Last week, the annual meeting for The Southern Baptist Convention turned into an emotional referendum on white supremacy. It did not go well, at least at initially.
The leadership at first declined to review a proposal, submitted by a prominent black pastor named Dwight McKissic, to officially condemn white supremacy. The denomination played a key role in supporting and justifying slavery in the past, and the proposal was unflinching:
WHEREAS, this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples; and
WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation.
After a fierce in-the-room backlash that tumbled into online debate –white supremacist Richard Spencer tweeted his delight at the development - the SBC finally passed a revised version of the proposal. But the process was painful. (The Atlantic has an excellent play-by-play here.) These sorts of bureaucratic and emotional struggles are part of both church and American culture, explains Jeff Chu, a journalist turned student at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Progress is slow but happening, he says.
I spent part of Sunday with Jeff, a friend and former colleague, to help understand how the deep divides of race, class and sexuality are playing out in denominations across the country.
“I grew up Southern Baptist, so in many ways, they were my people,” he says of the recent dust-up. “I think many white Southern Baptists suffer from the same things many white Americans do, which is a sense of shame, a sense of discomfort with language that they see as overly strong.” But part of it is that they just don’t see the whole problem. “People say talking about racism is divisive? I say racism is more divisive. But when resolutions like this come up, these church-policy wonks find it really hard to understand them in a human way.”
Jeff began his journey from newsroom to pulpit with his book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Search of God in America, published in 2013. He crisscrossed the country to dig deep into the experiences of Christians gay and straight, some questioning, some welcoming, and others, like the “God Hates Fags” Westboro crowd, anything but. He long ago left the Baptist church, married his long-time partner, and now finds himself a 39-year-old summer intern at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, NY, a congregation open enough to accept him. “I have no idea what I’m doing!” he says, while he fusses over notes for his Sunday sermon.
Recently, Jeff got a taste of the cultural divide at the annual meeting of his own denomination.
Last week, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America passed a resolution that interpreted part of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the foundational touchstones of the church, to mean that marriage was only meant for a man and a woman. Though the resolution was only symbolic, it stung. “Never mind that there are some things we ignore or have reinterpreted in the Catechism," he says, citing teachings once used to justify persecution of Catholics and Anabaptists. “So some of us interpreted this as poking liberals with a stick, saying that there are more of us than there are of you. It wasn’t loving." Though the resolution passed by a narrower margin than similar ones had in previous years, “it’s where we are,” he says.
After the vote, some of his colleagues chose not to participate in the closing worship service. “Which is great for them, but sometimes people who are in the majority have a freedom to walk away that those of us who are not in the majority do not feel we have.” As an elder, Jeff had been invited to serve communion at the service. Torn, he took his place at one of five communion stations. “To participate in the sacrament…it’s a tremendous privilege. I wasn’t going to turn my back on that.”
What followed is an object lesson in allyship. “At one point I realized the other four stations were done serving and there were 25 people lined up at mine,” he said. Then the crowd stopped the line to offer prayers and blessings to him.
“I was just weeping because they knew where I was,” he says. “It meant so much to see so many people, especially of my generation – including young pastors from around the country– publicly make this gesture.”
After our conversation, Jeff stepped in front of a diverse group of parishioners and shared the news from the Synod. “It doesn’t change the ministry of this church, which remains as welcoming as ever,” he said. “But it reminds us that we haven’t achieved equality in the broader church.”
Then, after a short prayer, he turned to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which he described as “an invitation to be faithful and hopeful, to walk through life’s troubles together, to turn individual weakness into collective strength.” He said Romans was a letter to a community, meant to be read aloud and processed together, something that doesn’t happen often enough. “[W]hich leads us to a truth about hope: We can’t hold onto it alone.”
The State Department breaks an important promise to underrepresented recruits
Dozens of new recruits will no longer be in line for Foreign Service positions, despite having already completed two years of graduate level education plus an internship. The hand-selected women and “minority” recruits were part of two special fellowships that provided extensive education and experience in exchange for a five-year commitment to the Foreign Service. “These minority and female candidates already went through a competitive application process, meaning they are some of the best and brightest young graduates around,” explains Josh Rogin of The Washington Post. Instead, some candidates were shocked to discover that they’d been offered lesser jobs, like stamping passports in foreign offices, with no prospects of future diplomatic work.
