Out of Africa: White Supremacy and the Church’s Silence

D4B59064-1AD6-4121-B934-261EB10546E6I invite you to read “Out of Africa: White supremacy and the Church’s silence,” a provocative opinion piece by our guest blogger, Dr. Bill J. Leonard. Many thanks to Dr. Leonard for prompting us to more fully commemorate the day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you are willing to challenge yourself, these words will shed the light you need to do so.

Out of Africa: White supremacy and the Church’s silence


Dr. Bill J. Leonard


“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled [Caucasian?] masses, yearning to breathe free.”

Three days before the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. memorial observances, and in the 50th year after Dr. King’s assassination, the plague of racism in America continued, even as white supremacy, long lingering just below the surface, reasserted itself with a vengeance.

On Jan. 12, the president of the United States, at a White House meeting on immigration, allegedly asked why “all these people from shithole countries,” specifically Haiti and Africa, should be admitted to the U.S. He was also said to have wondered aloud why the U.S. could not secure more immigrants from countries like Norway (83 percent Caucasian). Confirmation of his remarks vary from those in attendance. Some confirm the alleged statements; others deny them. Somebody’s lying.

The mere report of the comments was immediately celebrated across the country’s white supremacist network, much as when Trump affirmed “good people on both sides” in last year’s violent neo-Nazi-led demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. White nationalist Richard Spencer chastised Trump’s defenders for suggesting the statements were related to law or economics, since they were actually “all about race.” Spencer was, of course, delighted. The Neo-Nazi blog, the Daily Stormer, hailed the President’s words as “encouraging and refreshing” since they indicated that “Trump is more or less on the same page as us” regarding “race and immigration.” In America, 2018, white supremacy is now apparently “refreshing.”

Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress defended the president, noting that “apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Trump’s comments were “right on target” with his presidential responsibility “to place the interests of our nation above the needs of other countries.” That’s unlike Christians’ “biblical responsibility” to “place the needs of others” above themselves. (Racism’s OK; it’s vulgar language that’s the problem.)

Amid debates over the veracity of witnesses to the White House event, the fact remains that the dogmas of white supremacy lie at the center of America’s long night of racism, in politics, social structures, and racial stereotypes. At this moment in history, how can American Christians, themselves deeply divided over scripture, doctrine, sexuality, abortion, and other culture war accoutrements, foster a common compulsion to speak out against white supremacist fiction before it gains an even stronger implicit or explicit influence?

Even if President Trump did not use vulgar words to highlight his views on immigration, did he in fact wistfully promote a 21st century America where Aryans (remember the history of that word?) are preferred to immigrants of color? Surely it is time to break the silence, not simply because of those shameful remarks, but because they are part of a larger litany of racial dog whistles from Trump’s birther campaign, to attacks on a “Mexican” judge and a Gold Star Muslim family, to the infamous Charlottesville slurs.

We have many reasons to break the silence: First, because white supremacy itself is an inherently evil yet an enduring vision of the nature of humanity, and must be resisted for that fact alone. It has polluted our national psyche long enough!

Second, we break the silence on this matter because we hear again Dr. King’s words from that Birmingham jail: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Third, we Aryan Christians cannot be silent because it’s our racial ancestors who first planted the banner of racism in our laws, our institutions (churches included), and in our hearts. And some among us still won’t let it go. We need to get “saved” from it.

Fourth, we speak out now because American churches, at least many of them, remained silent for too long. Indeed, Trump’s only a symptom; we scapegoat him at our peril. When his remarks hit the fan, I returned to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a book that has taught me, shamed me, blessed me, and broken me for decades. Baldwin writes: “It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible) must first divorce him[her]self from all the prohibitions, crimes and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has had any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” (Whatever God is, it damn sure isn’t white supremacy.)

Mercer University professor Robert Nash illustrates Baldwin’s point in a superb essay entitled, “Peculiarly Chosen: Anglo-Saxon Supremacy and Baptist Missions in the South,” documenting that ecclesiastical collusion with the case of James Franklin Love, corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1915-1928. Nash notes that Love “was profoundly influenced by the concept of Anglo-Saxon supremacy … that white races possessed a superior intellect, religion, and civilization.”

