Bonhoeffer scholar and Christian ethicist Reggie Williams sits down with Mark to discuss Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience in Harlem in 1930-31 which provided a foundation for Bonhoeffer’s resistance of the racism of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer has much to say to the church today regarding race relations and speaking out against injustice for the sake of others.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host Mark Moore. And today on the show, we’re delighted to have Dr. Reggie Williams. Dr. Roger Williams is an associate professor of Christian ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Williams was with us on campus recently as the keynote speaker for our annual spring theology lecture. He’s a Bonhoeffer scholar, and has researched and written on Bonhoeffer his experience in Harlem in 1930, and 31, as a foundation for his resistance against the racism of the Third Reich, Dr. Williams and I explore issues of Bonhoeffer scholarship, and what the church can learn about race relations in the light of Bonhoeffer his experience, hope you enjoy the show.
Dr. Williams, it’s been just excellent having you on campus for the lecture for our annual spring lecture. And I’m so honored that you agreed to sit down with us on the podcast on Jessup think in, and I think the topic of your lecture and the topic of your book are so important. And such an important conversation for the church right now. In 2014, you published your book, Bonhoeffer is black Jesus, Harlem Renaissance theology and an ethic of resistance, which I just have to say at the beginning. That is a brilliant title. It just jumps off the page. And when you’re searching it on Amazon, can you see all these different Bonhoeffer titles? I mean, it just is illuminated. And and I think it’s illuminated because it’s an area of Bonhoeffer studies that we don’t know that much about, or at least within the, I’d say, the white evangelical community, I think, and that’s really interesting. Because it’s Bonhoeffer is kind of a celebrity within the evangelical community. And and there’s been a lot of writing about him a lot of biographies that have come out recently. And and I thought it was interesting, as we’ve been promoting your lecture and promoting the topic, majority of the students that I talked with, and the majority of others, were really intrigued by they had no idea that Bonhoeffer had an experience in Harlem with the black church that influenced and so kind of maybe a first question, why do you think this has been an overlooked aspect of Bonhoeffer studies?
First, Thank you, Mark, for having me here. It’s been a good time on campus with you all and with the students. I would throw that wider than the white evangelical community, why, why, why evangelical church or community or so forth? This is just an aspect of Bonhoeffer studies. On one hand, it’s also an aspect of the Western world. It’s the Academy in general, right. So it’s known it’s been known for, you know, as long as people have been studying Bonhoeffer that he came to United States. But it’s not been very clear. As to the impact of that time on him. Some may think that perhaps there isn’t anything theological, substantial, that would come from an encounter with the black church. There is a biography actually a movie, a documentary, there’s a documentary about haffer. I mean, I like the documentary is very good. When it gets to Harlem. It’s a very popular one. And I feel hesitant to name him because he’s a friend. Doing that documentary that’s this one is a very popular one. When it gets to New York, it talks about the emotional impact of the church. So Abyssinian Baptist becomes a spot where Bonhoeffer kind of comes in touch with his emotions. interest. Yeah, and that’s it. Yeah. And it leaves it just that’s it. He, I mean, the quote is that Adam Clayton Powell senior taught his parishioners to be emotional in their worship. In Bonhoeffer comes into contact with his emotions. No mention of the Harlem Renaissance, no mention of him studying the Harlem Renaissance, no mention of there being anything else in black church life but emotion. And Bonhoeffer is a scholar. He’s a theologian is a world class theologian, although in Germany, and some of the scholars are skeptical about him as that kind of theologian because he didn’t write, you know, the massive volumes of no pen and Berg are boatmen apart, although they didn’t really respect Bart at university Berlin at the time, didn’t have his PhD, but You know, Adolf von hanok, or reynoldsburg? Are these these massive tomes he these others have written. But I mean, he can get some slack. It was there, right, you know, and he was doing some work in, in the confessing church movement. But he’s but clearly recognized as a world class theologian. What could the black church have offered to a scholar of that stature? And clearly, it did quite a bit in there is more than emotion within the black church.
