Encore: An Honest Conversation on Race at The Story Houston
Inside This Episode
Maybe God host Eric Huffman sits down with seven people of color who are members of his church for a frank conversation about what it's like being black or brown in a predominantly white congregation.
"IF WE COULD ALL SEE THE IMAGE OF GOD IN THE PERSON SITTING NEXT TO US, I THINK EVERYTHING SHIFTS AND CHANGES."
Eric Huffman: Hey everybody. I hope you've taken the time to check out our latest episode, Is God Colorblind? The stories that our guests told in that episode have forever reshaped my understanding of racism and what God is calling us to do about it. After the George Floyd video rocked me to the core, the first thing that I wanted to do was hear from the members of my church who are Black and Brown. I wanted to know if they were okay and I wanted them to know that I wasn't.
My best estimate is that there are about 180 people of color who call The Story home. And thanks to COVID-19, it was impossible to host a gathering of that size, so I hosted a few Zoom meetings and a series of conference calls instead. There was a lot of love in those meetings, as well as some tears and even a little bit of laughter.
One thing that stood out in those conversations was the overwhelming sense of shared conviction that the church has more to do to inform and equip our members, especially our White members to fight racism in everyday life. On a personal note, these conversations have taught me that the sins of racism and complacency are interlaced.
I don't consider myself a bigot. But there's no doubt that I'm guilty of the sin of complacency. Most of the time, I'd rather not think about racism, I'd rather not talk about it, I'd rather make excuses and justifications and quote statistics and pretend as though it's not really that bad. I mean, it's not as bad as it used to be, right? Things are getting better, so what's there to be so upset about? Complacency about racism only serves to perpetuate the problem. And even if things aren't as bad as they used to be, half as much racism is still 100% too much. We've still got work to do. And my conversations with church members of color reminded me that the church must lead the way.
A few weeks ago, I decided to host one of these gatherings in person. It was a smaller group. Only eight of us gathered together socially distanced, of course, to share our stories and to listen to each other. The group gave us permission to record and share this conversation on Maybe God. So here it is a raw, honest, intimate exchange about race among a diverse group of Christians in Houston, Texas.
Tanya: Hi, I'm Tanya. I'm 42 years old. I am a single, divorced mom of four. I'm a teacher, photographer, graphic designer, therapist-
Eric Huffman: And professional tweeter.
Eric Huffman: You're a celebrity.
Tanya: I happily use my Twitter much in the same way that some of our leaders do. I try to be respectful but also the snark will come out.
Eric Huffman: And that's what it's for.
Tanya's huge smile and enthusiastic presence light up every room she walks into. The first Sunday morning she walked into The Story's worship service, she approached me afterward to thank me for the message that I just shared. She told me that the night before she was hanging out with friends at a local bar, listening to a singer-songwriter play a show. After he left the stage he approached her and her friends and invited them to join him for church the next morning. That singer-songwriter playing a bar on a Saturday night was The Story's worship director, Nathan Bonus.
Angel: My name is Angel, 36 years old. I work for the city of Houston. I'm an auditor/procurement specialist. Married, three children.
Eric Huffman: Angel is also a professional musician. He's toured worldwide with bands like Kid Rock and Los Lonely Boys. Now he attends my church and plays in the band almost every Sunday morning. I love watching Angel play the drums. Every time the music starts, his eyes close, his face turns up toward heaven, he sways back and forth and he worships God as he plays.
Meghan: My name is Meghan. I'm 33 I'm recently married. We've been married just over a year. I work in mental health.
Brandon: My name is Brandon. I'm married to Meghan. I'm an athletic director, football coach, born and raised in Houston.
Eric Huffman: The first time I saw Meghan and her husband Brandon she was resting her head on his broad shoulder during one of my sermons. She does that a lot. They're either a couple deeply in love or she's deeply bored with most of my sermons. I choose to believe the former.
Erica: My name is Erica and I am a preschool teacher. So I love young children, and I believe in making an impact at an early age to prevent hard things later in life that they may be dealing with.
Adrian: And my name is Adrian, and I'm married to Erica.
Eric Huffman: Adrian and Erica moved to Houston a month ago in the middle of a pandemic so that Adrienne could start his new job leading music at The Story's second campus.
Geovanna: I'm Geo, one of the pastors here, executive pastor of The Story, married to this guy over here, Eric.
Eric Huffman: How many years? She don't know.
Eric Huffman: Twenty-one.
Geovanna: Twenty-one. Twenty-one. Who's counting, anyways? You don't need to count, we're having a good time.
