February 5, 2018

What Lives Matter?

Inside This Episode

Eric speaks with author, pastor, and humanitarian Rudy Rasmus about baptizing Beyonce, pledging allegiance to the flag, and being Black and Christian in Trump's America. With a potent blend of grace and brutal honesty, Rudy reminds Eric of his responsibility to speak out about racism and white supremacy - a reminder that we all need to hear.


Rudy Rasmus co-pastors the St. John’s Church in Downtown Houston with his wife Juanita and is the author of Love. Period.: When All Else Fails. For more about Rudy, check out his website.

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Episode Transcript

JULIE MIRLICOURTOIS:On this episode of Maybe God, many know him as the pastor of one of America's most successful self-made women.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You baptized Beyonce?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You married Beyonce?
RUDY RASMUS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:I guess she calls you friend.
JULIE MIRLICOURTOIS:Today, a rare and honest conversation with pastor Rudy Rasmus on race in America.
RUDY RASMUS:The fear of the loss of control and power will make people do anything and say anything, including so-called Christians.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Is it harder than it's ever been to be black and Christian?
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's saying a lot, considering you grew up drinking from a colored water fountain.
RUDY RASMUS:makes me cry.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I had a running tally in my head as this interview went on, how many listeners I'm losing just by having the conversation.
JULIE MIRLICOURTOIS:It's all coming up on episode five of Maybe God.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The real reason I wanted to sit down with you Rudy's you're Beyonce's pastor. I want to know how I can meet Beyonce. That's the only reason. It's the only reason you're here. You baptized Beyonce?
ERIC HUFFMAN:You married Beyonce?
RUDY RASMUS:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ERIC HUFFMAN:I guess she calls you friend.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Tell me more about Beyonce.
RUDY RASMUS:This is a funny thing. Having a pop icon grow up around you demystifies pop icons.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I imagine it's true. Yeah.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. I'd like to point back to when I first knew she was going to do something big. She was about eight years old, and I had never met a person more focused on their art as that eight year old, sang and danced constantly.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So you knew then.
RUDY RASMUS:That work ethic, man. She started singing in a choir when was maybe 14, 15, the presence of potential stardom is a factor. We hear about this factor all the time. It's called it, and some people just have that factor. She had that factor.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The first time I met Rudy Rasmus, I was new to Houston, and he called me up out of the blue to get a cup of coffee near downtown. I didn't know anything about him, and I wasn't sure why he even wanted to get together. I figured he had some kind of agenda, something he wanted or needed from me, and so, as we sat there, sipping our Americanos, making small talk, I kept waiting for him to say, the reason I asked you here, or I wanted to connect with you because ... but the pitch never came. What did come however was one Rudy Rasmus fan after another. Two young black men stopped at our table, and said, "Pastor Rudy, what's up?" Then a middle aged white woman came by to thank him for something he said on his radio show. A teenager stopped and asked if she could take a selfie with him.
ERIC HUFFMAN:By the time our meeting was over, two things were clear. First, I was drinking coffee with some kind of celebrity, and second, his only agenda was to welcome me to Houston and to tell me that God loves me. Since that time, Rudy and I have gotten to be really good friends. So I invited him to my house this week to talk about race and religion in America. He's a pastor in one of Houston's most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods, while I lead a church in one of the city's widest and richest areas. It was one of the most honest, most raw conversations about race I've ever been a part of. I had no idea how much I needed this talk with Rudy. What I realized is that he isn't just from Houston. Rudy is Houston. Larger than life and full of love, but also fragile and fearful. That's Rudy, and that's Houston, which makes sense, because it was life on this city streets during the civil rights era that made him the man he is today.
RUDY RASMUS:I'm 61 years old now.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You look good, man. You look good.
RUDY RASMUS:I'm feeling good, and I'm really grateful too because it could be very different, but I grew up in Houston. This is really my town, but it's just something about this town that I just really love.
ERIC HUFFMAN:where were you raised? What part of town?
