PASS THE MIC
A Witness Podcast
LEAVE LOUD: Ally Henny’s Story Part 2
March 29, 2021
TYLER BURNS: You came on the radar for a lot of people with the Leave Loud story you wrote long before this initiative. Can you talk about your experience at Fuller?
ALLY HENNY: Yes, I’ll talk about that real quick. So I started going to Fuller in fall of 2017 – so this is coming on the heels of, like, He Who Shall Not Be Named becoming president, and all this other type of stuff. And there had been some racial incidents and stuff on Fuller’s campus in Pasadena. Now, I was an online student, and so I didn’t have some of those experiences. But I had gotten in with some of the Black students there, and there had been some meetings that Black students were having with the administration there. So I had started out going just to meddle, like, because this is something that’s affecting Black students. And so we were all invited to these meetings. And I was like, I’m going to go here to meddle. Let me see what you’re talking about! So as I’m listening, I’m like, oh, my gosh! Some of these students and faculty are like really acting up, right? And so I’m sitting up, like we talked about the curriculum – yeah, some of the stuff in our curriculum, that’s a thing.
So, long story short, we had met with the administration a whole bunch. I ended up kind of becoming part of the group, part of kind of some of the core that was doing some of this stuff, all this activism and stuff on campus. And so we had talked before. We had talked with Fuller; we had talked with the president, we had talked with the provost, we had talked with a bunch of people, because there were a lot of concerns about Fuller: about the curriculum, about the campus culture, just about a lot of different things. And we kept on getting the, you know, “OK, we feel so bad,” and “Oh, we want to address it” and whatever, but there was no substantive change. So in 2018 – in the summer of 2018 – some students on campus staged a protest at our baccalaureate. Simultaneously, I helped organize an online protest, using the hashtag #SeminaryWhileBlack, hashtag #ToxicFuller, and hashtag #BlackExodus, where we were just unpacking some of the issues at Fuller.
So we had Black faculty that had left. We had Black workers that had left. People who were faculty and staff, that’s the word I’m looking for. Fuller was failing to hire African American people and specifically Black women; and that semester – that quarter – we had actually lost the last Black woman pastor, the New Testament pastor, Love Sechrest. She had left. And so a lot of – there just a lot of racial stuff, and stuff going on behind the scenes. And so for me, the way that that affected me was particularly through the curriculum. And so during #SeminaryWhileBlack, I started tweeting pictures of my Systematic Theology textbook. Because I was in – during my first two quarters I had taken some systematic theology classes. So I’m like, “Wow, this stuff is really super colonized. OK.” So yeah, so a lot of my experience at Fuller was dealing with curriculum that was colonized, and having to find a way to give myself a Black-centered education. And there were often times where I was writing papers on things that my professors had never heard of before, or hadn’t really interacted with, like womanist scholarship or whatever. Thankfully, they could see – the professors I had – God just really blessed me with some really good professors who could see my scholarship, who could see the level of my scholarship, and so it did not affect me in terms of my grade. But I definitely had to work like five times as hard as everybody else on everything.
Q: Were there examples that you can give us of, like, the colonized theology that you were learning?
A: To spare you another long story, an example of this from my Systematic Theology textbook: James Cone and Johann Sebastian Bach are named on the same number of pages. Three pages. No womanist scholars. James Cone, in fact, I think is the only Black theologian mentioned – only Black American. Now, there were a few African scholars that were mentioned in the systematic theology text.
Q: Yeah, it’s like he checked the James Cone box and done, Black theology, Black liberation theology, and that’s it.
Q: Now, around this time – you’ve been teasing this, so I think it’s good for us to get to it – you’re also in a journey with the church that you originally left. So what was happening there? Why did you go back? And then, what happened when you went back?
A: Yeah. So the short part of the front end of this story is, we’d been in Virginia for about five years, and through just a series of events, I had gotten a job as a youth pastor at another church. And so I was at that church, but before – it took a few months, because I’d gotten the job in March of 2016; but it took some time for my husband to get a new job. He works remotely now, so we don’t have to worry anymore about that, thankfully. But for him to get a new job, and it just took some time for us to get our stuff together to be able to move; and there was also a youth pastor that was going to finish out their tenure before I came. So we decided in June of 2016 to move back to Missouri.
So I’d gotten pregnant with my second child in the middle of that. And whenever I get pregnant, I get extremely sick. And so I’d been extremely sick for most of my time there, actually. And then I knew that I was going to have a baby. And so in the midst of all this, I felt the call to go to seminary. And so we were at this other church, and I had ended up resigning in December, because I wanted to give them notice that like, they’d be able to find somebody. I was like, OK, I’m going to resign because I’m going to seminary next fall. And I didn’t know if they were going to ask me to finish out the school year or not. But they did go ahead and ask me to finish out the school year. So I was like, OK, cool, I can do that. That’s the least I can do. But I didn’t want to sit and resign over the summer, and have to deal with all that with going to school.
And so after I finished my tenure at this other small, little church – which there are stories that I could tell but I won’t tell at this point – but after I finished my tenure at that church, we decided to go back to our home church. And actually, even before we had moved to Virginia – before we had even moved back to Missouri from Virginia – I had contacted my former pastor and was like, “Hey, yeah, we’re moving back, but we’re not going to be coming to the church,” and explained why. And he was like, “OK, that’s great, I completely understand. You just know, if you make any changes, the door’s always open,” whatever.
So right after I had resigned, I decided – I felt prompted to meet with the pastor of the church. I’ll just go ahead and say the name of the church. The name of the church is The Courageous Church in Springfield, Missouri. So that way I can stop saying “the church, the church, the church.” We – Courageous was opening their south campus at around that time, and I’d asked to meet with the pastor. It was just something that was like, you know, there’s been a lot that’s happened over the course of the last time, since I’d attended that church. And so they had become – Courageous had become – the most diverse church in Springfield. There were a lot of Black people who were on staff at the church. There were a lot of Black people – Black and brown folks – who were highly visible in the church. But also at this point, too, I had also become very outspoken and stuff about race. So I just wanted to meet with him – I wanted my husband and I to meet with him – just to take the temperature, and just to make sure. Because I mean in my social media presence and everything, I just wanted to make sure that it was going ot be a fit.
And so he gave us a tour. We met down at the south campus. He gave us a tour of the south campus, and they were just putting some of the finishing touches on before they opened. So everything was going great. So then we sat down and we really kind of started to talk brass tacks, a little bit. Part of the conversation that left me feeling some type of way was, he brought up that – and it was one of those things like, you know, “Well, somebody has said,” whatever – he was like, “Somebody has said that – I’ve heard that you’ve said that you’re an activist.” And so he kind of brought it up in this way that, like, he was concerned. And so I was like, “Yeah.” And so basically he was like, “Well, you know, it’s been a powder keg around here, with the election and Ferguson and everything. It’s been a powder keg.” And basically what he’s telling me is that they’ve become the most diverse church in the city; he doesn’t want to lose that diversity. There’s been a lot of tension in the church because they’re diverse, but – there’s Black and brown folks there, and there’s white people there – and there’s your conservative and liberal, whatever, and so all of that has caused tension. And so, in me coming back to the church, he was worried that somehow – I don’t know, somehow I would agitate, and like cause that tension to explode.
So he had made the statement of not pushing him before he was ready, and all this other type of stuff. And so, you know, he characterized me – and I am an outspoken person. And I think Jamar hit the nail on the head at the beginning of the show. But also, like, I don’t put up with nonsense, but I also know how to act like I have some sense. Like, especially in a church setting. I get it. I’ve been around the block a lot. I get it, you know. You don’t want to just jump out and say or do anything that could cause harm to people. I get that. And I’m just like, “I’m not trying to blow your spot up.” But just the way that it all came out, it really had me feeling some type of way.
Q: When was this? I’m sorry.
A: So this would have been – I was still pregnant with my youngest; I was VERY pregnant at that point – so it was at the end of 2016.
Q: So right after the election. OK.
A: Right after the election. It was in December, so right after the election, right before the inauguration. So, yeah. So I was just kind of like, OK. And I was just really feeling some type of way, right? There was just a lot about that conversation. I was just like, “Man” – there’s just a lot. I can’t even really get into it. But I’m, “OK.” But I was praying, like, “You should be able to go back there.” Like, I’m not trying to blow anybody’s spot up, right? Like, I don’t want to cause trouble – and I don’t want to be treated like I’m a troublemaker.
And so you had prayed about it for months and months and months; and finally my time, at the church that I was at, was drawing to a close; and so I was like, “OK, you know what?” I told my husband, “You know, I think we should just go, and we’ll just see how it is. And if I feel some type of way about it, then, like” – and really I was like, if I feel some type of way about it, then I hate this, because this is really sentimental to me, to be back in that place. Because, you know, I loved that church. I loved those people. And so I didn’t want to – at the time, it was like not wanting to go back, again, not wanting to blow their spot up, not wanting to cause any trouble. But at the same time, it’s like I knew that I was different than what I was, whenever I first started going there as a teenager. And so it was like “I’m not trying to blow your spot up,” but at the same time, it’s like, “I don’t want to be treated like an issue.” And I mean that in two senses: in the sense of being treated like an issue, like I’m going to make problems – being treated like an issue, like a problem; but also an issue, like in terms of the issue of racism. Like I don’t want to be the person that’s like the Racism Person, or whatever. Like, this is my place of worship. I just want to be here and want to exist, and yeah, call the nonsense as I see it – whatever. Like, that’s all I’m trying to do.