Tanya: There you go.
Brandon: Good answer.
Eric Huffman: We didn't plan it this way, I swear but every couple in that room is in a multi-race or multi-ethnic marriage, including my wife, and I. Geo is from Ecuador, and she's married to me, the whitest White boy from Northeast Texas. We seem to have a disproportionate number of mixed-race couples at The Story, and I have no idea why. My mentor used to say that a new church's culture will often reflect the founding pastor's family. Maybe Geo and I unintentionally started a church that's a safe haven for mixed-race couples.
Tanya: What was so different about being here, it wasn't just you and Geo and how real you two are about your personal story. It's talking with the other people here, who as they share their personal struggles, you don't feel like the odd man out. It's a place full of not just real people who were like, "Oh, we're all sinners." No, it's not that we, you know, here's our cliché. It's we drink beer, we laugh, we laugh at and we make really goofy jokes sometimes that we probably shouldn't tell. But that's actual Christianity. And it's people who genuinely love Jesus living a real life. And for me that was everything.
Eric Huffman: I'm a very proud pastor. The Story isn't perfect, but there's no doubt that this church is full of people who are trying to love Jesus and to love each other as best we can. Still, I know that a church made up of predominantly White people can't always be a comfortable place for people of color.
Tanya: I am a Black woman and I would guess the majority of the congregation, probably in 75% plus, is White.
Eric Huffman: That's fair to say.
Tanya: And there can be a distinct feeling of "I don't know if I belong here. I don't think I'm in their demographic. I don't think they're going to accept me. I probably stand out." But that's just from the outside looking in. Once you broach the walls and you actually talk to people-
Geovanna: Once you get into inside the walls you realize we're all into Jesus demographic, right?
Tanya: Yes, it's a soft jelly doughnut. Because you can't tell what's on the outside half the time. It's that you have to get in it to really just-
Eric Huffman: The delicious surprise.
Tanya: Yes, you got to get in.
Eric Huffman: Anybody else experienced the same anxiety outside looking in?
Angel: You know, I noticed the same things. I'm like, "Oh, look at this. This is nice." But I think my upbringing is a little different and... I'm multiracial, so I've had challenges my entire life, you know, being half Hispanic and half Black. So it wouldn't matter if I went to a Black church, it wouldn't matter if I went to mostly Hispanic, White, I would stand out regardless. So you walk in here and it's welcoming.
Meghan: I remember when I first brought him to the church, I was like, "Well, you know..." Because I went with him to his church, and then I was like, "Come with me to The Story." And I was like, "Just so you know, it's kind of all-White but..." So I know that he is a larger guy so he stands out. So you know, you always get like kind of looks.
Brandon: You know, and it was kind of like an opposite because my old church is a Baptist church. So you're talking about night and day. I had to say to her like, "Before we go in here...
Eric Huffman: You told Meghan that?
Brandon: Yeah: "Before we go in here..." I just knew we're gonna get a lot of looks because you know, she was probably one of maybe three white people in that church. So when I came here to not get, you know, a lot of those looks really... Just, "Hey, welcome. Welcome in." I'm like, "Oh, man." And then walk in. And then every time you walk in there, you remember my name. I'm not just some huge Black guy that look like he plays football. It'd like, "Hey, Brandon, how's everything going? How's life? How's work?" I really appreciated that.
Eric Huffman: Awesome. So what are the funny things White people do to try and accommodate or make you feel like they want you there or like you belong? What are some of the quirky things that you'll pick up on from White folks that really are trying to extend the welcome?
Angel: I don't really get that. He might understand. He would understand because I'm kind of a big dude too. So people just avoid me altogether. You know, and I smile. I smile and I try to be friendly. "Hey how's it going?" And they're just like... they just kind of just look at me with a blank stare like they don't know what to do. My wife, on the other hand, they just run all over her, you know.
We actually had a situation in The Story yesterday where the stores are being marked because of the virus, you know, you're supposed to stand back when people are standing on the other side. So I was looking at something with my son, and she was next. So she starts walking up and then a guy from the other side starts to cut in and she's looking at him like you're not in line, and he's just looking at her like he's going to do whatever we'll do.
But I'm walking forward with my son and she looks at me and he looks at me and then he just goes all the way to the back. And he was looking at me like I was gonna... I wasn't gonna say anything. I was just like, "Oh, the lines over there." I'm as friendly as I can be. I just don't get that from a lot of people.
Eric Huffman: Interesting.
Brandon: I'm literally the same.