RUDY RASMUS:I was raised in the center of Houston in a neighborhood called the West End. Just really reflecting on my childhood here, I lived in an extremely black world. Rarely encountered a white folk. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, I really didn't learn how to swim because Memorial Park only had certain days for colors, where they would, the days before they would drain the pool after the colored day and refill it with water. It was really weird.
ERIC HUFFMAN:For how many years did this go on?
RUDY RASMUS:Here's a straight, I drank from a separate water fountain in Houston, Texas until I was 12 years old. That water fountain was marked colored. I think when I look back at my angst with, even the current scenarios in America, I feel a lot of that water fountain creeping back into the picture. One of my major challenges with church was its inability to answer my questions as a kid about that separate water fountain. But I will tell you this, the Houston Zoo, an amazing place.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Even as a kid?
RUDY RASMUS:As a kid. Yeah. In the middle of the Houston Zoo, there was a lion hit fountain. A big fountain, ceramic fountain shaped like a lion. I had my mom take me to that zoo as often as I could get her there, for one reason, because I love to drink water from the lion head's fountain. I really did.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Was everybody welcome to same?
RUDY RASMUS:That's why I liked it. When I got in line at that fountain, there were kids from every neighborhood, every hue, every race, every origin who'll end up with me to get a drink from that fountain. I would go back to church on Sunday, and I would say, damn, the zoo's got it worked out. The who's got it worked out, but ...
ERIC HUFFMAN:We got to go to the zoo together so we can go see if it's still and drink some water.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah, let's do it. Let's do it. I need to do that. Yeah, but the people in and around the church seemed to, first of all, never say anything about the atrocity of that separate fountain. My question was always, if God is so powerful why can't God eliminate that? That was the one thing I wanted God to eliminate.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You grew up in church and stayed in church even though you had these struggles.
RUDY RASMUS:I was dragged to church. I wasn't there by choice.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Who dragged you there?
RUDY RASMUS:My mama. Yeah, my mama was a church lady. She would go to church every Sunday. She would cry every Sunday. When I was 12, I stopped and I never went back.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you ever find out why she was crying?
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. My dad was a serial adulterer and it created a lot of pain for my mom.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Do you believe in God at that point in your life?
RUDY RASMUS:No. Power has a way of expressing itself in the hood, and God just really didn't show up as a powerful force in the streets of Houston. We never really looked at the folk connected to faith as powerful people, even the preachers back then. They were sharply dressed. They had nice cars. They were well respected by the community, but they weren't making change.
ERIC HUFFMAN:As a kid, Rudy didn't look forward to going to church, but he did love spending time at his auntie Mae Mae's grocery store, Allen's Food Market.
RUDY RASMUS:That grocery store was, in my childhood opinion, more church than any church in that community. My auntie Mae Mae was ... she was quite a lady. She was about 4'6" tall, and in that grocery store, regardless of who walked through the door, the drunkest, stinkiest cat just in the streets could walk through the door. She would treat that person the same way she would treat the really dressed up guy who drove for the white people down the street. All right? There was no contrast.
ERIC HUFFMAN:How'd you experience the church differently from that?
RUDY RASMUS:The one thing I really appreciated about her was the way in which she embraced life. She was a real church lady, but she was married to a person who abused her the entire 50 years that they were married. She always called this cat her darling dear. I would say, "Man, come on, Mae Mae. Why do you call him you're a darling dear when he shoots his deer rifles in the house in your direction to terrify you? Hides mice in the freezer knowing that you are morbidly afraid of mice. For many years, beat her until one day I heard about it, and I told her, if he ever touched her again, he wouldn't touch her again.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You told her that or you told him that?
RUDY RASMUS:I told her that.
RUDY RASMUS:Throughout all of that, she would couch her love for this person who did not treat her wail on her love for Jesus, and how Jesus really mandates for her to love. I would say, I'd tell her all the time. I'd say, now, if Jesus has mandated you to love someone like that, I don't want anything to do with Jesus. She and I, we agreed to disagree. I loved her. She loved me.
ERIC HUFFMAN:For auntie Mae Mae, do you think that the love of Jesus was a camp out, or do you think that she knew something you didn't, about its power?
