Tag Archives: Racial Reconciliation

Talking about Sankofa and Racial Reconciliation at North Park University

Today I had the pleasure of being invited to North Park Univeristy in Chicago to share during a panel discussion and follow up Chapel Chat. The topic centered on our aim to reach the moral excellence of racial reconciliation and justice. 

The message comes from this passage:

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,”
‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:3, 5‬ ‭NLT‬‬
http://bible.com/116/2pe.1.3,5.nlt

We were asked to briefly respond to the following prompts. The following is a copy of my speaking notes. 

1) What did I witness this past weekend that is a direct threat to moral excellence, something that does not reflect God’s character well. 

It’s become increasingly difficult to watch not only the way my ancestors were enslaved, but also the fabrication of a mild and sannatized history of this country that minimizes and justifies this evil.  

I’ve begun to see how capitalizism and industrialization have driven and benefited from the theft of Indiginus land and the enslavement of Black Americans.  In school I remember being taught about the invention of the cotton gin as if it suddenly made things better for everyone when in reality it multiplied the need for slave labor. The birth of the industrial revolution in the US was something that I never realized happened at the cost of enslaved people’s lives. 

When we think about repentance and how to turn from our evil ways, it’s not simply a matter of “Forget to forgive”.  In the spirit of Sankofa, we genuinely have to look back and correct the generations of false narratives. We have to address the ways that we have dehumanized and undervalued the contributions of people of color to this country.  We have to own the erasure of our suffering and oppression. We must begin to use our history as a lens — to see where we – both individually and collectively – continue to participate in this legacy of abuse and injustice. Then we can turn from our evil ways begin the healing of our land. (2 Chronicals 7:14)

2) What keeps you striving for reconciliation?

I center myself on the example of Jesus. I see his incarnation as the embodiment of the direct response required for reconciliation.  It’s not easy, pretty, or convenient but it’s essential. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 12:2-3 says “… For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

People come against me for speaking out about injustice.  I’m often accused of “perpetuating racism” and “dividing up the races” by exposing and challenging how white-supremacy still has a locked grip on our culture.  There are times where the verbal attacks and calls for violence against me can be discouraging.  But then I am reminded of the example of Jesus, who when he spoke folks were ready to throw him off a cliff! If that’s the expected response to radical truth, then I’ll have to wear my parachute while I cry loud and spare not! Dismantling oppression and abuse culture matters.  I can’t afford to let it go unchallenged. I realize that at the core of the Gospel is the message of liberation and reconciliation –  we can be restored and I’ve been equipped with the Spirit and with Truth do the work of restoration.

 

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Panel Discussion

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About Darren Calhoun

IMG_2275.JPGI am Darren Calhoun – beloved by God and a follower of Jesus.  For the past 15 years, I’ve earned a living as an entrepreneur and professional photographer.  My church community is Willow Chicago, the downtown campus of Willow Creek Community Church.  There, I’ve served as a volunteer for eight years in various parts of our arts ministries including leading worship.  At Willow Chicago, our worship team has two paid staff positions and I am part of a team of six volunteer leaders who complement the staff roles.  I love being able to serve our church community in this way.  I also volunteer with other organizations that are working on causes that are close to my heart like anti-violence initiatives in Chicago and racial reconciliation efforts.

I am gay.  As a Christian, I’ve been on a long journey to reconcile the reality of my orientation with the various views that the church world has on the topic of people who are attracted to the same sex. Before coming to Willow, I was part of a church whose leadership promised that I could be ‘healed’ of my same-sex attractions. I spent years seeking God and obeying the leadership of that church – eventually sacrificing relationships with family and friends, quitting college, moving to another state, and living under 24-hour supervision inside the church.  All of this was done in the name of being ‘healed’ and in hopes that I could be accepted by God.  During that time I became more broken and unhealthy than I’d ever been and at times despaired living. I eventually was reminded in scripture that God’s love didn’t look like what I was being subjected to by that church.