Eric Huffman: Really?
Meghan: I would agree with that.
Brandon: I can walk up with a huge interior grin, laughing about something and it's, you know, you clear the path because I don't want to get my head smashed. And I am far from... Of course, I play football and stuff and yeah, I can... you know, but when it comes to just walking around as a normal human, I'm not gonna turn into donkey kong or something.
Angel: Just like they assume I'm angry. They assume that I'm going to go off.
Eric Huffman: Tanya, you said you can relate to the question.
Tanya: Oh, yes.
Eric Huffman: What do you mean?
Tanya: It's probably because even though I am a tall woman, I'm a woman, and I do often find myself putting on the grin to make myself more approachable or to, you know, kind of let the outside world know I'm not angry, it's okay. And I will at least start here. There are some genuine people who didn't do the patronizing thing of, "Oh, hello, welcome to our church and whip it weird stuff thing. They genuinely seem to want to learn about me and they were truly interested. And that was really cool. But then you also have the other people that are really not sure what to do once your skin gets this dark. So they don't even know if you speak the same language sometimes and so they seem to have that like stiff, you know, I am approaching an alien.
So you have to, or at least I've learned to let them know, hi, how are you? I'm Tanya. And then they can hear an intonation that they recognize and so they feel comfortable.
Eric Huffman: All right.
Erica: So my family was totally okay and supportive of us being biracial, but I had this weird moment with my uncle and he was like, "Erica, Erica, I have to tell you something.' And he's like, "This guy looks exactly like your husband." And I think it was his way of being like, "It's cool that your husband's Black. But then I look at the picture and he looks nothing like Adrian. I'm like, "That's just a Black guy. That doesn't even look like Adrian. He doesn't look anything like my husband." So I think it's just a funny, like you were saying, like, awkward way that it's kind of like, Well, how can I say that I'm okay with this and how can I connect?
Geovanna: But I think that's across all races. The one that I sympathize a lot with is you, Angel, because like as a Hispanic woman, like whenever Eric and I got married, one of his uncles came to me and the first thing he told me, he didn't ask me my name or anything, he said, "Hey, Eric, I didn't know you had found yourself a Mexican." And I was like looking at him like, I was like, "Okay, well, I'm Mexican now." People will just categorize you sometimes based on whatever their preconceived notions are, you know. I think I've gotten probably more looks than any of you guys, because whenever I get introduced as the executive pastor of this church, they're like, "What?" Usually executive pastors are usually White and a man and older, and there comes this like
Angel: Everything I get.
Geovanna: ...Hispanic, short of woman. But, you know, I think that's the beauty of God is that God calls us all to different contexts. You know, like God could have easily led us to churches of people that are filled with people just like us. And the beauty of this is that the kingdom is represented in diversity, you know, and I really treasure it.
Eric Huffman: And I think what you told my racist uncle is "I've never been to Mexico."
Geovanna: I did. But I was trying to detach myself from his very powerful hands, holding my waist.
Eric Huffman: He's a little handsy, my racist uncle. He's no longer with us so... He was a great uncle. Like, he was my great mom's brother.
Geovanna: He was great.
Eric Huffman: Yeah.
Angel: You'd be surprised that a lot of people just aren't exposed to a lot of the other cultures and things out there in the world. They just don't know.
Eric Huffman: I think a lot of a lot of well-meaning White people right now are really confused. We're hearing a lot of different things right now. Like we're hearing silence is violence, we're hearing be quiet, we're hearing... You know what I mean?
Geovanna: You're like, what are we supposed to do?
Eric Huffman: Oh, man. It's very confusing right now. You know, we're trying. I know I'm hearing mostly the experiences are good at The Story. Have there been moments where you have been made to feel like an other, like wasn't a total comfort level?
Angel: I had something happen to me not too long ago. So it was after service and I was meeting a few other musicians who were also getting out of church at the same time to give them a few things. So I wait in the parking lot and as they're coming up and I'm giving them... it was just like shirts and some music. One car noticed that I was parked there and talking to other people coming up, so they pulled up and turned around and faced me and they faced me for about 10 minutes. I didn't think anything of it.
So this car just started making laps in the parking lot and they kept looking at me every time they would make the laps. And I waved on the third time just to be like, "Hey, it's okay. It's just me." Then I see them pulled to the back and they talked to the security guard. So then the security guard makes his way to me, he goes, Hey... So I guess what he was about to say he reconsidered. He's like, "Don't you go here?" And I said, "Yeah." I said, "I'm here every Sunday."