Right. And I think that you make that point really well in your book in the first couple of pages that for Bonhoeffer in his experience in Germany, and so many of his friends, so many of his colleagues, so many of his professors, and the gentleman that you’ve just mentioned, got it wrong, didn’t see what was happening in Germany didn’t speak out against it. But he did. And you kind of pose that question, meaning how did he, by himself Get it? Right? And, and when you get into the story, I think it is really easy to make that clear connection. He had an experience in Harlem and experience of American racism, that that gave him the knowledge, the language, the and maybe even emotion, right? emotion, to then speak into that. And I think it’s, it’s good just to kind of maybe remind our listeners, and Bonhoeffer is history. So he comes over to America in 1932 31. And he was at Union Theological Seminary, Sloan fellowship. And it’s in that that he meets a student, Albert Fischer. Right, who takes him to introduces him to Harlem. And you you mentioned in in the subtitle, with the Harlem Renaissance, what what’s happening in Harlem, at that time that, you know, maybe just before Bonhoeffer gets there, and that he experiences that that really does influence him. Sure. Well, to set the stage, there are a couple of things that are happening.
One very negative first 1929, stock market crash, the Great Depression hits, that happens before he gets there just before he gets there. With the turn of the 20th century, from the turn of the 20th century, black people have been migrating from the south to the north. Great Migration is about Wilkerson in her magisterial book, The Warmth of Other suns, Warmth of Other suns, details this whole thing. It’s really kind of several great migrations, and this is around the first big wave, large numbers are coming to Harlem. So the Harlem Renaissance is a moment of awakening, or one might say, self defining that’s happening in a global black world. Harlem is the destination of choice. It gets the name of the names the movement. So it’s happening in literature, in music, in Visual Arts, politics, that’s all happening at that time. Some of the names that come from that time, wb Dubois as a mentor, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, county, Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston. Palmer, Hayden, Lois, Mel, email you, Jones, there’s a number of big names that are coming from that time of artists and Duke Ellington right back. Then some of the other major names are escaping me at the moment of the musicians, and so on. But it’s a significant moment. That all happens before Bonhoeffer gets there. He gets to read roughly about the mid middle of the Harlem Renaissance. What’s also important to know is that because it was really a western world phenomenon, that takes the name of Harlem because of ism as a moment, it’s happening in Chicago, in in Washington, DC. It’s actually this significant element of it happening in Paris. It’s influenced Germany. So Bonhoeffer comes to the United States, after the soldiers fighting in World War One took jazz to Germany. And France, so he’s familiar with some of the aspects of it, which I would figure is probably some of the reason why he wanted to be in New York. He could have gone to lots of different places when he was an exchange student, but he chose New York.
Yeah, I chose. Yeah. That’s great. And for him to Yeah, to, to choose that location and to have that experience, and then to be able to speak in To what was happening in Germany. Yeah, and and I think it is really important for you to know that it was something that wasn’t just happening in Harlem, but it was happening all over the US. And in many ways that was a response to the deep racism that was also happening sure throughout the US. And you note that that Bonhoeffer was when he came, he was deeply distressed by right the racism he saw, and, and even with his, with his friend, Albert Fischer, and that I read a story of them going to Washington DC, right and being refused at a restaurant. And he left with his friend. And he started to kind of see that in, and just even the events that kind of happened within America, in the, in the 30s. You note the kind of the Scottsboro nine that that Bonhoeffer was that he read about and saw and was was deeply distressed by and as, as I was reading that in your book, I kind of made a connection with my, my, my own childhood and a small country town in rural Indiana, where I grew up. And, and growing up there, I thankfully, I had wonderful parents and grandparents who were not racist and not prejudice and and taught me very well. But I knew the history of our of the city. And, and part of our history was that we had the last lynching north of the Mason Dixon line. So Indiana is in the north, as this small town called Marion, Indiana. And I knew that was a part of our history. And we talked about it that the town didn’t talk about it that much. But as I was reading your book, I, I, I got intrigued by that. And so I went back and looked because I had always thought that happened, maybe early in the 20th century that Adam Smith, and I’m sure it was so and, and and when I read those names in your book, too. I was like, wow, this is and when I looked it up it that the lynching of you have Thomas ship enabled, isn’t specified the that happened. I thought maybe 19 1519, even at the at the latest. And it happened August 7 1930. So within a month of Bonhoeffer arriving in America, actually, within a few weeks, yeah, within a few weeks, and and you note that that was and there’s a very disturbing picture that that came from that event that was nationally publicized, and and does become kind of the basis of the poem, Strange Fruit and then the Billie Holiday song. And, and when I noticed that, I just, you know, for me that that connection with a small town, and rural Indiana that was in the north, that is predominantly conservative and Christian. And that’s, that’s a part of our history. And that’s a that’s a part of the history that Bonhoeffer comes into and sees. Right, and and experiences. And then takes that back to Germany.
