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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Andre Henry joins Pete and Jared to discuss the cultural and theological underpinnings of systemic racism in the church. Together, they explore the following questions:

  • Why is it important to take a close look at American history? Church history?
  • What is an example in the Bible of God confronting a system of oppression and violence?
  • Should Christians try to create a distinction between this pristine, idealistic version of Christianity and the dark side of church history?
  • Why is “real Christians aren’t racist” an unhelpful argument?
  • Does an idealistic version of Christianity where everyone gets it right exist?
  • Why is it problematic to opt out of the dominant form of Christianity and claim marginal forms of Christianity?
  • Is systemic racism in the church largely cultural?
  • Are there theological underpinnings for systemic racism in the church?
  • How do we respond to people who say we shouldn’t address racism because “in God’s kingdom, there is no race?”
  • How can we begin to recognize the deeply ingrained theological underpinnings that have been used to support systemic racism?
  • Does how we approach the Bible impact what we get out of it?
  • Is there a one-size-fits-all approach for anti-racist work?

TWEETABLES

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Andre Henry you can share:

  • “Everywhere I turned, it seemed like white Christians were telling me that your struggle, your pain, the thing that could kill you at any day is not a part of this faith. And you talking about it is not welcome here.” @andrehenry
  • “I heard people call Christianity the white man’s religion. It seems to have worked very well as a tool for social control, and I don’t think that I can go to church today if that is what we’re doing and if that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.” @andrehenry
  • “What does it mean to be innocent in a society where everything is kind of running off of this injustice playing in the background?” @andrehenry
  • “I understand why people want to make that argument, ‘If someone is committing racial violence, that means that they’re not really committed to the teaching o f Jesus.’ But it’s bypassing the harm that has been done by people who claim to be Christians and by the church.” @andrehenry
  • “Real Christians aren’t racist, right? There’s something kind of dubious about someone saying the Christians that dominated the world on the sweat and suffering of Black people are not real Christians.” @andrehenry
  • “That idealistic version of Christianity where everybody gets it right, doesn’t exist.” @andrehenry

MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Read the transcript

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Pete: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this episode of the podcast and our topic today is “Systemic Racism in the Church and our guest is Andre Henry.”

Jared: Yeah, and Andre is a musician, writer, activist, and he has a book out now called All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep. And normally we don’t, I don’t think, typically we don’t try to chase authors when their books come out and make sure we get them on the podcast. But Andre’s story, I’ve been following for quite a while now and I was thrilled to see he came out with a book and it was a great conversation around racism and the church and just his story from being in pretty evangelical Christian spaces during the last handful of years and his slow transition and faith transformation, and how all that was interplayed with race and Christianity and all the things he’s been learning and I just really appreciate that he came and just shared all the things that he’s been up to and into and learning the last handful years.

Pete: Yeah, it’s a compelling story and it’s a necessary story to tell. So, let’s get into it.

[Music begins]

Andre: Is Christianity for white people? Growing up, I heard people call this the white man’s religion telling me things like, ‘racism isn’t a priority to God.’ You know, everyone is kind of trying to tell me that systemic racism doesn’t exist. Everywhere I turn, it seemed like white Christians were telling me that your struggle, your pain, the thing that could kill you any day is not a part of this faith and you talking about it is not welcome here.

[Music ends]

Pete: Alright, Andre, thanks for being here. It’s great to have you on the podcast.

Andre: Thanks for having me.

Pete: Well, you’ve got a pretty interesting and powerful story that began a few years ago that resulted in, from what I understand, you shifting some matters of your faith, but also even career choices and what you’re doing with your life. And I think that’s a story worth telling. So, walk us through what happened.

Andre: Yeah, and I’ll try to be brief. So, like, if there’s something that you guys are like, you really are interested in, you can always, you know, double back on something. I would say that, around 2016 is kind of like this watershed moment for me in my life, where before then, I always had dreams of, you know, being a singer/songwriter, professional singer/songwriter, moved to New York City after college and pursued that dream. Won an award from ASCAP and all that kind of stuff doing that, but also a part of that was ministry. It was just a huge part of my life.

