And for very good reason. It’s a book that will hit you in the gut, all the while being inspired by the strength of the characters. Now it’s on the big screen, taking the viewer into a story that has become all to common, as names become Twitter hashtags and fill our news feeds. If you aren’t familiar with the book, here’s the description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night?

And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The title of the book comes from hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur and his iconic THUG LIFE tattoo. Contrary to popular (or better yet, uneducated) belief, the tattoo had a deeper meaning. The first part stood for THE HATE U GIVE and Tupac revealed it was a statement against the oppression shown to Black Americans that starts from a young age.

I highly recommend this movie and book (heads up, there’s language), as it has quite a bit to teach us about seeing Imago Dei in everyone. Here’s a few I wanted to share:

Let Us Listen.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19-20

Oh church, we have to be willing to stop and listen. Too often I hear “well I haven’t seen that” or “I don’t think this really happens,” etc., etc. If we don’t take the time to stop and listen to people (or only listen to one side), how can we truly learn? How can we seek out those who are hurting and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them? Be a brother or sister in Christ to them? How can we show the world this incredible joy and love we know and have, if we turn away from people? If we refuse to listen to what they have to say? There’s a scene in the book and movie (minor spoiler), where one of Starr’s closest friends stops being her friend. She no longer responds to text messages, she unfollows her on Tumblr and when Starr calls her out on it, she quickly puts it back on Starr (saying she doesn’t know who she is anymore) and walks out. In the book we see Starr’s other friend, Maya, come clean: “She’s lying…that’s not why she unfollowed you. She said she didn’t wanna see that…on her dashboard. All the ‘black stuff’, she called it. The petitions. The Black Panther pictures. That post on those four little girls who were killed in that church…”

We must listen, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Listening to a person’s pain is more important than our comfort.

Don’t be Colorblind.
God created every single shade we all are. So see a person’s color, celebrate it, and be willing to hear how their lives might be different from yours because of it. One of the significant lines from Starr is when she tells her boyfriend Chris, who is white, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”

Humans aren’t Issues, They’re People. People made in God’s Image.
Whether we’re talking about racism in America, immigration, refugees, or any other social issue, when we see and or use terms like “them/they” or only see the issue, we cut out and ignore the humanity every person on this planet carries. When someone’s life is only an issue, it’s easy to ignore.

Church, this isn’t Jesus.

When we move from seeing people as fellow human beings and instead see them as categories or issues we don’t agree with/understand or “them,” we lose. We lose the chance to show love. We lose the chance to be a witness. We lose the chance to be light in an increasingly dark world. How can we make an impact if we instantly categorize people who don’t fit in our worldview or share our life experiences? We also lose the chance to meet incredible people and friends.

We can’t let political affiliations become the Christians standard. Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. As believers, we cannot live and die by a political party. We live & die by the Gospel. Otherwise we lose sight of our most important calling – to love people. That’s the Gospel.

I learned that from Jesus. He constantly walked and ministered to “the others” the religious considered dirty and ones to avoid. Whether that was the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), the Samaritan woman (John 4), the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), or countless others who encountered Jesus.

It is our duty to open our ears and hearts and hear their cry. It is our duty to show the world the Light we follow. It is that Light Who will break chains, change hearts, and make a lasting impact that will echo throughout eternity.

It isn’t easy, it isn’t comfortable and it forces people to take a hard look at where their heart is, BUT when we do, we see each other as God wants us to.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

Changing the World, Travel Adventures

Under Our Skin Forum | A Recap

Last week I was in Tampa, FL (who quickly reminded me that I’m cool without humidity) for the Under Our Skin Forum. Based off of Benjamin Watson’s book of the same name and put on by Tyndale (excellent job friends!), it was a night with big names, but all together for a bigger purpose. As you can imagine, it’s a hard topic, but everyone shared openly and honestly and what an encouraging night.

I left the night filled with hope. These past weeks (months really) have grieved my soul, but while it won’t be an easy road and battle, our hope is in Jesus and His power to change lives. And that gives me hope. To keep fighting for justice and to keep shinning light in the darkness.

The Church, this is our time. We can make an impact on culture and show the way unity looks. We don’t have to pick sides and corners, as Benjamin pointed out, we can be in the middle. We can live in the tension of both sides. Things don’t have to be either/or in what grieves us, what we support, etc. We can support things on each side. More importantly, it needs to be that way.

