In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, the flames of rage engulfed our national conscience. Some of the anger was righteous indignation fueled by a genuine longing for justice; some of it was violent, opportunistic, and even deadly. Where do we go from here? Are we ready to deal with systemic racism? Should we "dismantle whiteness"? For those of us trying to follow Jesus, what is the Christian response to racism? We tackle all these questions and more with the help of Dr. Esau McCaulley, author of the new book "Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope," as well as a Texas couple with a truly unique perspective on recent events in our country.
"What I want to say is: 'You can't see what's happening? You can't see it?' There's probably not a more consistently disbelieved Christian community, who are consistently disbelieved by other Christians, than African Americans saying to their white brothers and sisters: 'This is what's happening to us in America.'"
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Eric Huffman:On May 25th of this year, we were 10 weeks into the COVID-19 shutdown. Emotions were running high, and patience was wearing thin. By that time, we were all hoping that we'd seen the worse of 2020, but late that night, a shaky amateur video shot with an iPhone, along a Minneapolis sidewalk began making its way around the web.
Eric Huffman:I remember the first time that I watched it. It was early in the morning. I sat at my desk with my toast and my coffee, and I scrolled through my Twitter feed. My sacred morning routine. As I scrolled, I kept seeing the same thumbnail image of a black man face down on the pavement, with a police officer's knee pinning his throat to the ground. Once I realized that half the Twitterverse was talking about it, I forced myself to watch the whole video. At first, I thought it looked bad, but not awful. That officer was being a little overzealous I thought, but everybody just needs to calm down, and let this man do his job.
Eric Huffman:It was rough to watch, to be sure, but it wasn't anything like the Arbery video, or the Castile video, or the Tamir Rice video, or so many of the other videos at the same genre that I'd previously watched. At some point, I thought, "That officer is going to get up... any minute now." Okay, now the man is clearly neutralized. Now, it's time to get up officer. Okay, he's saying he can't breathe. Now, he's calling for his momma. Okay, now he's laying in a stream of his own urine... any minute now, officer. Now he's unconscious. Officer, ease up, please. I remember yelling at my computer screen, and then I stared in disbelief as for another minute-and-a-half after George Floyd lost consciousness, Officer Derek Chauvin continued to plant his knee in the back of Floyd's neck. I remember hearing the person who held the iPhone screaming, "He is dead. You all killed that man", and they were right. George Floyd was gone.
Eric Huffman:I'm not sure why it's this video, and not any of the many other ones that came before it that sparked the fire that changed the world. Maybe it was just the cold look in that officer's eyes, as he pressed the life out of a man. Maybe it was George Floyd calling out for his mother, as he died, or maybe it was watching him die such a slow and agonizing death, instead of just seeing him instantly killed by gunshot, that awakened something in our culture. Whatever it was that caused the spark, the fiery rage against America's history of systemic racism continues to consume many of our hearts, as well as our headlines, more than three months after George Floyd fought for his final breath.
Eric Huffman:Other than reporting our season one episode on race with Rudy Rasmus, we at Maybe God have been mostly silent on the subject. We wanted to give ourselves a little time to grieve, and a little time to listen, especially to the black voices around us. Now, it's time. We need to talk about the demonic force called racism, and how we can fight this evil together.
[Maybe God Intro]
Eric Huffman:You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman.
Eric Huffman:Hey there Maybe God family. I'm so glad that you're joining us for this incredibly important conversation on race and faith. I know that everybody's experience is going to be different, but as I look back on my life, especially my childhood, it's not hard for me to see how racism has always been there, and how it's usually played in my favor. I grew up way out in the sticks of Northeast Texas. My elementary school was 100% white. Actually, I remember one time in third grade, that two black students, a brother and a sister, showed up together on day. A week later, they were gone, and nobody every knew what happened to them.
Eric Huffman:I never even had a black teacher, other than my high school basketball coach, until I got to graduate school. I had to go to junior high and high school in the next town over, because my home town only had an elementary school. When I got there, I noticed that the facilities were just awful. Later, I learn that that junior high used to be the K through 12 school for the black kids, bach in the days of segregation. I also remember how blatantly racist some older members of my family were back then, and how often I used to hear the N word at family gatherings, and even occasionally at church gatherings. Yeah, racism was a big of my upbringing.
Eric Huffman:To be fair, I also was blessed with many, many family members, including my parents, my friends as well, and some teachers who were more informed, and more aware of the problems of racism. As I look back, I can't deny that racism was real and is real today. I can't understand people who say it's not real, and we just need to move on.
Eric Huffman:The first thing I wanted to do in response to recent events in our society, was to just sit with some of the African American people who call my church, The Story Houston, their home. I just wanted to listen in to see how they're doing. You're going to hear some of that incredible conversation in a bonus episode, that we'll soon be releasing.
Eric Huffman:In this episode, we're going to be hearing from an African American bible scholar and Ph.D., who's personal experiences with racism and deep knowledge of scripture, both intersect to offer a powerful perspective on where we are as a society, and where we can go from here. First, I hope you'll lean in, and listen close to the unexpected story of Cory and Kendi, a white married couple who live with their family in Austin, Texas.
Kendi:We have four kids, 10, eight, seven, and almost four. Cory and I met our first year of college at Colorado State, and we got married right after we graduated.
Eric Huffman:Shortly after Kendi gave birth to their oldest daughter, Atlee, the couple started thinking about expanding their family.
Kendi:I value life a lot, and I think I was pretty young and fervent in my faith. In general, I wanted to say, "How can I be for life, but not do something about that, so I just asked him, "What would you have us do about this?"
Eric Huffman:Cory and Kendi attended an annual conference in Austin called, A Future and a Hope, to learn about the adoption process.
Kendi:Cory left, saying, "No way are we going to do this". I said, "Okay." About five weeks later, Cory came up to me and said, "God is now taking this out of my brain, so I think we need to start deciding what we're going to do."