Yeah. What’s that? Thank you for correcting the damages doing that off the top of my head Thomas. Thomas Smith and even shipped the there was a survivor of that. Yeah. When who wrote he wrote a book about that whole experience, right. James? Cameron? Yes. Yeah. being locked in the prison as the white people came banging on the windows in the doors with their extra legal, extra legal procedures, right. I mean, there’s a euphemism for lynching. Right. Yeah. Right. But that that whole history of lynching in the United States did not contradict the tradition of Christianity that gave rise to or that gave license to the transatlantic slave trade. Right. It didn’t contradict it. It was very consistent, you might say. And so this is one of the things about one of the things about the broader themes of Christianity in the United States, popular streams of Christianity, United States that can continents or that can can tolerate massive amounts of cruelty and injustice, right. That it, it seems to it works along the lines of right belief of doctrine. You may know this, you may know the story that when enslaved started becoming pretty At first white people in the state before the days they were designated as white, they understood themselves as Christian. And they are their property, either enslaved property is or becoming Christians. The Christians hold Christians in bondage. They worked out in agreement that the enslaved would expect life after death. And that being a Christian didn’t remove or change their situation on Earth, what it would have did was effectively disregard embody embodied conditions. Yeah, it’s a Christianity about doctrine, right belief. So that once one will once one comes to a belief in the right kinds of things, they may be considered Christian and expect the reward in heaven. It is apathy about embodied encounter embodied life. That’s all that’s a tradition of the faith. Right? It’s a very broad and popular tradition of the faith. But enslaved Christians took Christianity in another way. There’s a wonderful passage in Toni Morrison’s book Beloved, where she details this sermon in the clearing by a preacher on a plantation, called baby Suggs. In in the clearing, baby Suggs preaches this sermon, about loving your flesh, loving your hands, yonder, they just assumed cut off your hands, but you must love your hands, you know, love your your neck, love your inner parts, love your body. It pays attention to embodied reality. The conditions of life right now. That’s another tradition of Christianity. That would be the kind of the kind of Christianity that Bonhoeffer encountered in that black church. It was also something that was familiar to him, because that was kind of the that was the content that he was arguing for. Contextual, historical, embodied reality, not right belief, because when you when Christianity is about belief, only, doctrine, belief only. You one can consider oneself faithful to God, or good Christian before you have any interaction with human life. And it’s any daily encounter that Jesus says, Love your neighbor as yourself. He says to the lawyer, who asked him, What must I do to inherit eternal life? He tells him the story about the Good Samaritan says go and be like him, the man who actually did something about the person who was beaten and harmed and be like him. That’s what she that’s what? Your neighbor? Yeah, he’s a neighbor. Yeah, he’s who he is what God wants from him, you know, not about the priest and the Levi, who may have been justified by religious, you know, devotion. That’s not what is asked for. These are very alive in the in the history of the United States, these traditions. So that’s, this is one of our encounters with black tricksters that pays attention to embodied reality.