I grew up in church, in the Assemblies of God. And I felt like, you know, some form of pastoral ministry or maybe teaching theology would be a part of my life, you know, forever. And in 2016, I was getting a Master’s in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. And I saw Philando Castile bleed to death in front of his girlfriend and their daughter on Facebook Live the day after the nation watched Alton Sterling, in New Orleans, shot to death by the local police department there. And I made some commitments that day, it was like enough is enough kind of moment. You know, because we’ve seen from when I was really young as like an elementary school from that was like Rodney King’s beating up to Trayvon Martin enough to Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, you know. I just got tired of feeling powerless.

And I decided that day that I wanted to figure out a way to invest my body in the struggle for Black freedom and to use my music, you know, to raise awareness about racism and, you know, also I’ve just been interested in media. So you know, I write, I make videos, in anything that I do, how can I raise awareness about racial justice? And because I grew up around white evangelicals and in that world of kind of multiethnic, mega-evangelical culture, I thought, you know, like, that’s just where I would start. I didn’t have any ideas of like, reaching people outside of my social circle at first. I’m just gonna tell the folks that I grew up with and worshiped with my whole life, ‘This is what it feels like to be a Black man in this country for me.’ And I figured that the faith that I grew up with had a lot to say about this, you know? If nothing else, just as simple as loving your neighbor as yourself, the story of the Good Samaritan, you know? Things like that.

And so, as I embarked on this journey to tell my friends and family that I grew up with- the white friends and family that grew up, what it’s like to be Black in this country, I learned a lot about evangelical faith that I didn’t realize before.

5:03

That there really was not- there weren’t any strong theological frameworks amongst the white friends that, you know, in my book I said, The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, for them to engage this conversation with me or to empathize with me. And I ended up having to cut those relationships off. I talked about this in the book as a kind of apocalypse, the Black Lives Matter movement as an apocalypse, because even up to then, there were things that I didn’t know about American society, really, in a deep way. I knew that racism was still alive, but I thought that it was more like an emotional thing. It’s a rare thing. There’s some there’s some fringe people who, you know, have the wacky idea that, you know, some people are superior to others because of their skin color, right?

And I knew that because I grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where the Ku Klux Klan had been resurrected and I lived next to someone who claimed to be a part of the Ku Klux Klan and pulled a shotgun on my brother, for walking our dog through the neighborhood. So, I knew that kind of racism existed. But when people said systemic racism, I didn’t really know what that was. And so that watershed moment, when I watched Philando Castile die, I said, well, I need to learn more about what people are talking about because something- I didn’t know how the system work, I couldn’t explain it to you, but I knew that that kind of thing was more likely to happen to me because of my own experiences in life and the experiences of other people with me.

So, I started embarking on that journey to learn everything that I can about systemic racism and to learn everything about why the Civil Rights Movement worked, like how do people fight against this and win? And in doing that, that is what I talked about as this apocalyptic journey, is that it just unveiled so much more of American history than I’ve ever been taught in school. And kind of, not kind of, completely undermined the story that America tells about itself as being like this leading force for democracy in the world from its founding. And the deeper that I went into that apocalyptic vision is the more that it separated me from the white friends that I had grown up with and worshipped with. And I would say, like, on the faith, the spiritual part of that journey, I think the climax of that was one morning I woke up- it was Sunday morning, I was supposed to be leading worship at a church in Glendora, about 40 minutes away from Pasadena. If I was going to get there on time, I should have left 15 minutes ago, but I was kind of like pinned to the couch, you know, that morning by the question: Is Christianity for white people? Because by then I spent so much time debating with the white friends that I grew up with, many of them had graduated from our Bible college where we went to school and they went on to be pastors. Some of them were teaching theology and telling me things like racism isn’t a priority to God, you know?

Seeing huge pastors like John MacArthur, you know, completely spiritually bypass the Black Lives Matter movement by saying things like, ‘when you’re focused on the Gospel, your mind becomes about spiritual things,’ talking to Black and brown students and congregants of Hillsong LA and them telling me that they’ve been begging their pastor to just say something. Now, not even like wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, but like pray a prayer for the families of some of these people who have lost loved ones to police violence and pushing, pushing, pushing and refusing.