Cory:The biggest part for me, was just the financial stuff. There was no way we had $20,000 plus, in order to adopt a baby. I think God took those five weeks to kind of say, "Hey look, I'm bigger than financial burdens." I said, "Okay." We started taking it step by step, and God proved incredible faithfulness throughout that entire process. We started, was it May? By October, we were fully funded with $20,000. Blew my mind away. Miraculous things like, I think it was our third or fourth training session, we were supposed to bring $1,500. Well, 24 hours before the training session, I remember very vividly telling Kendi, "We don't have $1,500".
Cory:I remember praying about it, and saying, "Hey God, we don't have $1,500. I don't know what we're supposed to do." Within less than 24 hours before we headed up to that training, I just happened to open up my bank account, and there was a deposit for $1,495. I was like, "Where is this from?" Come to find out, when I had got out of the military, I got some disability. Well, the VA realized they were not paying me for Atlee, our oldest at the time, so on their own, which is unheard of for any government agency, went back and rectified the problem, and gave it all in a lump sum. There's more than one example of that happening throughout this whole process.
Eric Huffman:Kendi and Cory were set on domestic infant adoption. At one point, they'd been selected by a pregnant mom to adopt her unborn child. After the mother gave birth, three hours before Kendi and Cory were set to bring the baby home, the mother changed her mind, and decided to parent the child herself. Six months later...
Kendi:Our agency called and said that they have a mom that has two kids that are a little bit older. They were two-and-a-half and 18 months, and we said, "You could show our profile to them." We then were chosen, and we met our two adopted kiddos 48 hours later, and they were in our house 72 hours later, after we found out.
Eric Huffman:Kendi and Cory believed this adoption happened so quickly, because of the children's race.
Kendi:Unfortunately, in the adoption world, black boys are the least desirable for adoption. There are some agencies that will actually have a lower fee associated with children of color, and in this case, Jolie and Josiah were part of an agency that none of their families in the adoption process were willing to accept them, with the primary reason being that they were black. Which is devastating to us, in regards to both agencies that we were working with are faith-based and Christian following, which would assume that the people and the families coming through love Jesus. Yet, that would be a reason to disqualify a child. That's really heartbreaking.
Eric Huffman:Today, they're raising their four kids, Atlee and Zeke, their biological children, and Jolie and Josiah, their adopted children, and struggling with issues that are not uncommon to adoptions.
Kendi:I'm still shocked by levels of attachment, and how hard that can be for kiddos that are adopted. Two-and-a-half and 18 months, a lot of people hear that those were their ages, and be like, "Oh good, they were young enough to not remember." It's just not true.
Cory:Yeah. I mean, Josiah, he goes and sees a therapist every week for trauma-based therapy, because when they come from voluntary adoption situations, they still experience trauma, just that attachment with your biological mother, and if your father was around too. It's not like they just turn the switch on and gave up their biological family, and everything's hunky dorey.
Kendi:Some of that is when our children get hurt. When Zeke gets hurt, he immediately runs for a parent, and wants to be comforted, and I would say Julie and Jolie and Josiah are 50/50 on that. If they get hurt, sometimes they'll run to a parent, but other times, they're running away, and don't know how to process that pain, but also don't know where to go to get the comfort for that pain. Another way that we see it in Jolie, more than Josiah, is she gets really, really hurt when another person outside of our family says how much Atlee looks like me. She really struggles with that. She hears, "I don't look like my mom. I don't belong. I don't fit." To love them as much as we do, and still see them struggle with that overwhelmingly, is something we pray about a lot.
Eric Huffman:Adoptions are always more complicated than they might seem on the surface, but this family also faces the added pressure of being multiracial. Part of what that entails is mending the broken heart of a little girl who comes home from school in tears, because...
Kendi:Jolie has been called poop colored at school, which, this is hard, because kids see color.
Cory:Why couldn't it have been like chocolate?
Kendi:We had to talk about that. I was like, "Baby, he's trying to be mean, and he may be racist, but he may not be. Here's what I do know. I know that..." I just talked about who she is, and God, and her skin color, and how there are some really great things that are brown, like brownies, and chocolate, and-
Kendi:Jesus, and her. We try and navigate that. Josiah had a hard time following directions in a class. In one gymnastics class, he kept disrupting this little girl, and I got a call that day saying he was going to be removed from the class, because the parent complained. Inherently, I just think people see my son, especially, and if he's aggressive it's taken a different way than my white son when he's aggressive. Boys will be boys applies to my white son. To my black son, we have to be much tighter on like, "We can't do that, because of how it could be perceived." In that regard, I do think he's not treated the same. I'm elated we hired a black woman in our school for our next Principal, and both my kids were shocked, and elated to see a woman in authority, who rightfully deserves to be there, lead, and she's the only person of color in our school right now on staff.
Eric Huffman:Cory and Kendi admit that when they started the adoption process six years ago, they considered themselves colorblind, a word that many well-meaning white people still use today to explain how we see everybody the same. They had no idea how adopting black children would force them to rethink everything they thought they knew about race in America.
Kendi:I have to correct a lot with people who tell us what great people we are, we have saved these kids. We haven't saved these kids. We really know that God used our kids to open our eyes to the world, and the injustices, and to show us our white privilege, and our white savior mindset. Initially, for us, the colorblind mentality had to get blown up, and it did. Some of the ways that that happened for us, Jolie and I would walk through Target, and she would ask me, with every black woman that she saw, if that was her mom.
Kendi:That was just the beginning of, she doesn't see any black people right now. I would walk into our church, and I would not see a black person, and we are in a church of 7,000. I was just like, something is missing. I started learning a lot of terms, like white fragility, and white privilege, and what that looks like. That's just where I started to peel off the layers of the onion, and I was like, "Oh, no." I actually think that's where a lot of white people stop. We want it to not be what it is, but when we start to peel the onion, it's just so potent, and so overwhelming that we're like, "No, let's just put this back together. It's too hard."
Cory:I think for me, and I'm still wrestling with it, is just the whole concept of white privilege. I'm not questioned walking into a store now with my black daughter or black son. I have friends who have lighter skinned children, and they're black, and everyone stares at them. They think that they're doing something wrong, whereas I would get praised. They're like, "Oh, you're the good white dude." They don't say this, obviously, but they express it like, "Hey, you're the saving white guy that's taking these poor black kids off the streets", versus friends of mine who are black, they have lighter skinned kids that look almost white or Hispanic, and they get the opposite treatment. Security's watching them, and these are prominent black men. Of course, this year even, with everything going on, really trying to understand that we do have a privilege of being white.