Yeah, and you and you make the statement. And this was kind of understanding the, the, the white church at the time, kind of in the 30s. But I think it’s a statement that man that speaks to has, has extreme relevance for the church today said, at most liberal, White’s failed to see white supremacy as a matter for Christian attention. And as a consequence, they ignored the constant dangers of daily life in America for black people. Right, but avoiding racism was not a choice for African American Christians who were subject to it on a daily basis. Right. And it does seem to be a really interesting aspect of that history that, that I think, speaks today that, that the Christians at the time didn’t connect the to that, that they didn’t connect white supremacy or our power structures that were that were bent towards making white keeping white and power. The they didn’t connect that as a matter of faith. And and I think you make a really good distinction of when when you have just maybe belief or these without action. And and especially if something is not affecting you on a daily basis, you can ignore it as a matter of faith. But, but for the black community, it wasn’t it wasn’t something they could ignore what’s happening,
right. I mean, think about what’s happening even today. What may be happening on the border with families and children now being separated. The shooting that happened here in Sacramento And when it happens to him after he’s been killed, and his History is brought up as justification for what happened, these kinds of things. How does one’s faith in God speak to these situations? Does it say anything to them? If it doesn’t say anything in one can move on, in the face of all of this happening around us on a regular basis, people being harmed as a result of rhetoric that dehumanizes them. Right. But we have a faith that’s talking about what life after death? What does the faith say to us? What is within the realm of Christian responsibility? Now, these are an ignore, but they cannot be ignored these kinds of things, at least, the witness of Bonhoeffer, as he understood the black church speaking to conditions in the United States at that time, these are not just old traditions, they’re contemporary ones as well. Yeah, what the So what, what folks in say, the Harlem Renaissance, at that time, were Christians, who were paying attention to harm to the harm of white supremacy. And then there were folks that were black folks who said, I don’t wanna have anything to do with the church, you praying about heaven? While hell is happening on Earth, you know, Christians, black people recognizing that something has to be done about the conditions that we are living in? Is Christianity, something that just sedates us? Or does it move us to action. And Powell was one who definitely called for action, as a component of faith.
And I love the story you told in your lecture, of pow, riding down the street, in a nice new car in Harlem. And, and and seeing the effects of the Great Depression, right? And seeing that hunger and then thanking God, why don’t you do something? And then hearing loudly that voice from God? power? Why don’t you do something right? When are you going to do something? So good? And yeah, and you see that in him that move towards action, that move towards something must be done. And you describe kind of what Bonhoeffer learned in Harlem and then took back to Germany. You describe it as Christ centered, empathic resistance. Yes. Can you explain that? Yeah. Explain that for the listener.
So the term that I mean, describing in that moment is what Glen Stastny taught me, who was my mentor and Christian ethics, he was the one who trained me on Christian ethics. He’s defining a word that Bonhoeffer developed called self retreating. This is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Self retracting, is described when we in our sin and shame couldn’t stand before God, Christ stands in for us, Milford shaitan is, as some scholars define it, vicarious representative action, Jesus is vicariously representing us before God before each other. For everyone we encounter self worth. Glenn took that a bit further, empathic representation as well, because Christ not only stands in for us, he enters into our situation, seeing the need for justice there and embraces us and encourages or actually guides us to do the same thing. To be a follower of Christ is to be as Christ is to do what Christ does empathically entering into the encounters of others. And so I was describing empathic resistance. So an empathic resistance of injustice is just that stepping into other’s shoes, seeing the needs for justice, they’re resisting, as a result of seeing the needs that someone else may have for justice, joining in with them to resist the forces that harm them. Right, so empathic resistance. I’m using a concept by a psychologist, Ernie Gani, Martin Hoffman, who describes this condition, he describes empathic distress and one way of this one way of looking at that is imagining a child walking with her mother. She sees the child’s a five year old child sees a six year old boy crash on his bike, scraped his knee. The little girl walking with mom then grabs mom’s leg and cries. She’s feeling something that’s more that is descriptive of what happened to that child. And it’s distressing for her That has implications for the way we engage each other in society. Right? Does it distress me? When my neighbor is harmed by injustice? Do I it does it does it move me at all, I can see that in that be moved at all. There’s something that is amiss within us. It was that kind of distress. That, you know, we I would say happens with a BA Hoffer that encourages growth in change in him. And it’s that kind of distress that in can encourage growth and change in us. It’s again pointing back to the to the Good Samaritan, the Compassionate Samaritan, he sees the man beaten and harmed in the bitch, and he can’t pass him by. Right. It’s he’s distressed by what he sees. He has to go do something to relieve the condition that’s there. I think if that is the way we imagine Christian life happening, that we are distressed by the harm that happens to people in our midst, we must act on behalf of their well being. We’re doing something I think that this this descriptive of Love your neighbor as yourself,
right. And we usually stand up for injustice when it’s against ourselves. Right? Like we’re we’re quick to point out when we’ve been wronged, right? But yeah, this whole point and then and what Bonhoeffer embodies is starting to speak out for injustice happening to my neighbor, yeah. And being able to step into their shoes and go that route. And that is that is such a good message, right? For us in such a good message for the church in America. And particularly, maybe the white church in America. Does that I think that’s a great question to ask ourselves, does it distress you to see injustice happening?