So, it was like, from every corner- Oh, also, like me applying for jobs after seminary and getting turned down when, you know, churches found out about my activism, which was pulling on the 100 pound boulder around Los Angeles to show the burden of systemic racism on the Black psyche- everywhere I turned, it seemed like white Christians were telling me that it’s not, like this, that your struggle, your pain, the thing that could kill you at any day is not a part of this faith. You know? It’s not and you talking about is not welcome here.

And so that morning, I’m pinned to the ground by that question, and I start reviewing like, the things that I know about church history, which are things that a lot of people don’t want to count as church history, right? Like the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the establishment of Jim Crow, this global kind of system of racial capitalism, the founding of the Ku Klux Klan and the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan. These are all parts of church history, you know? I really, for a moment, felt in my body like, oh, wow, yeah, like it makes a whole lot of sense why growing up, I heard people call this the white man’s religion because seems to have really worked very well as a tool for social control and as a central pillar to the white power structure and I don’t think that I can go to church today, if that is what we’re doing. And if that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.

9:58

But a few moments later, just these moments in the Bible kind of flashed through my head, and one was- and specifically this was the thing that started like before I started thinking more- because I started, I thought about Rome, and I thought about the way that, you know, Revelation is, you know, kind of undermines the vision of Rome and the way that some texts in the Bible undermine Babylonian imperial theology, all kind of stuff.

But the first thing that came to mind was the Exodus story. And not just God walking the Israelites out of Egypt in that story, but specifically the plague of darkness. Because at the time, you know, everyone is kind of trying to tell me that systemic racism doesn’t exist. They’re saying things like, ‘I’m not responsible for the things that my ancestors did,’ you know, just very individualistic kind of thing. But the plague of darkness came to mind, and it kind of just hit me that, even though there’s only- what- two people in the Exodus narrative that want the Israelites to be in bondage, as far as we know, I think it’s the first Pharaoh and the second Pharaoh that comes after him. They love this idea. Like, let’s keep these Israelites enslaved, but when the plague of darkness hits Egypt, every Egyptian sits in darkness. The only place that has light is Goshen.

And it hit me in that moment that like in the Bible, there is an example of God confronting an actual system of oppression and violence and thinking through like, how the story takes us through how the propaganda campaign that the Pharaoh launched against the Israelites because they were growing too fast and how they erased their history. And you know, all this justification for keeping them in forced labor and the question of what does it mean to be innocent in a society where everything is kind of running off of this injustice playing in the background?

And that kind of brought me back to some- that kept me from throwing everything away in that moment. For a moment, I could say, for a moment, I could say, God, at least the way that God presents, or is presented in this story, is that God is the God of the Ghetto, and that’s something I can get with. But from there, I stopped going to church.

[Laughter]

So, that I could really explore, you know, what I mean- there was a lot of things going in and going on with that, like, we really tried to wrestle with like, well, if what I believed up to this point, and I think that I was 29-30 years old at the time. But what I believed up to this point is not true or if 80% of it- I don’t know how much it is not true. What do I believe, you know? And I’ve been wrestling with that question, you know, ever since and coming to different conclusions and piecing things together through different experiences.

Jared: Well, maybe you can say a little bit more about that idea. Because what come to what came to my mind was, in a lot of times in the last few years, when you point out, like you said church history, often the retort is well, that’s not true Christianity. And then they tend to make this like distinction between this pristine, idealistic version of Christianity and what we actually had in history, which for me, never makes sense. Because I’m thinking, Yeah, but that’s not. That’s not actually how it played out. So that’s, that’s great to keep this up here. But have you kind of experienced that as well?

Andre: Of course, yeah, absolutely. So, I have a song that I wrote about this called “Playing Hookey”. And a lot of that I’ve that I’ve described my frustrations with the church at the time, I put into that song. And I remember a friend of mine from college heard it, and we’re good friends. They’re a songwriter as well. And they were like, you know that until you like, I’m kind of offended because it’s like you lumped all churches together. It’s just one example of like, in the course of the conversation, this was kind of our argument. It’s like saying, well, real Christians aren’t racist, right? And so like, if someone is committing racial violence, that means that they’re not really committed to the teaching of Jesus. And I understand why people want to make that argument. You know, I wanted to make that argument too! When I was debating with the white friends I couldn’t keep. But it’s not helpful because it’s kind of like, well, first off, it’s a way about bypassing the harm that has been done by people who claim to be Christians, and by and by the church. I wish that I could be more articulate about it.