He goes, "Okay, what are you doing?" I was like, I'm just meeting some people. I had to give them some things before I head to my side of town." He's like, "Okay." And then he leaves. So I thought everything would be good by now. So I guess the person in the car wasn't happy about that. So they started making loops again. I think it hurt me more than anything else.
You know, in the past, I used to get upset about things like this, and it's sad to say I feel like I get used to it. So then it doesn't affect me as much. But it should because it's not right. I just didn't expect that in the church parking lot.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, of course.
Angel: But it didn't stop me from coming here.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, I'm glad it didn't. Thank you for sharing that.
Angel: Oh, yeah, no problem.
Brandon: I mean, just, you know, with me personally, I just... looks. You know, the looks are just kind of like a pet peeve of mine in a sense, because, like I said earlier, I have a smile on my face, I'm dressed, in a sense, correctly the right way, I guess. I don't have tattoos on my neck and face and all that. I guess those are my own thoughts. I'm like, "Okay, so why are you still staring at me? If I get a seat... even if me and my wife get a sit few spaces away from somebody to see them kind of clutch their stuff.
Eric Huffman: Really?
Brandon: ...and pull their kids in closer. Well, stuff like that. That was my experience when I first started here. But once people start to see you coming more, you know, often, they see, "Okay, all right, he's a regular here." And I think, you know, a lot of that can be a deterrent because, like, he's huge, I don't want to say or, you know, walk up and be awkward. I don't know how to shake his hand. Hey, I'm a human just like you. Just because I'm £300 doesn't mean-
Eric Huffman: £300 and not fat. That's an important qualifier. I would guess that I think half the people looking are wondering if they should ask you for an autograph. And it's got to be hard for you to know, like to discern which look means what. Like that would just be... That would drive me nuts.
Brandon: Yeah, well, because usually, you know, people who are curious about football, they say, "Hey, what team do you play for?" And I go, "Okay, all right..." We have a football conversation, now I can tell the difference.
Eric Huffman: But is that an insult too to be asked what team you play for as a big Black guy? Like you might be a scientist.
Brandon: Well, no because, you know, I play football.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, okay. All right. So I guess that does work. Anyone else want to share?
Adrian: Yeah. I feel like for me it's been a weird journey because as I've been having a lot of conversations with my aunt who's a counselor, and we had a lot of conversations about being Black in America and I did realize she likes to use the word like I assimilated very well, like I was able to conform because I was in a lot of White spaces, I know how to just smile. And then it's almost like the clothes I'm wearing, like it's like very maybe approachable.
But then as I started unraveling some things, I started realizing there were things about me I was really afraid to show. It's been more of this internal dialog, like, "Okay, I'm starting to realize who I am now because I'm asking myself the questions of what have I assimilated into?" And I realize I'm scared to really show who I am because obviously my skin is darker color. But also with that comes a whole culture of stuff that's just there. And I realize it's like push down so much.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, you must have really heightened compartmentalization abilities to keep that pack down deep, that that's such a huge part of yourself.
Eric Huffman: And as you talk, I'm hearing different things, I'm wondering which is the primary driver. I mean, there's obviously a fear of not being accepted by the culture you're in. But is there also a fear of betraying the African-American community by assimilating?
Adrian: I think I've definitely got that already. You know, it's usually like if I'm like married to a white person, I'm doing certain kind of music.
Erica: And we're vegan.
Adrian And then on top of that, like, I can't be in their health or anything good for me or something. But I think I'm more afraid that I won't be accepted by the White culture.
Eric Huffman: And they are a lot more comfortable in accepting of you the way you were when you didn't bring all that stuff up, when you didn't like... you kept that down, that part of you.
Eric Huffman: And when you start to let some of that come to the surface, they're like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Eric Huffman: Like, "yeah, yeah, this is not the you we like." That kind of thing. I get that. I can see how. In me, that would bring up a lot of resentment and rage.
Adrian: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Erica: I actually have, like, an example of how that happened. So we were with my family, Adrian was in foster care, and then he was adopted into an abusive situation. So we were talking about parenting and stuff with my sister-in-law and my brother. I think they were talking about timeouts or something. And then we were all laughing, having a good time on this walk. And then Adrian was like, "Yeah." And they're like, "What about you, Adrian?" And he just went quiet. And then he was like, "Well, I was actually really abused." And then they just went dead silent. They had like no response to it because it was kind of like, We don't know what to think, we don't know how to approach."
