Common Conversations: Series 1, Episode 2

Common Conversations

Common Conversations Transcript
Series 1 “The Weight of Racism”
Episode 2 “Black Baptist Burdens | White Baptist Pressures”
November 2020

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Natalie Aho: Hello. I’m Natalie Aho, the new program manager for the Baptist Commons here at Wake Divinity. The Baptist Commons is a network of diverse communities of Baptists committed to justice, reconciliation, and compassion. We provide events, resources, and services for Wake Divinity students, alumni, and supporters. 


Today we welcome you to our first event for the new academic year called Common Conversations. Moderated by a Wake Divinity alumni, student, or supporter, these are conversations between experts and members of the Wake Divinity faculty. 


This fall, we are focusing on three topics under the theme of “the weight of racism.” As architects of equity, hope, and healing, we feel there is no more important place to begin than to talk about racism in America. The weight of this injustice is on us all. As our beloved Deacon Maya Angelou once said, “It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it.”


In our series, we’ll tackle the load of Christian nationalism and Baptist history for our first conversation; Black Baptist burdens and White Baptist pressures for the second; and the gravity of trauma of these enmeshed communities for the third. Don’t worry; you don’t need to be a Baptist to engage.


We hope you’ll do more than watch. We hope you are inspired to start your own conversation after listening to ours. And that you too will continue the call for justice, compassion, and reconciliation. 


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: To all who are joining us for our common conversations, welcome. I’m Oliver Thomas, a 2010 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Currently, I’m serving as the chair of the Baptist Commons Advisory Council. I teach African American history at North Carolina A&T State University, and I’m an associate pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.


Today I will be moderating our second conversation: ‘Black Baptist Burdens | White Baptist Pressures.’


We have the privilege of being joined by three Black Baptists who are scholars, practitioners, and community leaders.


Sister Leslie Callahan is the pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the former Assistant Professor of Modern Church History and African American Studies at New York Theological Seminary. Welcome, Sister Callahan.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Thank you so much. 


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Sister Kasey Jones is the Associate Coordinator of Outreach and Growth of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and former pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, DC. Welcome, Sister Jones. 


Rev. Kasey Jones: Thank you. Glad to be with you.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Brother Derek Hicks is the Associate Professor of Religion and Culture here at the School of Divinity. Welcome, Brother Hicks.


Dr. Derek Hicks: Thank you.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: I want to begin by invoking our ancestors, Black preachers, scholars, teachers, church folk who traveled this road as architects of hope and justice. As we remember their names, let us pause.


Specifically, I want to invoke the Reverend Dr. James Melvin Washington. In his text, Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power, Dr. James Melvin Washington demonstrates the struggle for community identity and religious freedom among Black Baptists responding to a complex relationship with White Baptists and America. “The Black Baptist movement,” he declared, “Is a frustrated fellowship, because it is an expression of social identity and the quest with social power.”


Sister Callahan, as a pastor scholar who studied under the tutelage of Professor Washington, I’d like you to begin our conversation. Let me ask this question: Would you discuss the ways White supremacy and Christian nationalism have shaped the religious and social-political realities of African Americans in North America?


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Thank you, again, for the opportunity to share, and thank you especially for invoking the name of one of my models for the work of scholarship in service to the church. James Melvin Washington was a great Baptist and one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered. But also an extraordinary preacher and homelitician. He was quite something in the pulpit as well. And so I’m really glad to think of him as I consider this question.


Of course, we are recording this in the midst of the aftermath of the election of 2020, and I think one useful way of engaging the question you asked about the relationship of White Christian nationalism and Black Baptist identity is to do a bit of reflecting on my reaction to the election in 2016. Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote on Sunday, November 13, the following words on a Facebook post. I said, “I have had several days this week when getting out of bed and facing the day was hard. This is one of them. This for me is not about politics, as much as I love thinking about political things. This is deeper, more personal, and more spiritual. Let me put it this way, the fact that millions of other Christians are gathering for worship around the United States is chilling, not comforting today.”


The way I think about the relationship between White Christian nationalism and Black Christian identity, generally, and Black Baptist identity, specifically, can be encapsulated in the following phrase: “When they rejoice, we grieve.”


What is inspiring for them is chilling for us. I have found myself returning repeatedly to the writings of Frederick Douglass over the last four years. Not just the last four years, pretty much since I encountered the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass because of the striking nature of his engagement with Christianity and Evangelical Christianity, in particular, in terms of his life in slavery. And one of the things that Douglass talks about is the way that when Captain Auld was converted, it made him more terrible. This should make sense to us as well. Robert P. Jones’s most recent work talks about the way that, apparently, being Christian makes White supremacy more terrible (White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)


And I think there’s a way that this gets encapsulated, particularly in the elections of 2016 and 2020, as we see that the majority of Christians, including mainline Protestant and especially Evangelical, cast their ballots for President Trump in 2016, and then came back around again in 2020 and doubled down. 


“When they rejoice, we weep.” Their gatherings, the very gathering of White Christians now, for me, is chilling whether they actually wear hoods or not. So, I do take this very personally. I engage this very personally. It has caused me more than once over the last – I mean, I think many Black folks have a crisis as they leave adolescence and go into adulthood and encounter the realities of the history of racism in the United States. 


Many of us who are compelled by the gospel of Jesus Christ have some moment where we have to face down the charge that Christianity is the White man’s religion. And so this is not the first time for me. But I am good and grown now, and over the last four years, I’ve had to revisit this question, particularly as a Black woman, particularly as someone who is raising a Black daughter, whether I could both be a good parent and raise her as Christian at the same time.


I said this in church, to the congregation I pastor, that I have wondered whether these things could be, that these things could coexist. I think what I have done, and I think what Black Baptists have done throughout, is to determine that White supremacy is not Christianity. The version of the faith that we practice, the Savior that we follow, is actually more consistent with the record as we have interpreted the text for ourselves, as we read the Bible for ourselves, as we’ve preached it, as we’ve interpreted it for ourselves. We have come to believe that what we’re doing is actually more faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that our claim on the faith and the tradition is a better and more faithful claim than the one of those who are engaging in Christian nationalism, White Christian nationalism, and White supremacy. So in some ways to close by returning to Douglass, we’ve come, generation after generation, to the conclusion that he came to in his epilogue, and I’ll close with this quote:


Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference. So wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of one is a necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ. I, therefore, hate the corrupt, slave-holding, woman-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.