14:55

But it’s part of this dynamic that I named in the early part of the book, it’s like, I feel like that’s a part of the gaslighting, right is it’s kind of a way of shutting the conversation down, right? Because like you said, that idealistic version of Christianity where everybody gets it right, doesn’t exist. And the most prominent versions of Christianity that we have in the world is, you know, the kind of Imperial Christianity that, you know, has the Pope telling, you know, people that they can colonize, they can go into these indigenous lands and genocide people and all the other stuff that comes along with that.

I will say that like, there are other Christianity’s, right? Like, there’s Nat Turner’s Christianity, you know, there’s Frederick Douglass’ Christianity, there’s Harriet Tubman’s Christianity, then Dr. King’s Christianity. You know, there are pastors that walked the Trail of Tears with Indigenous people. There are Quakers who went around knocking on doors, you know, who were shouting down the slave system, abolitionists, like those exist, right? But there’s something kind of dubious about someone saying like, well, the Christians that dominated the world on the sweat and suffering of Black people are not real Christians. And then to have this nebulous, real Christianity out there, and they’re not participating in the types of Christianity’s that I just named. Does that make sense?

Jared: Yeah, it’s sort of like, we have, going through the dominant expression of Christianity had all of these into it. So, you don’t get to then opt out of the dominant form of Christianity and claim these marginal Christianity’s as though they’re the real Christianity when the data just doesn’t play out that way.

Andre: Yeah, like when I wasn’t… Okay, so there was a time when I’d never read James Cone. By the time I read James Cone, I was like, oh, my gosh, like, a lot of this is stuff that I felt but didn’t feel like I can say. Right, but so there’s, you know, liberation theology, all that kind of stuff.

So, there was a time when, like, the only theology that I knew was the systematic theology that I learned at Southeastern University. And, you know, the kind of like historical theology I learned at Fuller Seminary, and, you know, through all these other books. And there was a time when I didn’t think, along these lines, and I didn’t really understand systemic racism, right? So, when I thought about church history, and I thought about things like the Inquisition, or the Crusades and stuff like that, I didn’t feel like I could just be like, well, those people aren’t Christians. It just felt like that was a terrible moment in church history. And it’s not a type of Christianity that I practice or subscribe to. Right? But I’m never gonna, like, undermine the experiences of people who have been harmed, you know, by people carrying this banner. That’s just how I am. I just don’t think that it’s a, I think it’s a disingenuous position.

Pete: Mm hmm. It’s sort of convenient, in a way, to get out of some things. But so, I mean, with your theological work. And at one point, you thought you wanted to be an Old Testament professor. By the way, there’s a downside to that too, but still, so. So, you’ve done a lot of thinking about things, right, and I’m wondering if, do you think that, let’s say, systemic racism in the church, right. Is this largely cultural? Or are there, in your opinion, like theological underpinnings for that in the church?

Andre: I think that theology, or there have been Christian theologies that have been created in order to justify right, like, the interests of, yeah, the interests of racists.

[Laughter]

I’m trying to mince words here.

Pete: Well, I don’t have to do that here, go right ahead.

Andre: [Continued laughter] You know?

But so, I mean, they’re definitely you know, like, for instance, you know, like the Curse of Ham, for instance, you know, like that, that passage being taken out of context and people saying, okay, well, that meant that well, when Noah allegedly cursed Ham, he didn’t curse Ham, he cursed Canaan.

[Laughter]

But when Noah allegedly cursed Ham, that it turned his skin black, right? It doesn’t say anything about anyone’s skin color changing in that story, either, you know. But this is just an example of one of those theologies that was made up. And I find that when I was debating with the white friends that I couldn’t keep, many of whom I met at church, a lot of their rebuttals had to, were theological in nature. Right?

Jared: Well, maybe when you say that one of the things that comes up a lot in conversations that I have, is this idea that when we make things about race, then we’re being racist, but if we pretend that in God’s kingdom, right, this is a theological pronouncement: In God’s Kingdom, there is no race.

20:01

And so now, we’ve actually turned the oppressed into the dividers. You know, you’re the troublemaker for what you you’re the racist for bringing up race! Like, in God’s kingdom there is no race. What do you say to that?