are we concerned about right belief, right? problem with the with a Christianity of right doctrine, right? belief, righteousness, meaning hyper individual morality, is that we can just we can then blame someone for their condition for their situation, right? Maybe they don’t believe right. You know, if they believed right, then maybe God would treat them better, or so or so forth. Right. It’s a rich, it’s a it’s a, it’s a Christianity, a retributive justice that God gives to each person what they deserve? Well, maybe the reason why I’m living a good life is because I’ve earned it. Yeah, in some some way or another. Yeah.
And it’s really interesting within the within the evangelical community, that that in many ways prides themselves on salvation by grace, for salvation by faith. Often when we kind of peek into our ideology or our lives, we realize we kind of bring works and we’ve kind of make right beliefs a work, and if you have that you will prosper. And if you don’t, yeah, you must be doing something wrong. And, and we don’t take into account often the systematic injustice that is happening to others. And we don’t view that as a as a part as a matter of faith. And we don’t speak into that.
Yeah. What do we do with Jesus is claim blessing to those who mourn, right? Oh, bless it to those who hunger and thirst. We lay those things aside, perhaps as indication that none of us can do the things that Jesus asks of us that God asked is asking of us in Jesus breath. I have an idea on possible high ideals that demonstrate that we must rely on grace because Jesus went to the cross on our behalf and stands in. I mean, it’s a distorted style for typing. But that if Jesus stands in our place, and that’s work that’s done for us by God, when in fact, those are that’s, those are indications of what God is doing. In in with us those not high ideals. hungering and thirsting are people who are longing for the kingdom. Now this is, these are the one might even say that it’s a is a kind of a virtue present in people who are expecting God’s work. And then after the Beatitudes comes, of course, the sermon on the mount which are commands, expectations on our lives. Bonhoeffer recognize that that was in his book, cost of discipleship that he he lays out, Martha King Jr. Recognize that? I mean, even Gandhi recognize that there’s others many others who are Clarence Jordan with a book called the cotton patch gospel talking about the Sermon on the Mount. As a man who led a village in France, and his name is escaping me right now he wrote a book called The War of the Lamb. It was loose. Shambo was the village, it’ll come to me, trust me. Trust me, how was his name? His book is detailing how the Sermon on the Mount is commandments for us to follow. As folks who recognize how to live what Jesus is asking for us to do often. who passed the test is Glenn would say pass the test in the laboratory of history. So what let me explain that for a moment. One might be a wonder, then how do we know what to do? In troubling times, to discern the will of God? How do we how do we know what we’re supposed to do? Well, there are moments in history where it hasn’t been so clear for Christians in in many Christians passed the test, or should they fail the test and in some passed the test. And when we look back at them, we can say Okay, that was they they did the right thing. How do they know what to do? There are some indicators oftentimes. One is their Christianity was embodied. It wasn’t right belief only. Right. Take for example, I was talking to a young man about this last night, after the lecture. The story of Harriet Tubman, a Christian woman in slaved in a Christian country, the church that she was, the Christianity that you might say she’s devoted to, was the kind of Christianity that snuck away, to pray and worship. At their own risk. he snuck away to worship in his Albert rabbit, Tony’s book, slave religion details, sometimes they hang wet blankets, to keep sound from getting out and put a lid it’s just interesting. They put up a big bucket in the middle of the room, oftentimes in expectation that that would help to catch the sound was, there was some, some beliefs around how to keep things quiet. Sometimes they would kneel in circles with the preacher in the middle, they would whisper their sermon whisper their prayers. All of this as Christians worshipping in a Christian country and in Christian country. Yeah, the dilemma. I mean that the irony is amazing. But it was a different kind of Christianity in that tradition within that Christian community. They recognize that all of God’s children are valuable in God’s eyes. She was a fugitive with the Christianity was fugitive, stealing property and bringing that property into a community where they would be recognized as human life as God’s people’s God’s children. Looking back at that, you know, I should say most Christians today say Harriet Tubman was right. No, people with them head on straight. Right? recognize that she was right. Right. How did she come to see that?