Eric Huffman:Like most of us, Cory and Kendi were shocked by the George Floyd video, but unlike any of us, their vantage point of that tragedy was unimaginably complicated. As they watched a black man die under the weight of a white police officer, they did so through a combination of lenses unique to them.
Eric Huffman:Not only are they the white parents of black children, Cory is also a police officer with the Austin PD.
Cory:My official title is I'm a Senior Police Officer, and I work in the Criminal Interdiction Unit. Our job is to hunt and go after high level criminals, whether it's drug smugglers, or bank robbers, anything like high level organization.
Eric Huffman:As a police officer, Cory doesn't rush to judgment when his colleagues appear to be have badly on YouTube. He says viral video clips never tell the whole story.
Eric Huffman:My initial reaction, when I saw that video, just like every video, it only gives you two dimensions. You don't know everything that's going on, and because of my own personal experience with the media, and stuff I've been involved in, I've seen how it's poorly portrayed.
Kendi:It's really hard as a parent of black children and a wife of a police officer. It's hard to not default, like we all do, to what we identify with. We've seen enough to know that defaulting with police is also not safe or wise, and so I feel ripped in two.
Cory:My first reaction is, what's actually going on? What led up to this?
Kendi:Why aren't the other police officers stopping what's going on?
Cory:That there was actually four of them on his back, not just one...
Kendi:Then I thought, what did George Floyd do wrong?
Cory:All that stuff's like, you've seen it across the nation, we're all appalled by it. It's like, "Are you kidding me?"
Kendi:Ripped in two is for me, probably the only way I know how to devise that.
Cory:Have I had to use my weight to hold somebody on the ground to affect an arrest? Absolutely. Do I let them up as soon as we're done? Absolutely. You just don't do that. That's one thing we were taught in the Academy, you don't keep someone on their stomach, because it is hard to breathe. The protest started going off. I'm totally 100% for it, that's because one thing I can't stand more than anything else is a dirty cop.
Reporter:Hi, I'm live at the Austin Police Headquarters downtown. They are boarding up the police headquarters to prepare for more protests. At one point, water bottles and other objects were thrown at officers, but APD said no officers...
Kendi:To see my husband go downtown for 22 days in 60 pounds of gear, to be ready in case a brick is thrown at him, or bleach water guns are squirted at him, or real guns pointed and shot at him, and knowing that's why he's going into it, but then also Josiah begging me to ride his bike down the street, and me having to say no.
Kendi:I watched that and thought, Josiah is not going to be small in 10 years, so is he going to be threatening to somebody?
Cory:I fear for the day that my son, Josiah, when he becomes 16 years old, because he has severe ADHD, which comes out in very impulsive behaviors. He's very aggressive, flies of the handle. Even as a cop, I'm scared for the day that he is pulled over when he's 16, and whoever pulls him over doesn't understand what's going on in his brain. I would not be surprised if I lost my job trying to protect my son, so I have that tension going on inside of me, as well as my duty to protect people, and protect the officers I'm with, because there are people who are trying to kill us. I'm scared for next year, because we have no support from our cities and higher governments, and so it's going to cause officers to lessen their reaction, which is going to get a lot of them killed. I had open and honest conversations with friends of mine who are black, and hearing their stories and where they've come from, and their experiences, I just feel like I'm in the middle being pulled 50 different directions. I'm really struggling on how to deal with it mentally.
Eric Huffman:Cory says he's never witnessed firsthand a cop pulling over a black man solely based on the color of his skin, but he does see racism playing out differently, as a police officer who specializes in crimes related to drug trafficking.
Cory:If you have a white guy and a black guy that get arrested for the same amount of dope, then there's a much higher chance the white person's going to get off probation, or something like that, versus the black guy. The '60s, as far as the color fountain and the white water fountain, that doesn't necessarily exist anymore, but it's built into the fabric of our culture in so many different ways. Just having that, my eyes started to crack open to see that, has been mind blowing, and sad, and disgusting, and hard to struggle with. That's been a good struggle, but it's been a struggle.
Cory:At the end of the day, I think how I've changed, is I've just learned to treat people like human beings. I have arrested people, and they have thanked me in the back of my patrol car, in handcuffs, going to jail, for the way that I treated them. To me, that means I'm doing my job right.
Cory:It's sad. It shouldn't come to this, that's what Jesus talked about. His entire ministry was about loving people, but it really took, especially Jolie and Josiah, for that to come to the forefront. Jesus loves all these people, so why should I be treating them any differently? Even if they were MF'ing me, or we were fighting, or whatever, I've got to be able to bring it back, and stay calm, and still treat them like a human being, because at the end of the day, no matter what they've done, they still are a human being.
Eric Huffman:Kendi says her hope is for law enforcement to be on the side of civil rights, even though historically, they've been in conflict. In the meantime, they're focused on doing what's best for their kids, which has led them into some unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. One of the toughest decisions they've made, was leaving their predominantly white church of 7,000+ members, and joining a congregation called Mosaic, that prides itself on being multi-ethnic. Kendi wants to see more churches lead the way, like Mosaic has. Not just by welcoming and including everybody, but also by educating white Christians about racism, and enlisting them as co-conspirators in the fight.
Kendi:From a white person, we don't know what we don't know. I will say people of color know white culture way better than white people do, and we cannot even begin to see that sin in our life, with only white people. We're told that we've fought through our job, or we earned this thing, and it had nothing to do with anything else but my hard work. It's just not true. If you surround yourself with people who don't ever look like that, or who have not had that experience, then you can't even see it.
Eric Huffman:Even though Kendi and Cory couldn't possibly have known what they were singing up for when they adopted Jolee and Josiah six years ago, and even though there have been days where, frankly, they felt outmatched and they wanted to give up, they're choosing to be grateful. Grateful for all four of their children, equally. Grateful that their eyes have been opened to the evils of systemic racism. Even though there's still work to be done, they're also hopeful. Hope that their kids are growing up at a time in America, when people are willing to acknowledge injustice, and to fight to make it right.