I am loved. At Willow I found a community of people who were willing to love me authentically.  I was warmly welcomed by a gathering of believers who reflected a biblical demonstration of God’s unconditional love.  I am surrounded by a community of Christians who are fully committed to loving God and loving one another. In this context I was able to begin a journey of celibacy and prayerfully discerning what that means for my life. This has been a profoundly personal spiritual pursuit to reconcile my deep love for God, his word, and the cards I’ve been dealt.  The decision to be celibate isn’t a quick or easy one and I’m engaged conversations with my church community to see what it looks like to truly support someone who has made this counter-cultural choice.  I think it’s important that we figure out how the church best facilitates lifelong relationship, intimacy, and support for people like me. That’s my journey thus far, but it doesn’t represent the journey of every other believer with the same orientation as mine.

Because of my many experiences and inspired by the stories of other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Same Sex Attracted people, I participate in intentional conversations about how the church can be better for everyone – especially those at the margins or who have been pushed out.  I think this is an important, nuanced, and delicate issue that needs a variety of voices speaking into it.  My perspectives are my own and are not on behalf of my church community. That said, I understand and respect the theology of my church, and the intentional journey our leaders are on to live that theology while being a place of profound love, grace and engagement for the LGBTQ+ community.

I hope to be part of equipping churches so that they are safer and more inclusive places for everyone who matters to God. This is why I’ve chosen to be part of efforts made by organizations like The Marin Foundation, which seeks to facilitate dialog between various people and groups on topics relating to the church and LGBTQ+ communities – groups who might not otherwise listen to one another.  This same value informed my choice to be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta Regional Training Conference.  I was invited to the conference to co-facilitate a full-day Academy for Racial Justice workshop. I also had the pleasure of sharing in a panel discussion titled “LGBT 101: starting the conversation” about how to thoughtfully engage in dialog with LGBT people. Lastly, I was part of a panel discussion that took a candid look at how race and LGBT identities intersect. Because I think it’s important to be inclusive of various perspectives and was happy to share my thoughts as a Christian who is black, gay, and celibate. I was happy that I met other Christians at the conference who are on similar journeys as me as well as Church leaders and parents who thought they might be singled out for having a traditional view of scripture on these topics.  We were all welcomed to the table.

So in getting to know me and what I’m about, keep this in mind: everyone has a story.  Through my photography, my social justice and activism, and through my engagement with various faith communities, I try to make stories known and foster compassion. If the church is to be all that Christ calls it to be, then we must love God and love people. It’s difficult to truly love someone you don’t know, but when we get to know their story we set the stage to know and love them like Jesus.

Why Does #Furgeson Matter?

 On November 26, 2014 a post that I was invited to write was featured on The Marin Foundation’s Patheos blog.  It was a great honor to be asked to share my thoughts and perspective on the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.  The full text of my post is here.  I hope you’ll read it with an open heart. Thanks!


 

If I matter to you then #Ferguson should matter to you. #BlackLivesMatter illustration by Darren CalhounGrowing up black in America informs my experience with bridge building and compassion in some unique ways.  In attempting to connect with, understand others as well as being understood and contribute to positive change, I’m constantly faced with the reality that being a person of color in this country presents me with a different experience than if I were white.  When major news items come up in the media, I can look at my Facebook newsfeed and see a divide where my friends who are minorities may be consumed with a topic and my white friends may not have even heard about it – or I might be the only one on their newsfeed to mention it.

In Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer. News of the shooting seemed to immediately go viral on the social media sites I follow.  Just as quickly as the news spread, questions were raised as to what took place that resulted in this fate for Michael Brown. As the accounts of eye-witnesses began to be shared via video and telephone interviews, it became apparent that the all too familiar story :a  an unarmed black man had been killed by a white police officer. This, of course, was coupled with the presumption that the police would not handle the case properly and this suspicion was further supported with the camera phone images of Officer Wilson standing over Brown’s lifeless body that remained in the street for hours after his death.