I think we’re still there. I know I’m still there.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Sister Callahan, as I was listening to you, my mind just kept moving back and forth between times present, past, and the relationship between not only Frederick Douglass and his experience with White Christianity, our experiences, your experience with White Christianity, but then to think about this in a larger context: experience of oppression. Jesus, a Palestinian, experienced it within the Roman Empire. And the relationship and how that has happened for us, as people of color, African Americans, specifically; then for Jesus, as a person of color as well. 


Sister Jones, Brother Hicks, what are you all thinking about as you listen to Sister Callahan and the question that I have posed in terms of the ways White supremacy and Christian nationalism have shaped the religious and social-political realities of African Americans?


Rev. Kasey Jones: I want to thank my Sister for starting with a personal because I understand that struggle. And I will say to you, my clash was after George Floyd. And I had to search for Scripture. “How long, God? How long?” was not good enough for me at that time. Because I am tired of waiting. To watch what I consider as a modern-day lynching, that text was not comforting. And where I found my place of peace was in the story of Esther where she is called to levy her position to power. Mordecai says to her, if you don’t do what you need to do – God is going to move. The question is, are you going to be on God’s side? That’s comforting, particularly for me as an African American woman clergy called into a White context to work. And I had to face colleagues and congregations that don’t look like me and don’t have my experience, and having my own faith crisis at that time. I’m understanding the pressure point, for me and my work, needs to be on helping White Christians and White churches to understand that they have a role to play that’s a necessity. God is going to move. The question is, are they going to play in their role in God’s plan? 


I, too, have found one of the books that I just recently read is Robert P. Jones’s White Too Long, and I wanted to just invoke that at this time. Because what I appreciate about his approach and what has helped me in this moment is that he took history, social science in the form of opinion polls, and his personal story and intertwined the three. And for me, I think that’s a good roadmap, particularly for White leaders and White Christians, to look not just at the historical past, but look at recent past and current participation. Also, he named something for me, too, because in his book, he talks about, too often the White Christian churches either considered complacent or complicit. And that’s not strong enough, that they have been active participants, leaders in setting up structural systems to limit, to oppress black and brown skin.


And in that, it’s helped me to give a frame for our churches for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in the sense that our congregations need to begin to explore their history, their property, and their buildings. Were they built and owned because of slave labor or slave contributions? Were there leaders in those congregations that actually were Sunday School teachers and ministers that played a role in shaping society around them? And if that’s the case, to explore that history, not to condemn, but to identify places of confession that are needed and use it as a way to inspire repair work, to participate in dismantling, participate in offering financial assistance in Black spaces, Black institutions. But not void of Black voices and input in the repair work. 


And so for me, it helps me during this time, as a term, systematic racism and oppression are now becoming more normative, or at least I hope so. That it’s being raised more. And it’s not just for progressive conversation anymore. I’ll put it that way. It gives us an opportunity to let the White Christian church to know, like Esther, that you have a role to play in your proximity to power to make systematic change and that looking at your recent past ought to propel you to do so.


Dr. Derek Hicks: I would only add that where Reverend Dr. Callahan ended it was the perfect place, perfect launching point for all of this conversation in terms of Frederick Douglass’s words. I would add, when I think about this issue I think about the book Lift High the Cross by Ann Burlein, which carries with it a subtitle of Where White Supremacy and the Christian Right Converge.


In one of the opening statements of her book, she says, “When I first began thinking about the right as a project of research, I found myself fascinated and infuriated at the way the right uses religion to commit what I saw as sacrilege.” I think there’s no better way to convey it other than to see and experience the shock and awe that she articulates throughout this text about how she didn’t want to see it, but she ended up over and again seeing these convergences between White supremacy and the Christian right or Evangelical Christianity. We might even say Evangelical Christianity run amuck. 


I can’t help but relate that back to our historical understanding of the ways in which even on plantations, you had slave-holders, planters, and enslaved people evoking the same God but drawing upon that God different things. The slave-holder who felt that their position in this country was a position ordained by God, by way of manifest destiny, was drawing power from that God to control, to take control, to conduct imperial acts. And yet that same God, enslaved people were drawing upon to be empowered to respond to that tyrannical power right. What Frederick Douglass was articulating in the 1800s and what Ann Burlein is articulating in our modern time is the same thing. There still yet continues to be inextricable ties between White supremacists, fervor, and many components of Evangelical Christianity as we see it right now. 


It doesn’t help that evangelical Christians will set as their mode of experiential articulation of the faith, The Great Commission, which calls for them to align with a personal salvific nature of Christianity, which then compresses all efforts into a kind of personal faith, a one-on-one expression of faith. When your preoccupation is saving one soul at a time, it becomes easy to hide behind that and not attempt to intervene on behalf of communities of people. Because they’ll just say, well, sin is just this one-on-one issue not tied to systems. And salvation is a one-on-one personal issue not tied to systems larger than the single person. And so, therefore, Jesus is enacting what God desires through one person. And so, we don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on these so-called systemic issues. And I think that that renders Christianity, in many ways, unable to adjust or respond to, at least through evangelicals, respond to systemic issues. And so we’ve got all of this at play simultaneously. And a reality that we are still facing a terrible and dire situation as it relates to the evangelical church not significantly impacting the culture as it relates to the domination of one set of people over others.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: I think it’s a moving target because on the one hand what I hear people saying echoes the point that Dr. Hicks just made about the emphasis on personal salvation. On the other hand, I also see on a political level, White evangelicals trading that sense of personal piety and salvation for the culture wars. So when I point out the really troubling matters about policy around COVID and around separating children at the border and the lack of consideration for the humanitarian crisis that is created by the refusal to acknowledge asylum claims, what they go back to is not, “But I’m saved.” What they go back to is this larger, “But we’re saving unborn children” so actually there’s movement around what the target is. 