There were so many excellent points, wisdom and thoughts shared. I’m thankful for Twitter, so I could stalk what other people posted since I didn’t take notes. Here’s a few quotes:

“In so many ways it seems like the American Church has slowly white-washed the Gospel. Case in point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nativity scene around Christmas where Mary isn’t a Caucasian woman with silky brown hair. There are going to be an incredible number of Jesus-worshipping, faith-filled individuals who are going to be SHOCKED when they step into the Kingdom of Heaven and realize the man seated at the right hand of God the Father is a homeless middle eastern refugee. The one we worship is a man of color. The Gospel is a rich narrative of color, race, social class, ages, and demographics invited into the same story and redeemed fully at the same cross. Our commissioning is to bring Heaven to Earth in our time here, and we can’t effectively do that if we don’t understand that Heaven is a deeply colorful, language-saturated, diverse and beautiful place where we all stand before the same King as equal creatures made in His image and unified in His grace.” Mo Isom

“If one member suffers, every single members suffers…we see our country right now, we see the pain going on, whether that’s particular demographic, a particular place. If you wake up with a splitting headache or if you’ve ever slammed your finger in a door, the first thing your body does, your physical body, is it rallies to that point of pain. It doesn’t pontificate, it doesn’t rationalize, it doesn’t say, I’m waiting for more facts. It simply says, I’m going to respond. When we weep with those who weep, I think that’s a sign of a highly functioning body. We’re spending too much time rationalizing. It’s Jesus weeping at the tomb.” Ben Sciacca

“Lord help me chose the harder right, not the easier wrong.” West Point Cadet Prayer

“The game plan for racism is in Bible- James 2:14. We need to break the huddle and run the play.” James Brown

“Just do what the Lord says to do, it’s simple, but it’s not always easy.” Tony Dungy

“Christ in you can destroy both the myth of superiority & the myth of inferiority.” Benjamin Watson

There’s so much more and the video is available to watch, if you want to find out more. Just go here.

Also, here’s a list of the panel, if you want to follow them.
Benjamin Watson
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
James Brown
Website | Facebook | Twitter
J. Kevin Butcher
WebsiteTwitter
Tony Dungy
Website | Facebook | Twitter
Charlie Strong
Warrick Dunn
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Mo Isom
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Ben Sciacca
Website | Twitter
Danny Wuerffel
Website | Twitter | Instagram
Sage Steele (Moderator)
Twitter | Instagram

Coach!

With Benjamin Watson (and yes, I’m still sad he doesn’t play for the Saints)
If y’all don’t know Mo Isom, change that quickly!
Unity is possible internet! Warrick Dunn played for the Falcons (and Bucs) and is part owner of the Falcons. Did I mention my loyalties lie with the Saints? OF COURSE I DID. 🙂
Changing the World

Why I Won’t Remain Silent About Racial Reconciliation

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin

I believe we are called, as believers, to reach out and fight for the marginalized and against injustice. Not only from around the world, but also those in our own society and culture. I know it can be touchy, it makes many defensive and is a hard topic, but we absolutely need to continue to educate ourselves on these topics and examine our hearts and continue to be the voice (and peace) of Jesus. When we stay silent, I believe we lose some of our witness and miss out on seeing God work in incredible ways.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve been burdened by what is happening in America right now. It’s a dark time for many people.

A couple months back there was a video that went viral and I decided to post it on Facebook (when it’s something closely connected to political views, I always pray before posting. It’s far too easy to post in anger and I don’t ever want to do that). It’s disturbing for lots of reasons, including this one quote that received a standing ovation and the Nazi salute: “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us.” (You can see the full video here), but I was surprised by some of the reactions. Instead of denouncing the video (which most people did), there was the “well this has been around forever, so…” as if that was enough reason not to call it out and stand against it. There were also comments that I was spreading hate by posting the video. I was genuinely confused as to how calling out hate was instead inciting hate.

Another recent news story was that of the hung jury from the Walter Scott Case. The trial for the officer who was caught on tape shooting an unarmed man running away ended in a hung jury. Sometimes I don’t even have the words, so I’ll steal them from this article written by Steven Hale of the Washington Post.

“Still, this case had video footage of a police officer calmly raising his gun, carefully taking aim and firing multiple rounds into the back of a fleeing, unarmed man and then handcuffing him as he lay on the ground. Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager claimed that he was in “total fear” during a struggle between the two men and that Scott had grabbed his Taser. But he was captured on video placing his Taser next to Scott’s lifeless body after the shooting.

One must wonder: What detail could be added to make Slager look more guilty of Scott’s murder — or at the very least, of manslaughter, an option that was available to the jury?”