Love’s mission strategy focused on evangelization of Europe since white Christians could more readily convert the darker races. He wrote: “Let us not forget that to the white man God gave the instinct and talent to disseminate His ideals among other people and that he did not, to the same degree, give this instinct and talent to the yellow, brown or black race. The white race only has the genius to introduce Christianity into all lands and among all people.” (In 2017, the Southern Baptist Convention went on record condemning white supremacy then and now. It’s about time.)

Finally, we break the silence, confronting white supremacy and its accompanying racism at this moment because we will neither deny nor sully the African heritage of our African-American sisters and brothers, who as W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “would not bleach … [their] Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism,” since they know “that Negro blood has a message for the world.”

On what would have been his 89th birthday, Dr. King retains his prophetic voice for black and white alike, declaring from his jail cell then and now: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [women] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

Today, we read again Matthew’s haunting assessment of the Holy Family’s immigration from Herod’s not-so-holy-land:

“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Sweet Jesus, Egypt’s in Africa! Amen”


Bill J. Leonard is the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies, Professor of Church History, School of Divinity, Wake Forest University.






192EA03D-9DFB-4D4A-BB22-A481D2086FCDDespair has its way at times. It sneaks into my spirit and dwells there for a while, Although despair is thoroughly unwelcome and unwanted, it has a way of making a home in me at times. It has its way. It does its damage. It enslaves me with a devastating kind of bondage. It forces me into an uneasy and oppressive place.

Despair’s most damaging legacy is fear. These days are, for me at least, days of fear. I watch the current president and listen to his words in horror. He speaks with hostility. He gives welcome to divisiveness, racism, misogyny and disrespect. His words are often divisive, rude and insensitive. He uses his power to build an unsettled nation. I despair for the nation, and I despair for a world filled with violence, war, hunger, poverty, and natural disasters born of climate change.

My faith tells me that there is a remedy for despair, that fear can be conquered, and that peace might be restored in me. The poetry of Wendell Berry is a beautiful reminder.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— From Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things“

When despair casts its damaging spell within me, my faith still holds. They are waiting for me, always, the peace that is a balm for grief and despair, the presence of still waters and the stars sparkling in my night sky. This otherworldly beauty causes me to rest in the arms of faith and to recall the many times of despair in my life that served only to make me stronger and more resilient.

Thanks be to God.

Persevering Hope




(pɑks ; päks; pæks ; paks). noun

1. the Roman goddess of peace, identified with the Greek Irene

2. sign of peace


The Reverend Jennifer Butler was wearing a white clergy stole with Pax embroidered over a cross and an olive branch. Enlight126She Was singing as police officers restrained her, arms behind her back, both thumbs held tightly together with plastic straps. Next to be arrested was The Reverend Traci Blackmon, who chanted “justice, mercy” again and again as police restrained her and led her away.

The Charlotte Examiner described the event, The March to Save Medicaid, Save Lives.

Capitol Hill police arrested the president of the North Carolina NAACP on Thursday morning after he led a protest of the Senate’s proposed health care repeal-and-replace bill.

Rev. William J. Barber II, who was protesting in his role as president of Repairers of the Breach, was released from jail by 2 p.m. On that morning, July 13, 2017, Dr. Barber and other faith leaders led a group of about 50 people to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the Capitol.

The group gathered a few blocks away at 10 a.m. and walked to the Capitol, chanting and singing along the way. Eleven protesters were arrested.

Read more at this link:


As I watched the live feed of this moral and courageous expression of civil disobedience, I hoped that the police would not arrest The Reverend Dr. William Butler, who was obviously experiencing pain from his physical disabilities. I hoped that other faith leaders would not be arrested.

The band of justice-seekers, clergy and persons of all faiths, gathered together in a prophetic action to protect the 22 million Americans in danger of losing healthcare because of what the group calls “immoral Congressional legislation.” The Repairers of the Breach Facebook page gives details of the event.

Together, we’ll join in song and march through the halls of power, sending a moral message that we cannot cut Medicaid — a lifeline for so many children, seniors and people with disabilities.

My heart was with them in Washington. My prayers pleaded for hope for a brighter day, for justice for those who are oppressed, for peace for every person. My mind recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah . . .

And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;
And will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Isaiah 58:10-12

I watched them stand bravely as they faced the powers before them, living into the words spoken by Hannibal of Carthage, “We will either find a way or make one.” I listened to their voices echoing through the halls of the building, singing with persisting, persevering hope.

Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Ain’t gonna let no jail cell turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let no jail cell turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’
Marchin’ up to freedom’s land.

Repairers of the Breach — http://www.breachrepairers.org/


Reach for the Stars


We greet this year’s Independence Day still reaching for the stars. We also come to this day with a measure of confusion, disillusionment, and even fear. We have a president who is revered by some Americans and feared by most Americans. We feel concern when the president Tweets divisive messages. We feel concern about the ways he interacts with international leaders. We feel concern about health care. We feel concern about the loss of the freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries. We are concerned for our neighbors who have come to America as immigrants and who now face an uncertain future.

This Fourth of July we remember that eight immigrants signed the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today. We recall the words written on that historical document that was signed on July 4, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

. . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We are still the United States of America. We persist in loving our brothers and sisters and in cherishing the unity that goes far beyond our differences. Creating “a more perfect union” remains our sacred calling though we know that mutually pledging our lives to each other requires constancy and dedication. It requires our willingness to accept one another and to honor each other’s differences. It requires offering mutual respect. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the sheer work of human progress, work to which we must commit and recommit.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

– Martin Luther King, Jr. in Stride Toward Freedom, 1957

On this day that is a celebration of our independence, we know that we we cannot always determine the destiny of our country. We know that our freedom often feels precarious. We know that we cannot always be led by the president we prefer. But we also know that the citizens of this country will always reach for the stars as we labor for our nation’s honor, and in the end, will join hands and rise to meet a brighter future.

More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life . . . Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.

– President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing


Justice Is a Verb!


Surely someone has written about the challenge of being a Christian in these days of political upheaval and societal angst. I need to read such a book. I need to be emboldened to live out my faith, not as a passive bystander, but as a change-agent that insists on peace and justice.

My close friend and colleague in ministry, Wendell Griffen, insists that justice is a verb. His life beckons us to live into what he calls “the fierce urgency of prophetic hope.” In his book of the same name, he asks people of faith to consider this question: “How can we speak of hope in a time of deep division—a time too often defined by racism, misogyny, materialism, militarism, religious nationalism, and xenophobia?” *

My faith compels me to find ways to speak hope in these unsettled days, to speak truth to power when people suffer oppression, to care deeply about injustice. As I sit in my home dealing with the inevitable aging that marks my days, I think about the past to a time when advocacy was my passion. I remember ministry in the hospital, at the jail, in child sexual abuse forensic interviews, in courtrooms. I remember the energy of speaking for those who were suffering. I recall a life on the edge that made a difference in people’s lives.

But what about today? How does my faith ennoble me at this time of my life? What is my new normal in service and ministry? In what ways will my voice be heard proclaiming hope, justice and equality?

The following words are written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters:  Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:

To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely–to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you, no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire. *

I believe there are still battles that I must fight. I believe that the vision and courage of youth remains. I believe that when God calls one to be a prophetic voice, that call is a permanent, lifelong call. My challenge is to keep stepping in the name of love, seeking to do justice, always knowing that God will sustain me.

And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your soul in parched places,
and will strengthen your bones;
and you’ll be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:11, ISV
* The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope, Wendell L. Griffen, 2017: Judson Press,

* Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, Cornel West, 2004: The Penguin Press





Some folks see a golden necklace with sparkling links. But others see chains as cruel symbols of enslavement. History records thousands of inhumane acts of enslavement. A review of history is about real people whose lives were oppressive, whose chains were heavy, whose slavery was permanent. We remember their lives with a sense of shame and we honor them with genuine repentance.

But we must also bring the reality of chains closer to home as we recall the times of our lives that held us in chains. Serious illnesses. Violent relationships. Troubled children. Careers that became personal enslavement. No, the chains that bound us were not made of steel. Instead, they were chains that bound our very being, holding us fast, oppressing our spirits.