Andre truck me and leash on bunk was a village of French Huguenots. These are Protestant, French Christians, who historically were killed by Catholic Christians in France. When the Germans invaded France, this village have, you know, more than 300 people save one Jewish person, per each person that lived in the village, over 300 Plus, Jewish people were saved, knowing that it could mean their their death. How did they get that right? Well, the Huguenots had a history of persecution by the government. They knew that was what they needed to do. Now, Bonhoeffer is one of those as well. Christians in the civil rights movement. Christians in the south described Christians, like the civil rights movement as agitators. You know, breaking the law is immoral. How do you decide willy nilly which laws you’re going to obey and which ones you’re going to break? out? King and the civil rights movement recognized that not all laws are Christian or in obedience to the will of God? How do you discern that? Oh, laws like enslavement. You know, fugitive laws about slavery and so forth. Were not moral. They were not what we should have. As Christians, we listen to God. I mean, of course, not forgetting that Jesus was himself killed by the state as a law breaker, right? These moments are parts of traditions. There’s a line one might draw between Harriet Tubman. Andre choke me more than the King Jr. With about faith and about adherence to the will of God and about following Christ, there’s a clear line that’s that points to embodied life, love your neighbor, go and do as the Samaritan did. That helps one to see clearly in in our moment right now. Which tradition? Are we? Do we find ourselves in? What tradition of Christianity? Are we within? Are we within that tradition of Christianity? That called Harriet Tubman, a fugitive and a criminal? You don’t want to agitator or a saint?
No, that’s such a good question to pose to the church right now. Again, and to ask ourselves that question, and, and I hope to, and we hope right that the church would get it, right. Yeah. And, and I do think that stress is really important, and really important for the evangelical community that does stress, belief and doctrine, right? That idea of embodied belief, right, embodied that it can’t just be this belief, or a system that keeps you moral, and gets you into heaven, in this personal righteousness, but it must be embodied and when it is embodied, then you then you start to be able to realize that I don’t have a choice, I need to speak up when others when injustice is happening to others, right, as a matter of my faith, as a matter of my faith actually living itself out in this world.