My parents were in town visiting for Thanksgiving and we had many conversations about this (We also watched 13th, which I highly recommend). I asked my Dad about his experiences when he was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and how did he not lose hope? (He had to sit in the back of the bus, use “Colored Only” entrances and all the things you hear about. This isn’t something from the distant past. This is my Dad, only one generation before me). As MLK Jr. once said, it’s not the blatant racists who impede progress of moving forward, but instead those who are indifferent. My Dad shared about continuing to fight for what’s right and now that he is a Christian, also praying for the hearts of people and justice. It’s both.

I do not understand the justification, the brush off and the complete denial that our racial history doesn’t have deep impacts on our society today. I don’t get a lot of things about this, but most especially the silence. If we’re not talking about it in a loving manner, then the opposite side is only going to get louder. (Also, please read Just Mercy. Please.)

“Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” Reinhold Niebuhr

But as always, the Lord is good and He gave me a word.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God doesn’t ask us to sit back and be silent about the things that matter. He did not make me timid (I don’t have to rely on my own strength. Yes and amen. “He makes us strong, brave, and unafraid”*) He gave me power (The Greek word dunamis means “miraculous power, might, strength”*), He gave me self-discipline (so I don’t become a loud unhelpful voice) and most importantly He gave me love, which covers all things.

And that is what I’ll continue to move forward in. The Gospel is true and God promises His Word won’t return empty, so I hold onto that and keep on fighting for justice. As Walter Brueggemann once said, Justice is “the re-ordering of social life and social power so that the weak may live a life of dignity, security, and well-being.”

Ann Voskamp (in a podcast with Jamie Ivey that y’all should definitely listen to it here) said something that stuck with me as she was talking about the Church and her new book, The Broken Way. She said that “we are the Esther generation.” An oh how we are – we are called for such a time as this. To care for the orphans, the widows, the refugee, our brothers and sisters who fear for their lives.

We can and need to be the light in this darkness.

“And [God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:19‬

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ll end with this:

*From Liz Curtis Higgs’ 31 Verses To Write On Your Heart, page 43.

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 2

Hello everyone! Today Amy Green joins us for my Diversity Series. I’m really enjoying the discussions that are happening and voices that are sharing. This isn’t the most comfortable of topics, but as I’ve said before, it’s too important to stay quiet about. I hope you’ll read it and as always, share your thoughts on it!

Diversity in Traditional CBA Publishing
by Amy Green

The question isn’t really ever phrased, “Is there enough diversity in Christian fiction?” It’s “Why is there a lack of diversity in Christian fiction?” Indie publishing has given us inspirational fiction from authors of color, as well as novels with characters from a wide ethnic and cultural range, but traditional publishing doesn’t seem to be there yet.

There are a few possible explanations. As the fiction publicist of Bethany House, I start with the fact that we only publish about two new-to-us authors a year and maybe one true debut author—with the slots so few, it’s not surprising that authors of color are finding it hard to break in to traditional publishing. Everyone is finding it hard to break in.

Beyond that, it’s speculation on a complex question.

Maybe agents aren’t encouraging authors to write protagonists from diverse backgrounds, knowing it isn’t as safe as the tried-and-true.

Maybe established authors aren’t mentoring authors of color because they don’t run in the same writing circles.

Maybe Caucasian writers don’t feel they have the authentic experience to write from the point of view of someone of a different ethnicity.

Maybe the few times a traditional publisher did go out on a limb and publish a book with non-white protagonists, they got burned with low sales.

Maybe most of the people headed to the inspirational shelves of a bookstore just don’t want to read diverse fiction.

Maybe authors of color gravitate toward certain genres that don’t do as well in CBA.

It’s a tricky question that leads to a series of other tricky questions, but we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them. Because while there is no simple solution, change almost always starts with a conversation like the one we’re having right now. With that in mind, I’ll do my best to add a few thoughts to the discussion.

From time to time, one of our acquisition editors speaks to college students in writing or publishing programs and has them go through an exercise called “Fantasy Publishing.”

To play, you look at descriptions of the pros and cons of manuscripts that might come across your desk, along with the advance money you’d need to pay. Given a certain budget, you pick the projects you want to publish…and then listen to the editor’s verdict on how each of them turned out. None of the books listed were real projects, but all of them could be.

Included in the list are potential blockbusters, obscure literary works, run-of-the-mill fiction…and two novels relating to the topic of diversity. One is a well-written romantic suspense novel with an interracial romance. Another is a chick lit style novel written by an African American author. Both have race as a factor that might make the books a harder sell.

In the “Results” page, both potentially-controversial books sell a good amount for their genre. The comment beside one of them expresses the hope that many editors have about good books in an unpredictable industry: “It’s hard to keep a truly well-written book down.”

Occasionally, in real life as in Fantasy Publishing, strong stories that aren’t the market’s “usual” will break out with unexpected success, and this is what every editor would love to see happen. This is why you see them contracting the occasional “risky” project.