RUDY RASMUS:She knew something I didn't. I'll tell you how she ultimately taught me this. I'm still in these years far from a relationship with Christ, but she had then diagnosed with cancer. During those last, almost 10 months, Juanita and I, my wife and I moved in with her to take care of her. During that time, she showed me how love without conditions really works. So, she had an oxygen tank that she had to drag around the last, probably six months of her life. The bedroom Juanita and I slept in was right next door to her bedroom at her house. One night when he just started coughing and just couldn't stop coughing, and I'm half asleep. All of a sudden I hear the wheels of my auntie Mae Mae's oxygen tank rolling down the hardwood floor in the direction of our bedroom. Next thing I experience is my auntie Mae Mae putting an additional quilt over Juanita and I, and I never forgot that.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What does that mean to you?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, in the midst of her own suffering, she was attuned enough to our needs, that she was willing to get out of her bed, drag her oxygen tank down the hallway to make sure we were comfortable.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. While I was preparing for this interview with my producers, I was shocked when I came across this story about Rudy's first job. When he was still just a kid, he helped his father run a motel in downtown Houston. They rented most of their rooms out by the hour to pimps and prostitutes. Rudy continued working for this family business well into his 20s. I'm trying to picture this from the Rudy that I know and love, my friend. How did that come about, and what was that business?
RUDY RASMUS:First of all, that that business was a modified whorehouse. That was my dad's dream. I called it a borderline bordello because it's more politically correct. But it was really a bad, nasty place. When I was five years old my dad brought a set of blueprints home. The blueprints were the actual design for a little motel that had only one purpose, and that purpose was to provide a place for sexual activity of all sorts.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Here in Houston?
RUDY RASMUS:Here in Houston. My dad would always tell me, he said ... he called me either a big shot, Mr. President, or boss man. This one, he said, "Boss man, what we're going to do is we're going to build this building and we're going to profit from other people's pain.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Wow. How old were you?
RUDY RASMUS:Five. Yeah. Basically he was preparing me to run a sexually oriented business, and part of the preparation was creating a different moral compass around sex. Sex for us, in our family, was always business. You can't be a customer and become profitable at the same time. There was a great detachment around human sexuality and morality.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Were y'all running girls or was it just the rooms?
RUDY RASMUS:Just rooms.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. We stayed out of the illegal side of that business. Other people did that. One thing I didn't really realize until I was much older is just how complicit I was in human trafficking in those days. I've seen more than my share of really jacked up stuff. Over those years, and it was early years, my young adult years, I just became really desensitized to violence. It was a very violent culture towards women.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Yeah, and you said you were profiting from people's pain. Whose pain?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, everyone who rented a room from us was renting it for one purpose. For early days, they were renting it to have sex. Ultimately, when the crack cocaine epidemic really hit, the rooms became useful, both crack use and smoking and sex. It was just a dark side of the universe and us, and I stayed on that dark side most of my young adult life.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What changed to get you out of the borderline bordello business?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, along the way, I go to a funeral one day. At this funeral, I look over my shoulder and a young woman entered the church. When she comes through the door, there's this light around her. Now, for a guy who spent every waking hour in darkness, light can be pretty bright. I see her, and I'm saying, "Wow." It wasn't necessarily a physical attraction. I was really attracted to who she was or who could she be with a light that bright. In those days she was selling life insurance. So, a meter we're talking, and I'm trying to get a date, and at the same time, she was trying to get a life insurance appointment.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Worked out pretty good.
RUDY RASMUS:It worked out pretty good. I got the date, she got the appointment. I bought the policy.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Of course you did.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah, of course, I did. We dated for about 90 days.
JUANITA RASMUS:You see, when I first met Rudy, my mind had made up about Rudy. I saw some things, and I didn't like what I saw. And so we dated for about, I guess about 90 days. We went out on a wonderful dinner. He always took me to, and still does, takes me to great restaurants. In that restaurant, that evening I said, I'm not going out with him anymore. Mae Mae close your ears. I said he's a male chauvinist pig, and I got things to do, and I'm going places. A year later, Rudy calls me and says, "Let's go have lunch." I said, "Sure." We ain't stopped having lunch since. Rudy made up his mind and he was going to go with God even before he necessarily had a real sense of what God was doing in his life, for his life, for his life, and then what happened? God didn't just show up with a little something, something, he showed up in me. Come on.
