To the Woman at the Red Microphone

One image I cannot get out of my head from last week’s General Assembly for the Disciples of Christ is the woman who went to the microphone in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” resolution. She announced that her church had met before the Assembly, reviewed the resolution, and voted to send her to tell the Assembly that the resolution should be renamed “ALL Lives Matter.” I suppose that stays with me because that scene, a church voting to change it to ALL lives matter, just sounds so thoroughly normal and unsurprising. That sounds just like churches I’ve been a part of.

I got a sense of disgust from the rest of the Assembly towards her words (maybe I’m just projecting my gut response, but I doubt that’s all it was). It would be easy enough to just call her and her church racist and turn our backs. But because I’ve been in circles like that, I really believe that doing so would not only be wrong, but it would be a terrible missed opportunity and counter-productive.

I do not believe she or her church were being willfully ignorant or racist. They just haven’t had the right conversations with the right people. So instead of punishing them (and churches like theirs) for that, we should be the ones having that conversation. If we really want to root out racism systemically, there is such an easy place to start: a huge chunk of our white population who are not racist, they’re just unaware.

I’m like that. But because other individuals have been patient and kind to me, I now automatically assume a posture of listening when I encounter something I don’t understand, rather than a posture of defensiveness, which I think is totally natural for white people to do when it comes to discussions of race.

It just so happened that last week at about the same time we were having this discussion at General Assembly, a post was made on reddit by a user called “GeekAesthete” and started making the rounds that explained things very well. So to the woman who stood at the red microphone during the vote on the Black Lives Matter resolution, to her church, to other churches that struggle with this, to myself, and to anyone who wonders why it is controversial and offensive to try to change it to “All Lives Matter,” I invite all of us to read this take:

“Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

“The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

“That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.

“The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work the way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.

“Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

“TL;DR: The phrase “Black lives matter” carries an implicit “too” at the end; it’s saying that black lives should also matter. Saying “all lives matter” is dismissing the very problems that the phrase is trying to draw attention to.”


And to everyone else who already gets it, if we care more about the success of this movement than we do about our own rightness on the matter, we need to be more patient and compassionate.


Sandra Bland and the Call to Move

By all accounts, my GA15 experience should have me floating on cloud 9.

And still…

Adam Hamilton​ is in the house tonight; we just passed resolutions affirming that Black Lives Matter, about the terror of the Charleston shooting and finally one against gun violence tonight; I’m surrounded by all these amazing people who have shaped and continue to shape my faith, and still…

Still I’ve got this vague feeling, like when you know something is not right and you can’t remember what it is and it haunts you and you cannot make yourself comfortable or restful or happy.

I realized… I’m thinking about Sandra Bland.

I’m haunted by her abuse and the incredibly dark questions that have yet to be answered about her death.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s identity is to be a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” It’s a wonderful identity that is very difficult to live into. It’s hard to move a body that is so big and so diverse.

At several points during our business meetings this week, good Disciples objected to resolutions because they would be “divisive” or “exclusionary.” But we cannot truly be Disciples while also being paralyzed by consensus. The world is broken, so utterly broken, and wholeness will not come until we move.

That means some will not be able to keep up or perhaps we will just have to leave some behind. We don’t do this lightly. We will spend all the energy and time that we can afford to bring everyone along. But our budget to do so isn’t without limit.

Because if we spend our energy carrying able-bodied folks, Sandra Bland will die again.

We follow a shepherd who had no problem leaving the 99 to find the one. So, yes, sometimes you have to leave people behind. It is a double standard. Absolutely. There is preference for those who are in danger. So for all of us who live in safety and privilege and abundance and security, the message is: “Tough, get over it. There are much more important things than your feelings.”

There are even things more important that unblemished unity. And that is a very, very difficult pill for Disciples to swallow.

So we have to move. We have to move to less familiar and extremely uncomfortable new territories. We have to make agonizing decisions about how fast to go at the risk of leaving some of the 99 behind. We have to trust that the shepherd, in the end, will gather them all up again as we tell them goodbye.

We have to. Because Sandra Bland is dying. We have to move.


GA2015 – A Post-Mortem for the “Church is Dying” Conversation

I’ll never forget when I was in high school and my youth minister came to me and said, “Brad, I have a topic for our Youth Retreat and wanted to run it by you. I thought it might be interesting to talk about Death. Do you think that’s too morbid?”

I quipped right back at him, “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of morbid.” At the time I was really proud of my wit, but now… well actually, I still think it was pretty clever.

My pastorally-minded youth minister knew two things: Death makes all of us uncomfortable, but it is worth talking about.

I’m at the 2015 General Assembly of my church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and I’ve been thinking about that quick conversation I had 17 years ago. It reminds me of the two things I love most about gatherings like this, as awkward and frustrating as they can be:

  1. I get to see so many of the people that have shaped my spiritual life (like my old youth minister!)
  2. We as a people are forced to have conversations that are difficult but ultimately so worthwhile.

Tonight we received a deep Word in worship. We received it as the youth of Light of the World Christian Church in Indianapolis performed a liturgical dance over the words from Isaiah 40 and a spoken word performance about facing our darkness so that we can truly soar on wings like eagles.

We also received this Word in the words of Rev. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan. Of all the words she spoke, these startled me the most, as she shared how the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston affected the words she wanted to share:

“Almost exactly a month ago the big fear was the dying church. Then we saw nine people die in church.”

Death. It is everywhere. We don’t want to but we need to talk about it.

As I’ve sat through workshops and worship and business meetings and a hundred reunions in the halls of the Columbus Convention Center, death has been all over everything for me.

You have to understand, to be a minister under 40 means that we have been groomed and trained and ordained and sent off into a world where the church has been dying for over 30 years. And I don’t think I’m alone in just being so weary of that conversation. I get it. I’ve seen the stats. And yes, I’ve got plenty of old high school friends whose lack of interest in the institutional church backs all that data up. But when I roam the halls of General Assembly and see so much life, I just want to say, “Yes, the church we’ve known is dying, but who cares?”

And that is the Word I’m receiving this week. I’m starting to hear the conversation beyond “the church is dying.” And, more importantly, I’m starting to see a church beyond the one that is dying.

The question has never been “will the church die?” The church — the healthy church, the 2,000+ year old movement that started with an execution — has been dying all along.

The question we need to be asking is “which church is dying? and what church is being born?”

Amy Butler’s words arrested me because I realized that if we can witness to a world stuck on Good Friday and say, “Yes, this death and pain are real, and no, I don’t have all the answers, but if we can just hold on for a few more days and stand face to face with the darkest hour of death, I know God is working on something great. God is cooking up new life.” …

If the church that is dying is the one where we leave certain people behind because they don’t look like us or think like us….

If the church that is dying is the one where we spend more energy on maintaining our place in the community instead of actually getting to understand the needs of our community…

If the church that is dying is the one that is afraid of who will leave if we speak out for those who don’t have a voice…


Well, I don’t really care if that church is dying. Because the church that is being born will be the church of hope against all odds, the church of resurrection, the church of Jesus Christ.