But often, more cautious sales projections are accurate, predictions about what CBA readers will buy and what they won’t are confirmed, and even stories that editors know are well-written don’t succeed like they’d hoped. I say this not as a way to dodge blame, but just to give you a bigger picture of what’s going on with the books CBA publishers choose to contract.

When I think specifically about why established authors don’t often include a diverse cast in their main characters, I remember the nervous chatter in writing circles when a CBA author whose protagonist was of a different ethnic group was slammed by critics, mostly in the secular world, not for telling a bad story but for venturing into what they felt she didn’t have a right to portray. I can’t help but wonder if authors think, “I don’t have the authority or knowledge to write authentically about people who belong to minority groups.” “What if I get it wrong and it feels like a stereotype?” “Maybe this isn’t my story to tell.” Those, I think, are legitimate concerns, and some genres and stories (Amish or Regency, for example) simply don’t lend themselves to diversity.

Of course, it’s also been fun reading the comments on Jamie’s original post where people share books and series that feature people of color, as well as non-white authors who are traditionally published. At Bethany House, I personally think our most striking cover of 2016 was Angela Hunt’s Delilah, featuring a heroine of mixed race. And Jill Williamson’s new fantasy series, The Kinsman Chronicles, has one white character in the entire saga—for me, the complex cultures she created contribute to the fresh, original feel of the series because it doesn’t take place in the traditional European setting.

When I asked her to talk about this subject with me, Jill admitted that it’s probably easier to write characters of different races and backgrounds in a completely invented world. She said, “I think it’s important for CBA authors to write the stories God puts on their hearts, to write honest stories. Diversity is a huge trend in ABA, and most editors and agents will caution authors against writing to trends. At the same time, CBA authors can write about anything general market authors write about. We just tend to write it differently. The challenge often comes with the treatment. Authors who are going to write about any kind of minority that they are not a part of—racial, disabilities, and others—had better do their research so that the treatment is honest and respectful in how it’s handled.”

That’s where we are right now. I can’t tell the story of where we’re going, except to say this: I’m hearing more and more people who notice a gap and want to do something about it, people who are starting conversations just like this one.

Before I close out, I want to address another line of speculation, one that relates to you. Yes, you, the person reading this post.

Maybe you’re an author whose books haven’t included much diversity, and you have good reasons that haven’t been addressed. Maybe you’re a reader who doesn’t like the comment that publishers shy away from portraying people of color on covers because they have had lower sales. Maybe, like me, you’re a publishing employee who knows the complex backstory behind which projects reach contract stage and which ones don’t.

Maybe reading this series of posts makes you slightly uncomfortable, because you are not racist, and somehow, even talking about this makes you feel like someone’s accusing you of that.

Here’s the thing: we can’t respond well to this issue (or any issue) from a posture of defensiveness.

When you hear that the Christian fiction community might have fallen short in this area, don’t jump to blame someone. I know that was my first reaction, and it’s not helpful.

Just listen. Hear stories that are different from your own, whether it’s by reading the comments on these posts, seeking out novels by minority authors, or following Christians who speak about race and faith on social media. Ask questions of yourself—not how other people or systems out of your control need to change, but what small things you can do to change. And pray for God to bring reconciliation through his church in all areas, but specifically in the area of racial division.

I know that got really big really fast. But I’m convinced we’re not just talking here about why authors of color tend to feel out of place in the inspirational writing community or why covers portray mostly one ethnicity. It’s bigger than that. It’s harder than that.

As racial tensions mount in our country, this feels especially important for Christians to talk about. Let’s not leave it to the pastors and theologians. Don’t get me wrong, their work is critical…but I want to bring in the storytellers and fiction readers too.

You can’t change everything. Neither can I (although sometimes I’d like to). But you can listen to understand, read to learn, love others more, and enter into potentially uncomfortable conversations with grace and humility.

Thank you so much Amy for sharing! I would love to hear what you think about this post and our discussion as a whole. Did you find yourself getting defensive when this was first brought up? Are you more open to discuss these issues? Please share any and all thoughts!

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 1

Can we take a moment (or two) and talk about diversity?

Du du du…..I said Diversity. I know.

But before y’all run out of here faster than how I eat my Del Taco, I want to be real. I want to have a place where we can talk about things that need to be talked about. Where it might get uncomfortable, but we’re willing to stick it through because it will be worth it.

While I know that diversity, rather lack thereof, is an issue across the board of not only books and publishing, but other industries as well, this series will be focusing specifically on traditionally published Christian fiction. I’m know I’m not the only one who has thoughts about the lack of diversity in Christian fiction and I think you’d be hardpressed to find someone who would say that there’s plenty of diversity in Christian fiction. Because there isn’t. We all know this is an issue, but where to even start right?