So we went back, and we started going, and there were aspects that I was really glad to be back there. And there were a whole lot of people there – the church had grown way above and beyond what it was. They were doing a lot of great things there. It was very diverse. It was great to see a lot of people there who looked like me, knowing that I was the only one, back in the day – the only one on staff – and knowing the history of some of the people leaving the church because I had been hired, and all that type of stuff. It was so great to see that, and it was definitely emotional being back. And I was really looking for kind of, you know, OK, cool, we’re here, we’re back, it’s going to be great. I’m going to seminary, like, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be lit, fam. So, like, getting into seminary, I can’t be terribly involved in church because I’ve got schoolwork and stuff to do; but I decided that I would be part of this thing called Growth Track, that essentially is like a three-week program: that people come into the church, we tell them about the church, tell them about the church’s vision, give them spiritual gifts assessments and that type of thing, and then help place them in a volunteer ministry within the church. And so I did the final part of that ministry, the final part of the Growth Track, where I helped administer the tasks and stuff like that. It was really great. I really, really, really loved it. It was something that I could do and still feel like I was serving the church, but it didn’t require, like, a lot of extra of me as a student.
And so I was really, really, really enjoying it. And then, in my second year of school – so right around the same time that the SeminaryWhileBlack stuff is happening – like, a few months before that; actually, probably about April – God was just sort of like – because I was thinking about starting my internship and stuff for my program, for my in-depth program. In your second year, you do an internship. They call it apprenticeship, but it’s an internship at someplace, a ministry at church. And so I was starting to think about that. So I remember one time, I was sitting on the porch one day and God was like, “You need to step down from Growth Track.” And I was like, “Hmm. OK, Lord. I need to step down from Growth Track?” And so he was just like, you know – I just really sensed, like, it’s because of my apprenticeship that’s coming up; I need to start seriously looking into someplace, so I can have some place by the fall, and so that could potentially mean me having to travel and do some different things. I was just, “OK, I’m going to step down.” So I stepped down, and my stepdown would be effective at the end of May – so the May Growth Track would be my last Growth Track.
So about a month later – I’ll never forget it; it was the same day that Prince Harry and Meghan got married; it was also the same day that I got my first paycheck as a writer. It was something that I’d been praying about for a very long time, about being paid for my writing. So there was an outlet that had asked me to write a piece for them, and so I did. So I remember I watched the royal wedding; I was upstairs in my study; and literally, my husband comes upstairs and hands me my paycheck – and my phone goes off. And I look, and the person texting me is someone who I worked with in Growth Track. She was one of the leaders of Growth Track – not like the main person, not the main staff person that was in charge of it, but somebody else who was leading it, who was there. The night before, somebody had said something on Facebook that was kind of problematic, so I had said something to the person about it. So then she had gotten into this conversation with me about stuff. And I had said something to someone in the conversation about, “Well, you’re white, so you don’t maybe have this experience,” or whatever. So this person – this leader who was texting me – took exception to the fact – I’d asked, “What did I say that was whatever?” I had asked her in the comment thread, “What did I say that was offensive? Why?” – whatever. And so she messaged me, and basically it was like a whole white fragility thing.
So this is somebody that I’d known for years, and I love. And she was telling me, like, you know, “Your rhetoric is harsh; your words are biting and cutting,” and like all these other types of things. This is my friend, right? This is somebody who I think is my friend. So I’m like, “Oh, you’re telling me this, and you’re like telling me that my slip is showing,” right? So I’m asking her questions, like, “Can you tell me more about this?” And she’s coming up with all this stuff, and it’s white fragility. So I’m explaining to her, I said this because of whatever. So it was just like this back and forth. And so I was really, really hurt by the conversation. And there was just an aspect of it where I really felt – at the time, I felt really bad. Because I was like, OK, you know, I did not mean to offend her; but I was like, at the same time, I said what I said! And so I was just like, “I said what I said. And I stand by what I said.” It was one of those type of incidents.
And so I say all that to say that then, all of that started to kind of come to a head a little bit. And so I was happy – I realize now that God was saying, “Hey, back out of that.” And so it was also for my apprenticeship, because I ended up in my internship a couple of weeks after that had happened. I encountered this really great woman who was a woman who was planning a church in Springfield. And so I got to do my internship at her church, and it was great. It was a wonderful time. But yeah, there was some other stuff that happened, racial stuff that happened; but like it wasn’t – it was a great experience, and she was a great leader, and really protected me and covered me and stuff within this. But that incident: it really, really hurt, and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. And so I was very thankful for the reprieve.
So fast forward, about a year later I said something, somewhere on social media; and this same person who had texted me on Harry and Meghan’s wedding day, texted me again. And it’s the same type of thing. And so this time she’s telling me – so, over a year; she hadn’t said anything to me in that whole year – but over a year she decided that she was going to disconnect from me on Facebook because basically I’m causing more division, and all these tropes or whatever. And so at this point – you know, a year ago, I’m part of the ministry and stuff at this church. Now, whenever I did my internship, something that I didn’t include is that even though I – me, Ally – did my internship at this other church in Springfield, my family still worshiped at Courageous, because we wanted to stay in fellowship with them. And so I made that clear to some of the leadership, like, “No, this is our church. Like, I’m going to do this for school, but, like, this is our church.” And so, like, my family still worshiped there every week, and we still paid our tithes there. And like I was there, like, every couple of weeks. I could not regularly attend on Sundays, but they had multiple services. So whenever service times hit to where I could – I would drive, you know, the 5-10 minutes to our campus and worship at the church. Like I would come in and listen to the sermon. Sometimes I would be late and listen to the sermons. I was always there – we had a monthly Wednesday night worship thing – I was always at that.
And so we were still part of Courageous; like, that was still our church. We still considered it our church. But I was working at the Connecting Grounds, at this other church. And so I was considering – because they were considering hiring me, and I was considering maybe going on staff. But I really wanted to pray about that decision, because my loyalty was to Courageous.
So a year later this woman texts me and says all this stuff. So there was a lot of other stuff that had happened, even in the time I was there, that I won’t go into. But I realized, like, you know what? I wanted to know how they handle this type of situation. Because at this point it feels – she said some things to me that really, it felt like bullying. It felt like racial bullying. Like, she wasn’t being racist in the sense that she wasn’t saying anything about my race, bullying; but it was bullying in the sense of, I’m speaking out about racism, and you’re mad about it, and you’re telling me that, like – she’s being very territorial, like saying that. Because there was some other person in the church that she was gossiping about me with, who, they said that they didn’t even feel good about going to the north campus if that was the type of mentality of the people up there. And so she was holding me responsible. She took a sense of ownership, of holding me responsible, of keeping people out of her church; and so she felt like it was her duty to talk to me, and to tell me that what I was doing was wrong. And so I’m just sitting here like, “I’m not OK with this.” So she’s a leader!
So I’m just like, OK, I’m going to sit down and I’m going to talk with some of the leaders at this church. Because I don’t have to come back here. I am perfectly happy at my internship site. Like, I know that – they already said, “If you want to stay after your internship is over, like, you can be here. We love you,” whatever. So I’m like, my family does not have to continue worshiping here, if this is the type of thing that’s going to happen whenever people speak out about racism. Like, I need to know what kind of support there’s going to be.
And so I sat down with the campus pastor – he’s a Black man – because I think I had directly contacted him first. I can’t remember who I had contacted. Anyway, I sat down with him and I was just like, “Look, this is what happened.” I told him what happened, whatever. And so they were just completely at a loss for that. So I was in a couple of different meetings with some leaders in the church. So over the course of these meetings, they expressed, like, “OK, we see that you have a talent and a passion for this. We want people in our church; we want people to serve according to their passions. What would you like to do? Is there a way that you could serve in the church? The only thing is that Pastor Tyler just wants to know if you’re on his team.”
Q: Hold up. So this was – this man’s name was Tyler? [LAUGHS]
A: Sorry. No, it wasn’t Tyler Burns. It’s somebody else.
Q: So he say, “We want to know if you on his team.” He wants to know that.
A: Basically, yeah, like I’m on his team, that I’m going to be here, that I’m on his team. And so I’m just like, I’m like, “I mean, yeah, I love this church. Absolutely! But here’s the thing. Like, yeah, I’m here to serve. I understand that things aren’t going to be perfect, whatever. Like, I’m here to serve. But I’m gone whenever y’all start serving white fragility more than you start caring about Black people’s dignity and safety. Then, that’s the point at which I’m out. But no, I’m here. I’m a team player, fam! Like no, it’s OK. Like, I’m not here to blow your spot up. But like, the way that you’re wanting to handle this situation isn’t the way that this situation needs to be handled.”
And they’re like, “Maybe y’all could sit down together,” whatever, and I was like, No! I’m not sitting down with her! She behaved in a way that feels really abusive to me. Would you ask somebody whose spouse had abused them – would you ask them to sit down and to hold hands and to make nice? No! You would tell the person who did the thing to go get counseling for it.