And I'm not saying that's the Black community's experience, but what I am saying is that it's important to realize that everyone has different experiences, and White privilege people are usually not able to see that. So thankfully they changed and grew actually from what's been happening lately and they sat down with Adrian and asked him about his background and his upbringing. And that was huge.
Eric Huffman: Right. It's awesome. Thank you.
Geovanna: I do think that we have to be careful with stereotypes across the board because there's a lot of people on all races who are racist and who will demean people because of the color of their skin. You know, I grew up Hispanic and in Ecuador and I met some of the most racist people there in my entire life. And they were not White. I've had the privilege of serving in several different White congregations here in the United States ever since I arrived, and that hasn't been my experience. I haven't felt that people in the congregations themselves were racist towards me.
So I think that we have to be very careful about stereotypes. I think we have to be very careful about terms that the world creates a separate us and the world creates to steer us away from the gospel. We have to be careful because there are people out there who are very godly people all across races that truly know how to love other people.
Eric Huffman: What do y'all think about that when you hear...? I mean, this is a big part of this conversation right now in the culture is racism exclusively a White problem versus is it something that can infect any person anywhere?
Erica: So, yeah, I actually agree that we need to be careful about stereotyping people and even using labels. I think from an educational standpoint, understanding White privilege, not necessarily as a label to put on people that are White like me, but understanding what it means. It helped me. I wouldn't want somebody like, "Oh, you are that." But when I understood, oh, this was a part of my upbringing, it helped me to see, like, how am I projecting my white experience on other people and how has this affected the way I see the world.
Tanya: I heard a definition of it that I'm like that for me encapsulates that. Having White privilege doesn't mean that you got more things because you're White. It means that your skin color is not one of the reasons that you're having a hard time. In terms of how we view prejudice and discrimination, I think that it's a mistake to assume that people who are not White do not have prejudices. I think that the human heart, simply put, has prejudices. We all do.
Now, the term racism is so big and broad and people throw it around. But I think ultimately that has to do with very large things that are established, policies, laws, procedures, the way that whole societies operate. But discrimination and prejudice, those are things that we can deal with each in our own homes, each in our own hearts, in our relationships.
A lot of us get caught up in the concept of I'm not racist and dah dah dah, but we won't deal with the fact that we have discrimination tendencies, we have prejudices that as a high school teacher I do like to make sure I get to know the young White men in my class because if something goes wrong and you decide to shoot us all up, I don't want you to start in my classroom. That's an actual thought. And I legitimately take the time to get to know them because they usually start in a classroom where they don't feel welcome.
Eric Huffman: Wow. I had never thought about that before.
Brandon: Hundred percent. I teach high school as well.
Adrian: My wife's a teacher.
Eric Huffman: Okay, wait, wait, wait. So you all are going out of your way to befriend the loner White kids.
Brandon: I would say-
Tanya: Usually the loner White guy because he's the one that's-
Brandon: Well, I mean, I go out of my way to really help them become more accepted and feel comfortable, not feel like an outcast. Playing a little quirky, a little awkward. And I try to help them and the students around them just embrace that, not necessarily put them on a spot. I'm a PE teacher, so, you know, that's a prime environment to make fun and bring down people in. I try to eliminate those attempts, in a sense too.
Eric Huffman: Oh, I was just thinking about how I wish Brandon was my gym teacher because-
Brandon: Oh, man.
Eric Huffman: [inaudible 00:27:06].
Geovanna: It's not late.
Brandon: You would hate me.
Brandon: I can it physical fitness education, man.
Eric Huffman: Angel what were you going to say?
Angel: Well, I mean, just the other ethnicities can be just as bad, especially school. Man, those kids can be tough. I was never Hispanic enough. I was never Black enough. And I did get a lot of trouble from the Hispanics. No matter where you go around the world, if you're dark you're Black. You're Black, right?
Eric Huffman: Never quite fitting in.
Angel: I can never fit in anywhere. Yeah, I have experienced racism, well, not just White people, you know, all around.
Eric Huffman: Thank you, Angel. Why don't we back up a little and talk about what happened in this country over the last few months and just tell me what it was like? I know what it's like from my perspective. What was it like from your perspectives?
Angel: You know, it's just kind of like, Oh, it happened again.