And quite frankly, at the end of the day, what it really feels like to me is a quest for power, which goes back to where we started with Dr. Washington’s text about the desire, the formation of associations to create social power for Black Baptists, which occurs in a context of racist terror. The need to coalesce, to have social power happens against the backdrop of racial terror and social death in the aftermath of the end of Reconstruction. 


Putting the finger on the quest for power is really important and happens over against what evangelicals are saying their project is. They’re saying their project is the saving of souls, although I don’t even hear them saying that as much, in terms of their justification for their political activity. But ‘evangelical’ has the saving of souls as its [core], but it’s really, it’s kind of a naked grab for power.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Yes, very much so. Very much so. I think about that too, in relation to the way God-talk theology or theologies are used to oppress this relationship between power and notions of God, notions of American exceptionalism, and what that looks like and feels like for those of us who are marginalized, but to also claim and preach a gospel and a God of liberation amidst this context of racism and sexism and other ‘isms. 


And so I want to pivot, just a little bit here to Sister Jones and ask this question to bring it a little closer to Black Baptists and Black Baptist Church in particular. How have Black Baptists, and/or the Black church as a collective, resisted and been complicit in Christian nationalism? I think about this, again, as what you have already shared as a Black Baptist woman preacher who is with a national White Baptist entity: How have Black Baptists and Black Baptist churches resisted and been complicit in Christian nationalism and thereby White supremacy as well?


Rev. Kasey Jones: Thank you for that question. I think it’s an important question for a couple of reasons. One, when I pastored and had the opportunity just to share with associates and potential other pastors in their context, one of the things that was troubling is we’ve done a disservice and created a romanticized version of the Black church. In which “the Black church” is always progressive or is always resilient. And then you place trained clergy in places where that has not been the case and want to move outside of the church structure because they don’t know what to do. I think it’s very important for us to understand that the Black church is not monolithic just like the Black community isn’t. And that, again, going back to this, I will also say it’s true for us as Black clergy and Black leaders to also know our historical, recent past, if that makes sense. But we’re looking at the Black Baptist churches, in which we are finding ourselves leaders in, to understand their history, to understand that there are churches that have been progressive but there also churches that have been accommodationists. That’s important so that we can place our finger on that history and on that track record. It allows us then, as leaders, to figure out how to move them forward. But if you go in blind, thinking as if the Black church has always been, we would not have a Progressive National Baptist Convention, right? When you know the National Baptists here come together and try to move forward, unified, there are folks who did not want to support the civil rights movement. One of the articles that I read is called, “Reimagining the Bible Belt: Faith-based Organizing in the Lone Star State,” and it’s taken a new hue. And what’s interesting about that article is that it’s written by two women, Danielle Ayers and Lydia Bean, is that they talk about, first of all, how Texas as the first state becomes the first majority-minority state and what that means. They talk about how the Dallas history is unique in that it did not have a civil rights movement like Alabama, like Montgomery, and like Atlanta. There were White elitists who called a conversation with Black pastors and offered a deal that they would tamp down their anti-African American terrorism and move slowly towards integration if African American leaders would renounce sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and other powerful public tactics. That’s important because if that is part of the history of a local congregation, and as leaders moving into those spaces, again, it gives us a pulse on that congregation to help move them forward and hopefully limit frustration in that. Part of it is because I find that both in Black and White communities, the past history – in terms of even the civil rights movement – but definitely enslaved history and oppression allows a distance and a disconnect and limits the obligation and inspiration to fully participate. And without seeing that there have been Black churches who have not just been complacent or complicit in the midst of some of our struggles, and understanding the rationale. 


And I’m saying this kind of cautiously too because also I want to be careful. The other caveat I will say to you as an African American woman now living in the south for the very first time is a new experience for me culturally speaking both Black and White. One of the things that my learning in this experience is that for some folks just being alive is a form of resistance. So I think as leaders going into congregations, the choice to choose accommodation as a strategy of survival still needs to be valued. But how do you take that and move it to more active participation in justice work, justice claims?


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: So I think I want to piggyback on what my Sister just talked about. I also think we’ve got to account for, in our discussions about the relationship between White Baptist congregations and Black Baptist congregations, we have to account for the degree to which indoctrination occurs through the same literature, same teaching. So part of the dynamic (again this is me co-signing my Sister, her comments) is that how we are persuaded theologically has an impact on how we engage socially. And some folks are trying to still thread this needle of accepting the vision and version of the faith that they get from their favorite Bible teacher or TV minister or writer of books. I could name names, and maybe I will, maybe let’s name the name John MacArthur, for example. Who explicitly has said that liberation theology is inconsistent with the faith. He has explicitly said, not only that liberation theology, but certain sorts of charismatic experiences, which I would say, on the whole, are much more prevalent and present in Black Baptist congregations than in White Baptist congregations. So if you’re trying to make sense of the faith using the language, the literature, the indoctrination of folks who actually oppose your well being, then you’re going to always be working at cross purposes with yourself. I think that’s part of the way to understand the complicity, and sometimes outright antagonism, like sometimes complicity is not even a strong enough word. So I just want to put that into the conversation: What does it mean that we, maybe more than ever, are getting the doctrines of the faith from the people whose policies and perspectives oppose our well being, our collective well being. I want to say that maybe more than ever, maybe that’s the distinction between the brush harbor faith of our ancestors that was an explicit denunciation of the kind of indoctrination that was happening when they were going to the Sunday church in the gallery behind slave owners, slaveholders. We don’t have that same kind of explicit renunciation and objection to the faith that comes through the books we read. We tend to be imbibing it or ingesting it whole and not necessarily being as critical of it as we need to be. And so we find ourselves opposing – I mean, there are lots of Black Baptist churches where I wouldn’t be invited to preach. Lots. And they use the same claims that the White churches, that the Southern Baptist Convention, uses. Many of them were educated in Southern Baptist seminaries. Some of the churches are themselves Southern Baptist. So I think that dynamic we have to take into consideration as well.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Absolutely, absolutely. I think to that point, Brother Hicks, I want to bring you in. Because you’re in the classroom constantly and so riffing off of Sister Callahan, how do we disentangle theological language, with political language, with social stratification – if we were to say that social stratification ladder: White, Black, or as some of our ancestors used to say, “If you black, get back; if you brown, stick around; if you light, all right; And if you’re white, you’re right.” How do we disentangle these various elements within the Black church, the Black community, particularly in the classroom with students who will go out and engage churches, who are at the Divinity School, who will go out and be in hospitals, who go out and be community leaders, as you all are?