Kendi:I want them to love Jesus, and follow him. I want each of them to pursue things that are uniquely gifted to them. I especially want Jolee and Josiah to feel loved, and a sense of belonging, and to also have their blackness, which is hard to have that right now. I just want all of my kids to have an equal opportunity to pursue what God has for them. That looks different right now in the world. Jolee and Josiah are going to have to work harder to have that, and Cory and I are going to have to work harder to make sure that they have that.
Cory:I would say, outside of knowing Jesus, I want all of my kids, all four of them, I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to love themselves, and I want them to love others, just like Jesus does.
Eric Huffman:It's crazy how things happen sometimes. Earlier this year, Julie, our Maybe God producer was on a weekend getaway with her husband and their kids. As they sat around a fire by the lake, they happened to strike up a conversation with another family that was staying next door. They sat under the stars and talked for hours, upon hours about life, COVID-19, raising kids and God. They talked a lot about God. That couple was Cory and Kendi. Julie knew right away that we needed to tell their story on Maybe God. What better way to put into perspective everything we've experienced this year, than by hearing the story of a family that is both black and white, both police and civilian, both Christian and anti-racist? Their story is a reminder that the only way out of this mess is together. We are recording on our-
Dr. Esau McCaully:I've not started. Hold on one second. I've not started recording yet.
Eric Huffman:All right.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I'm recording now.
Eric Huffman:Can you hear me?
Dr. Esau McCaully:I'm recording now.
Eric Huffman:All right.
Dr. Esau McCaully:There's a solid red dot. I am definitely recording.
Eric Huffman:All right, good. Excellent, thank you.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Yeah, save that...
Eric Huffman:Dr. Esau McCaully is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. I first encountered his work in an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times, in the wake of George Floyd's killing, and the protest that followed. Not only did McCaully earn his Ph.D. at St. Andrews University studying under the great N.T. Wright, he's also an ordained clergyman in the Anglican Church. Today, he lives in Illinois with his wife, a military reservist and doctor in the Navy, and their four children. His story begins in the deep south.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Anyone who knows anything about the geography of Alabama knows its relationship to the civil rights movement.
Eric Huffman:On March 7th, 1965, when civil rights activists began a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to press for voter registration for African Americans, the unarmed protesters were confronted with Billy clubs and tear gas. That day later became known as Bloody Sunday.
Eric Huffman:Huntsville, where Esau grew up is just a few hours north of Selma.
Dr. Esau McCaully:There were moves to integrate Huntsville. My mom was the first member of our family to go to integrated schools, all the way through.
Eric Huffman:Esau was born about a decade after the Civil Rights Act was passed, but when he turned 16 and started driving, he quickly became aware what it's like to receive special attention from the authorities, simply for being a young black man.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I was driving my mom's car to the high school where she had been at the basketball game, because she was in the PTA.
Eric Huffman:On his way to pick up his mother, he still admits that he was speeding.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I think I was going, like, 30 in a 25, or 35 in a 25.
Eric Huffman:He was pulled over by the police, and just as the officer was about to give him a ticket, he looked into the car and asked Esau, "Hey, what's that stuff in the passenger seat?"
Dr. Esau McCaully:I said, "There's nothing in the seat next to me." He said, "I see this substance that looks like drugs." Earlier that day, I had Krispy Kreme donuts. This is huge, I think that Krispy Kreme used to-
Eric Huffman:Them flakes.
Dr. Esau McCaully:...you know how you can have those flakes. The flakes were, you know sometimes they get into little lining in the seats?
Dr. Esau McCaully:I was eating them while I was driving.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Yeah. I said, "Officer, I had Krispy Kreme donuts. That is sugar." He says, "Get out of the car."
Eric Huffman:From the back seat of the squad car, Esau leaned forward and watched as officers inspected his mother's car.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I see him go in, and look into the thing on the seat and kind of, basically I think he tasted it. That's something he had, "This isn't drugs at all." The cop was so embarrassed, he didn't even give me the ticket.
Eric Huffman:That wasn't the last time Esau was targeted by law enforcement.
Dr. Esau McCaully:One time, I think I was either a junior or senior in high school at this point. I'm driving to the mall, because we're going to go to the mall for a few hours, like teenagers did back in those days. Then, we were going to go to a party at a friend's house. We stopped at a gas station on a main road on the way to the mall. We saw some friends there. We stopped and we talked to them. We said, "Hey, we're going to go to the mall, then we're going to go to this party over on this part of town." They said, "Oh, yeah. We'll see you there." I pump my gas, and I'm getting ready to leave. All of a sudden, an SUV pulls up right behind me. I was like, "That's kind of strange. I'm going to move pretty soon. There's no reason for him to be this close to my tail." All of a sudden, another unmarked SUV pulls up in front of me, and so now I can neither back up nor go forward.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I'm initially thinking to myself, "Am I getting carjacked?" Which is strange, because I have a Delta 88. It wasn't like a very fancy car. I was like, "Why would you rob me?", and this is the middle of a well lit gas station. The people who come out of those SUVs and surround the car, and they started flashing lights into the car. "Get your hands up. Get your hands up." It was actually the police. The police told us to get our hands up. I remember I had a friend next to me, he said, "I'm not putting my hands up. I didn't do anything." In that moment, I remember thinking... My life almost flashed before my eyes. I said to him, I said, "Listen, get your hands up." That's what I said, but in my brain, I was thinking it doesn't matter whether or not this is right or wrong. The purpose is to survive the next 15 minutes.
Dr. Esau McCaully:The police get us all out of the car. I think there was four of us in the car, and they asked for all four of our licenses. They begin to search the entire vehicle. I remember asking the cop, "Why are you searching us? What did we do?" He said, "This is a well-known place where drug deals are often taking place." I'm thinking, "It's on a well lit road right to the mall, and it's also a well-known place to go and get gas, so how can you determine that I was making a drug deal, and not just buying gas, when I went in, bought gas, came out and filled up my gas tank?" The only thing that I did was stop and have a brief conversation outside with another group of black people and pointed them to where we were going. He said that was a drug deal.