HENNY: In my situation, there’s nothing that can come from sitting down with her. She needs to – you should use this as a teachable moment for the fact that your leadership, your staff, your people who you are employing to be volunteer leaders and stuff – they need training on racism. They need anti-racist training. They need to understand some of these issues.
And so anyway, they’re like, “Well, we’re going to be doing a seminar in August called Facing Racism, and whatever; maybe you can be a part of that,” blah blah blah. So hold onto that for a minute, because that’s going to come back up here.
So I’m all, “OK, cool. I’m cool. I’m back.” So I finished up my time at my internship site, and I was leading a small group on I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, and there’s Black women and white women in the group. And so the final week of it, my family went on vacation. And on my way back to Springfield, I had seen something – somebody had posted something on Facebook. I had seen something – somebody had posted some sort of apology for doing something that they were really embarrassed about. And just knowing who the person was, I was just like, oh, my gosh, she probably accidentally shared something that had somebody’s booty on it or something, and she’s just very prim and proper. Like, she probably shared something that had somebody’s butt on it and she didn’t realize, or whatever. And so I was all, “Oh, it’s all good,” because I hadn’t seen what she had shared, but I was just like, “Oh, yeah, it probably wasn’t nothing. Probably just something that she was really embarrassed about,” and whatever.
So on my way back home I get a text from one of my friends, and they’re like, “Did you see what happened?” and I’m like, What? So I asked somebody else, because – even as this conversation is going on in this thread, I realized, oh my gosh, it wasn’t like somebody’s butt showing. Is it something racial?
And so I had sent a text message out to somebody else and was like, “Hey, what did So-and-So post?” And it was a Black girl, and she like, “OK. Ally, listen. I’m going to send this to you; but, like, this is probably the worst thing that I’ve seen in my life. And I want you to know that before I send it to you – before you watch it.” So I’m watching it, and it’s the Hodgetwins talking about reparations.
Q: Oh boy. [SIGHS]
A: And it is vile. I have watched a lot of racist things in my life. And to see people who look similar to me saying some of the things they were saying – it was highly triggering; it was highly – whatever. I was like … so this person who posted it, I was like, “Oh, God, they posted this.”
So, long story short, there’s all this, going all around the Maypole about – she went on this apology tour. We could never get a straight answer from her, why she posted this thing. Meanwhile, there’s a group of Black women in church who – we are just really hurt by this. I hadn’t seen it, but I had known – the person that posted this, I hadn’t seen it, but I had known this woman for like 15 years. Because she was part of the church whenever I was first part of the church, and she had been there forever. So I had known this woman for 15 years, and we had interacted in everything for 15 years. She was somebody that I looked up to – in fact, there was a point that I was dealing with something in my life, and I was like, “Oh, I need to go to her and ask for advice.” And I went to her and asked for advice. Like, it was just, it was shocking.
And so push comes to shove: somehow we all end up in a meeting with the pastor of this church. And so he was just like wanting to know what had happened. He had seen the video, and so he was trying to provide a space for people to – to figure out what he needed to do. Because he didn’t know, like, what to do, I don’t think. And so as we’re talking, like, people are revealing: this is a deep problem at this church. Like, it’s maybe not this type of thing exactly, that’s happening every single week, but there are a lot of people here who say and do a lot of stuff that is really offensive.
And so in the meeting, it got kind of defensive there was some fragility that kind of came out, and it was whatever. So he said that he was going to talk to the person who posted the video, and try to figure stuff out.
So a month passes. And so we had like a whole thing where we were talking about it. It was just really difficult for all of us. And really difficult for the ones who, when it happened, were impacted by it. It was just really difficult. And I will say it was, I think, even more difficult for some of the people who had been there since the church had changed, and had been there since whatever, and they all had their own kind of web of relationships and stuff. And so a month passes, and we hadn’t heard anything about it. And so one of the women went to the pastor and was like, “Hey, can we have a follow-up meeting on this issue? We haven’t heard anything about it.”
And so we had this follow-up meeting; and in this follow-up meeting, we asked, “OK, what about this person?” And he was just kind of like, “Yeah, I talked to her, and she was really apologetic.” And so he kind of was just sort of like, “I don’t really know what to do about it at this point.” And so we were like, “Well, OK. So what are we going to do about racism? What are we going to do about the issue of race within this church as a whole?”
And so, of course, again – I want to pause it here – but again, this is the most diverse church in the city, but they have done zero – they at that point had done zero race work. None. It was something that –there would be sermons here and there that would talk about how racism isn’t appropriate and isn’t welcome here, but it was always – often it was framed as, you know, sometimes both-sidesism, and, you know, “We reject white supremacy and any kind of supremacy.” So kind of stuff that, like, was hard-hitting for some people, I know; and so, just, there would be statements made. Like he made the statement to us one time, in one of the meetings, about how he’s moving too fast for some people and too slow for others. And it’s just like, OK, but what about people who feel marginalized and oppressed here? The people who are privileged, yes, of course, it’s always going to be too fast for them. So it was just all this, like, white moderate stuff. And so they had built the most diverse church in the city but had done so with a lot of kind of mealy-mouthed stuff around race. I think that felt, to them, to be bold stances – and maybe were bold stances at the time.
And I cannot speak personally to the things that happened during Ferguson; but I could certainly see to stuff since Charlottesville. And I wasn’t there – the Lord spared me from being there during the election. I know that that was kind of what – the general consensus among a lot of the Black folks there was that there were good steps that were taken, but in general, it was overall kind of weak. And there wasn’t any real work behind it. It was kind of just the pastor kind of making proclamations about things, but nothing really being worked on behind the scenes.
And so we were just kind of like, “This is still a pervasive issue within this church. So what are you going to do?” So in particular, one of my friends asked – she was just like, you know, “Can you just share your vision for race with us, just a little bit?” So then that’s when stuff went to the left. That’s when it really started to go to the left.
Q: And this is progressively after a few meetings? Or …
A: This is in one meeting. This is all one. This is all in the second meeting.
So we’re sitting there, and we’re trying to get him to talk about race, and kind of what his vision and stuff is. And so he’s like – my friend has asked kind of what his vision is, and so he says – I don’t remember what he says, but basically he starts talking about how he needs to know that we are all with him. And so he turns to me and says something to me about, you know, how I hadn’t been there in a year. And so I was like, “I haven’t been here because I was doing something that was required of me for school; and my family still attended here every week. And I was here most weeks.”
So I reminded him. I’m just like, “Yeah, I was in my ministry internship for school, for seminary. Bu I’m here now, and I’ve been here all along. OK.” And so then there was another point where he was saying something about how he wanted – I don’t know – he kind of went back and forth for different people. I’m just talking about stuff that they said to me. So he had said something to me about how he would, you know, like to be able to platform me with my social media presence or whatever. So I stopped him and asked, “Hold on, hold on, hold on.” I was like, “Wait. Hold on a second.” I was like, you know, “I never said anything about being on your platform. I don’t ever have to be on your platform. I can work behind the scenes, and I am perfectly happy working behind the scenes.”
Now, I want to pause the story for a moment and say this. And I don’t mean for this to sound braggadocious at all. But at this point, I was two-thirds of the way through my M.Div. My calendar at this point is full of people who are wanting me to speak on race for them, and pay me to do so. My In box at this point had people in it, requesting my time to come and to speak on race, and to come and teach their organization, or speak at their church or whatever, about race. At this point I probably had maybe upward of 30,000 followers on Facebook, and thousands on Instagram and Twitter. I’m not saying that that’s clap, whatever, I’m just saying, this is what it is. “Combing the Roots,” that spring, had charted in the top 10 on iTunes. So I’m not saying that, again, to brag on myself; I’m saying it to put in the context that I’m sitting here, a sought-after speaker on racial justice and healing, and speaking to organizations and different things; and that’s a resource. And on top of that, I am getting my Master of Divinity – and my emphasis in my Master of Divinity is Race, Cultural Identity and Reconciliation. So not only am I just out here talking, but I am talking according to knowledge. And I had been part of that church – that had been my church home for 15 years! There’s a lot that I’m not even talking about, but I had a lot of skin in the game. I left a lot of blood on that dance floor.
And so I’m sitting here, and you’re going to be like, “OK, so I can’t put you on the platform.” Like I’m seeking a platform! Forget a platform! I’m not here – I am willing to give you the knowledge and resources and everything that I have – that other people pay me, mind you, for – I’m going to give all of that to you for free, because I love you and care about this organization.
So anyway, I just needed to pause the story for that, for a moment. I just needed to pause to put that in context. And these are things that he’s well aware of, by the way. I’m assuming he’s well aware of, I should say. I don’t know what he’s actually aware of. I probably shouldn’t say that. But these are – he knows the type of person that I am. I’ll say that.
And so he’s all, you know, he can’t platform me because of my presence, my social media presence. I’m just like, “OK, whatever, but there’s a lot that I can speak to, behind the scenes.”