Dr. Derek Hicks: Well, you know, I will say that for starters, what Rev. Dr. Callahan was expressing made me think about the first class I took in seminary, which was a non-denominational, dispensationalist White evangelical seminary – I won’t say the name but there are a couple of them. And I’m sitting next to a student – it’s worth noting that in this class, which was a class on hermeneutics, I was the only Black student in the class – I had one student, a good, right-evangelical brother, and of course there were no women in the class, so you see how all of this is setting itself up, who says to me something to the effect of, now this is some time ago, but something to the effect of, “Isn’t it a shame that communities allow for abortions?” He just kind of oversimplifies the statement that way. And I’m coming from South Central Los Angeles, a predominantly Black neighborhood, rampant with issues, systemic and otherwise, that he could not even imagine. And this was the first thing he said to me. In a way to kind of test my level of evangelicalism, to assess whether or not I aligned with what he considered the proper understanding and way of being sanctified. “You’ve got to align with these particular views.” 


It also reminds me of when I started graduate school after seminary, and I was adjunct teaching at a school in Houston and a woman who worked at that institution asked me why I was pursuing a Ph.D. in an African American religious experience. I was excited at the time. I said I’m going to study how enslaved people converted to Christianity and made it their own. And you know, I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew I was excited about that. I’d read a few folks, and I couldn’t wait to dig in with Anthony Pinn and all these things. And all she responded, the only way she knew to respond to what I said was, “Yes, but were they saved? Was it saving faith? Did those slaves have saving faith in Jesus?”


So both of those set the tone for my thinking about Christianity, not only that I was developed in – I’ve grown over the last several years to say, I was both developed by the Black Baptist church but also my grandmother’s front porch religion, which has far more of a sustaining, edgy, critical theology to it, that sought, kinda like “Baby Suggs, holy,” that sought to reestablish the full person. “Here in this place, we flesh. Over yonder, they don’t love your flesh. They would rather tie, bind, chop off your hands, and leave them empty. But over here, you need to love your flesh, and love it hard.” Right? So there is a sense in which that is the faith I come up in. 


But I’m also reminded of how Kelly Brown Douglas and others have tutored us about the nature of the Christianity that many Black people have adopted, that it is platonic and Constantinian, simultaneously. And its platonic nature saw as its primary effort to raise the intellect of the faith so as to leave out those (we’ll read them as “Subsaharan Africans”) who don’t offer much in terms of the intellect. And Constantinian – to be empowered to essentially wield power over the lesser beings of the earth. This is the faith that we inherit. 


But I think as Gayraud Wilmore tells us, “Black folk have always been more or less Christian.” And so the nature of that experience means that we have been able to adopt for ourselves the nature of our own Christian practices. 


Now to get to your question in terms of how this leads us to public action. The name of the Progressive National Baptist Convention has already been mentioned, which forms in 1961 with a split with the National Baptist Convention USA, Incorporated. We know the history of the National Baptist Convention which forms in 1895 after coming together of the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention and the American National Baptist Conventions. And the first split from that –  Lott Carey, and then the next split from that – National Baptist Convention of America, formerly unincorporated, now incorporated, in 1915. 


But I think when we think about the Progressive National Baptist Convention, I think the seeds of its outward community-facing work begins with the Women’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention in the 1900s, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and the other Sisters. Because we might critique, and we utilize as a tutor in this, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s work and other folks’ work, we might critique this politics of respectability that might be shot through some of their efforts. And yet, if we look at what those Sisters were doing, they were on the ground, mobilizing by way of their faith, and Baptist tradition, efforts to uplift the race. So when Nannie Helen Burroughs is articulating the three B’s (the Bible, the bath, and the broom), we can read that solely as domesticity, but in fact what she’s articulating is a move to take control of the narrative about Black bodies, both in the home, and externally, and articulate and project the narrative about the nature of Black life that allows it to be seen for what it actually is. It’s tactical in that way. And I think at our best what Black Baptists have done and are able to do now is to articulate for ourselves the nature of who we are and do that as we are serving our communities. 


So when I do work, for example, with the Children’s Defense Fund, formerly led by Marian Wright Edelman, Brother Starsky Wilson is now in leadership there. And every summer we take students to the Haley Farm for a consortium course between several institutions, ours included, called ‘Mobilizing for Justice,’ we are intentional about teaching our students how to utilize tactics of justice advocacy and blending that in their faith. And so I think at our best what Baptists have shown us, what Nannie Helen Burroughs and Sisters showed us, what the Progressive National Baptist Convention drew from them and shows us, is that at our best, what Baptists have been able to do, what Black Baptist have been able to do is to mobilize around the central tenets of the faith. That we strongly believe and align with, that date all the way back to the words evoked by Reverend Dr. Callahan from Frederick Douglass, but also the words of Maria Stewart, and how those words connect with David Walker and his appeal. 


So what we’re articulating is a sense in which, we have never been ones to stand by and not be critical of the faith as offered to us and that that critical edge of us, be at a politics of hermeneutics of suspicion or any other type of hermeneutics, or the hermeneutic that I articulated of reclamation, what we are trying to do in those instances is call to mind the nature of things and create for ourselves and for our communities, new possibilities where full humanity can be expressed and experienced.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Thank you so much for invoking those names. And I want to just underline thinking about Marian Wright Edelman as a Black Baptist because that’s who she is.  And the way that under other circumstances, Mrs. Edelman probably would have been a pastor if there were not certain kinds of constraints on what women can do in the tradition that she grew up in, and also the way that the Children’s Defense Fund has a very pastoral – it’s the notion of giving children safe start and also a moral start. The moral start really comes from a particular kind of reading of the faith, of making room for faith. 