Dr. Esau McCaully:They searched the entirety of car. They emptied out my glove compartment. They emptied out everything in the trunk, and they didn't find anything. They didn't apologize. They just said, "You're free to go." These may seem like the most extreme examples, but I can tell you about what it's like to be black in public spaces, and to be harassed, and to be stopped, and to be questioned, and always asking yourself, "How much am I going to stand up for myself?" You resist these things.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Here's the question, what happens when this incident occurs time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time. You get this deep sense of frustration that rises up in your soul. How does the gospel speak both to saying African America should not be treated this way, and give African Americans resources to say more than just revenge.
Eric Huffman:As we spoke, Esau told me there's a phrase that some in the African American community use to describe the racial profiling that he and so many others have experienced while behind the wheel. Driving while black. That phrase inspired the title of his latest book that's due out September 1st. Reading While black, African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. The timing of Reading While Black may seem a little too perfect, but McCaully actually started writing it years ago, when he noticed a trend in the news cycle.
Dr. Esau McCaully:It started to be video, after video, after video of African Americans who were killed by the police, and who are experiencing all kinds of racial injustice. I said to myself, "Well, how does my scholarship actually serve the community that formed me?" I recognized that my scholarship didn't. I said, "You know what? I need to do something differently. I need to write the book that I would have needed to read when I was coming up as a Christian from the ages, like 18 to 25." I didn't need a book that was about black people, I needed a book that was to black people.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I sat down one day, and I said, "What are the constant things that I struggle with as a Christian, trying to make sense of, as I lived both then and now?" I said, "Well, a big question that the African Americans are always asking about is policing. Does the bible care about how the state policing its citizens?" I'm sketching out the book. I want a chapter on policing, but I said, "Also, this other problem that I experienced is this deep frustration with America." As an African American Christian, there's this quote by James Baldwin, "To be a Negro in America, and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all of the time." When you start to understand the history of what happens in this country, there's this deep anger that can sometimes rise in our hearts. I wrote a chapter on black rage, and how the gospel speaks of black rage-
Dr. Esau McCaully:...without minimizing the feelings that black Americans have. One of the articles that I wrote in the New York Times called, What Does Psalm Say About Black Rage is actually a portion of that chapter. In that article, I make the argument that the psalms themselves speak about deep anger about injustice, right? How long, oh Lord? Will the wicked triumph forever? In the oppressed, in the psalm, it's trying out to God.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Saying, "God, bring judgment upon my enemies." In that same bible, where the Jewish people are saying, "Bring judgment upon all of these people, especially the foreign nations that are oppressing us, their passage is like Isaiah 49, where God says, "It is too light a thing for you to restore the trial of Judas, and to bring back the nation of Israel, but I will be a light to the gentiles." In the New testament itself, there's both the call for judgment upon one's enemies, and a vision for what comes after that judgment. There's the vision for the eschatological salvation of the gentiles in the Old Testament, in which the Jews would have every reason to hate them.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I think that that tension is resolved on the cross, right? The cross both allows me to say, "Sin is utterly serious, and there's a path towards forgiveness." I try to, in the book, not simply explain away black concerns for justice by saying the cross makes us one. Forgiveness doesn't actually require the lack of truth telling, or the lack of transformation of systems. What the gospel does, it says there's more than revenge.
Eric Huffman:Right, yeah.
Dr. Esau McCaully:It can't simply be, "I take revenge upon you, and usually when I take revenge upon you, that revenge is disproportionate, which creates its own grievances." That party rises up, and it's the cycle of violence and revenge. What I wanted to say in that chapter, is the cross breaks the wheel. You see what I mean?
Eric Huffman:Yeah, yeah. No, I totally get it, and I think the first time I accessed your work was the New York Times article that you mentioned earlier, and you actually analogize the psalms with the race riots that were going on after the George Floyd killing. Not just George Floyd, but Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and others. So many of these are being caught on video now, which I've got to think has changed the whole game, because it causes people to believe your stories.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Eric, it might be a weird question. How old are you?
Eric Huffman:I'm 41.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Okay, so we're the same age. We grew up together.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Do you remember Rodney King?
Eric Huffman:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Esau McCaully:Rodney King was the first time this was really, really well captured on video.
Dr. Esau McCaully:It happened to be that the guy who was videotaping, he had like a VHS recorder, just happened to be in the spot at the right time.
News Reporter 1:Now the story that might never have surfaced, of someone hadn't picked up his home video camera. We've all seen the pictures of Los Angeles police officers beating a man they had just pulled over.
News Reporter 2:The three police officers facing felony criminal charges were among a group of 15 who stopped a 25-year old black man last Saturday night, then beat him, kicked him, and clubbed him unaware that an amateur photographer was recording the incident on videotape.
Dr. Esau McCaully:There was a sense in which we had that one incident, and that led to a lot of unrest. It's not because people are upset about a particular incident, it's that the internet triggers their own memories.
Dr. Esau McCaully:When you see the Rodney King or the George Floyd thing, it isn't that I'm mad about this, it's that we have been saying this for years, but now with phones, there's the assumption that we see everything.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Phones and cameras everywhere. You have video, after video, after video, after video, and so that is not proving the point. It's manifesting the problem. When the resurrection occurs, and this is an analogy. When the resurrection occurs, and the soldiers have to go back and report, "Oh, this earthquake happened", and all of this stuff. In Matthew's gospel it says, "Well, they bribed the solders not to tell what happened."
Eric Huffman:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Esau McCaully:Here's another option. You could say, "What in the world is going on at the tomb, like the people who hired the soldiers?" Maybe they could say, "Who is this Jesus character actually, and why are these people actually telling their story about Christ being risen?" In other words, the event at the tomb was an epistemological crisis, and rather than change their worldview, the people who bribed the solders decided to push it away.
Eric Huffman:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Esau McCaully:What I'm saying is, these videos are creating an epistemological crisis. African Americans have said for centuries that racism is a systemic problem. We've said for decades upon decades, that the way in which we're policed is a problem. Actually, now these videos are occurring, and you have a choice. You can rethink the ways which you failed to take seriously African American Christian testimony, or you can find evidence to support your worldview.