I realize for many who may be reading this, the scenario of an unarmed youth being shot to death may not be something you hear about commonly, but as a black man in America I was raised with never ending reminders that police will treat people like me differently because of the color of my skin. This reality is so common in black communities that much of it is simply ‘understood’ and we discuss it to help the next generation be prepared for it.  However, I haven’t spent the majority of my life in exclusively black spaces.  In spaces that are mixed or mostly white, I’m often reminded that my white friends have a very different experience.

One evening while riding home in a car with friends from a Living In The Tension gathering, the topic of getting pulled over by police came up.  There were five of us in the vehicle : two white females, two white males, and myself.  For the first few minutes we talked about being ‘harassed’ by police – them pulling us over for seemingly nothing, or going only one mile over the speed limit. I resonated with this, but the response to the police was where I suddenly had my eyes opened to just how different our experiences were. They all seemed to have stories of taking the officer to task for the inconvenience of being stopped.  The conversation shifted into tales of how badge numbers had been demanded and how even in their teen years ‘standing up for themselves’ got them out of a ticket – or at the very least, better treatment from the officer.  They even shared stories of friends who had been defiant, used profanity with officers, or been flippant. I was shocked because I couldn’t recall a single incident with a police officer where I didn’t fear my personal safety and that I would somehow be carted off to jail.  I don’t think any of them had ever been described as a suspect in a robbery or stopped only to be asked where they were going with no other reason given for the stop.  I was taken aback because my experiences were informed by a very different reality. I was repeatedly taught that during a police stop I MUST move slowly, keep my hands on the steering wheel, announce every move I’m going to make, speak in a very slow and calm tone, use my most proper speech, try to appear as non-threatening as possible… and so on.  I realized that for my white friends they had never been presumed to be a threat to the lives of officers while for blacks it had been the presumption from the moment the police engaged us. 

These observations aren’t just anecdotal. There is data collected by police and regularly reported to the FBI that shows people of color being stopped far more than whites.  In Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was killed, 2013 data from the Missouri Attorney General shows that 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of car stops involved blacks but only 67 percent of the town’s population is black.  Of that number 34 percent of searches of white suspects found contraband, versus only 22 for black suspects.  It’s with realities like this, which are common across the US, that black people face the news of Michael Brown’s shooting and now the news that Officer Wilson wasn’t indicted on any charges of wrong-doing in this case.

As someone who is committed to reconciliation I ‘get it’ when people (of any race) don’t understand the unrest around the situation in Ferguson.  If nothing in your experience immediately connects to that kind of radicalized oppression, I see why you may think of the news as over-hyped and the reactions as inappropriate.  However, too often judgments are made about  the character of the people involved that isn’t informed by a sense of compassion or understanding for an experience that may be very different from your own.

But why does that matter?

So often when discussion of topics of race, gender, orientation, economic status, and the varying experiences of people across these classes comes up, I simply sit and listen.  I listen to see who is saying something damaging, who is searching for answers, and who is showing themselves as an ally to the more vulnerable party.  This isn’t so I can judge someone as right or wrong, it’s actually to see where I can be a support, and where I may be able to find support later.  What I really want to know is “do you care?”.  I believe there are powerful connections to be made when people care for and understand each other.

My life has been enriched by people who have gone beyond our differences to see me and affirm how they connect with my story.  The opposite has also been true – I’ve been wounded by people who – because they couldn’t understand me or because they didn’t care – have said and done some of the most hurtful and isolating things in my life.

We all have the potential to uplift or to tear one another down with our words and actions.  When we show love by caring about the plight of the other, I believe we can begin to restore the humanity in all of us that is created in the image and likeness of God.  When we show compassion and concern for things like the system of racism that creates situations like the one in Ferguson, or for the struggle of LGBTQ people to find love, safety, and acceptance in the world and in church, we can send powerful messages to people around us that say ‘I care.’

This is not to say that we always have to agree on these issues but rather to love the other person despite our differences or disagreements.  So in your conversations, your comments on blogs and social media – in what you say from pulpits and soap boxes, in the way you respond to what you see presented on TV or as you walk down your street, please let love lead and communicate in word and action that people matter.

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.