I also want to go back to that there’s a difference between the politics of respectability, which is sort of outward-facing and putting on a face for White society to take Black people seriously and to honor Black people. There’s a difference between that and what I think of as Black dignity – that is about how we live among ourselves. There are many folks who have talked about this in various ways, but I’m thinking now of Imani Perry’s really wonderful book on the Black national anthem where she talks about Black formalism, the way we interact in Black communities, the kind of attention to good diction, that if you run into older Black folks, you can still see a precision. Precision that’s not principally about the sort of public-facing life, but it’s about a sense of our own dignity about who we are and how we operate in the world.


And it’s the sort of things that many of us learned in church. So now when you stand up to give your Easter speech, stand up straight, speak out well. There’s a kind of precision and purposefulness, again, that is not about White people and performance for White people. But that is a performance of our own dignity. Again, I’m not saying that that’s beyond critique, but I do think that there’s a distinction between that and the politics of respectability. There’s a piece of that that’s very much present in Nannie Helen Burroughs that is exemplified to my mind, in the way that she stood up for Black women in the Women’s Convention within the National Baptist Convention. The way she fought for the women’s work. And its dignity and autonomy within the National Baptist Convention. And that’s not about White people. That’s not about putting a face, that’s not about turning to face White people. And in fact, in some ways, one might argue (I haven’t thought this all the way through), but one might argue that, actually, the opposite impulse, that the decision to fight Brothers, is the decision to depart from some of what White women were doing and some of the things that the politics of respectability was signaling about the relationship of Black women to White women in the world. That’s not the way you engage if all you’re trying to do is to be the equivalent of White womanhood and domesticity and separate spheres. 


I think there are a number of folks who are really doing this work of teasing out some distinctions. But Nannie Helen Burroughs is a really wonderful person to look at because she’s defiant.


Dr. Derek Hicks: I love the stream of Black dignity through that work, which is what I was trying to convey in terms of what Nannie Helen Burroughs and those Sisters were ultimately doing in and through Marian Wright Edelman. Every time I’ve been in her presence, she has at some point said, “I want Freedom Schools to overtake or to replace Sunday School. Freedom School should be Sunday School.” And when we think about what Freedom Schools do: I was a part of bringing the team, bringing the first Freedom School here to Wake Forest University, and what we are trying to convey, not only to the university but to this community as to why more Freedom Schools should be in this community because it’s really about the establishment of Black dignity from the inside out. 


As you said, it has nothing to do with White folk, but has everything to do with articulating the worth and value of the bodies who inhabit these spaces, sometimes treacherous spaces. And when I look at the way in which the impact of just Freedom School manifests itself in children who’ve come through the Freedom School here, notably my own children, it’s all about the ways in which they feel that they are somebody. And to echo the sentiments, the motto of my HBCU Grambling State University, where ‘everybody is somebody.’ That was more than just a cute catchphrase, which is what we thought it was when we first got to Grambling. Which was in fact a clarion call for us to articulate our humanity in the fullest sense, and that is inextricably tied to Black dignity. So thank you for bringing that out.


Rev. Kasey Jones: If I could just jump in and tell my little Marian story. I actually served as an intern at the Children’s Defense Fund when she launched the Black Community Crusade. And it was interesting because the first iteration of the Freedom School was intentionally designed to elevate the voices of young people in the civil rights movement and women and the Ella Baker Training Institute was intentional with that. And the religious part of the Black Community Crusade, she hired two women. In this conversation, and particularly around the Freedom Schools and how it was developed, again, I think gives us – Brother Thomas, you had asked about how to separate – I think that what we’re talking about here gives us those tools as young clergy. I’m always thinking about how this plays itself out in the local church. And particularly, knowing that this is not just a Black audience that this is going to, and I know that there are a number of progressive White congregations, who are interested in entering into a relationship.


And to be co-laborers in justice work. And so what I would suggest with this information to understand that there are going to be times as Black clergy and Black churches that we need to do things on our own, by ourselves, for ourselves, for our own health and well-being, for dignity and respect for ourselves so that we can be fully powerful in relationship with the other. 


I’m saying that because we have congregations where they say, “but what can we do,” in terms of White congregations, and again it’s that self-work, too, so that they also can have a better level understanding of their historical impact that White Christianity has had, White leadership has had, Christian leadership has had, not only in the church, but in the community so that there’s a level of openness and humility, as they enter into partnerships with Black churches, and so they understand our need to be separate, at times, so that we can be totally present and powerful when we’re together.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Yes. So, in terms of listening to all of you all, I want to bring to the forefront some of these Baptist values, articles of faith, but very specifically what we’re thinking about, talking about for students, for pastors, for teachers, for those who are called to do this work of faith and conscience that freedom and community all go hand in hand. But they go hand in hand in relationship to reflection, to awareness. What is our awareness around the history, not only of Black Baptists but Black Baptists in North Carolina, different from Black Baptists, say in Texas? What is our awareness of history in this relationship of how Black people have responded to White supremacy, Christian nationalism, whether it’s the separation with the National Baptist Convention from the Southern Baptist or then another change where we even have to say to ourselves and challenge ourselves? And so we have the development of Progressive National Baptists or with even the theological conversation, this movement, even within liberation theology, womanist theology, and third and fourth-way womanist theology, and queer theology, Black queer theology, that calls us to question, to ask, to critically engage, to reflect. And then respond in all the ways in which we want to respond and in community. Again, whether that be in the church or in the classroom or as public intellectuals. 


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: We would like to take a few questions now from our audience.


Rev. Steven Floyd: I’m a current student at Wake Divinity in the class of 2021 and pastor of Buncombe Baptist Church in Lexington, NC, and a detective with the police department of Burlington, NC. 


How can we hold intellectual conversation with our counterparts that either fail to see or understand the history of racism in this country and how it affects our churches? 


Dr. Derek Hicks: Hmm. Tough question, but it begins with open dialogue and conversation. I’m reminded of John Jackson, who’s at UPenn, his work called Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness. And the extent to which he argues in that book that in this so-called ‘post-race society,’ which of course, we know is a myth, because we certainly aren’t post-racist, and so how can we be post-race? But in this ‘latter-day,’ we’ll call it, folks have lost the ability to talk more significantly about race. They’ve lost the ability to talk beyond the surface because of political correctness and so we might engage the other on the surface, and have a very pleasant exchange, and then go back to our separate silos and re-articulate the same stereotypes that we held about the other that we brought to the initial conversation, which was handed just on the surface. And so I think in part, it requires us to engage more deeply than we have. But it also requires those of us who hold these histories and knowledge about the experiences of our ancestors, our foremothers, and forefathers, we’ve got to be open and respectful of ourselves, to tell the truth, to articulate as the truth as we understand it about the nature of our experiences in this country and shame the devil. Shame those who turn the truth as though it’s just fanciful or untrue. 