Dr. Esau McCaully:What I want to say is you can't see what's happening? You can't see it? I talk about this. There's probably not a more consistently disbelieved Christian community who can consistently disbelieve by other Christians than African American saying to their white brothers and sisters, "This is what's happening to us in America."
Dr. Esau McCaully:We're consistently being told, "No, it's not." With video...
News Reporter 1:Now, to a deadly shooting that's inflamed racial tension in a Georgia community.
News Reporter 2:A black family in Georgia pressed today for authorities to act, after the shooting death of their son. Ahmaud Arbery was killed after two men, white men, chased him.
News Reporter 3:This morning, the video drawing international attention. Ahmaud Arbery, who is African American, is seen running on a Sunday afternoon in February in Brunswick, Georgia. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, who are white, are in a pickup truck ahead, both armed. Travis fires a shotgun and kills Arbery.
Dr. Esau McCaully:People think that these cases are evidence in a trial that can still go one way or the other. People think, "Okay, well if Ahmaud Arbery's death is racial, then that kind of puts a tick on America's racist category. If it's not, then America is innocent." Each case becomes this national conversation, and it feels like each verdict is trying to do more work than it can.
Dr. Esau McCaully:What I want to say to people, is I don't need anymore evidence.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I don't need anymore evidence.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, and-
Dr. Esau McCaully:I am convinced.
Eric Huffman:I do think that a lot more people, and a lot more white people are becoming convinced, after not being convinced. I think video evidence is helping. I think the younger generations are far more along in this conversation. However, I think what a lot of white Christians miss is what you said earlier, about the fact that it's not just about George Floyd. It's not just about the merits of the case with Ahmaud Arbery. It's that these events caught on video evoke memories of real trauma, and multiples memories for every black person that's grown up in America. That is the truth we have to deal with, not was George Floyd a criminal or not? That's irrelevant to the Christian conversation. It actually adds more credence to the forgiveness and grace components of Christianity.
Dr. Esau McCaully:The death of all human persons is a tragedy, regardless of what they did, regardless what they did. It's a tragedy. Here's the thing. When I experienced racism, especially from other Christians, I'm not in the first place angry with them, in the sense of I want to fight them. My first response is deep sadness. We claim to follow the same God, and you would talk to me like this. I was like, this sense of I don't understand how you can read the bible that we both claim is God's word to us for our good, and treat people like that. It's just like, I don't understand why so many white Christians are invested in denying the reality of black pain.
Eric Huffman:This is where many of our conversations about race come to a fork in the road. I believe the overwhelming majority of white folks in America know that racism is real, and we can see the pain that many black Americans are in, but when we come to that fork in the road, we don't always know which way to go, because one path means turning a blind eye to the problem altogether, and to the pain of black Americans, and just pretending like everything's fine as it is. That's always tempting, because we're human, and we like to think everything's okay. We like to think we're okay, and we're all afraid of change.
Eric Huffman:The other path means fully accepting the problem that we see, fully accepting our complicity in it, but listen, that path is scary, because we have no idea what the consequences could be, or that path might lead us. Paralyzed by uncertainty, most of us stand at the fork in the road and freeze, and it's in our frozen state that we say things like, "All lives matter", and, "I don't see race", and, "I'm colorblind". These phrases and others like them are often said with the best of intentions, but to Esau McCaully and many other black Americans, they also reveal a lack of basic empathy and respect.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I think what people are trying to say when they speak about being colorblind, is they're trying to say that I don't judge people on the basis of their ethnicity. It's often times that language, "I'm colorblind", is used when African Americans are talking about the impact of racism on their lives. It's weaponized against people who are saying, "I'm being treated poorly because of the color of my skin". Colorblind as a weapon functions to downplay issues of systemic racism. The bible does not speak of a colorblind theology, in the sense that it says ethnic differences are of no consequence. This is what I mean. The vision of the bible, in the Book of Revelations, chapter seven, version nine, is every tribe, tongue and nation gathered around the throne worshiping God.
Dr. Esau McCaully:When the bible talks about there's neither Jew, nor greed, slave, nor free, male, nor female, he doesn't say that Jewishness and gentileness cease to exist in the same way he doesn't mean that gender ceases to exist. He is saying as it relates to establishing position in the kingdom of God, your ethnicity doesn't matter. Me being a black Christian doesn't make me a better Christian inherently than a white Christian, but it doesn't mean that my blackness doesn't matter. When you get to the end of the bible, God is saying, "Look, I did something that the secular world could never do. I gathered all of these people under the gracious rule of my son."
Eric Huffman:The question of race in the bible is complex, because the concept of race itself didn't even exist in bible times, at least not as we think of it today. The idea of race emerged along with the rise of the European colonization of Africa and the Americas, as well as the intercontinental slave trade centuries ago. When the bible differentiates between people, it's almost always in reference to a certain group's nationality, or their religious identity, and almost never about the different skin colors. Still, Esau is 100% correct that God intended for his people to be diverse, and to look different. Throughout the bible, God wants to bring these diverse groups of people back together again, to live in unity under this proverbial roof for all eternity.
Dr. Esau McCaully:There is one that I actually think we often get wrong, and that's Moses' wife. They were mad that Moses had this Egyptian woman as a wife. A lot of people see that as racism, because the Jews looked down upon the Egyptians. Here's the thing, I actually think that our American racism causes to misinterpret that passage, because in that time period, the Egyptians were seen as culturally superior to the Hebrews. It wasn't the fact that he had a lower class woman, it was possibly that he had a higher class woman-
Dr. Esau McCaully:...that Moses is arrogant, because he's married to this Egyptian woman. Think about it. When Joseph comes into the Promised Land, and he starts to rise in Egypt, what do they give Joseph as a sign of his status? An Egyptian wife.
Dr. Esau McCaully:It's possible they were jealous for elevating his status, but we are so racialized in America, we see Egyptian woman, we think African, we think she must have been inferior.
Eric Huffman:Wow. Oh man, I get it. You're blowing my mind.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I would say that the bible does have racism in it, but it's not necessarily that in the bible white people are racist against black people.