Andre: So yeah, in Galatians, I can’t remember whether it’s Galatians 5 or 6, but it’s one of the favorite verses that people would lob at me and say, ‘well, you know, in the kingdom there’s no slave or free or Jew or Greek,’ and all that kind of stuff. And I’m like, yeah, do you realize that Paul was saying that because people were treating each other as though we’re superior because we are Jews, or we’re superior because… He was speaking into, like, the kinds of divisions of power that we’re talking about, you know? Although nobody wanted to hear that.

[Laughter]

Pete: [In a highly sarcastic tone]

It doesn’t matter. We’re all the same. There’s no difference between us.

Jared: It’s like this idea again, that if we pretend it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist. And so, you’re bursting the bubble by pointing out something that we’ve all agreed we’re going to pretend doesn’t exist.

Andre: Yes. Another one that was really interesting was, I mean, I have a list of these because I got used to like trying to really argue these points with people until I realized that they were just trolling me. And one that was interesting, because like the Exodus story, for instance, a pastor told me, he said, ‘Well, the reason that God freed the Israelites from Egypt, and that story is not because of slavery, but because God wanted Jesus to come from their bloodline. So, God had to deliver them so that God could complete this story later on and Jesus could come from their bloodline.’ And I’m like, you know, at the time, I’m like, you know, that’s really interesting, because God states, like, Yahweh is very clear about why he is going to Egypt, and what Yahweh plans to do like in Exodus 3:7, “I have heard the cries of my people in Egypt, because of their oppressors. I have felt their pain and I come to rescue them.” That’s what God said God was doing. So where did we get this? So, you know, so where did you get that?

So, I often found, you know, that there, there are sometimes historical, I think, you know, theological ideas that get passed down. You know, I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Jonathan Edwards, the founder of evangelicalism… I say that evangelicalism was born on the back of a slave receipt because the only thing that Jonathan Edwards had to say about slavery, we never really heard, but we found his notes, right. He was preparing to say it, he was preparing to write some kind of treatise because abolitionists were like, all kind of talking about him, you know, and kind of ragging on him because he was pro-slavery. And so, he bought this person and on the back of the slaves, he is starting to construct his arguments for, like, to defend his interest in slavery.

And it’s funny, I can’t remember off the top of my head what they were, but I remember at the time, when I read them, they sounded just like the same arguments that people were making in 2016 and 2017. It was so crazy, like, so you have those kinds of things that are passed down, and then you just have like, kind of nonsense like the, you know, that one like, ‘Well, God wanted Jesus to come from this bloodline,’ and so, you know, ‘forget what God said in the text about it.’ Like, ‘this is how the story has to work out.’

Pete: If I can just jump in here the, what I’m hearing pretty clearly is the theological underpinnings are there actually, to serve a prejudice. It’s not the other way around. It’s not like we’re just reading the Bible, innocently, it’s you read, the Bible is a pretty flexible book, you can find an awful lot of stuff in there, you can go to the same story and have two opposite views. And they both have some sort of an underpinning if you really look for it. But it looks like, I mean, the systemic racism in the church is such a deeply ingrained thing. It’s so old, and we’re used to reading the Bible a certain way. And, you know, so we say things like, ‘well, it’s all about going to Heaven anyway. So, we’re not going to worry about all this stuff.’ You know, ‘why polish the bronze on a sinking ship?’ as they say. You know, ‘the world’s going to hell, it’s coming to an end anyway. So, let’s just get souls saved and get them out of here. Doesn’t matter what color they are, they can be any color, let’s just get them saved. But while we’re here,’ you know, ‘we’re gonna have a caste system,’ pretty much. So, it really… I guess what I’m remarking on, and feel free to jump in, is how deeply ingrained these, you know, to paraphrase Paul, these walls of hostility are and we’re not even, it’s hard to become aware of it. Right?

25:01

So, how can we make people aware of it? Or, I mean, can we? Because it’s, it’s clearly not going to be a logical deductive argument, because this is about people’s narratives that they have in their head, about how the way the world works. Right?

Andre: Right.

Pete: This is this is a very, very hard thing.