I think about Martin Luther King’s predecessor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Vernon Johns, who really spoke a whole lot of truth and was speaking so much truth that some folks didn’t feel that his kind was appropriate for the church at the time. But what was he trying to get at? He was a social entrepreneur, as much as he was a pastor, who was trying to create opportunities of empowerment for Black people through land ownership and taking control of foodstuffs. This is the type of individuals that we need to be – ones who will stand on truth, see that issues are at play that prevail against Black bodies, and be able to convey that truth to folks that may not agree with us.


Rev. Dr. LaTonya Penny: I’m the pastor of New Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Roxboro, NC, and the Executive Director at Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, and a proud 2013 graduate of Wake Divinity.


Sorry, Dr. Hicks, this is for the ladies: As a strong Black female, how do you balance the tension of being a strong voice for justice and change with the stereotype of the angry Black woman complaining about change? Furthermore, what nuggets of wisdom can you share with Black women in ministry doing the work of justice in a male-dominated space?


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Wow, I want to first of all, just affirm the truth of the challenge that is presented in the question. I think it’s critical for us not to blow that off. I think that’s real. I started this conversation by talking about the way that this election, these election seasons, have demonstrated fissures, and maybe canyons, in the relationship among Black and White Baptists. I think if there’s anything that we’ve learned in 2020 is that, at least if there was an attempt to exploit the fissures and the cracks within the Black community between Black women and Black men, I don’t know that it was entirely successful, but I do think there’s something to be said about the sort of difference between how Black women and Black men voted. They may be subtle differences, but they’re real ones. And so I just want to say that these questions are real. Even as I say, my answer to it is, I don’t give it much thought. That is to say that I have not found it to be very useful to try to be somebody other than who I am. And that for me, if I don’t want to be perpetually enraged, part of what I have to do is to be consistently honest about what I’m feeling. So I made up my mind, committed myself, many years ago, that every day I woke up, I was going to strike a blow for justice. And that I was going to do everything possible to undermine every kind of injustice that I saw in the world, including patriarchy. And that commitment, and the living out of it, actually brings me great joy.


My dear friend wrote a book called Eloquent Rage. Her name is Dr. Brittney Cooper, and Dr. Cooper is a good Black Baptist as well. And she talked about, we do have a responsibility, one of the key elements that she noticed is that we live in a society that is constantly doing things to provoke our rage and then being mad at us when we’re angry. If you don’t want me to be mad, stop trying to kill me. 


But I think the balance is for me, as I was just saying, is the joy that comes with knowing that I am living authentically as myself and pushing against every attempt to destroy me and to destroy anybody. And so I can be angry, and I do have anger about the situations that we are in. I am deeply troubled, always, by injustice. But that is balanced by the great joy that I have, and the sense of purpose that I have in living out my call, to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God. I’m kicking behind and taking names, and I’m having a great time doing it. And so I think those things, they balance each other out.


Rev. Kasey Jones: I think what I would add to that – what I’ve learned to do is choose my battles carefully. Because not every fight is worth fighting. And sometimes those initial offenses are intentional like Sister Callahan said, they’re distractions. There have been times where I have been the only Black and female voice in situations, and I’ve had colleagues pull me aside, ask me if I was angry, and I will say, I have to make a decision not to be the stereotype in certain places. In order for me to do that, sometimes I have to ignore what I just heard. And sometimes I’ve also realized it was the Holy Spirit that is allowing me not to realize what is just said until I get home, in retrospect.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Amen.


Rev. Kasey Jones: You know, truly, this is a spiritual battle. From pastoring or participating in those places, it’s like, God, you held a Sister today because if I had recognized what was said, it would have been a different kind of scenario. If we could be honest about that. 


I also think, practically speaking, as we talked about the dignity conversation, for us, as women, we’ve got to have Sister friends. That you can share with, that will pray for you, that will gird you up, that will challenge you sometimes. And, you know, just practically speaking, because this notion of superwoman is not healthy. It’s not healthy to strive for that. 


I’m going to say this one last thing because I think this might be a question that’s coming up around resilience. Right now, I’ve been hearing from White colleagues about not having resilience like Black community. And I just say this as a Black woman, as a Black person, we have resilience because we’ve had to. It is life or death for us. And so, choosing to be resilient as a different scenario I don’t know anything about because I don’t have the option to check out of situations. And because of that, I have to make sure I have social networks and healthy practices that help me maintain my sanity. And so for me, it was a relief with this racial climate when I would see Black clergy check out to say, “I’m taking a mental health day” and that be okay. It’s okay if you need to pull away to be able to feed yourself for another fight.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Can I say one more thing before we leave this question? I talked about joy. I also want to talk about love. I actually think that the Spirit gives us the capacity to live in love. And, I believe God calls us to be consciously and fundamentally relational. And so I try to be angry in ways that are not destructive and that are actually loving. The Baptist covenant asks us to always be ready for reconciliation. And I really try to live in that way. And I want to second what my Sister said, sometimes it’s just about, I didn’t realize what happened till I got home. Many times I’ve gotten in my car, called my best friends, and just gone completely off and then strategized about how I was going to address the situation later in some way that was constructive.


Rev. Matthew Johnson: I’m the pastor of Fernwood Baptist Church in Spartanburg, SC, and a 2010 graduate of Wake Divinity.


The British cultural theorist Stuart Hall said, “Race is the modality in which class is lived, the medium in which class relations are experienced.” White Baptists often want to work on issues of race as separate from class and economic considerations. What can the Black Church teach the White Church about how to talk about, and act on, the intersection of race and class?