Yeah, in it, it’s belief is important. Not to keep us devoted to tradition, not to keep us devoted to doctrines alone, what one might say, is orthodoxy, to keep us devoted to Orthodoxy alone, that’s a missing Rep. This is people who mean they would read Paul, and and think that Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved as all that matters to be a Christian. But how one believes the evidence of one’s belief is, is what’s important. And it’s important to recognize that we have our Christianity in the context of a nation that was built on in justice, to wrap one’s mind around that as a truth of the story of the nation, is to recognize that we are in evidently inherently, within traditions that are part of the nation at its birth. We have to acknowledge this. I mean, it’s easy, it’s easy to say that, you know, I was raised in a family, my parents, my family, you know, we we live this kind of life and so forth. And which is how I become the person that I am today. I’ve had to address my childhood, you know, embrace my childhood, maybe break away from my childhood is old. The stories of my family that formed me, are still with me, somehow, some way and I make myself I make my life today, but I’ve had to address my childhood, either for good or for ill. Right. No choice there. Well, that family that I grew up in, didn’t come out of nowhere, right? You know, that family was connected to other families connected to other families connect to other families and each of us through generations are addressing stories that formed us hundreds of years in the making. It’s it’s unfortunate for us to record to miss the fact for example, when doing the US History 16 1920 odd. Africans show up Jamestown for sale from 1619 to 1865. The laws were on the books that African people of African descent were property, not human life, three fifths human bought and sold 1619 to 1865 1865 to 1964 is 1964 overt laws, racial laws on the book overt on the books are discrimination. So that’s from 1619 to nine pins 64k then you get from 1964. To one might say 2016 things look like some significant progress is happening. And then 2016 with the election of Donald Trump, now you’ve got this resurgence in, one might say, overt racial hatred, a resurgence in it. But if you taking a look at from 1619 to 1964. There, it was overt on the books. This is just the way it is in the United States. And then we come along, you know, I don’t know exactly how old you are. But not knowing I like to keep it a secret keep it a secret. We come along with our little bit of time here. As though we can ignore the fact that hundreds of years of overt racial descriptions, overt racial laws, are part of the fabric of the country. There is no way to not be impacted by that. Right. It’s just no way. Right? It is the story of the country. No one is accidentally anti racist, you’re not it doesn’t have an accident. Right? One has to be overt or intentional in this in for, for us the for from most folks in United States. It is a question of how you understand the way of Jesus West whether or not you see that as sin as a problem that must be in addressed, you know, within our understanding of salvation. It’s it’s, it’s the question of hospitality, to some degree. Is hospitality. a requirement that one might say, for your eternal salvation? Is hospitality, a component of soteriology of salvation? The Matthew 25, Jesus as it is, right now, you might say that, we like to, like, skip that part, skip that part. Right, right. When when
a lot and his family came into Sonam people point that people try and make that a story about homosexuality. But in fact, a lot told those When the angels came into Sodom, a lot told the angels to get out the square and bring them to us, bring us to his family and bring him into his house. And it was because of lots hospitality. His family was saved. The stories and the words in there are numerous in the Bible, where generosity and hospitality are evidence of someone’s of God’s favor on someone. And it’s clear in Matthew 25. Yeah, that you didn’t take me in when I was a stranger, right? You didn’t visit me in prison? You didn’t give me something to eat, you know, you didn’t clothe me. Hell is made for you. Right? Yeah,
there’s a homeless shelter in Sacramento that I work with in their mission statement is the Matthew 25 passage, the firm. And that’s exactly what they do. And it’s really interesting that they could do that. And it would be like, Wow, this is so novel, what do you do? And it’s like, this is like, exactly what Jesus said to do. This is what it means to be saved. Yeah, this is what it means to be a follower. Right? And to be a disciple. Right. And it’s, it’s really interesting to me, that that bond hoppers experience and kind of bringing it back to Bonhoeffer and his experience in Harlem lays that foundation for him to see that this is a vital aspect of the Christian faith.
Yeah. Yeah. He calls it status confessing on this. Yeah, that was a defining moment for us as Christians.
When he goes back to Germany, he sees this mix of race and nationalism, and, and enforcement and kind of, and he he says, No, this is wrong. And I have to speak out against it.
Right. Before he goes over there as a couple of things that are fascinating to think about, too. He. He’s an expatriate. I mean, he’s a pastor to an expatriate congregation in Barcelona, Spain, delivers three lectures and 20 sermons during that time that he’s there’s but a year and a half or so. One of the lectures he talks about war, and activity during war time, that murder could be sanctified. Killing can be justified for the sake of my people. Okay. And then when he comes back, he writes in his catechism I was mentioning last night because ethnic pride is sin against the Holy Spirit. In that Christians must act on behalf of their neighbor, meaning push back against polit political structures that are harmful. That stuff he gets in Harlem. In addition to this one, he says that the Christian prays only for peace, no war stuff any longer. And there is no question. I mean, this is coming right on the heels of him returning from New York, right, that time period was significant for him. So listening to what happened to him in Harlem, about violence, and racism. Now, given clear, concrete grounding in his understanding of the way of Jesus, and strong advocacy, for people harmed by racism.