Oregon adds a third gender option to its driver’s licenses
Starting in July, Oregonians can select M, F, or X – for non-binary – when identifying themselves on their driver’s license or ID cards, making it the first state to offer such an option. The Department of Motor Vehicles gathered commentary from people for and against the change; while there were only 12 negative comments, the ones in support were emotional. "DMV Administrator Tom McClellan choked up as he read letters of support to the commission,” reported the Associated Press, many of which included stories of being humiliated while misgendered in public or in medical settings. Said one official, "It's something we're not only doing because legally our hand is forced. It's something we should do because it's the right thing to do."
Medical schools hire transgender actors to help students become comfortable with trans-specific care
It’s more than just becoming comfortable with the unknown, although that’s part of it. There are real medical conditions specific to some aspects of the transgender experience that require special attention. While medical schools often use simulations and human actors for training, they rarely use transgender actors. Says Dr. Richard Greene, the director of gender and health education at NYU Langone Medical Center, it can make a difference. "Even those who had baseline knowledge of care for transgender patients before the study found that learning in this safe, simulated way added value in helping them provide more sensitive care for transgender patients."
Happy Juneteenth: The hidden racism in corporate kitchens
Today is Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, which celebrates the abolition of slavery in 1865. Shockingly, the practice of formal enslavement was still going strong throughout the Confederate South after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863. Last year I asked chef and food historian Michael Twitty to talk a bit about the dangers of Juneteenth-inspired menus in corporate kitchens. “People are trying to be sensitive by serving ‘classic’ soul food dishes,” he says. “But we can do better than fried chicken.” He then turned to the low-income folks work in food service. “What I know from my own travels is that the people who are working in the kitchens of the restaurants, corporations, schools and other big institutions are rarely the ones who are eating well.” But we end on a bright note – Twitty shares two authentic recipes created by once enslaved chefs.
The Woke Leader
On two decades of intersectionality. What’s next?
The term “intersectionality” is now 28 years old, coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to help explain the nuanced oppressions experienced by black women. From her original paper, the Columbia professor created the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-founded the African American Policy Forum – the think tank behind the #SayHerName hashtag about women and police violence. This excellent Q&A explores Crenshaw's original thinking behind the term. “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects,” she says, but not a grand theory of everything. She also digs into the post-Trump erasure of women of color in the conversation about wealth and opportunity. “What’s most problematic about the contemporary conversation is the complete irrelevance of women of color,” she says. “[T]heir economic well-being has been most impacted by deindustrialization, and by the de-funding of the public sector,” she says. “Why is the intersection of maleness and whiteness driving our analysis and not the intersection of being a woman and a person of color?”
A surge of new First Nation restaurants in Canada offers a delicious path to inclusion
The mix of fine dining with traditional indigenous ingredients sound like tantalizing additions to any city’s “restaurant row”- braised elk, seal tartare, balsam fir needles, venison and blueberry sausage. But it's been a long time coming. One chef points to the “healing in the community” that has come from a public apology to First Nations people in 2008, and the work accomplished by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Still, indigenous culinary stars face different roadblocks than other aspiring entrepreneurs, from financing to finding legal ways to source their game meats. The fact that the fare is so unfamiliar doesn't help. "Our food hasn't been accessible because we made treaties and agreements with the Canadian government, where we were put onto reserves and hunting and fishing was outlawed,” explains one chef. But the resurgence in interest in indigenous foods is, in itself, healing. Says Inez Cook, a restaurant co-owner, "Imagine growing up in your culture and never being able to eat your food in a restaurant.”
When talking about race, a picture says so much
Photographer Chris Buck published a photo essay in the May issue of O magazine which flips familiar racial and power dynamics between women or girls. In one photo, a wealthy Latina woman ignores a white maid pouring her coffee. In another, a little white girl looks at an endless wall of beautiful dark-skinned dolls. And one photo shows a row of laughing Asian customers ignoring the white women providing pedicures. The photographer aimed to spark a conversation about race and class, preferably in real life. But, as Quartz reports, the chatter happened immediately online, not all of it productive. “Y’all act like we force the [a]sians to do nails and y’all act like there aren’t just as many black dolls in the stores as white ones these days,” said one twitter user. And with that, many pairs of earrings were held.