Rev. Kasey Jones: That’s a heavy question. You know, I would even argue that that’s not just the White church that has to work on that, but the Black church as well. I served my church in DC – I make a distinction between Washington and the District of Columbia, and the District of Columbia are the folks who were born and raised in DC, who have been disproportionately left out of systems – and we used to host mission teams. And my church would draw unchurched people, but they would also draw working-class, poor folks, and not biblically literate. And so the class issue I saw both from White and Black congregations. 


Because it seems like poor folks now are invisible like Black folks are to White folks. And that there is a need for empathy to be able to understand and put oneself in the place of another.


Because even politically speaking, no one talks about the poor people. It’s usually the rebuilding of the middle class. And there’s not much conversation about supporting the systems that will help elevate folks that are poor. And so what I have found is the ability to connect with folks outside of yourselves, to be able to see them as assets, not just for the community that they’re in, but assets for you. Because I would argue even in this climate of the pandemic, when financial situations are out there, there were folks who’ve been living with less than for a long time. And it’s also interesting in my congregation, what I remember about that experience, is that even when Obama was in office, and when 2016 happened, for my folks, they didn’t really see a distinction between the two. Because when you live in the short term, you don’t have the capacity to plan long term because you’re living less than paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re trying to figure out how to survive. When you’re in survival mode, it’s hard to think. And so we’ve got to find ways to connect by being in their presence. 


One of the things we talked about in CBF life, for White congregations – if you really want to do justice work, you need to move outside your comfort zone and meet in Black space. And I will say the same thing in terms of class – is that you’ve got to meet in spaces that you may find unsafe or uncomfortable. In my congregation, there were a lot of folks who had ankle bracelets because they were facing charges and sitting next to somebody that works for the DC government. That can be a special kind of place, but it takes a special kind of people to sit in that discomfort of one another.


Dr. Derek Hicks: Can I make a quick tag on that? Because I’m thinking about what Reverend Jones said, and how the Southern Christian Leadership Conference began to pivot toward the Poor People’s Campaign in ‘68 and how they were in a debate between whether they should build an entire coalition and campaign around ending the Vietnam War or go full throttle on the Poor People’s Campaign. And the Poor People’s Campaign ultimately won, even though Martin Luther King’s name had been soiled by his speaking out against the Vietnam War in the latter ‘67 and ‘68. And one of the things that they decided to do, to Sister Jone’s point, to go to Mississippi and other poor places, create coalitions that were rural Black, urban Black, rural White and Latinx, but notably to have hearing sessions, where they went to those communities to listen to what folks are saying. Which is what I’m trying to do now with the new Center that I’m starting on campus in our community-facing work to actually go to the community and hold host-hearing sessions where the primary voices that we hear are the folks within the communities who are dealing with the things that we are studying on this campus. 


So I think to that point, it’s important for us to connect with these other communities, these White communities of believers, to get them to understand that you can’t right into communities. So for example, I use this example in the book that I’m writing now, where you’ve got well-meaning White social justice workers around food insecurity going into Black communities and saying you need to eat more kale. And when I draw from my Sister Psyche Williams-Forson who makes this argument, “Don’t yuck, my yum.” There is a sense in which it sounds as though you’re coming in from on high showing the local folks how they need to act. And then my grandmother from Louisiana reminds me, “Brother, you been eating kale all your life because we raised it, I grew it in the backyard from before you were born.” And so we need to listen to communities because we might find out that there are traditions, we will in fact find that in Black communities that there are traditions of folks who have been self-reliant. Because to Sister Jone’s point, we’ve had to be and that those traditions are still vibrant within the community. And so I think a lot of White churches can stand to learn a lot from these communities.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: And what I also hear is from the three of you, thinking Sister Callahan to what you said about acting in love, even while angry or processing that anger in a loving acting way, is that whether we are within the Black church working with the White church, in the community, Poor People’s Campaign (even as it is in its current state with Reverend Liz Theoharis and Reverend Barber), this is also deconstructing a missional and missionizing model that says that the people who come in, have all of the answers, are the right ones. In a different way than we would qualify that is the colonizers have come in, colonized. And that same approach was used to missionize people. How do we deconstruct, disrupt that process that continues today?


Rev. Kevin Gardner-Sinclair: I’m the pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and a 2008 graduate of Wake Divinity.


American Individualism complicates conversations around systemic racism with White folks who immediately feel personally attacked rather than able to see themselves as a part of the whole. What might a robust Black theological vision of the beloved community teach the White church about our interconnectedness not only to each other but our ancestors’ sins and contributions to justice?


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Thank you for the question. In some ways, it goes back to our earlier conversation about this moving target. It’s funny, how on the one hand, people can completely embrace, I guess what must feel like, an abstract notion of themselves as sinners. Embrace it as a kind of core tenet and maybe on the more Calvinistic side, not only sinners but utterly depraved on the one hand. And then, on the other hand, be so fragile when it comes to the specifics around – and it’s not just personal – the notion of fallen humanity is not just about did you do something terrible, but it’s about systems. It’s about the conditions in which we are formed in a fallen world. So you know I guess in some ways I wish I could be more sympathetic to the kind of deep hurt that seems to follow these conversations. 


What I’ve been trying to do, and I think is a theological practice, is testify. I tried to ground myself in a kind of historical narrative. But then I also really just want to talk about ‘here’s what this looks like.’ So I testified to someone on my feed, who was from West Virginia where I grew up, who was actively praying for a Trump victory. And I said to this person, “Need you understand what this sounds like to me? And the experience that I have as a Black woman raising a Black child? And the horror I felt, and feel, at the prospect of telling her, and also the deep sense of, I don’t know how we would live, like really, how would we survive?”


This is a place where I think liberation theologies are helpful because they ask us to talk about and take seriously the places from which we do our theology, our experiences, the way we see the world, the experience that we have with the world. And I think that’s a place to start.


I also think that we have got to be more mature. When our children are corrected and they reply, “You hurt my feelings.” We can both say, “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, baby, I love you.” Without discounting the thing that required correction. We don’t allow “you hurt my feelings” to shut down the reality of the offense or the error or the mistake. And we don’t do that with little kids, whose feelings we are really compelled as parents to guard. Why are we doing that with adults? Why is “you hurt my feelings” the end of the conversation? And I think we need to push back and ask them why they think it should be. Why is your emotional discomfort the end of this conversation? Sister Jones talked earlier about George Floyd. Are we really talking about your feelings being hurt when people had nine minutes of knees on their necks? So I think we need to push back. But I think we can actually start from the place of theologizing. What does it mean to live in a fallen world? And how does that impact the systems of our society? And if you don’t believe the world is fallen, then what is the faith as you understand it?