RUDY RASMUS:There's this inner voice that has always kept me safe. Throughout my whole life, this voice would always tell me the truth. The truth about people, truth about settings and situations, always telling me the truth. Well, I'm dating Juanita, and this voice tells me to not do anything that would cause her to not trust me, which was, in those days, virtually impossible. I'm not a very trustworthy guy, but I always honored the voice. We went out to dinner one night, and I knew I wasn't gonna be able to see her again, because if I saw her any further, I was going to harm her, and I didn't want to harm her. Because remember, I was raised in a misogynistic culture, and that culture really had no good end for women. To honor the voice that night was the last time I ever saw her.
RUDY RASMUS:I never expected to see her again. A year later, the voice really said, just call Juanita. I called her, asked her out for lunch, and in a few months we were married.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What changed during that year?
RUDY RASMUS:I think during that year, I realized that, Juanita probably had the the brightest light I've ever seen in a human soul, and I wanted to be close to that light.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Now, does she know about the borderline bordello?
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah, when we married, she moved in with me and we lived there.
ERIC HUFFMAN:She was cool with it?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, she didn't fully know the depth of this organization. I guess, she did know that there was a little problem when her wedding gift wasn't done. I think she knew that was a little problem.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The newlyweds were still living at the motel when Juanita started taking Rudy to a church called Windsor Village, which was led by Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell. Over the next five years, Rudy and pastor Caldwell became close friends, even though Rudy continued to reject the Christian faith.
RUDY RASMUS:I kept running this business, I kept profiting from people's pain, but I kept showing up in church. Now, we never talk about, are you a believer? Are you a member? Do you believe what I believe? None of that shit.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You're just friends.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah, we're just friends. As friends, he gave me a chance to know a pastor that I could ultimately trust.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What was different about him from other pastors you had known?
RUDY RASMUS:Integrity. In my little borderline bordello, some of my best customers were pastors.
RUDY RASMUS:Oh yeah, man. Those guys really have problems. Yeah.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You know that's us, right?
RUDY RASMUS:That's right. This guy, you know what he did for me? He gave me an opportunity to look up close at a pastor's life. I will say, all of this stuff that he modeled for me, I did a pastor. He drove an old car, I drove an old car my first 24 years in ministry.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The pastor is in your life, growing up, didn't drive old cars.
RUDY RASMUS:No, man. They drove new cars. They were shiny. Their laughs were shiny. It was part why nobody really trusted them. How do you profit from a poor neighborhood? How are you the shiniest cat in the whole neighborhood, everybody else's suffering? He had a decent place to live, but it wasn't the biggest house in the universe. I think the one thing that really attracted me to him as a leader was his humility, when I knew he didn't have to be humble.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Five years into their friendship, Rudy became Kirbyjon's real estate broker. One day, the pastor asked Rudy to check out a property downtown as a potential spot for a new campus of Windsor Village.
RUDY RASMUS:He sent his staff down to look at it. They all came back and said, "Man, none of them, but homeless crack addicts around that place. The building is raggedy. It's on the dark end of downtown. This is a waste of time." When I got there, I got the keys. This is my first day looking at the building. The building is surrounded by homeless crack addicts, and I drive up to the front and I started getting excited, and I call Juanita. I said, "Baby, this is the place."
ERIC HUFFMAN:What was it about this location that set your heart on fire for the possibility of church there?