Tanya: Yeah. Yeah. Where I began to have hope really was after George Floyd, when I had friends contacting me who had never said anything before. And usually they would ask first, "Are you okay?" And I would have to hold back the chuckle like, "What do you think I'm not okay with? Because I've been Black in America for 42 years now." But the real question for them was, are you okay? And because suddenly they were starting to see these things that I've grown up with, because we're a country still struggling with true integration and actually recognizing every American as being fully human. I often feel like it's kind of the birth pains of something new, of something different. I would certainly prefer there was less violence and less death. But-
Eric Huffman: In the protests, you mean?
Tanya: Yes. Mm-hmm. But I also do understand that as people begin to push back against what they feel is unfair, there are going to be powerful people to try to hold their personal line or the standard that they think is okay. I think that we've made some great progress in this year through a lot of this pain, but that we still have a long way to go. If there were some magical way that I could kind of make it all disappear, I think that it would be to sprinkle a potion over people where they can see the image of God in their fellow man. If we could all see the image of God in the person sitting next to us, I think everything shifts and changes.
Brandon: You know, for me, it was more so like a wake-up call. In a sense, it was fear. To get in my car and I drive and see police behind me, and now I'm looking at my speedometer, I'm making sure everything's good. You know, I'm tending to on the wheel now. It's a new level of fear for me because if you're talking to me, you know, unnecessarily, I'm going to, in a sense, feel like I need to defend myself. It is scary because something can be said and then from that point on it becomes resisting arrest. Right?
Angel: I'm scared all the time, every time after that. Well, what was his name? Philando?
Eric Huffman: Philando Castile. That's the one that really got my attention.
Angel: I'm a licensed carrier and, you know, sure every time the cops behind me come, like, if I get pulled over because by law, you have to give them both licenses. Your license to carry and your driver's license. And I'm praying already. Like the last time I got pulled over, maybe four months ago, right outside of my neighborhood, I was so nervous that I put my hands out the window. And the cop came up to me and said, "Put your hands inside the window." I was like, "Okay, I just want to show you that my hands are clear because my windows are tinted." He's like, "Yeah, never do that." I'm like, "Okay." But I thought it was the right thing to do. But yeah, I'm pretty terrified when police pull me over.
Eric Huffman: Yeah. Wow. I think what really strikes me is hearing a mom say it didn't surprise me. Like that just absolutely rocks me. It blows my mind.
Tanya: Yeah. I try not to sob. When I watch that video, I knew he was going to die, but my heart broke in half when I heard him call for his momma. That was just the moment of... Oh, I don't know what to do with that. I made my boys watch it because Joshua is tall, but Daniel's right there behind him. As tall as he is and as much as people will start to give him that look, I've seen people give him that look, and it makes me want to run over there and either do really mean things to them or just say really awful things because I see him and I still see my little boy. You know, like I look at him and I see my sweet, precious baby who still likes for me to tuck them in at night honestly.
Eric Huffman: He's going to kill you for saying that.
Tanya: I know. I know. He's such a kind young man, and I've seen him step in to defend people. And to know that there are people who will look at him and feel threatened, it's so disheartening and heartbreaking that... no, it's heart-wrenching. That's actually that... Like, I can feel that squeeze as a mother raising Black sons in America that I have to tell you, not only do you need to be careful and on your guard and not reach for anything and not move. The thought that that could be your last trip out of the house for no other reason than you just existed, I'm broken by that.
But I'm also more encouraged that I've heard about states and localities that are now putting in more restrictions and are actually taking policing seriously because we do need our police, but we also need them to be a part of the community and to recognize that men come in all shapes and sizes and that our men need to be a part of the community. And to start to see states and areas really come together to change that pattern is really encouraging.
Erica: Well, I had a question for you. Why did you decide to have your boys watch the video rather than telling them about it? And then when they watched it, what did you tell them?
Tanya: I decided to have them watch it because that's the reality of it. All four of my kids are biracial and when they were first born, I remember having the thought, "I'm going to let you choose whatever you want to be." And the first time that I've really changed my mind is when we were at the mall and I saw a woman look at Joshua, at the time he was probably ten or 11, but she looked at him with this fear. It was a stark reality that even though your father is white, I need to make sure you understand the way that the world sees you.
Erica: I mean, it's heartbreaking to hear you say that because as a mom, that's something that you don't want that to be reality. Our kids obviously are going to be biracial and we've talked about it a lot. But I have come to the realization of it's not something that you can just be like, "Oh, we'll just get there when we get there and just see how the cards unfold." But it's something you have to be intentional about-
Eric Huffman: It's not even something that you can be like, We'll let you choose which race you want to identify because the world chooses for you.
Tanya: That's it right there.
Eric Huffman: Right. Ain't that interesting?