Rev. Kasey Jones: One of the things I have found too, working in White space as the way I am, is number one, just acknowledging, offense is high right now. And so understanding that you may feel this way, but my question back to them is, “Let’s take a minute, and just what if, what if the stories we’re telling are true?” And so that they could try to begin to engage. Because you’re right, Sister Callahan, when the emotional impact stops the conversation, but if they can be challenged just to imagine, “Let’s just say…” and allow them to tease it out as if it may be true to begin to make some headway. Because that is a tactic, whether they understand it or not, that stalls conversation in progress. 


Rev. Ryan M. Eller: I’m the Co-Founder & Executive Director at The New Moral Majority and a 2007 graduate of Wake Divinity.


In his new book Just Faith, in a chapter titled “taking the Rev. out of Rev. Dr. MLK,” Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons discusses the unconscious racial bias pervasive throughout the common American narrative. 


As a political force, the Southern Baptist tradition (which grew out of the theological embrace of slavery) grew into particular prominence in the 80s and remains central to the electoral strategy of politicians like Donald Trump and now those running in Georgia. Already Ralph Reid has pledged to spend millions in the GA runoff to oppose Rev. Warnock. His network spent millions opposing Kamala Harris, a member of a Black Baptist church. What does it say about our larger cultural narrative that Rev. Warnock is running in GA and not all people are viewing him as a religious leader?


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: I think that’s a great question, and I was thinking that we needed to acknowledge that the Vice President-Elect is a Black Baptist. And in a National Baptist Church, interestingly. And of course, Raphael Warnock is a Black Baptist pastor. And also a longtime friend of mine – we were in seminary at the same time at the same place. So I think it gets right down, and this is a really quick answer for me. It’s the same as the narrative about legal and illegal votes. There are some people who are legit. And there are some people who are illegitimate on their face, quite literally, as this discourse goes. And so the reality is – somebody told me yesterday that I couldn’t possibly be following Jesus and hold the political views that I have. They erased my entire identity as a faithful person, as well as a faithful leader, because they didn’t like what I thought on the one hand, and they felt empowered to decide who’s legitimate and who’s not, on the other hand. That’s the bottom line, is the way White supremacy works is that White supremacists decide they feel completely empowered to decide who is legitimate. And who’s not and whose votes are legal, whose religion is legal, and whose is not. And so they can just negate the religious identity of President Obama first. And frankly, Martin King, when he’s out of their favor. When he was alive, they were negating his religious identity. And now Raphael Warnock. And Kamala Harris. So it’s a power play is a short answer.


Dr. Derek Hicks: Yes. It has just been stated. And it makes me think of the ways in which White Christians, White evangelicals, very shrewdly use counter-memory to articulate actual happenings, as though they were. But they aren’t. And how effective counter-memory, once it bubbles to the surface among them, creates this alternate universe of truth that they all align with. And so that’s why I said yes to exactly what has been said. And again, it reminds me of that first day in seminary, as long as I align with the chosen narrative then I’m okay. 


But you know, I want to push the conversation or respond to the question in another way, as to say that Black churches, Black Baptists, have always been able to expand that narrative to fold in actual truth. Folks like Fannie Lou Hamer and the work that she did, not just as it relates to voting rights in Mississippi, but later, food rights, when she says food is used as a political weapon. “If you have a pig in your backyard. And if you have some vegetables in your garden, you can feed yourself and your family and nobody could push you around.”


What comes from that, the founding of the Freedom Farm Cooperative, the founding associated with the Freedom Farm Cooperative, a pig bank. All of these things happen in response to lies about Black folks where she says no. Kind of like what Vernon Johns was saying, no, we can be landowners. Yes, we can form our own cooperatives. Yes, we can as faith communities articulate our values and practically meet our own needs. And in the face of these counter memories that flow about the nature of who the supremacists are and the nature of who the others are and are not, I think it’s just like Charles Long told us, “We’ve got to counter signify on the signifiers,” and create our narratives in ways that are more suitable.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Amen, amen, and amen. Well, I want to say thank you all so much for joining us in this Common Conversation: Black Baptists Burdens | White Baptist Pressures. I’m grateful for you all as preachers, as teachers, as scholars, as public intellectuals. If you all want to offer any final words, you’re welcome to do so.


Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan: Thank you for your moderation. Thank you to your Dean for this invitation, and thank you to my colleagues for a really wonderful conversation. I’m going to be chewing on this for a long time.


Rev. Kasey Jones: I also would like to thank you for this opportunity. And again, being on the panel with these colleagues, and Brother Thomas with your moderation. Also, creating a resource that I think will be critical to use, and in not just in the classroom, but in the church, engaging meaningful conversations. Thank you.


Dr. Derek Hicks: And I just want to echo the sentiments of my colleagues. This was wonderful. I too will be learning and extracting from this experience. And Brother Oliver, we’re friends, so I can tell you, you have done a wonderful job today. So thank you so much.


Dr. Oliver M. Thomas: Well, blessings on you all. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. 


As we end, I want to end where we began. Our ancestors have been with us, as we’ve had this conversation. And so I want to name a few before I offer words that the ancestors gave us: 


Marian Wright Edelman

Frederick Douglass 

Ella Baker

Nannie Helen Burroughs

James Melvin Washington


“O freedom, O freedom over me.

And before we’d be slaves, 

we’d be buried in our graves, 

and go home to our Lord, 

and be free.” 


That is our blessing and our prayer.


Thank you all for joining us, and we look forward to continuing this conversation in the spring.



Natalie Aho: If this is your first Common Conversation, then I encourage you to join us for all three this fall as we talk about the weight of racism. Don’t miss the discussions on ‘the load of Christian Nationalism and Baptist history’ in October; ‘Black Baptist burdens and White Baptist pressures’ in November and ‘the gravity of trauma of these enmeshed communities’ in December. And stay tuned for future series next semester. 


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