RUDY RASMUS:I think it was surrounded by homeless crack addicts.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The people you welcomed into the store.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. That year was the year I had become a Christian, and that same year I had accepted a call to ministry. I get to this place, I knew immediately that this was the place I was born to serve in. It was crazy.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That was 25 years ago. What happened next was really amazing. Rudy and Juanita were named as co-pastors of what became St. John's Methodist Church. Under their leadership, the church grew from nine members to over 9,000 members. Now, every weekend, people from different backgrounds and living different lifestyles, people from every walk of life share the same pews as they worship the same God together. St. John's is their home. Rudy and Juanita are their spiritual parents. Rudy has made it his life's mission to serve those, he calls Houston's least last and lost. In 1992, he and Juanita founded Bread of Life, a ministry serving over 500 meals a day to homeless Houstonians in the St. John's Sanctuary.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Bread of Life also distributes over nine tons of fresh produce to hungry families every single week. In 2006, Rudy led the establishment of the Knowles-Temenos apartments, a 43 unit residential development that was designed to provide permanent living accommodations for formerly homeless women and men in Houston. His biggest supporter in this initiative was none other than the Queen herself, Beyonce and her family. They've given over $7 million to help make Rudy's dream. Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime show is still top three for me all time.
ERIC HUFFMAN:So, you watched that one?
RUDY RASMUS:I watched that one.
ERIC HUFFMAN:About last night. Today's a day after the morning after Super Bowl 52?
RUDY RASMUS:I protest it.
ERIC HUFFMAN:The Eagles came out on top.
RUDY RASMUS:I'm glad they won.
ERIC HUFFMAN:But you did not watch ...
RUDY RASMUS:Well, I think NFL's leadership, I think there are days of owning people, treating people like chattel, assuming they have a fan base just because of the level of violence that is exemplified on the field and marginalizing Kaepernick.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Kaepernick, that did it for you? That was the ...
RUDY RASMUS:It did it for me.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That was the line. The red line. It does seem like he was blackballed.
RUDY RASMUS:He was marginalized. No doubt about it.
RUDY RASMUS:I'm taking a knee.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What would make it right for you?
RUDY RASMUS:I'm not really a sports guy. I'm a justice guy. The only reason I have a connection to this conversation is because it's a justice issue. I'm glad these guys make lots of money, but I think school teachers should make 30 million a year.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What would make it right though for the NFL and the kneeling and the anthem situation? That's what we're talking about here. I mean, that and many other issues.
RUDY RASMUS:To leave people alone. If they don't want to put their hand over their heart for the pledge of allegiance to the national Anthem, they're grown men, they're free people.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Is there an American flag in the St. John's United Methodist Church.
RUDY RASMUS:No, that was the first thing we took out.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Do you pledge allegiance to the flag, personally?
RUDY RASMUS:I don't pledge allegiance to anything, and to any man, only to God. In fact, that's the symbol on my ring. That's a Eurobin symbol. It means, no one, but God.
ERIC HUFFMAN:It seems like evangelical Christian voices are the ones leading the charge on this like anti-Kaepernick charge, for example, and the get on your feet, and put your hand on your heart, and be good boys, and be grateful for what this country has done for you. How do you deal with that? How do you reconcile that? You got one foot in either tribe, right? So you're in a Christian tribe and you're also in the tribe of those taking a knee.
RUDY RASMUS:The fear of the loss of control and power will make people do anything and say anything, including so-called Christians. At the end of the day, what we're really talking about is a challenge to the control the church has had over American politics, over American economy, over even over the American ethos for many, many years. But at the end of the day, what we have not been able to escape are our whack puritanical roots, that BS that came over on some ships in search of religious freedom, which ultimately became more religious oppression. I think one of my biggest challenges with Christianity over these years, is its part in systemic oppression in and around the lives of people who, for the most part, were the profit incentive for the church for quite a few hundreds of years.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I talk a lot and work a lot with people that are just really skeptical and cynical about faith and things like that. One of the things they say the most is that the Bible is a pro-slavery document, and that Christians have always been on the forefront of racism in America. How do you as a pastor respond to those kinds of things?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, first of all, I have to agree with them. Then I have to say that part of my work has been in reconciling those dark, and even demonic aspects of Christianity. Let me tell you, because I look at the landscape. The church is really only experiencing a compensation for its part in the dark atrocities of racism in America. The fact that that young people are saying, well, maybe I'm going to sit this one out, in terms of a church, is really because, if those evangelicals who are so concerned about someone acknowledging an anthem that was a pinned in the midst of the slave trade, if they were equally concerned about the unmitigated incarceration of millions of black men, if they were equally concerned about the unexplained deaths of that same demographic, at the hands of those who were sworn in to protect.