Eric Huffman: There are some things that White people say about some of the stuff y'all are saying, a lot of it is not necessarily like hateful or whatever, but I'm sure it can come across that way. People just want to say, but hey, that's not all White people, or hey, only nine Black men were shot by cops in 2019 or whatever. Like the statistics don't bear out what you're saying. What does that do when White people, maybe well-meaning, maybe not well-meaning White people cut the legs out from under your argument by throwing out statistics and what ifs?
Adrian: I'm always a person that's asking questions in my mind about the why behind people. And when someone's saying something as crazy as, you know, "Oh, if you just did this," they're all seeing in part and it's most of the time because you've never just gotten to know someone else that sees another part that you don't see.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Adrian: That's why I've been loving like the one-on-one conversation with people I've never would have imagined because I was able to offer them something that they were missing and I was also able to gain something maybe that I wasn't missing.
Angel: I've had experiences like that where, you know, I've had some of my White friends with me, we're going to go pick someone up in the apartment and he gets out and knocks on his friend's door when I'm in my car. By the time he comes back out, there's a cop behind me tapping on the window and he's looking like, "What's going on? What did you do? What did you do?"
Eric Huffman: Yeah. Like, jokes, friends or something?
Angel: Yeah. I'm like, "I don't know what's going on." Long story short, the cop tells me, "Oh, we've been having some problems in the area of drugs being sold over here."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Angel: So when my friend gets in the car, he's like, "We come here all the time and this never has happened, ever," but the moment that I go with them. And he's like, "I didn't know stuff like that really happened." You know, people say it all the time, but for them to experience it, you know.
Eric Huffman: The Christian Cooper, Amy Cooper thing was really interesting to me because most of y'all know by now that I was a real proud liberal social justice warrior for a lot of my adult life so far. And then Jesus got a hold of me and just sort of changed my whole worldview around. I think there's a lot of pride that people who call themselves social justice warriors take in being anti-racist and everything. And it was real interesting when they found Amy Cooper's like donation record of political supportive of Obama's candidacy and she supported, you know, Democratic liberal candidates across the board and just wanted to that any different to see like a White liberal woman who's supposed to be kind of on your side in this whole thing, like she was the one that was reaching for a phone and... Did that surprise you at all?
Tanya: No. I'm hesitant because I feel like the words that I'm going to say are going to paint with a broad brush and I don't intend to say every White person. I definitely don't. But I've seen that far fewer White people legitimately live out their life caring for and giving to all people than simply saying what they want to be. You almost have to be more careful with the liberal Whites who will stand there and say that they're with you, but they run back to their neighborhoods and lock the door.
Eric Huffman: Oh, wow.
Tanya: So it's this idea that just because you're saying one thing, I see what you're doing too. And Miss Cooper, she was simply caught on camera saying one thing and doing another. But my guess is most Black people weren't shocked by that. I wasn't shocked to watch her say from a distance, "I'm going to call the cops and tell them a Black man is trying to..." I was shocked that he stood there-
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Tanya: ...instead of just walking away from her. But even people who say, "I can't be racist, my so-and-so is Black," the human heart has many layers and many sides to it. It's still just up to each of us to let God's, you know, help us with that and clean that off because...
Eric Huffman: Yeah. Wow. Why do y'all think it's important for us as a church? To strive for diversity and what happens when we worship God together?
Meghan: I think it's important because I think it represents who Houston is. I mean, Houston's such a diverse city, and that's part of the reason I love it, is because obviously we're going to have biracial kids and I don't want our children growing up in an environment where they automatically look different all the time. So I think diversifying the church brings different cultures, different people, different perspectives. Putting all different cultures, having all different beliefs, it opens your mind and I open your eyes to the different perspectives of other people. And I think it makes you love more.
Eric Huffman: Thank you. You know, they say the 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, and I'm afraid that might still be the case, although every hour in America is still pretty segregated. But I think the meaning there is that churches are the most segregated places in America, although I see more and more churches breaking through those barriers. It doesn't happen accidentally, I don't think. There must be things you do strategically.
Brandon, you're a strategic thinker as a coach and athletic director. What do you think churches like The Story should be thinking about in terms of the immediate and distant future to create a culture that welcomes diversity?
Brandon: The first thing comes to mind is understanding. In order for me to become more comfortable with water and I'm afraid of drowning, I need to understand how water works, I need to understand that if I learn how to swim, if I learn how to float, I'll be more comfortable in something that I'm still afraid of. You know, because water can kill you. It killing you doesn't change. But me learning how to swim in it gives me more comfort in being in water. I think it will a lot of people, once they truly understand people more, instead of having this stuck mindset of "That can kill me and I won't know anything else about it. I'm still over here on my Twitter and I'm still here on my Facebook and I won't even try to understand it. I already know what it can do to me."