So then, in the midst of all this – and it all gets kind of foggy for me – but there’s a point where the friend who asked him about what is vision was: he then turns on her. And he basically starts bringing up a bunch of gossip about her, that he’s heard from other people in the church. And the gossip is specifically – it’s nothing salacious – it’s specifically related to her not wanting to be at the church, but they’re still at the church because her husband is still there, and still wants to be there; and how she wants to leave the church, and just all this, just going through all this stuff. And so she’s asking him, “Who is saying this stuff? Who? Like, where is this coming from?”
He goes on to say that she is angry and unapproachable. So he’s just talking about all this stuff.
A: So essentially what’s happening here …
Q: In the presence of everyone else.
A: In the presence of everyone else, Tyler! In the presence! So there’s like 10 of us in this room. He’s going on about all this stuff in front of all of us. And it is awkward. But everything that he’s saying to her – it’s stuff that – it’s clear as day to me that it’s white people coming to him, or men talking in circles – I have no idea. But it’s microaggressive type stuff.
So because she, my friend, is – I think maybe I’ve known her for a while now, and we’ve maybe hugged twice, maybe. She’s not a hugger. Church people, people are very, you know, hug, fist-bump, whatever. She’s not a very physical person. She’s very kind of reserved in that respect. So it was like she wasn’t – because she wasn’t physically outgoing enough with people, she’s also somebody that she definitely wanted – because even in the most diverse church in the city, we were still quite outnumbered, as Black and brown people. And so she was a care pastor. She and her husband were care pastors at the church. And so they made a point to go up to Black people and to make Black people feel welcome. Honestly, she’s one of the reasons why I stayed, if I’m real. Like, she’s one of the reasons why my family stayed, is because both she and her husband made my family feel incredibly welcome. And she didn’t know me from Adam; and she reached out, took me out to lunch, just, you know, wanted to get to know me and all this other type of stuff. And so, yeah. She was doing that, serving in that capacity, primarily, toward Black people. And it wasn’t like she was, you know, hateful toward white people; but – some of this is aspects of her story to tell, but I will say that people behaved very microaggressively toward her, constantly. And that stuff was coming up in public, in this meeting, and the pastor was using these things as an indictment against her.
Q: His actions were to defend his own fragility.
A: Yes. So at this point, he’s saying all this stuff, so I’m kind of waiting for the moment to come in and say, “Whoa, hold on a second. You maybe shouldn’t say that she’s angry and unapproachable.” But like, so they ended up starting to go back and forth in this meeting – like back and forth, like raised voices and everything. And so there was a point where everybody else who was there was kind of like, “OK, maybe this should be a private conversation.” So we all get up. It’s the pastor, his wife, and my friend, in this room; and I was really uncomfortable with that. I was just really uncomfortable with that for a lot of reasons I won’t get into right now. But we left for a moment, and then I was like, “OK, y’all, we’ve got to go back in there.” I didn’t know what was happening in there, and I’m just like, “I don’t know how my friend is feeling right now.” And so I was just like, “We need to go back in there.”
So we went back in there, and we met for the rest of the time. So I was actually sitting next to my friend. We were sitting in some chairs and there was a table in between us. And she’s sitting there, and she’s quiet. Her face is stone like a rock, but she had the Denzel tears coming out her eyes. Like, you know, Denzel in “Glory,” after he gets – she had the Denzel tears coming out of her eyes. And all this is going on, and I’m just sitting here like, “I don’t feel good about this. I don’t feel good about this at all.” Like I’m in the meeting, I’m smiling and whatever, but I was like, “I’m going to talk to him.”
So I had known this pastor – I was on his staff – I had known this pastor for a very long time. So I was like, “You know what? I’m not OK with this. So after this meeting is over, I’m going to sit down with him and I’m going to be like, ‘What? You can’t call Black women angry and unapproachable.’ Like, what happened here was not OK.”
So I had that set in my mind. And so as we were leaving from the meeting, he asked my friend to stay over after the meeting. So he was like, just 15 – she didn’t want to stay. And he was like, “Just 15 minutes.” So I was there, and I didn’t live very far from the church. So I was just kind of hanging around, because I was waiting for my turn to go in. And so, you know, 15 minutes pass, 20 minutes pass, 30 minutes pass; and I’m just like, “OK, well, I guess maybe I’ll go home.” So I get in my car and I text one of the other women that were there, and I was like, “She’s still in there.”
So I’m driving off, and I just don’t feel good about it at all. And I drive off. My friend’s like, “What do you mean she’s still in there?” I’m like, “She’s still in there! She’s still in that meeting!” And so my friend is like, “Oh, she’s OK.” I was like, “I feel like somebody just needs to go over there and be with her.” And so my friend says, “Oh, she’s OK, her husband’s in there.” And I was like, “He absolutely is not in there with her. It’s just her and the pastor and the pastor’s wife.” And so my friend is like, “Uh, what?” And I’m like, I’ve been there. And so I went home. And she was like, “OK, I’ll contact her husband.”
And so I went back up to the church. And so I walked in the room, and I was just like – at this point they’re in the office, whatever. I’m just like, I’m going to walk back into the room, I look in, and I’m like, “Are you OK?” So the pastor tells me to leave. I look back at my friend and I’m like, “Are you OK?” And she’s like, “We’re finishing up.” She didn’t say she was OK, she said they were finishing up. So I’m going to stay back and wait for her to come out.
So she comes out of the meeting and she goes to her car; and I’m just like, “What do you need me to do right now? What’s going on? What do you need me to do?” And so she just sits down and she’s like, “I’m so disoriented right now.”
So her husband pulls up at this point, and so we’re sitting in the cars, and he’s like, “Are you OK?” And she’s just kind of like, “Yeah.” So we sat in the car and she’s just telling me everything that was said in that meeting. I wasn’t there, so I’m not going to recount it. But she’s just like, “I am so disoriented. I’m just – I am so disoriented. I don’t know what to do. I’m disoriented; like I’ve been told all this stuff.”
And so at this point, you know, we had been at the church for hours. This pastor’s got teenage kids. I felt bad for his kids, because his kids had been at the church, I think, since 7:00 in the morning. And so I was like, OK. And they were trying to go to youth group. And so I was just like, “OK, I’m not going to say anything right now. I’m going to go home and write an email, and I’m going to try to meet with him later. Maybe it’s good that I’m not meeting with him right now.”
And so I sent him an email and I explained everything that had happened in the meeting, and was just like, “Yeah, as a Black woman, this really affected me, to hear her characterized as angry and unapproachable. It seems like there’s a lot of personal issues and stuff coming out here, and I can’t speak to those things; but I was just really uncomfortable with that.” And I was like, “And I would meet to talk more about it.” And so he was like, “OK, I hear what you’re saying. I take what you’re saying to heart. I’m not able to meet right now. I’m not able to meet at all on this.” So I was like, “OK, cool.” Thinking that his schedule’s busy, whatever.
So remember that “Facing Racism” training that I mentioned?
A: So this incident, this meeting happened on a Sunday. That “Facing Racism” was the following Saturday. So we go to the “Facing Racism” stuff. So all this is brewing and going on. So my friend, she had been asked to step down from ministry; then she had been – the pastor told her that she needed to step down from ministry. Then her husband had gotten involved with it, and it was like, “OK, well, no, y’all don’t need to step down.” Like whatever. So there was a lot of – and I’m hearing this news secondhand – but there was a lot of confusion on their part, of, like, what’s happening here? Are we in ministry, are we not in ministry?” So we go to the “Facing Racism” thing, and – I didn’t get to participate in it; I think that they hadn’t accounted for my – but I had been told that I could come to this. I had been planning on coming to this. And then, like, I was there, and then, like, I couldn’t participate in it. It was like, “OK” – the person who had put it together was just, “OK, yeah, you can just sit here as an observer, because this is for leaders of the church.”
A: OK, cool, so I’ll observe, whatever. So I’m observing. At this point I’m, OK, cool, I’m observing, right? So I’m going to observe. I’m sitting here, you know, taking notes, whatever. And I was sitting there, had my iPad out, my little Apple pencil was taking all kinds of notes and everything, taking copious notes of different things, of different dynamics and stuff that I noticed; and I thought, OK, maybe they still really wanted me to be part of this, right? But then by the end of it I was like, “Huh. I’m not supposed to” – I feel like I was just there. Like, just, they said that they wanted me there, but they didn’t. They didn’t actually, like, want me there.
But in this “Facing Racism” thing, my friend brought up how she had – how there had been an incident in the church, and about how there had been something with a leader in the church. And she just did not feel like she was really at liberty to be able to speak and participate fully, because the person who she had had the conflict with, was in the room. And like, it sounds super shady, but it really wasn’t. Like, because this was part of some of the exercise that they were doing.
And so, push comes to shove – that happened on the Saturday. By the following Tuesday/Wednesday, my friend became kicked out of the church.
Q: What? Wow! That quick?
A: Yes. That quick. That quick. Over the course of nine days, essentially, a friend and her family had been asked to find another place to worship.
Q: What was the reason given? Why?
A: The reason that was supplied both to them, and I believe that this reason was also supplied to me in an email, was that they might be better served by worshiping in a different place. And, yeah. There wasn’t really a reason given.