RUDY RASMUS:If they were equally concerned about the American education system that is still separate and savagely unequal, if they were equally concerned about equality, in every sense of the word, then maybe somewhat would give a damn whether or not their churches survived.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What do you say to those people that say, there's also been a bunch of white Bible Toten evangelicals that held their Bibles and said, slavery is wrong, segregation is wrong, and we're part of these movements that changed the landscape?
RUDY RASMUS:This is a supremacy of white people. Regardless to what side that person lands up on, at the end of the day, is deal supremacy. If I was white, I probably would be one of those Bible people who land up on the side of black folk and said, yeah, but at the end of the day, at the end of the conversation, I know I could still put my Bible down, walk into the store and not be followed, but could still go to the bank, borrow some money. At the end of the day ...
ERIC HUFFMAN:It's a different life.
RUDY RASMUS:It's a different life.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's what I'm trying to wrap my head around constantly is, is I just listen. Because not everything you say I agree with on the surface. Yet I know I just need to listen, and I feel like people are real slow to listen because it hurts. We would rather say, well, black men are incarcerated because they broke the law. Period. You know what I mean? It's easier to do that, man, and it's easier to say, yeah, some whites are racist, but a bunch of white Christians, look at Will Wilberforce, go watch that movie and see what he did for black people. It's easier to make these arguments than it is to just sit and listen to pain, and to really try as much as I possibly can to empathize with pain. Reconcile myself with privilege and the privilege I've been privy to my whole life, that I didn't do anything to deserve, but yeah. I grew up relatively poor, but I was still privileged just because of the color of my skin.
RUDY RASMUS:Well, and also that you're tall.
ERIC HUFFMAN:And I'm tall and I'm straight. You know what I mean? I've got every card in the deck of mine, man. A comedian I heard once said, if you got the end of the life and you started over and had to re-up, had to re-up for this every time. You know what I mean?
RUDY RASMUS:I tell people all the time, I'm coming back as a tall white man without a bias.
ERIC HUFFMAN:It's the best.
RUDY RASMUS:I'm not going back to the short white man.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You're a Dave Chappelle fan? You see his Netflix?
RUDY RASMUS:I haven't seen it yet?
ERIC HUFFMAN:In one of them, he talks about the Me Too moment. He talks about how feminists in a society right now should warm up to the idea of having flawed allies, men in particular that have had indiscretions in the past and want to be on the side of justice now. He referred to Ben Affleck, as an example, he said, Ben Affleck came out and said he wants to support the movement hashtag me too, and then he said, you touched a breast in 1995, and then he's out. You know? But his point was, he said you're fighting fire with fire in a sense, and what you should be doing, he's talking to the me too movement, what you should be doing is looking at South Africa, and Mandela and Tutu, and those guys who understood something that is totally lost on us today.
ERIC HUFFMAN:He said, what they understood is that the people who benefit from a system of oppression and injustice are not villains, they are victims. They are victims too. Instead of being punitive, they just let people tell their stories about privilege and abuse and these things that we see. A week ago, a prominent white Christians, evangelicals who preached Jesus all the time and who pushed for one president's ouster in the '90s because of moral indiscretions, and now we've got a president who's paying off porn stars, and they're giving him a pass because of his policies, a Mulligan, they said.
ERIC HUFFMAN:He was only 70 when he did this, and so he's still learning. You know what I mean? He's still growing. What do you do with all of this in your position in your place as a leader, as a black man, as a Christian, what tact you take with white evangelicals like me, for example, who are often so slow to listen?
RUDY RASMUS:The absolute powerlessness that I feel currently breaks my heart. I feel powerless because I've been waiting on the people in power, on the white side of Christendom to say something. My wife would tell you, man, I say it all the time. I'm saying, why is it so quiet? Why isn't anybody who has the voice saying something about this? Because I heard crap all the time when Obama was president. Why isn't he doing this? Why isn't he doing this? But this is what I know as a black man. If Obama had done any one of the last 90 things our current president has perpetrated, he would have been incarcerated, not put out of office. Disgraced, perp walk across America from one end to the other. The church is quiet, and the church has a price to pay for her silence. When this story is told, part of the glaring truth is going to be, and the church said nothing.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Is it harder than it's ever been to be black and Christian?