Andre: And, like you said, people are so used to approaching scripture in a certain way, right, which is a lot of what your work is about, right, The Bible for Normal People. I read a couple of your books in seminary and they were super helpful for me, right. And I always felt like, beneath even talking about what the text says, they’re talking about how we approach the text in the first place. Right, which is a really difficult thing to do, I have felt, with people who are, with most people that I’ve talked to who are not going to go to seminary, not going to go to Bible college –

Pete: Right.

Andre: Because a lot of folks are just like, you know, taking what their pastor says to them and this is that. And even so, and even that is nuanced, too. I mean, having been a pastor for seven years in New York City, like, I also know that [light laughter] you can try to get your congregation to think more critically about how they approach the scripture, but the only reason that you don’t know that they’re not doing that is because you’re the only one allowed to talk on Sunday morning, right? If people felt more free to just like, raise their hand and say, ‘Eh, I’ll disagree with you,’ when we find that out.

And so, I mean, I was hoping that y’all might have some answers about this, because the question that I have been, that I have wrestled with for years now is how do, what do you fight bad theology with? You know, do you do fight oppressive theology with liberative theology? Right? And on what terrain is that battle fought? Because for, because the question of like, well, how do we get people to listen? My first thought is like, well, for the people who are, for those who have an ear, right, you can take them to the text and allow them to read it themselves and talk through that. But I don’t know how big that wedge of people is, you know, to have an ear. And like you said, if people are using theology to serve that prejudice, to serve that power…they tend not to be, they’re not really interested in rightly dividing the word.

Pete: No, they’ve already done it!

Andre: Yes, they cut it up just how they like.

Pete: They’ve already done that, right?

Andre: Exactly. Yeah.

Jared: But I think you guys are making a good point. And that is, because the Bible is ambiguous and diverse, how we approach it, and what we expect from it is what we’re going to get out of it. And so, there is this sense of, we have to be spiritually formed people, however we want to define that. We have to be wise people to rightly read a book of wisdom. And so, if we’re not wise, if we don’t have that consciousness, if we haven’t had those experiences, it’s going to be very difficult to read the Bible any way other than what’s been downloaded to us. That understanding the assumption of what it is. And I think, Pete, you raise a good point. I think one of the most harmful ways of reading the Bible when it comes to things like racism isn’t things that justify racism. It’s the things that make racism irrelevant. It’s this, we go to heaven when we die, so what does it matter? The whole point of this is to save your soul. Who cares if you have to go through life oppressed? You know, Jesus was persecuted, everybody’s persecuted. It’s really about getting your soul saved. Because it takes your eye off the ball. We’re not even on the same plane anymore. We’re on different, like levels of reality.

Pete: You’re not even playing the same game. Right, yeah.

Andre: Right, right. So for people who have an ear, I say, like, well, you should read or you should be reading, you know, theological perspectives that are different from yours, right? Like, not just different, but that come from people from different social locations, right?

Jared: Yes.

Andre: You know, it’s, no wonder, like, when somebody says, well, how did your perspective change? Or the deconstruction conversation a lot of people are having, for instance, you know, and so, like, they hear me talking about, like, God, I think was 2020, right, when I think there was like, there was some kind of property damage at a Target during the Black Lives Matter uprisings. And I can’t remember what the whole argument was, but I remember saying like, I don’t know, I think that God would burn all the Targets if it would set Black people free if that’s what worked.

30:02

And I know that some people like really had an issue with that. But I am a proponent of nonviolent struggle. But when I read Exodus, I mean, I see God engaging in property damage, engaging in sabotage, engaging in the type of radical actions that I would never plan or participate in.

And I think that it’s important to whether you whether you agree, you know, with me or not about God burning all the Targets, you know, that you can see how someone who, from my social location, sees our society as an evolved version of the same racial capitalist system built on anti-Black violence from centuries ago, might come to that conclusion. Right? And I think that it’s good for people to, you know, listen to like how folks in Latin America, you know, how they see God as a mother, right, like a grandmother. Or how, you know, Black people in the mid-20th century took the Exodus story and saw, you know, that story of them integrating into mainstream society is them crossing into the Promised Land and stuff like that.