And so whenever this happened, OK, you know, they get kicked out the church, I’m like, oh, my goodness, this doesn’t sit well with me. So my immediate response was to contact my campus pastor – he was a Black man – and I was just like, “Can you help me?” Because my posture was: Maybe there’s something that I don’t know, that’s happening – like, behind the scenes, that I don’t know. So I was like – if somebody had said, “Hey, there’s more behind the scenes you don’t know. Shut up now,” I would have been cool with that, right? I would have been, “OK. Awesome. Wonderful. Cool. Like, that’s OK, I don’t know what I don’t know. Let me sit my Don’t-Know mouth, and let me sit my Don’t-Know behind, and shut my Don’t-Know mouth,” and whatever.
So I asked to meet with the campus pastor, and he was like, “Yeah, you probably want to talk to Pastor T. about this too, because I really don’t know what’s going on. But I’m totally willing to sit down. We can get coffee, and we can sit down and talk about it.” So I’m like, “OK, cool.” So we had arranged a meeting to be on that Monday. And so I feel like that Wednesday or Thursday, I decided, “You know what? OK, cool. I’ma email the pastor.” And I was like, “Hey, yeah, I heard that my friends, that they were told that they needed to find another church, and I was just wondering.” So actually I did not send this email. My husband and I actually sent an email to the pastor together. So my first email, it was just, “Hey, can I meet with you,” right after the meeting had happened. Like, literally that day, right after the meeting, I was like, “Hey, let me tell you everything, things that I observed,” and was just kind of like, “Some of the things that were said were problematic, kind of hit me the wrong way as a Black woman. I’d love to meet to be able to talk more about this. And so the pastor had told me, “I’m not able to meet.” And so my assumption – he didn’t say it explicitly, but my assumption was that he was busy and wasn’t able to meet.
And so whenever I had arranged to meet with the campus pastor, he had suggested that I also talk to Pastor Tyler about it. So I was like, “Oh, OK, yeah, I could do that. I had just messaged him like a week ago and he said he wasn’t able to meet, but I’ll certainly try again, because maybe something’s changed.” And so my husband and I sent an email, and we were just like, “Hey, we’re really concerned about what happened here, and we just want to understand.” Let me make sure that I’m phrasing that right. Like, we literally were like, “We want to understand what happened.” Not like “We want to KNOW what happened.” It was, “We want to understand.”
Because the thing is, like, this was our pastor. He was our first pastor. I mean, if he had said, like, you know – if he had told us that the moon was made of green cheese, then I would have been like, “OK, maybe it is.” Like, you know, not like blindly follow or whatever in that respect, but there was just – I mean, even in the years that we were in Virginia, there were times that I would text him and ask for advice about different things, different ministry positions and jobs that I had over the years. He was somebody that I felt like cared for my family, cared for us deeply; and we cared for him and his family deeply. And we had served on staff with him during some really difficult times in the life of the church and everything. And so it was one of those things.
And he actually had met with my husband individually one time, because the pastor had said something in church, in a sermon, that concerned my husband. And so they had met individually before; and that meeting was kind of pivotal for the pastor. He even said that. Pastor Tyler even had said that his meeting with my husband was very pivotal for him in understanding some things. And so I thought, “OK.” My husband and I – we’ll meet together. Rather than ask myself, we’ll both of us ask, because this is something that’s really concerning to both of us, because we knew about everything that was going on.
And so we got an email back from him, just a quick email, that just was like, “I don’t have anything more to say about this,” and basically saying that he wasn’t going to meet with us.
Q: Very dismissive. Wow.
A: Yeah. And like, so he is super, super, kind of like he just didn’t have anything more to add to what had been said already – to what had happened already. And so I was kind of like, “OK [DUBIOUSLY] – so if you don’t have anything more to add, like, I was there for a lot of what happened.” I was there for a lot of what had happened. And so … all right.
And something that I’ll go back and add, just because – I’m just going to add it, just so I can tell the whole story – is that the Sunday after the whole racism workshop thing, my friend and her husband did decide, immediately after the sermon that Sunday, they decided that they were just going to step down from ministry. Like, there had been some back and forth that week, and then, like, there were some different things that had happened, and they had decided to step down. But whenever – because it was actually my friend’s husband who had talked to the pastor and said they were going to step down, but were still staying at the church. And he made it explicit that they still intended to stay at the church; just right now, they needed to step back from the public ministry aspect of it.
And so it was one of those things where, you know, it was kind of like where somebody – you know somebody’s breaking up with you, so you dump them before they can break up with you.
A: Like it was really kind of that dynamic. And so I think that because of some of the things that had happened in the church, that Pastor Tyler was kind of sensitive to rejection from people in the church, and so I think that – I can’t speak to his motive. I can’t speak to his mind or whatever. But could definitely see where that could be a reaction, where it’s like, “Oh, OK, so you say that you’re stepping down. Well, I’m just going to push you out before I have to experience the rejection of y’all leaving.” That’s what I think happened. I could be completely wrong, and I maybe shouldn’t analyze it, but I did want to add that just to add that – just to be forthright about everything.
So anyway. So I got an email saying, basically, “Hey, I don’t have anything to add,” and declining to meet with us. So I go, “OK, that’s cool. I’m going to be meeting with this campus pastor anyway, and so maybe we’ll be able to talk about it.” So not very long after that, I got a message from the campus pastor that was like, “Um, so, I’ve been told that I cannot meet with you about this issue. And that this is an issue for the leadership of the church. So we can meet, still. We can discuss anything else you want to; but we just can’t discuss what happened with these people.”
And so, like, I had a moment. I snapped. Like, this is unethical. And I told him. I was like, “This isn’t OK. This is unethical. Like, I am a parishioner coming, asking for pastoral care, because people that were important to me left the church under some, like, pretty bad circumstances. And I’ve not been able to receive the care.” Not to mention the aspect of, you’re going to circle the wagons? This wasn’t a personnel issue, because the people who were involved were volunteers. It wasn’t like they got fired or anything like that. I mean, these are volunteers leaving the church. These weren’t people who were on the payroll. These weren’t people who were on staff. \
And so we emailed back, and we were just like, “OK. If you can’t meet with us, we really hate this. This doesn’t feel good.” We mentioned the thing about, you know, wanting pastoral care and being denied pastoral care. And we were just like, “This feels really super toxic. And so we can’t stay here anymore. Like, if we’re not going to address this, we can’t stay here anymore.”
And so we left. And we left because we couldn’t stay anymore. Like it was just like, if you’re going to do – if you’re going to mess up like that – and it was a mess-up. It was a public mess-up.
A: And it was like, “If you’re going to do something, like, your apology has to as loud as your disrespect was.” It was disrespectful. It was wrong.
And yeah, my friend, you know, she was arguing back with him. I think that she was well within her right to. She actually apologized to him for, like, for arguing with him. And – because she didn’t feel good – maybe I’m telling stuff that’s not mine to tell, but she actually did apologize to him for her part of it. Because she felt bad. She was just, you know, “I just want to be right. I just want to – I acted – I came out of character. And so, since I came out of character, for myself, I’m going to apologize.” Even though what she was experiencing was like mad violent, yo. Like you going to sit here and not only share gossip that you heard from other people; not only like share all this microaggressive stuff; but you’re going to DO microaggressive stuff? And she’s just supposed to sit here and take it? “Smile, fam!” No. But she – and I told her. I was like, “You’re better than me.” Because I wouldn’t apologize. I didn’t have nothing to apologize for! I had nothing to apologize for, so I wouldn’t feel the need to apologize – but that’s on her, and that’s her and her Holy Ghost. And so she did what she could to make the situation right. So I don’t begrudge her that at all. I mean, it’s not for me to sit here and armchair quarterback that.
But for myself: witnessing this rife misogynoir, this rife microaggression insensitivity; plus knowing what I knew, like you don’t have the mechanism to deal – like y’all just sitting here catering to this white fragility. Like, just catering to people in the church – people in the church can act in a way that is racially insensitive and racially violent toward Black people, and it’s Black people that end up having to leave the church. It’s Black people that’s getting pushed out the church. It’s Black people that’s being called angry and unapproachable. Meanwhile, these white women are just sitting here pretty. Just sitting here pretty.
Q: There was no checking, to your knowledge – there was no rebuke of the original offense, which was what was posted publicly? There was no – was there any ramifications for the person who posted that? Was it just like, “Hey, she said she was sorry; it’s over”?
A: There was no ramifications. I don’t think that there were any ramifications. Now, the person who did say this – because, I mean, her story was, it was all like an accident, it was all a misunderstanding. And so she was just kind of like, “OK, if there’s consequences that need to come, let them come.” So I will give her that, that she had that much integrity to accept any potential consequences that might come to her. I think the approach, from what I remember – this has been a little bit, now, but from what I remember – I think that the approach was sort of like, “Hey, what on earth were you doing? Why did you post this?” And she couldn’t give a good answer for it. And then she apologized, and so it was kind of just like, “OK, well, what else can we do?”