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's saying a lot considering you grew up drinking from a colored water fountain.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. What it has ever been makes me cry. I probably never been more challenged to be black and Christian as I am right now. What keeps me coming back is hope, which is what Jesus represents for me. At the end of the day, I believe Jesus looked more like me than he did my white counterpart. At the end of the day, I believe Jesus messed with an economy and got executed as a result of it. You mess with somebody's money, you mess with systems of power's money, and you will get executed. It's what happened to Dr. King. He didn't get executed when he was talking about equal rights for sanitation workers. He got executed when he started talking about equalities in economies.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What hope do you have for that changing in America?
RUDY RASMUS:It's the reason I show up for church every week. I get to talk to this little small microcosm in this big world about the power of love in the midst of hatred and hostility. There's one thing that I remember Dr. King, I actually got to see him before he died here in Houston. He came to speak at the Coliseum, and my dad took me. There was a bomb threat that night. I remember running through the halls of the Colosseum, wondering why all the adults were so terrified, because it really felt like a fun run for me. I ultimately realized that, wow, so they want to kill this guy because he's talking about racial justice? I think, at the end of the day, I have the same hopes that Dr. King espoused, the hopes that love is stronger than hate.
RUDY RASMUS:The hopes that one day you're kid and my grandkids will be able to sit at the same table without either one of them espousing privilege, just based on the color of their skin.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You still believe like he did that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice?
RUDY RASMUS:I still believe that. It's the only thing that keeps me coming back, man. If I didn't believe that the moral arc of the universe bent towards justice, I would be atheist.
ERIC HUFFMAN:You ever feel like their kids and in church pew mad at the church, mad at God, really? Why can't God do something about this now?
RUDY RASMUS:Let me tell you, Eric. I talk all over the country and parts of the world, and always start my talk with a picture of the eight year old Rudy. I put that picture up on the screen. I'll say, regardless to who you see before you right now, the guy talking to you is that key.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I still see him.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah. That eight year old Rudy who still wonders why ain't shit changed? Not really. Waterfront has gone. I get out of the streets today, I still feel the same fear every time a police car pulls up behind me. Every time I walk in a store, I still feel like they're watching me. I'm 61, man. Shit ain't changed.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I don't think I've ever been watched in the store.
RUDY RASMUS:You've never been watched in a store.
ERIC HUFFMAN:They watch me to see what I'm going to buy.
RUDY RASMUS:That's right.
ERIC HUFFMAN:What was your response whenever, I'm sure you must've heard, a white Christians and white people just saying, hey, we matter too. All lives matter and that kind of thing. What did you hear in that retort?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, first of all, my response was there was never any question as to whether or not you matter. Every time I'll wake up, there's a question as to whether or not I matter. Even though I've been able to acquire a little more stuff, a little more notoriety, a little more influence, at the end of the day, I'm still a black man.
DONALD TRUMP:Tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats, and Republicans, to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream, because Americans are dreamers too.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Did you listen to his speech last week?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, I can only listen so much.
RUDY RASMUS:I had to keep one of those bags they keep in the plane seat in front of you.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Barf bags. I listened to it out of just sheer curiosity because I know the people he's talking to. My people are the people he's talking too. Not necessarily my people today, people I grew up with. I grew up in Northeast, Texas throwing a lot of sticks, and it's pro Trump all through and through. He is masterful at the rhetoric. Just what gets the people I grew up with riled up in support of him. We, Americans are dreamers too in response to the Dream Act and things like that was a brilliant stroke. It actually reminded me of all lives matter, because that was to say, we matter too. Those kinds of things really resonate with his core audience because there is this fear of being surpassed or usurped or forgotten somehow.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Whether or not it's based in something legitimate, it's a real fear. So, it's there and it must be dealt with. I just don't know what to do. This is probably the most white guy thing I can say, but ...