You know, when you create the environment where people are comfortable with just learning and understanding and you practice that understanding on a daily basis, you don't just have one conversation and be, "Oh, okay, well, I'll talk to Black people, so everything's okay." No. Now it's about what did you talk about? Having an enduring conversation that last and it continues I think create an environment of understanding. And when you come to diversifying, just giving people that opportunity to ask questions, get answers, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, I'd consider that the ideal environments where people can just become more comfortable just being around people no matter because I understand you.
Tanya: It's not until people can come into relationship with each other and sometimes literally sit around the table and have the conversation that they can finally start to see, Wait, you're just as human as I am. You want things for your children, your family, you genuinely have these same things that I have. And just because we've had different backgrounds or just because we look different, it doesn't make the other person less human. I think if there were some kind of way to have a huge table, you know what I mean, and like a literal potluck, and to let people sit there and talk to and eat with. Like I think of a number of times that Jesus sat with His disciples and just like ate with them. And how often things change when you can sit around the table.
Eric Huffman: Right. Amen. You made me think a little bit about the breakthrough moment that woman who goes here, she's an African-American woman. And she talked about coming in to worship one day, and she was out in the lobby getting coffee with her oldest daughter. And her younger daughter and her son had come into the worship space and they saw Adrian on stage leading worship. She said they came running out of the worship room back into the lobby and said, "Mommy, mommy, you got to see this. You got to see this." And they were talking about seeing a Black man on stage leading in worship.
And that was like a watershed moment. And those things are so lost on people like me so often. We're so sort of oblivious to the meaning, the deep, profound meaning of these things we can be doing. But for them it was like the world will never be the same. How did that feel to you when you heard this story, Adrian?
Adrian: I felt like it was just honestly confirmation what God had already spoken to me. That was really humbling and touching, but it's like we want it to be a lot more than me. I just want to be part of a bridge, you know.
Eric Huffman: No, I teared up when she said it because, first of all, she was so excited that her kids were excited. And as a parent, I get that on a deep level that your kids are excited to be at church but also there's some part of that that I could never get like that. But I saw it. I experienced it through her. But just that joy of... and sort of relief this church she and her family have already loved for so long in some way affirming them as human beings.
A couple of times during this conversation, Black members of the story asked me what White members have been saying behind closed doors about George Floyd and the protests. At first I cringed a little bit. How could I possibly know what all White people are thinking and saying behind closed doors? White people have different opinions and different backgrounds. We're not all the same. Why should I be expected to answer for all White people everywhere?
And then I realized that must be exactly what it feels like to be a Black American every single day. How often are Black people expected to explain, answer for, pay for, or be responsible for the words and actions of all Black people everywhere? It's got to be exhausting. And just getting a tiny taste of it was an eye-opener for me.
But I did my best to explain how many White Christians have been feeling over the past few months. I believe that now more than ever, White Christians are ready to be allies in the fight. It has taken far too long, but I believe that we've finally seen too much. The most heartfelt, tear-filled conversation that I've had about George Floyd wasn't with people of color. It was with my small group of mostly socially conservative White people. We sat around a dinner table in an affluent neighborhood in Houston, and we wept real tears over the pain that Black people are feeling and the fear that Black children are facing.
So at last, I can say with confidence that our hearts are broken, but only if there is a clear path forward will there be any follow-through. If bridges aren't built and if the next steps aren't clear, I'm afraid that many White Christians will simply slip back into complacency. This is why churches are so important. The news media will move on and they will chase the next big story. Politicians will follow the money wherever it leads.
Churches must lead the way. If churches choose not to preach and teach about racism, if we just move on like nothing happened, then our people will too. But if pastors preach and teach about racism, if churches make it a point to value diversity, to welcome everybody equally, to raise up leaders of color, to make sure people of color are on stage or in the pulpit, and to plant churches in diverse communities and not just rich White neighborhoods, if we earnestly repent of the sin of racism and seek first, the Kingdom of God, I believe we'll change the world.
Eric Huffman: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our new associate producers are Andrea Gentle and Kat Brough, and Shannon Stephan and Justin Mayer are our talented editors. Please don't forget to leave us your glowing reviews on iTunes or Apple Podcasts to help more people find Maybe God. Thank you.