Q: Gotcha. But there was no addressing of the harm that y’all had experienced as a result of that, and then the response. Wow. So there’s so many different layers here. There’s pastoral layers; there’s misogynoir; there’s, you know, race, there’s power; there’s all these different elements. But here’s something that I wanted to ask you. Because in all of this, you are at a church that held a nostalgic place in your heart. And you had loyalty to this church because of what it meant to you. And I think back on spaces that was in that were, you know, majority white Christian spaces, and I have nostalgia in my heart. There’s a hold it has on my heart based upon what that time meant for me, or where I was in my life. What would you – how do you characterize that now, and how do you analyze that now? Because it seems as though that gets us, as Black Christians, into a lot of trouble. That “Because I grew up here; because this is a place that I know; because there is familiarity; because I can count on this pastor; because there was this moment in time” – that that nostalgia almost exercises this hold on us, that makes it hard for us to break away from spaces that are disregarding our personhood. What would you say? Would you agree with that? Or how do you look at that now?
A: So I look at it now in that I gave them a lot more leeway and a lot more grace than I would have in other circumstances. Because I had context for the people, and I knew how things used to be. And I had context for the pastor. I had context for a lot of different things. And so I really wanted – in my particular situation, I really wanted to exercise a level of care that wasn’t like just outright dismissal. Because like I said, you know, even before we came back I was questioning whether or not we should go back. And I wasn’t really sure – I really wasn’t sure whether we should go back. Because there’s whole layers of stories that I’m not even telling here of stuff. I was trying to tell stuff that was like direct through-lines to us leaving. But there’s like a whole other slew of stuff – other stories that I could tell about things that happened while we were there.
But I was willing, I think, in that space, to exercise like a modicum of grace, because I understood what they were trying to do – what they said that they were trying to do. And again, you know, giving Courageous their flowers and stuff here: This was a church that took on a denominational system that was rife with legalism and stuff, and just said “No, we’re not going to do that anymore.” And you know, Pastor Tyler lost a lot in that. Like, there were people that left the church, that – yeah, I mean, he took a lot of – he put a lot of stuff into that church. And he dealt with a lot. And as a staff member, I saw a lot behind the scenes that he was dealing with; and I know that there was realms beyond that, that he was doing. And so he had put his money where his mouth was, in terms of not having legalism and wanting people to be free from legalism. And so I just assumed that he would approach racism with that level of tenacity and with that level of, “If people get their feelings hurt, they get their feelings hurt.”
And I did not quite see that level of approach. I saw that the first line of defense was to cater to white fragility. There was just – he was – and the thing that I pinpointed before we even walked in the door the first time, returning there: They think that they are further along in this journey than what they are. And so there was a lot of – because he had managed to be – he was the white pastor in Springfield who had managed to get the golden ticket of getting all these Blacks and Hispanics and whoever else to show up at the church, that some of these other churches – churches that even were much bigger – we had denominational churches that were some of the largest in their denomination, THE largest in their denomination, that weren’t able to do that, that weren’t to attract Black people. They weren’t able to attract Black and Brown folks, or to have them constitute any significant portion of the congregation. And so, you know, you have this pastor who’s like a nobody from nowhere – and he would characterize himself as that – but you know, he’s a nobody from nowhere that shows up and pops off and, you know, in a couple of years he relaunches the church. And in a few years, he has the most diverse church in the city.
So there’s all of that, that was there. But I swiftly realized, like: Hold on a second. All of this is here, but this is false unity. This is a false peace. Because everybody’s afraid to talk about racism. The Black and Brown folks in the congregation who dared to be outspoken about racism: a lot of them were often policed and shut down. I would watch comments sections of people that I had met – and I was looking with a very close eye, and looking at some of the dynamics there, and I’m just seeing: Y’all think that you’re further along than what you are, and you’re catering to white fragility.
The other thing that I will say – and again, this isn’t a knock; I’m just telling the truth – is that there was enough Blackness and Brownness – Black and Brown culture was there as the seasoning. It wasn’t there as the reality. So Black people were used as little flecks of pepper to add spice. Black and Brown people were used as like little flecks of pepper and spice, to add taste and to add spiciness to the reality there. And I’m saying this – this isn’t just a slam on Courageous – this is multi-ethnic churches in general. But I’m speaking to a local church context. Because I think that – I’ll just come out here for a second and just say that like, you know, with your story, Tyler, and with Jamar’s story, there was a lot of like intersections with kind of national, big organizations, groups of people that people know. I’m speaking from a local church perspective, so I can only name my experience. But I’ve had experiences in a lot of different places; and in talking with other people that have had experience in the local church – I’m speaking to my context. And in the local church context, often, something that I’ve seen is that Black and Brown people, we are used as seasoning. And it’s like, at my old church in particular, Black culture was just something to show, “Hey, we’re cool, hip, and relevant.” But then Black presence, like, Black minds weren’t appreciated.
And so just an example of that: like, Black culture would be used as a marketing tool.
Q: Yes! Get into this! Yes!
A: So Black culture would just be used as a marketing tool. I remember that there was a day where people would serve and would go out into the city and do stuff. So there was on year that the shirts for that day said “We Out Here.” And so like everybody in the church is wearing these shirts that say, “We Out Here.” And I’m like, oh, my gosh, I really have – like, that – I really feel some type of way about that. And so – I didn’t – I had to study, because I was in school, I had to study, so I didn’t participate in the day. But my husband participated in that day. So he came home with his shirt, and he just like has this look on his face like, “Yeah, I had to wear this to participate in the service day.” And oh my gosh. [LAUGHS] And so I was just like, “No.” Like, don’t ever wear that shirt out in public again. Like that’s – like, “We Out Here” is not something for white people to be using and to be wearing like this, whatever.
There was another thing that was like marketing for small groups, that’s like, “Where My People At?” Not “Where Are My People?” but “Where My People At?”
A: And I’m like, hold on a second! Like you can have that Black culture in that respect, but then y’all won’t sing Black music. So, like, hold on a second. So it was like, so y’all will sing Black music, but then it’s like white-ified, I don’t know. You’ve got Black singers up on the platform – like, the best worship team in the city, that’s won awards, that’s done all this other type of stuff; talented musicians and everything; but then Black music is approached with like kid gloves. And it’s like, “Oh, well, you know, we want to do a fusion.” And there’s just so much more that I could say about that, that I’m not going to say about it. But like, it was a thing. And there were people, Black people in the church, that asked about this. And like, you know, “Where’s our music at?” And like, you know, “Hey, could we maybe have more of this?” And there was just – there was a lot of defensiveness around why that wasn’t the case. And so – there’s just all this thing where, you know, we’re there – but like only if we are safe to them.
And something that I’m going to say – and you know, I don’t know if anybody from there is listening, and I certainly hope that if there is anybody from there that happens to be listening, that – I’m not implicating specific people in what I’m saying. I’m just speaking to a general trend. So I’m not talking about Courageous anymore. I’m just speaking about a general trend that happens in some of these white churches, and may or may not apply there. Often Black people – something that I’ve noticed in these multi-ethnic church spaces – is that the Black people are always, like, “safe” Black people. Almost always. Like, they’re not too loud, they’re not too outspoken, they’re not too whatever. They can be cool enough – they can have enough Blackness about them to be cool, but not enough to be threatening. And categorically, I often see where it’s Black men married to white women that are in leadership.
Q: Yeah. Whew!
A: And something that I think – and we can park there for a moment if you want to. Something that I think throws people off about me is that I am married to a white man. I am not the type of Negro that is just – and I know it’s not Black men that’s like this either – but I’m not the type of Negro that just because I’m somehow adjacent to whiteness, that, like, I’m going to somehow stand for whiteness, and like ride hard for whiteness and make sure that white people are comfortable and all that type of stuff. Like, I’m – that’s not where I’m at. That’s not who I am as a person. And so like often, you know, white supremacy will paint Black people to be hostile, to be militant, to be radical. And so they want the Black people who aren’t like that. And so there’s something that I think people find disarming about a couple that one of the spouses is Black, but the other isn’t. And I think that there’s a safety that white people find in that.
So I think that I throw some people off because I’m not that. Because you know what? I love my husband. We’ve been together since we were 16, 17 years old. I love him. But at the end of the day, I also love myself, way too much to allow him to be complicit in my oppression. Like, I’m just not OK with that. And I love myself way too much to allow him to allow other people to sin against me. And so, like – I’m going to say that again. Like, I love – for me, you know, it’s – the adjacency to whiteness or whatever – it really doesn’t matter to me. Because I’m not going to – at the end of the day – I’ll say it this way. I think that some white people think that if Black people have to choose between Black people and their spouse, and their white spouse, they’re going to choose the white spouse. Because your spouse is the most intimate relationship, or whatever. And I just feel that that’s a false choice. And I feel like white supremacy plays on that. White supremacy preys and plays on what they perceive to be a vulnerability. So they’re like, “OK, whenever it comes down to it, they’re going to choose their spouse.” And I’m just sitting here like, “No.” Like, that’s actually not the case for me. I love my husband, but like, I’m not going to choose whiteness over my freedom, ever. And he knows that.