Eric Huffman:Not long a go, the general consensus in our society was that anybody of any race can be racist, and that racism was a universal human condition. In recent years, as a response to perceived, persistent inequalities, as well as the series of viral videos showing black Americans suffering indignities and violence at the hands of police officers, our cultural conversation has shifted dramatically. Many experts and scholars in the field of race relations have begun calling out whiteness as the root of America's racism. Over the past decade, dozens of scholarly books and articles have been written that call for the dismantling of not only white supremacy and white patriarchy, but also white fragility, white normativity, and even the dismantling of whiteness itself. As the white pastor of a mostly white church, of course I struggle with the idea of dismantling whiteness as a starting point for solving racism.
Dr. Esau McCaully:I think this is a very, very complicated issue. When they talk about the category of white in America, to us it just seems like a completely intuitive thing. A white person is someone who appears to be white, but this was actually adjudicated in laws throughout the United States history. For example, what separates a black person from a white person? They did the one drop rule. We have one drop of black blood, you're put in the category black, not the category white. The purpose of that was to say who could and couldn't experience integrated schools, or integrated facilities.
Dr. Esau McCaully:When they talk about white as a legally defined term in American history, it was actually defined in law so they can tell who got what. Whiteness describes the series of legal advantages that were given to white people by a law in America. Now, years later, we began to unravel many of those laws related to these privileges, but the category of whiteness then, now just says I'm a white person. What a person is attempting to say is that these laws created cultural advantages, systemic advantages and still remain.
Dr. Esau McCaully:When people talk about dismantling whiteness, what they're attempting to say is dismantle the privileges that accrue. The problem is some people will say, "Well, as a white person, I don't experience any privileges, so it feels deeply offensive." They go, "Well, no. I don't have any privilege from being white. I grew up poor. I got a job, A, B and C." It's almost like when you say deconstruct whiteness, I want to say, "What about whiteness do you want to deconstruct?"
Dr. Esau McCaully:I'm not saying that I have a problem with the term whiteness, I'm just saying that just like in any other phrase, what is in the category whiteness? Is it simply all the things that you don't like about America? It's the actual advantages that accrue to white people that we want to deconstruct. That's kind of where I'm trying to get there and understand the nuances of that. It's like anything else. People are defining whiteness differently. There's not one definition of whiteness that exists.
Eric Huffman:It is a term that is not well received by white people, generally, other than the most hardcore of white allies. I think if we're trying to achieve reconciliation, our words really matter, if we want to try to build coalition.
Dr. Esau McCaully:This is what I want to say about language, and people not receiving it well. There isn't a series or terms that African Americans have ever created to describe their oppression, that have been agreed to by the majority culture. Ultimately, we're saying many people there are living in sin, and being called out about your sin is a problem. The difficulty is it requires people to understand what the term means. Whiteness does not mean that every white person, because they are white, are sinful. Whiteness means that the privileges that accrue to you, as a white person, that you may not be aware of, are unjust and we need to deconstruct those privileges.
Eric Huffman:Then, let's call it privilege. As long as we call the bad thing whiteness, I'll never not be white. I think that's going to be a nonstarter for people that we want to bring along in this conversation. It's too personal. I can divorce myself from privilege, I can out myself for privilege, I can't stop being white.
Dr. Esau McCaully:The term whiteness is not a hill that I want to die on.
Eric Huffman:Something dramatic happened in the New Testament after Jesus went to heaven, and the church was born. In some unprecedented ways, people of different ethnicities and nationalities started coming together, calling each other brother and sister. It's hard to explain what a phenomenon that was, and how strange it was back then for people who spoke different languages, and had different skin tones, and even different religious practices to come together under one roof to share a meal, to read scripture and worship the same God together, but that's exactly what happened.
Eric Huffman:In one of his letters, the apostle Paul insisted that the reconciliation we seek between us has always happened. Jesus has already reconciled us to one another, and all we need to do is accept that fact, and have faith that we are already one in Christ, and that nothing on this earth can separate us. In another passage, Paul wrote to a diverse group of people, "Hey, we're no longer Jews and Greeks anymore. We're no longer male and female anymore. We're not even slaves and free people anymore, we are one in Christ, Jesus." I asked Esau what goes through his mind when he hears Christians quoting scriptures like these and saying things like, "Racism, that's a worldly problem. We Christians are one in Christ. We've already been reconciled by his blood, so why are we still even talking about racism?"
Dr. Esau McCaully:When you say, "Let's have reconciliation", that is amazing. As long as we're not using reconciliation to short circuit the call for justice. Justice and reconciliation aren't enemies. The reason that I contend for justice, or contend for racial equality is so that we can actually be together in community, because it's really hard to be in community when I'm consistently feeling like I am being treated unjustly. Justice, to me, serves as the road to reconciliation. If your spouse is cheating on you, and you don't want to leave her, you can say, "I want to reconcile with you. I really do. I want God to be glorified, despite the fact that one of us has done profound evil." You can't keep cheating, and then talk about reconciliation.
Eric Huffman:How do you think you could help me understand?
Dr. Esau McCaully:The first thing I do is stop cheating.
Eric Huffman:Right. I get it. How do you think you could help me and my listeners, my white listeners especially, understand the betrayal you've felt from white Christianity, or from white evangelicalism in recent years?
Dr. Esau McCaully:Here's the thing. This is funny. I have white Christian friends who love Jesus, and who fight for justice. My community, the people who I actually live with day to day, aren't betraying me. It would be unfair of me to say that all evangelicals are the most wicked people in the world, but I am disappointed in what I see to be the ways in which the Christians who are opposing this are distorting their deepest Christian principles, that justify the unjustifiable. I'm more in a place of lament. Sorry, this is in the psalms.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Had it been someone else, I could have understood it, but it was you, my own familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together, he walked into the household of God. David is saying, "Yes, I'm hurt by this, but I'm still going to keep going to the house of God." I feel like I'm emotionally at a distance from that section of evangelicalism. What I would say to the people who are still there, come home. Stop sitting.
Eric Huffman:Right, stop cheating.
Dr. Esau McCaully:...and come home. Yeah, stop cheating, we can be reconciled. We believe the bible over here.