Jared: It’s interesting, whenever you talk about the Targets of the world, that whenever we, it’s interesting that the people, in my experience, who had a real problem with violence at Target, and talked about how un-Christian that is, are surprisingly silent when, like, American military drops bombs in Afghanistan or Iraq, and not always destroy property, but actually killing civilians. It’s sort of like that’s brushed under the rug.

Pete: Or when Black people are being killed in America.

Jared: Right.

Andre: Yes, exactly.

Pete: Right. All that, yeah.

Jared: It’s an interesting hermeneutic in terms of how we interpret these events within our Christian framework.

Pete: Right. And, you know, what I’ve heard is, ‘well, he’s so angry.’

Andre: Yes.

Pete: I mean, my thing is, I can’t even relate. They’re probably, you’re angry for a reason. I can’t relate to the cause of the anger because I’m white skinned.

Andre: Right.

Pete: I can’t do that. And I think for, for having the conversations with white people, I think, I think me as a white male, what I need to do is actually, I can afford to do this—to be gentle. Because I’m like them, and to maybe give suggestive comments. I have a friend of mine, I have conversations. He is a friend of mine that I have conversations like this with him, because if I come across, like online as a social justice warrior, I don’t think it’s going to help, I think it’s going to further polarize.

Andre: Mmm.

Pete: And I’m asked sometimes by Black friends, why don’t you get more angry online? That’s the reason why. That’s not, that’s just signaling, you know, something that is, you can vent. But I’m going to alienate people at that point. You know, and the point is, how do we get from point A to point B? I don’t think everyone should be like that.

Andre: Oh, yeah.

Pete: I think we have to fight to pass laws and I think that people have to be angry, and they have to show the anger because it’s justified. But, you know, some of us, I think, have a different job to do.

Jared: Can you speak to that, about anger?

Andre: So, I want to talk about two things there because I talk about this in the “We Do Not Debate with Racists” chapter, is because I felt pressure to take that approach that you were just talking about, Pete, like with some of the white print that I couldn’t keep. And what I found was when I was doing that, it was like, it cost me too much personally, right? Because you’re looking me in the face and telling me that my experience is not real. I know that my experience is real.

And like, I mean, the guy is telling me like maybe chattel slavery wasn’t that bad. And when he says that he doesn’t picture me in chains, but I feel that and not only, I think I think there might be something to this epigenetically. I think that in my body, like, there’s a part of my body that remembers. Right?

Pete: Intergenerational trauma. Absolutely.

Andre: Yeah, exactly. So what I found, though, around that time was that you know, there’s this spectrum of allies, right, or a spectrum of support instead of there being like a binary of people who are for or against the thing. And on one extreme are the active, you know, supporters of the cause and then next to them are the passive supporters and then next to them are the neutrals and the next of them are the passive opposers and the next to them are the active opposes, right? So, on one hand you have people like me, you know? And on one end, you have Richard Spencer on the other hand, right?

Well, the folks on that far extreme like Richard Spencer are not even worth our time. Like, they’re never gonna move, never gonna budge. Don’t argue with them. Right? But the folks right next to them, the passive opposers, like, they they’re not in support of the movement, but they’re not actively opposing it. And you can’t speak to them the same way that you would speak to a passive ally, right?

35:06

So, like the folks on the passive opposer side, like, I don’t deal with them, right. But they, but someone needs to. Right? And it’s a lot harder work. But even though the work is really hard, the gains are also high there.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Andre: Because if you have somebody who’s on that side of the spectrum, and says, ‘Listen, I used to listen to Ben Shapiro every day, I used to listen to Candace Owens. I thought that these Black people need to just pull their pants up, and then they’d be safe in the police presence. But somebody walked me through, and I no longer believe that anymore.’ They become a very powerful spokesperson for those who work for anti-racist progress, right.

And so, you’re absolutely right, we all are not called to do the same work. You know, and I think that it’s admirable for people to understand that, like, it may be someone’s role to patiently walk with someone out of their really dumb anti-Black ideas. And it may look like friendship, you know, it may be friendship, right with someone who’s like, super problematic. And then it’s okay for others, like myself, who are like, listen, I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. I can’t do any more racial gaslighting. It’s not my job.

Pete: Right.

Andre: You know, and that is part of the misconception in our society is that we have this faulty theory of change that says, I need to go to Klan meetings, and hug klansmen until they realize that I too am a son of God. I was like, no, no, no, no.