RUDY RASMUS:There's not really anything you can do about it.
ERIC HUFFMAN:... what can be done. How can I fix this, Rudy?
RUDY RASMUS:Well, I'll you what you can do. You have quite a few people you stand in front of, and your constituency is an affluent, in many cases, powerful constituency. Now, the risk to your wellbeing to your standard of living would be exacted if you stood in front of that group and said, "We need to do something about this," but at ended a day, that's what you can do. I think if you don't say something, Eric, you're complicit with all that other white folk who basically know there's a problem, but afraid to say something about it because of the personal toll that'll exact on your wellbeing.
ERIC HUFFMAN:I'm convicted. I'm convicted about that. I had a running tally in my head as this interview went on, how many listeners I'm losing just by having the conversation.
RUDY RASMUS:Yeah, man. I tell you, I think things are growing at the story for a reason. That's because people see something in you and your wife. They see the same thing that I saw when I first met you. I saw a guy who was at least aware, but not only aware, you're awake, and people really need awake. They really do.
ERIC HUFFMAN:Man, it's hard to stay awake in the loop.
RUDY RASMUS:Yes, it's hard to stay awake. Yeah, man. Let me tell you. Eric, you and I both know you can doze off and you can be perfectly fine for the next 20 years. I will tell you this though. This is a moment of prophecy here. You won't have the luxury of dozing off, because you have ethnic minority kids, and if you doze off, you're dozing off on your children, and your grandchildren, because they don't live in the same world that you grew up in.
ERIC HUFFMAN:That's right.
ERIC HUFFMAN:They are going to be marginalized unless something is done, and you have a responsibility to do it.
RUDY RASMUS:Rudy's right. My wife Geovanna is from Ecuador, but most people assume she's Mexican, and both of our kids look Hispanic. I do wonder what kinds of jokes or snide remarks there'll be subjected to as they grow up. If you think that stuff doesn't happen anymore, think again. Last August, my wife and kids were having lunch at Chick-fil-A when a white woman in her 60s told my children to leave the playground. When my wife asks, why she'd done that, she pointed her finger in her face and said, "Oh, why don't you go back to where you came from." Now, I know stuff like this is uncomfortable to listen to. In fact, if you're white and you're still listening, I applaud you. Because while listening to this stuff can be hard, sometimes it's the most important thing we can do. Now, I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the black lives matter movement and things like that.
RUDY RASMUS:But discomfort should make us listen more, not less. People of color are hurting in America. They've been hurting for a long time, hurting in ways I've never had to hurt. I've had struggles. I've been poor. I've been uninsured. I used to have really bad credit, but as Rudy said, I've never been followed around in a store. My teachers never expected less of me because of my skin color. I've always gone into job interviews expecting to get the job. Whenever I've gotten pulled over, I expected to get a warning. Most importantly, the fact that my life matters, that white lives matter has never been in doubt. What lives matter? All lives, of course.
RUDY RASMUS:When you hear someone say Black Lives Matter, don't hear them saying white lives don't. Listen more closely, and what you'll really hear is people asking, do black lives matter? Do we matter? What you really hear is eight-year-old Rudy sitting on his church pew wondering, do I matter to you? Like Rudy, I still hold out hope that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. I believe I was created to help it bend, and I believe you were, too. I want to thank Rudy and all those who speak up and speak out, even when it's inconvenient or costly to do so. Thank you.
RUDY RASMUS:Thank all of you for listening. We're going to take a little break next week as we plan the second half of our first season, but we're going to be back in two weeks with episode six of Maybe God.
JULIE MIRLICOURTOIS:Maybe God is produced by Eric Huffman, Brandon Duke, and me, Julie Mirlicourtois. Our sound engineer is Pat Laughrey. Our editor is Brittany Holland, and music is by Nathan Bonus. If you have questions or doubts you'd like us to address in upcoming episodes of Maybe God, email us at [email protected], or start a discussion with us on our Facebook page, Maybe God Podcast. Don't forget to subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.