While we know the questions, the answers aren’t always so easy.

Before I continue with some of the key questions I want to discuss (I’m excited to share from others as well) and why I’m blogging about it, I think it’s important to include some key disclaimers – especially if you have come across my blog for the first time and don’t know me.

  • I love Christian fiction (I read it, I work in it and I blog about it)
  • I will continue reading it.
  • I don’t believe there is one person at fault. It isn’t only the publisher’s fault or the editor’s fault or the author’s fault or the reader’s fault. But we need to be in this together.

So why am I bringing this up? Well first up, I like reading books about different people (my people, my friends’ people, all the people). I’m mixed and I love all the cultures I come from (French, Black, Mexican and Spanish, if you were curious), so it’s discouraging and frustrating that there aren’t many books that feature people of color. Why is that? Of course I haven’t read every book published, but I’ve been reading and blogging about Christian fiction for years now and I can count the number of books on one hand. And honestly, I can’t think of a published person of color in this market (again, traditionally published authors. Please share if you know of any!)

The truth is, there aren’t many. It’s okay to say that out loud (especially since this isn’t only an issue in CBA). It’s important to recognize that most of the novels released in Christian fiction feature Caucasian characters. (And just in case you missed it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these stories. I love them, I read them, and I celebrate their message).

But can we get a brotha up in here? Y’all know what I’m saying? I’m a fan of Asians too. And Mexicans. And anyone else for that matter. And if I read more stories of interracial couples, y’all, I WILL PASS OUT (of excitement!).

How did we get here though? How do we move forward? Are there more stories out there? Do white authors not feel comfortable writing these types of stories? Are there not people of color writing Christian fiction? Does the audience not want these stories? Do they not sale? If not, then why? Because if that’s the case, what does say about readers? Does reading about other people groups make us too uncomfortable? Do people not care?

In different surveys I’ve researched about CBA readership, I haven’t found a survey that asked about race. So while there is plenty of research on the ages, gender, preferred genres, physical or ebooks preferences and what state CBA readers live, we have no information about the racial background of the readers. Why wouldn’t this demographic be helpful? What does this mean, I wonder, if anything? (As before, please share if you have something different!)

I think what finally pushed me to bring my questions and thoughts to the internet was a book cover discussion. You know how I mentioned the novels I could think of that featured people of color? Even though the stories had these characters, the covers didn’t represent that (except one had a Black model on the cover, so yay!). One you could only see the dress, another featured a male lead (who was white) and in a series following ancient Middle Eastern women (an Egyptian, Israelite and Canaanite), each model was 100% White. I was speechless. Please hear this, I have no doubt the stories are wonderful Biblical fiction and yes, the models were great, but I had zero clue it was Biblical fiction until I read the back cover. It could have been a story of Irish and English women based on the models. And the many reactions around the web praised the covers and I didn’t understand why no one else seemed to notice. My first reaction was sadness because I thought man, that was the chance to celebrate a beautiful culture! But instead I thought, well maybe they based it off what would sale. Am I wrong? Is my reaction way off? Maybe. But I can’t discount it.

I posted about this series and so many of y’all provided fabulous feedback. I want to share some initial thoughts and questions that came up:

There was a lot of discussion about staying away from stereotypes. Is “olive” the only way to describe a black person? (Editor note: All you gotta say is the brotha looked like Denzel and people.will.know! ;)) Does the token black kid always have to be from juvie and be “rescued”? Why is there such a lack of main characters who aren’t white?

These things may not have even crossed your mind, but how important is it to recognize how this might hurt our fellow believers and sisters (and brothers) in Christ?

I believe story can truly change people. In a climate that desperately needs to have understanding, empathy, engagement and more love, I believe the Church needs to be leading the way. And not reluctantly, but bravely and boldly leading the march towards reconciliation. The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. The world needs to see that Jesus does that. That is who He is. A reconciler and a redeemer. Call me a dreamer (I’m not the only one), but I believe with all my heart, fiction can help carve that path. Is Aslan still not spoken of in awe and reverence? Has Redeeming Love not touched the hearts of millions and drawn people to God’s unrelenting love?

So yes, I’m sticking to that truth and I’m believing we can bring together the Church and thus change the world….one diverse novel at a time.

I don’t have all the answers – or really any at the moment – but I do know I want to talk about it. So let’s. I hope to have other voices join in and will share those as they come. Please, share your thoughts and don’t be scared. Let’s make a difference together! You can comment below or join in on Facebook!