Pete: Don’t hold your breath on that one either.

Andre: Yeah, yeah, no, not at all.

Pete: But you know, I think that’s very important what you’re saying here, and because the energy, you can’t hold the energy.

Andre: Right.

Pete: You shouldn’t have to hold it. I can go to, Jared and I can go to a white man and that person can be, I mean, clearly prejudicial and doesn’t even realize it. And I can say things like, ‘yeah, I really hear what you’re saying, I really get that.’ Right, even though I think I just want to punch this guy in the face. But, okay, I just ruined my whole tactic, because everybody thinks I’m actually not believing them. But you can’t do that.

Andre: No.

Pete: You shouldn’t do that. I can do that. I have the patience

Andre: I don’t have the patience for it, you know? And to your question, Jared, you know about anger, I didn’t feel like I was entitled to that rage for a long time, because I’ve been gaslighted so much. You know, and also like, when you’re going to church that we get this, sometimes we get this kind of idea that, you know, in order for you to be a real Christian, you have to be nice to everybody and everybody has to think of you as a nice guy.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Andre: And it was really, like, discovering… It was when I started reading James Baldwin, and reading and listening to Stokely Carmichael, and even like really listening to Dr. King. Like, if you really go on YouTube and listen to Dr. King’s sermons and look at his face, read his messages from The Radical King, this is a compilation from Cornel West. I mean, anger has always been a part of what makes Black people free, you know, it’s useful. You know, it’s like fire, right, like fire can be destructive, but fire can also be constructive.

Pete: Well, it’s part of the prophetic tradition, too.

Andre: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Pete: Jesus got pissed. I mean, so you know, what do you do?

Jared: Mm hmm. So, as we as we wrap up our time here, what are ways, you know, this phrase comes up quite a bit lately of decolonizing our faith or, you know, how do we, to kind of come full circle, if we want to have a more faithful expression of Christianity, if it can be saved, what, what might that look like? What are steps that people can take, that can start to, to practice their faith in these ways?

Andre: I mean, honestly, you know, I’m not an expert in decolonization, or decolonial theory and all that kind of stuff. And my experience has just been very personal, and that someone else has remarked on that in another interview, they were saying, like, you’re talking about decolonizing in this really personal way. And I’m like, yeah, because it’s been really personal. You know? I started learning that, I had a bunch of beliefs that had not been thoroughly interrogated. And they needed to be, right. If they were worthwhile, I would still have them, but they couldn’t stand the test of that. And so, you know, one thing that I would say is, okay, well, let’s start here. I was a patriot as a kid. I believed in America’s ideology and America’s self-portrait.

39:57

And I studied the history because I believed in America. I thought that if I looked into the history of America and race and all that kind of stuff, then I would still find America story to be true. And I didn’t.

Pete: Surprise!

Andre: [Laughter] Right?

I found it to be very different. And so, I would say, you know, for people who say, like, they want to, you know, go on that kind of journey to find the courage to do that, you know.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Andre: Read. Read the history, watch the documentaries, listen to the experts, you know, look into it. And you’ll find it, you know. If decolonizing in particular is a thing that someone’s thinking about, I mean, Frantz Fanon is like the person you know, like, that’s the big name in that conversation, it’s Frantz Fanon. And so, I mean, you can read, maybe Black Skin, White Masks is the place to start with and, you know, because I feel like Fanon is a revolutionary and psychoanalyst, and Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael, all of them were inspired by his work. But he really gets into, like, what happens in the mind of Black people and people of color in like society, and the pressure that we feel to assimilate, you know, and all that kind of stuff. So, I mean, that’s a good place to start.

Jared: Well, thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation with us.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And I think, again, part of it too, is we have to keep having the conversations. And so, thank you for the book and thank you for continuing to, I mean, in some ways, force the conversation, because sometimes people don’t want to have the conversations.

Pete: Yeah, sometimes just hearing it again and again, right, is necessary. So yeah.

Jared: All right.

[Music begins]

Stephanie: Well, that’s it for this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Before you go, we want to give a huge shoutout to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you.

If you would like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marking Director, Savannah Locke; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.

[End of recorded material]

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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