And so, I love myself. And I love myself way too much to allow him to be complicit in my oppression. And I love him way too much to allow him to allow others to sin against me. Like, I’m just not – like, what kind of spouse would let other people sin against your spouse because of why? Like, that’s what racism is. You’re sinning against somebody. So why would my spouse ever let somebody sin against me? No. I would hope that he wouldn’t do that. And I love myself way too much to be out here like, “OK, I’m just going to – I’m just going to sit here, and we’re just going to let it ride, because you know, I love my spouse.” Like, no! Like, white supremacy isn’t OK! So white supremacy is not OK if it’s a white person doing it; and white supremacy isn’t OK if white supremacy is in blackface. And I’m here to be against white supremacy. So that means that – thankfully, my spouse – he’d ride or die on it. I don’t have to worry about him.
But yeah, I think that’s a dynamic that happens. And I’ve seen this dynamic in multiple churches. Back when I was looking for internship sites, to do my internship at, in other cities – I was thinking I was going to have to do my internship in another city – I was looking at churches that maybe had Black people or whatever on staff, because there’s educational requirements and some of the Black churches didn’t have that. But those credentials – and I did look at some Black churches – but those credentials are often accessible with white churches and stuff, like knowing, “Oh, this person has an M.Div. from here and there” – just doing internet searches, it was a lot easier to find that kind of stuff. And so I’m looking at multi-ethnic churches and stuff on the internet; and I’m seeing Black people on staff, and I’m seeing the spouse pictures, and I know someone’s always a white spouse. And I’m just out here – it’s almost always a Black man with a white woman. And I’m just like, I see that dynamic – I’ve seen that dynamic in other places where I’ve been involved, and I’m just like, I don’t know what gives with that, but it’s just like, “OK. We’re going to platform a Black person” – but they have to somehow be attached to whiteness. And biracial people also get the same exploitation. And it’s ridiculous.
Q: Yes, and I’m glad you’re speaking to this, because I think – it does make me sad, because I sense that there is a level in that of deploying those Black people as tools to make other Black people feel comfortable. And I always wonder and question the agency of how churches utilize those types of interracial marriages and relationships. I mean, that’s such a complex discussion that deserves its own time and its own podcast. But that is a – it’s common, right? And it’s common in something that we see a lot. And how that’s done also – we should be also aware and sensitive to the reality of white supremacy even in the way churches choose, and in even in the way churches present.
And so you’re talking about this public presentation of Blackness, whether it’s in interracial marriages, or also just in general, using certain phrases in Black culture. And I’ve seen that in advertisements and campaigns, and Black phrasing and African-American vernacular. It’s like, “OK, this is interesting. So you’re using us, but not really using us, right? So you’re using what we can bring, just as flavor, but you’re not – you know, you put this on pictures and fliers and advertisements. Nobody Black on your staff.” So it’s just like, OK, cool. [LAUGHS] So you’re just sitting back like, “Oh, this is interesting.”
So this whole situation, though: it’s causing your eyes to be open to these realities. Already, you already saw it; but now it’s being clear: it changed you. Like, it changed part of your perspective. And it also is very harming for you. When you left that church the second time around, there was a lot of pain associated with that, I’m sure.
Q: And how did you respond? What’s that like? Because I don’t think we talk about that enough. We talk about, “OK, I lived in this place, and it was great,” and you know, “Now I’m healed, and now I can talk about it.” But after that, there’s a lot of pain. And what was that like?
A: Yeah, there was a lot of pain. And I, for sure, I was angry about the situation that happened. I didn’t like how it went down. But I was incredibly sad. I was just incredibly sad about it. Because I – I mean, it was my church home. It was my place I considered to be my church home. And so it was very difficult, then, to leave. And thankfully I did have some connections and stuff outside of Courageous – like, I had some connections that I think softened that on the way down. And the other thing is that – since I’d been connected, you know, I’d remained connected for all those years, but I wasn’t actually – I’d only actually been a part of that particular iteration of the church – I’d only really been a part of it for a couple of years. And so I didn’t have – some of the connections that I had, that were there: those relationships had already changed, because I had moved to Virginia, and been in Virginia for so long. But there still was like profound loss that happened, you know?
There was somebody who was actually – there was a staff member who was my friend. I mean, I thought that we were friends. I thought that we were getting to be close friends. She had been to my home a few times; I’d been to her home. Her home was actually where I led the small group and stuff. And whenever we left – because I didn’t really say – like, at the time, I didn’t really say a lot about it publicly. Like, there were people outside of there that I told, and I let know what was happening, so they could support me. But it wasn’t something that I just, you know, jumped on, and was like, “Oh, hey, you know, this happened.” I didn’t do that immediately. And so, but I did text the campus pastor and said – because I really liked him; I just was like, OK, I’m going to text him; the least I can do is let him know that we’re leaving. And so I told him that we were leaving. And so he was just, “Well,” and everything. And you know, there was no hard feelings there or anything at all. You know, we’ve interacted on social media and stuff since – you know, not anything – yeah, just, I don’t feel any kind of way. If I saw him someplace, it wouldn’t be awkward at all.
But there was another person that I felt like I was becoming friends with, and I had texted her after we had made the decision to go. And she never responded. Like, not, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Nothing. Like, she said nothing. Like, you know, where she would maybe comment on some statuses and different things on my Facebook page or whatever, you know, connect with me there; she didn’t say anything to me. And that was true for a lot of the white people who I was connected to there. Many of them just kind of – I just ceased to exist, to them.
With the Black people, the ones that I knew, it was a little bit of a different story. I can actually say now that I think, of everybody, of all – like, there were 10 of us who were in that room, and there was another kind of outer circle of people who were affected by what had happened, that had sparked some of those meetings – there’s not any of us that go to that church anymore, I don’t think. Like there might be one. There might be one.
A: But none of them, to my knowledge, still go there. And so, that was a progression of over probably like a year or more, for some of them to get to that point. There were, I think – there were three of us that left immediately. There were a few that kind of questioned for a while. Some people – one person, I think, moved, and so they were going there still, but then they moved. They didn’t want to go there, but just with family circumstances, they wanted their kids to be in church. And so they decided to stay there. And they struggled with that decision.
But anyway, it was something that was just very painful. I gained a bunch of weight. I had been, was getting my health and stuff together, and it really, like, derailed my health, my progress with my health. And you know, not to tie weight to health, but part of me, being able to get healthy and stuff after having two difficult pregnancies, part of my – weight loss was part of that, was a natural result of that. And I gained like 20 lbs. I also gained probably another 15 or 20 lbs. on top of that, that’s like pandemic or whatever, and my unhealthy choices then. But yeah. Like I gained 15, 20 lbs. just because of just feeling incapacitated at times. And some of my friends – one of my good friends bringing me doughnuts; we sat and talked a lot; and having dinner with people, stuff like that. Some of it was that.
But a lot of it was – so I’m trying to do this, and mind you, I’m still in school. So all this is happening, not on my summer vacation, because I didn’t have summer vacation. All of these things I’m telling you were happening while I was trying to study for seminary and while I was trying to write papers. In fact, the bulk of a lot of the meeting and all of the fallout happening, would have been happening right around the time that I was trying to get ready for finals.
Q: Wow. And you still graduated with honors. [LAUGHS]
A: And still with a 3.97 GPA.
Q: Come on.
A: I just had to throw that up there. But that was other times that I felt named the pastor. I don’t name any of this to be vindictive. I don’t do any of this to punch down. Because honestly – I’m just going to be real – like, I really struggled with telling this story. I’ve talked about it some different times. I have an episode – I don’t go as in-depth as I’ve gone here – I’ll probably cut like 5,000 hours out of this, because it’s way too long, because I’ve talked way too dang much. But like, I’ve talked about it, I’ve tweeted about it some, I’ve written about it some; I had an episode of my podcast kind of telling just an overview of what had happened, because it affected – it affected my podcast coming out. It was supposed to come out – my podcast was supposed to come out that fall, and it was just impossible for me to do it, because of some of this. But, like, I feel really weird in telling this story. And I name it, and I name the names, because I think – or some of the names. I didn’t name everybody’s name. There’s no reason to name every person in every situation.
But the reason why I use the name – the reason why I am naming names in this respect, in this regard – is because – there’s a couple of reasons. The first reason is because I think that – I mean, nobody cares about the Courageous church in Nowhere, Missouri. Springfield, Missouri. I shouldn’t say Springfield is nowhere. I mean, I have friends and stuff that’s there, people that I care about. But it’s – Springfield, Missouri, isn’t like a major city, right? It’s not like L.A. or New York or Atlanta or Chicago or something like that. I mean, it’s a small city. It’s insider ball within this local context. But I share it because that’s where a lot of us are struggling at. And a lot of us – I don’t live in Springfield anymore. I live in Chicago now. But a lot of people don’t – you live in your small town, you live in your small city, you live where you live; and you don’t leave. And so you have to deal with seeing people at the grocery store. You have to deal with all this other type of stuff. And you have this pain of, you leave the church, and then you feel like, in some ways, that you can’t really talk about it with people, because you don’t want to be seen as badmouthing the church. You don’t want to be seen as slamming the church. You don’t want to be seen as like doing anything. And so it creates a culture of silence where we leave. And maybe we go across town and we worship at another church; but we feel like we can’t talk about it and name the experience.