Dr. Esau McCaully:We believe in personal salvation, the atoning work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Salvation, the Living and the Death, the Nicene Creed, the Apostle Creed. We believe all of it. The lie is if you come over here and care about this stuff, you're going to stop believing those things. It is possible to say the two things at the same time. The bible is true, and fighting injustice. You could also say because the bible is true, I'm fighting injustice.
Eric Huffman:Of course. Do you feel like a knowledge of and trust in the bible is fading away? I sense, when I get wind of some more modern movements, Black Lives Matter and others, I get a sense of more of a distrust of the bible as a tool of the oppressor, rather than building our arguments for reconciliation on the bible's premises.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Yeah, that's the in house conversation that's going on in the black community. I don't want to attribute that to the entire black church, and I don't believe in a narrative of decline. What I want to say is that in every community, the trust is contested. I don't want to present myself as the person whose looking at black Christians and going, "All you all are losing your way." That I do what to say is that there's a question that's being posed. Is the bible a friend or foe in the search for justice? The bible actually shapes our understanding of justice, and it helps us contend for it. What I want to say is, the bible isn't simply baptizing what's going on in the secular culture, it's that many of the things the secular culture are talking about themselves have biblical roots. Many of the principles about justice that we're looking for, I don't need Karl Marx, when I've got Moses.
Dr. Esau McCaully:Why did they edit the slave bible? I think I was reading a story, it said something like 60% of the bible was taken out before they gave it to the slaves. It's because they kept seeing all over this book, if the Africans get a hold to this thing, this is powerful.
Eric Huffman:That's right.
Dr. Esau McCaully:We've got to edit it. 60% of it.
Eric Huffman:Wow. Can you summarize that argument for me? If you're sitting in front of a naturally, understandably enraged young black man, you're trying to explain when the bible is worth its time, in terms of this fight against oppression. How do you couch that in terms of the bible narrative?
Dr. Esau McCaully:I would probably say something along the lines, everything that you want to say about people being oppressed, is that Jesus, this starts with Jesus. Jesus' first sermon, "I'm going to be first and foremost for the stepped on peoples of the world."
Dr. Esau McCaully:Jesus came from a people who are stepped on. Jesus was under the dominion of a foreign power. His own land wasn't free, and was policed by solders. In this world, and when Jesus came in to, where there was one group of people who were saying, "You should kill your enemies", there's another group of people saying, "You draw from the world", Jesus had a different message. Jesus' message is, there is a king, and there is a kingdom, and this is what God's kingdom looks like. In order to participate in this kingdom, we all have to repent. Even people who fight for justice have to recognize there are ways in which, not just as it relates to injustice, but in ways which they themselves have sinned, and exploited other people. There are no truly innocent people other than the innocent one. When people hear who Jesus is, I don't even got to tell them that they're sinful. They look at who Jesus is in their life, and say, "I'm going to follow this person. I've got to become a different kind of guy."
Dr. Esau McCaully:You can't live your whole Christian life because Jesus agrees with you about justice, because at a certain point, you're going to get discouraged, and you're going to say, "America's never going to change." Christian protest isn't just a baptism of secular protest, it is cross shaped.
Eric Huffman:What is a cross shaped protest?
Dr. Esau McCaully:This is what I mean. The ends and the means must be the same. The end of protest is the transformation of society, to me, it's themselves have to be Christian. Christ rejected violence as the means of transforming the world. Instead, he dies for it. As the Christian, I'm not going to violently protest. Am I going to be in those same streets? Yes. Am I going to be saying that these things that were done to us are unjust? Yes. Am I going to participate in rioting? No, I'm not, because as a Christian, that's not how I believe... Jesus came to the world nonviolently and changed the world through that nonviolence.
Eric Huffman:That is...
Dr. Esau McCaully:This is Martin Luther King, right? The means and the ends have to both be Christian. It can't simply be, I get a Christian result. It has to be that when I look back upon what I did, I can say not only did I try to achieve Christian ends, but I lived my life as best as I understood it, as a follower of Jesus.
Eric Huffman:You know, I think that is a word that the world, the white Christian world especially, needs to hear. I think we all have a tendency to justify our sin when we're not ready to reconcile with it. We're not ready to repent, and a lot of us, we're looking, I think subconsciously even, for excuses, for reasons to avoid repentance, and even joining the protest. We talked about victim blaming, or character assassination of people like George Floyd, and using that as an excuse to not join in, or talking about the Marxist tendencies of the leadership of whatever, Black Life Matters, Antifa, whatever we're talking about in the public sphere, and we just look for the riots. I don't know what small percentage of the overall protests turned into riots, but whatever percentage that was, we tend to use that as an excuse to not join in.
Dr. Esau McCaully:God is not glorified by our detached analysis of how people are doing it wrong. God is glorified when we show them a better way.
Eric Huffman:God is not glorified by our detached analysis of how people are doing it wrong. God is glorified when we show them a better way. Wow.
Eric Huffman:For Esau McCaully, as well as Cory and Kendi, that better way is a cross shaped protest. Following Jesus means we can't not protest injustice. Our hearts can't be unbroken by racism. We must resist it in the same way that Jesus resisted evil in all of its forms, not by standing on the sidelines, and criticizing those who protest in ways that might make us uncomfortable, but by protesting hate, fear, and bigotry with love. The perfect love of God.
Eric Huffman:I'm so thankful for Dr. Esau McCaully, as well as Cory and Kendi for their courage and their wisdom. I know I'm going to be sitting with some of the things they said in this episode for a very long time, because I've still got so much work to do when it comes to racism. I hope you've kept your mind and heart open to the ways that God might be calling you toward a new understanding of racism, as well as a deeper commitment to fight against it.
Eric Huffman:As always friends, I just want to thank you for listening to the Maybe God podcast. Please remember to share this episode, and all of your favorite episodes with your friends, your family, and your followers online. Thanks so much.
Eric Huffman:This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our new Associate Producers are Andrea Gentle and Kat Brough, and Shannon Stefan and Justin Mayor are our talented editors. Please don't forget to leave us your glowing reviews on iTunes or Apple Podcast to help more people Maybe God. Thank you.