“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Richard Rohr
My first interaction with a white American was my home-room teacher Mrs. Strickland. And like Jacob meaning supplanter or Esther meaning star, I wish I knew at 9 years old that God still speaks into our stories through the names of the people in it.
Mrs. Strickland was exactly that – a rough welcoming to a strict land – where my lack of English and my lack of whiteness proved to be a good enough reason to be mistreated.
On multiple occasions, while my classmates were outside playing, I had to remain in the classroom to clean up after the lighter students. Mrs. Strickland’s message was clear: my only contribution to the class (and maybe even to the whole of society) was as janitor.
That was the first time I encountered white supremacy.
And the first time that I knew I was never really wanted here.
Por favor, do not take pity on me for such a statement. I am actually more empowered because of it.
You see, I found Jesus in a Billy Graham crusade when I was 13. But I almost lost him in the political crusade of Franklin in 2016. I found the Spirit in my Charismatic and Pentecostal tradition, but I almost lost him when its leaders told me Trump was the anointed one.
I lost my job at the church I planted with my friends.
I lost many of the amigos who supported me while preaching there.
I lost the invitations to conferences and special gatherings.
But the God I thought I was finding… found me in the wilderness.
Yes, there is a high price to be paid for being yourself. There are legitimate repercussions for wandering and doubting. But trust me my friend, the Christ is close to the broken-hearted. He sets the lonely in families. And he will remain faithful… all the way to the end.
And because he is faithful, I get to be honest.
These days, I prefer being misunderstood than being silent.
In my teenage years I went to Christian conferences where I was asked to make commitments to purity, where they spiritually and biblically compelled the 16-year-old-me to never look at pornography.
And then, “you can grab them by the p**sy” was a non-issue for those same leaders. 19 women accusing “the anointed” made no ripples in the circle. To them, Donald J. Trump was the Trumpet of the Lord, and they were willing to blow that trumpet, even if it drowned out the sound of everything they had ever preached before.
Yet there I was.
Silent. Cautious. Brown.
Living in the south as a pastor in North Carolina, where it is not surprising to drive by a house with a confederate flag on the front yard right next to a sign that says, “Thank you Jesus”… there I felt like I had to be silent, cautious, white.
My coworkers and leaders were not telling me to keep quiet. But there was an underlying power structure that muzzled my voice. It’s the reality of thousands of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and others in the church. And I was the coward who obeyed its unspoken command.
It was ok for me to preach about the Kingdom of God but it was not ok for me to make the church a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Sure, there was an expectation for me to be a tad more liberal than most, but that was part of the deal; You get a minority pastor you will get a “minor” theology.
Eventually, I was branded, “off brand”.
Still “part of the family” but not a representative of it.
And now I regret not raising my voice during that season. Trying so hard not be seen as a victim, I disregarded the actual victims around me.
Slavery through prison.
And white supremacy reigning supreme.
Jesus abandoned his privilege for the sake of the under-privileged. And now it’s our turn.
This is the gospel I want to preach (and live). But I lost the plot in the midst of a western version of Christianity that is mostly white and mostly rich. A version of Christianity that did not actually care about saving Donald Trump’s soul but used him as a road to power and photo-ops in the White House lawn.
As my friend Jonathan Martin wrote, “I used to wonder how so many ‘good Bible believing’ churches sat out the civil rights movement. 2016 helps me understand it much better.”
I was exposed to the gospel via Billy Graham so I believed the church had to be like Billy. But what America needs right now is a multitude of Reverend King’s.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
When 81% of the people I pastored and loved, voted with confidence for the “anointed one”… I spent 3 days struggling to sleep, in absolute shock.
The shock was not that a racist had become the president of a nation that had been racist towards me. The shock was that believers of Jesus who knew me, celebrated his victory and expected me to celebrate with them.
The issue was not a difference of policy or politics. I am a pro-life Christian who has voted for candidates from both parties. I lead a non-profit based in America that spends time and money serving people in America (and I’m usually too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative ones.)
The actual issue was the spiritual justifications made for a man who said this about people like me, “They’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists.”
I know a lot of Trump-voters love me, but I also know that they don’t understand me (or the millions of POC in America who love them).
After the inauguration, I tried to get used to the madness, so I was willing to entertain the blind support for Trump as just life in America.
But then Charlottesville happened and most of our churches worshipped Jesus on Sunday without addressing the racism (and murder) of Saturday. “There’s good people on both sides” was embraced as a legitimate argument by Christian leaders and the Evangelical Council stood by its master.
This was after a Muslim Ban was pushed through Executive Order. And since the daughter we are adopting comes from a Muslim background, from a nation that is surrounded by the nations on the list… How could I be ok with the potential of children like her not being welcomed into the land of the free?
Then, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and thousands of people showed solidarity; that is, until the President threw paper towels into a crowd of (and I quote an ex-Twitter follower) “ungrateful hispanics who needed to work harder to sort themselves out!”
* Note that I am writing this in a home that has had no electricity for more than 100 days. And what a hard thing it is to be treated like a second class citizen, while telling the numbers ones, that it sucks to be back here.
Of course there is pain.
I’m not trying to hide it from you. Still, I will make sure this pain becomes forgiveness. And then I’ll make sure that forgiveness becomes the wisdom to make sure no one uses the sermons of forgiveness to justify white supremacy, racism and the empowerment of people like Roy Moore or Stephen Miller.
As the intellectual Brandi Miller says, “The call for people of color to ‘have grace’ in race conversations is more often a call to remain complicit in White supremacist structures, theologies and practices.”
No doubt, my views might seem conflicted and incomplete… but at least for now, it is me who is speaking. And with this voice I write to brothers and sisters of color feeling misunderstood and hopeless for 2018: Your lives are a gift to the body of Christ and to the world… keep shining with non-violent love, multicultural goodness and relentless hope!
This is me today.
As a follower of Jesus I choose to forgive Donald Trump for empowering white supremacy and I legitimately pray for the love of God to overwhelm his heart and family.
As a follower of Jesus I admit my pride and my unwillingness to listen to those who think differently.
As I follower of Jesus I choose stand against the racism, the homophobia, the sexism and the ableism of this administration. And this is not an endorsement of other administrations, this is not me telling Trump-supporters that they are not really Christian, this is me trying to fully embrace the Kingdom of God as preached by Jesus Christ while being exposed to white supremacy in this nation.
The name Jesus means savior. The title Christ means the anointed one.
And in his name I pray,
Thank you Jesus for Billy.
Now Lord, rise up the Kings.