I’m so incredibly thankful to – there were three pastors at three different churches, and then many others, many other people who came along, many other places that came alongside me during this period. The pastor of the church where I did my internship at the Connecting Grounds, Pastor Christie – she came alongside me whenever all this was going on. I spent hours on her front porch, sitting on the porch swing, drinking coffee, and processing through this. And I would not have been able to get through this without her. I would not have been able to get through this without Phil and Emily at Brentwood Christian Church. They were there for me. They supported me. They listened to me. They gave me a place to be able to do my preaching practicum. I had to preach for seminary. I put off homiletics until the very end of my seminary career, because I dreaded doing it. And they gave me a place to be able to fulfill those requirements. Father David at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where – that’s where my family ended up going – before we were even going to go there, before we became members there, we had connected that summer, and he had done a pastoral visit for us, in the midst of all of this; and listened to me tell what had happened, and listened to the rawness. And checked in with me multiple times afterward; and even as, like, a parishioner, checked on me to make sure that I was doing OK, and if there was anything that I could do.
So thankfully I didn’t have to be as silent as I might have had to have been if I was in some different contexts. But it was still hard to name; and it was still hard to talk about. And I think that a lot of people, whenever they leave, they experience not being able to talk about it, and not being able to name it by name. Nobody cares about – the people who were there care about the church. And I’m not saying that to be pejorative. The people who were there care about the church, and I’m glad they care about their church. But most of the people listening to this podcast don’t care about this church. They don’t know nothin’ about it, they don’t’ care about it. But I name it because I hope it empowers somebody else to be able to tell their story and to name names, and to name harm where happened.
The other thing, too, is – I know that I’ve said a lot. I know that I’ve named names, I’ve said some stuff. But here’s the thing, y’all: my hope is that this podcast – I don’t know how much of it y’all gonna hear – we’ve been on this for a minute, fam! I really hold out hope that this pastor will apologize for what happened to the people that it happened to; and that his apology will be as loud as his disrespect. And I really – I mean, I wish them well. I hope that there have been more and better efforts toward things, toward healing, racial healing, at that church. I don’t know a whole lot of people there, don’t talk to people, but I do know they’re there about this; but just what I’ve been told is that there hadn’t been – it might have changed now, but I heard that a lot of the things they had set out to do, after all this, they didn’t do them, at least at first. Maybe they’re doing them now. I don’t really know, because I don’t keep up with them like that. I don’t try to keep up with them like that. You know, I left. That door is closed. I don’t need to know everything that they’re doing, and every person and every whatever. But I do know that there’s not been an adequate, like, accounting-for, and repentance, and apologies. And I do know that others have left, presumably because those things were absent.
And so, yeah, I do it for that. But I feel some type of way, because like I’m out here, I’ve got a platform. Nobody in your audience don’t really care about like all this insider ball. But like, in some ways I feel awkward. I feel like – I question, like, is this punching down? Is naming the church – is this punching down? Is this me, being a person – I mean, I’m not famous by any means – but, like, you know, I’m known. Like, I’m getting to the place where, at least I’m known on Facebook. I get into places – I’ve run into people in public that, they see my name and they ask, like, who I am, or they ask, like, “Wait, are you her?” It’s kind of at that place now. Again, that’s not to toot my own horn or anything, but – so I feel like an element of this is punching down, and I don’t mean to punch down at all. I’m just naming it.
Because for a long time, I felt like I was trying to protect them by not naming them. And I realize that, like, I was like, “Oh, I don’t want anybody to know, because I don’t want people to think badly of them. I don’t want people to think badly of me because I said something,” like I don’t want whatever, blah blah blah. And now at this point, like, it’s just sort of like, I’m naming them because I was there. And sometimes we have to name. As long as we can name where the harm happens. And my harm – I didn’t name some of these other places that I’ve been, even though I experienced harm there. I didn’t name any of those other places because in many of those cases, some of the people repented and apologized for the things that they did; repented and apologized for how – there were some inadequacies there; and where there weren’t other things, I didn’t necessarily tell those things. But I’m telling this because it’s part of my story, and it’s a big part of my story. And so, yeah. It’s probably too much, but I’m here.
Q: No. This is your story. This is important. One last question I wanted to ask you. There’s so much more I could ask you, but I feel like, you know, you’re going to be on the podcast so many times. People are going to have the opportunity to hear more of your heart. But in this context: What has finding home been like for you? Do you feel like you’ve found a place – not necessarily just a church, but a place; a reality, a community – where you can be yourself? You can be seen, known, and affirmed, and you can heal from the hurt that you’ve experienced?
A: Yes. So that’s true on like multiple layers and levels. So I named some people. And that’s the other thing, too, about naming: I want to name some people that helped along the way. I named some hurt, and I wanted to name – you know, naming Phil and Emily and Father David, Pastor Christie, and naming their congregations – I wanted to name places that helped me, places where I was – places that were able to suture the wound. Like, you know, I had this thing that was kind of this gaping wound, and these people, these pastors, came in and sutured that wound for me. These are white pastors in predominantly white churches; but again, with the context that I was in, that was where I ended up. And there’s more to – I could talk more about why I didn’t end up someplace different, but it doesn’t really make a difference to my point here.
So that was something that, initially, being able to be with some people who could suture that wound from like kind of a pastoral perspective. The other aspect of it was just the community that I had with Black women. There are Black women that loved and supported me both there in Springfield, but also my online friends. Like, also, there are spaces that I’m part of, that are for Black Women, where I was able to go and to receive healing. You know, I had other friends that were there, that were supporting me. My friend Emily brought me doughnuts from a local doughnut shop, gourmet doughnuts, a lot. I don’t blame her totally for my weight gain, but definitely red velvet doughnuts …
Q: [LAUGHS] That’ll do it!
A: … were maybe not the best health choice at the time, but it was what I needed. It was what my soul needed, if not my body. And so I had that level of soul care, of being around, listening to Black who had had similar experiences; but also having Black women just surround me, that just were able to surround me in love and stuff.
And so then, you know, talking again from the church perspective: So all of this happened not very long before the pandemic hit. And so I had found – my family and I – we had started worshiping at an Episcopal church in our neighborhood. Because we had known – my plan had been, our plan had been, after I graduated seminary, that we would move to Chicago. And seeking out where could I be ordained in ministry, whatever; long story short, the Episcopal Church seemed like a viable option for me. There are a lot of Black Episcopal churches in Chicago. And so that was something that I knew was potentially coming, and so I was like, “Well, I might as well just go ahead and become part of an Episcopal congregation.” So that’s what I did. And being a predominantly white church – I was the only, the Black people that was there, my kids and I, we were like the only ones there – but still, there was a lot of good that was there for us.
But then the pandemic hit, and that kind of stuff – just being able to be quiet and at home in the midst of the pandemic. And then we started, we found a church, a Black Episcopal church here in Chicago, that we were able to start worshiping with online. And then we were eventually able to worship in person with them. And then our health status changed again, and so we were back online. But being able to find a community of Black believers, Black worshipers, a part of – somehow – I showed up at this church and I was there for like two minutes, and now it’s like, I’m one of the secretaries for the women’s organization.
Q: [LAUGHS] That sounds like you. That sounds like you.
A: I mean, listen, I wasn’t trying to. Like, they were just like, “Oh, hey, you’re new here. Let’s put you to work.” Like, OK, awesome! I was just kind of chill, because I was not really trying to do that. But that was what happened. And so, being there. And then finally – so being in church, that’s been something, that’s been a place where I’ve been able to be myself. But honestly, it’s been this organization. It’s been The Witness. It’s been Tyler and Jemar. It’s been our team. It’s been the Pass the Mic group. It’s been some of the different friendships and relationships that I have built out of that community and out of this, that have been able to nurture me and help me to feel like I can be myself; and also helped me realize that I’m not, you know, I’m not making this stuff up – that my experiences are real, and that they’re valid. The fact that you’d sit here for – we’ve been sitting here, probably, for three hours now – obviously you’re not getting a three-hour podcast. [LAUGHS] I hope y’all don’t do that to the people.
Q: [LAUGHS] You never know!
A: Like, “Girl, you need to hush!”
Q: Now, you never know what we gon’ do.
A: I don’t know what y’all gon’ do with this. But anyway – but I mean, just sitting here, being able to tell this story, being able to put it together like that in this space. I mean, not everybody gets to be on Pass the Mic and tell the whole, their story, in the way that I did. But just being able to do that: I hope that, somewhere in my story, that there are things that y’all can connect with, and that there are things that liberate you, and that free you in telling your story.
Q: Yeah. That is an honor on a number of different levels. You know we are colleagues; obviously we work together; but one of the greatest joys of the pandemic, in really the past year and a half, has been our friendship – you know, for me, it’s been our friendship. And we’ve been able to go through a lot, argue a lot [LAUGHS] …
A: [LAUGHS] That’s all we do, is argue.
Q: Roast each other … I mean, it’s like, oh my goodness, it’s just always part of our friendship. But also just seeing in your past, your love and your care for people. And how much you care, and how much you are devoted to, you know, justice and equity, for people that we would forget about and for us as well. And so just how you name things, how you see things, you know: it’s my honor to call you a friend. And so I’ve been encouraged and liberated by your story; so I know other people will be as well. And that’s why this is so important, and that’s why, you know, there are times we have to be loud.
So thank you for being courageous and brave enough to tell that story; because it’s going to free some people.
A: I hope it does.
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