When Dr. Williams, I could talk to you all day, literally, it would be nothing more to bring me joy than to stay in the studio, I’m sure you’d want to go home to your family, things like that. I do want to also be home to my family at some point. Yeah, I appreciate this, this conversation. And we’re really excited with this podcast that we have one of our students here, and she’s the president of a Black Student Union here on campus. Miss diamond. And she’s actually got a question for you that will kind of end with this question from diamonds.
Yeah, so my question was, you guys have used the terms black church and white church? Is that something that we should be worried about when it comes to being relational? Or is there actually something good that comes about and gathering with your own race,
we can start from going backwards, there’s, there’s something good that you get from gathering with your own race. mean, there’s lots and lots of studies on this. And people like to quote King on this at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings, most segregated hour of the rank. It has been that way for a very long time. And I teach a course at McCormick about the on the mission of the church. It’s a second semester for a year long study of incoming seminary students to orient them to theological studies. And some, there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Sometimes it’s inevitable that a church is mano racial. Some of that could be its location. Some of my students may get called to pasture in rural Iowa. You know, it’s a white church out there, or the church that I attend on the south side of Chicago. It’s a black church, Trinity United Church of Christ. Sometimes these are the the natural demographics of the environment. In those situations, white church, for example, may just be the body’s present. But it’s also not absent of the ideologies of human difference that are present within those communities. That’s not so good. When the ideology of human difference shapes strongly, the way we understand the way of Christ and the mission of the church, especially if it’s mapped on the, onto the traditions that have been harmful within the country. What is whiteness? This is a question that the boys asks in an essay, the ways of white folks back in 1919? Or sorry, 1919 2993? No, no, no, no. I’m doing without my notes. He wrote this in 19, after he comes back from the meeting of the Treaty of Versailles, in 1990. Cases 1921 is whiteness that one should want it. If your tradition is white church is not in is not inherently working to a dress that is probably a part of the worship. But your question is, how should we be worried about this? And it’s a tough question to answer on one in one respect. Yes. We should be worried about it. How do the how does that the historical realities of white, black racial demographics and so forth? influence our worship? And how we gather How do they influence that? black churches and I’ll say this, this this this, I’m gonna use the language here that it’s really nuanced to pay attention to what’s going on. black churches are historically separated my one might say, but not segregating i n g. Do not practice. segregation as a political good. White Christianity has historically this kind of a problem with it. This is what started the AMA church, African Methodist Episcopal Church with Allen, Richard Allen and Absalon Jones, being pulled from their knees and a part of the church that have been designated as whites only. And they leave the church and start the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a black denomination, because of white supremacy, you know, black people sneaking away into the woods while enslaved to worship without the presence of white people who their Christianity was part of the political structure that said that enslavement is God’s order. traditions of white and black church deal with that those historical realities that are that remain present today. While slavery is no longer part of the of the national order, the ideology that went to support it is not dead. So how does one’s worship address those nefarious realities that are present? That’s kind of what we see is white and black church? There’s a long answer in your partial answer. But I would say both yes and no. to that. And so I mean, generously ambiguous answer.
Now, that’s a really good question. I think it’s a good question for for us on campus at Winn Jessup to begin to have a conversation about and to begin to talk and and just thank you again, Dr. Burns for coming here and, and really helping us maybe give shape to this conversation.
I want to just one more thing in response to that question. Something to be worried about inside of the question is also the concern about whether or not talking about race is a problem created as a problem? It’s important to recognize No, right. Yeah, addressing the traditions and history are important. They have to be
yes. Yeah, they do. And that conversation is really important and is one that needs to be had in and it’s one that that our nation needs right now. And thank you for being part of that conversation. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup.
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