In all of this, there is hope. It is the hope of God’s grace that empowers us to break free. I am reminded of one of my favorite Scripture passages.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

– Galatians 5:1, New International Version

Of one thing I am certain. God does not desire for us a life of enslavement, but graces us with the courage to free ourselves from all that holds us hostage. Life in Christ is not a life of chains. It is a life of freedom to live, to love, and to thrive. Though we may have been hurt by circumstances that left us in chains, our souls can never be chained.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes this in her brilliant novel series, Chains: Seeds of America.

She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’d already done so . . . I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

Please listen to a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone” sung by Noteworthy.  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA



Today We Remember


Today, April 4th, marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A minister, a change-agent, an advocate for equality, Dr. King was a civil rights leader whose message of non-violence inspired generations.

At 39 years of age, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King, who was in Memphis that day to show solidarity for striking sanitation workers, delivered one of his most famous speeches on April 3 at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis. Toward the end of the speech, he referred to threats against his life and used language that seemed to foreshadow his impending death, yet he reaffirmed that he was not afraid to die. His words hung in the air as an ominous predictor of what was to occur the next day.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Just after 6:00 p.m. on the following day, Dr. King and a group of others were standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was hit in the neck by a single bullet. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening.

For all of us, for all persons of compassion and good will, for a world filled with racism, his death was a deeply felt loss. We remember his eloquence. We remember his tenacity. We remember his faith and his courage. Today, we remember and we honor his legacy


The Light in the Harbor


Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.


Will Never Perish


“Oscar Arnulfo Romero – My Hero”    ▪️   Art  by Curtis Narimatsu

Martyrs of the faith never perish. Their work lives on, inspiring others to sacrificial service. For centuries, God has graced us with men and women of courage whose lives stand before us as examples of faith. One such example is the late Óscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador. Although he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture, he was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador.

Archbishop Romero inspired Christians around the world with his commitment to the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized — those whom Jesus described as the ‘least of these.’ Archbishop Romero’s stirring words from his last sermon capture the essence of his ministry and continue to inspire us all:

Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies . . . We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us.

On May 23rd, 2015, thirty-five years after his assassination, Óscar Romero was beatified in the capital city, San Salvador. At least 250,000 people filled the streets for the ceremony which was the last step before Archbishop Romero is declared a saint. But let us look back on his life. In 1980, the soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop promised history that life, not death, would have the last word.

“I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

On each anniversary of his death, the people march through the streets carrying that promise printed on thousands of banners. But his murder was a savage warning. Even some who attended Romero’s funeral were shot in front of the cathedral by army sharpshooters. To this day no investigation has revealed Romero’s killers. What endures is Romero’s promise.

Days before his murder he said this to a reporter, “You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”

In these days of peril, may we all heed the words of Pope Francis, “Let us be moved by the Holy Spirit in order to be courageous in finding new ways to proclaim the Gospel.”

Courageous faith that works on behalf of those who are poor will never perish. Lives dedicated to standing against injustice will never perish. God’s holy church, though it is made up of imperfect humans like you and me, will never perish. Thanks be to God.



The Strong Signs of Justice


Signs of injustice are ever before us. In these times, we look for any sign at all that justice will prevail. But there is despair enough to go around. The presidential election has led to protests on every hand, persons fearing that they will lose their freedom, undocumented students who were born here fearing deportation, seniors fearing that they will lose their social security, African Americans fearing that new “law and order” policies will result in even more unjust incarceration. People are in fear for many reasons.

All of us long to see compassion and common sense restored. We cling to hope that what we are seeing now is not the end of the story. We want to see justice for every person. And we ask ourselves if there is anything at all we can do. Is there something we must do?

Answers are hard to come by. We almost want to wring our hands and give up. But there is still the light of hope within us and we cannot give in to despair. During these unsettled times, I find hope in the words of Bishop Steven Charleston.

We are not done yet, you and me, and all of us who are crazy enough to keep believing. It will take a lot more than what we have seen so far to break our hold on hope. We will not rest, we will not quit, we will not be quiet until we see the strong signs of justice secure once more around us, until we see compassion and common sense restored. No, we are not done yet, because every day there are more of us, more believers of every kind and culture, rising up, standing up, and walking side by side. The wind is at our back, we are moving forward, and we have only just begun.

It is true. We are not done yet. We will persist. We will persevere. We will stand firmly until we again see the strong signs of Justice secure once more. May God walk beside us as we move forward into hope.