My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.
I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.
So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.
That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.
It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.
Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.
A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.
And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.
So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.
So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up. Yes, it was time to do as I say.
I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.
- The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
- Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
- Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.
Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.
So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?
- The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
- Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church, when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
- Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?
Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.
I’m just so very sorry. What happened to you is wrong on many levels. You are in my heart and prayers.
Thanks you for speaking up. You are having an enormous impact. I know it is scary sometimes but you are awesome!!!
I am so, so sorry you were singled out like that. Many of those words in that cancellation email felt…violent. My heart hurt reading it.
I’m glad you have not backed down, and I’m grateful that you continue to encourage others to learn, dig into the work of peacemaking, love like Jesus and be vigilant to injustice.
Lord, give us courage to press on.
I watched this happen from “the other side.” As someone who had registered for this conference. At the time, I didn’t know who you were and I am not active on Twitter. The events as you outline them here align very substantially with what I witnessed. I believe you because your account aligns with what I saw happen.
Strength to you, Kathy. It takes tremendous patience & love to observe & call these things out. I too often sigh & turn away.
[…] Read it. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE OF THE GOSPEL CONFERENCE […]
This echoes most of what I’ve uttered and written about the Christian Writers’ Conferences and the faculty therein, also the Christian Publishing industry. I’m going to link this article to my essay. I am so glad to come across your raised voice here and please know that you are not alone. You are part of an entire community that is coming out of the woodwork, writers of color who I’ve met this week alone after my essay was published who spoke their experience in the systemic exclusion of writers of color. This conversation is long overdue, it is a thorn in my flesh, it grieves my spirit and makes me nauseous every time.
I hear you– “Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust?” The Lord hears you too.
[…] No Justice, No Peace […]
As mentioned in my response to your FB post, I am deeply grieved that Michael, all the while claiming to be the model Christian, has blamed you for the failure of the conference. Am I sorry that someone who has served the body of Christ for a long time lost big $ on this venture? Yes, of course. However, his bitterness is quite evident. While blaming you, he claims to be a victim. And irony of ironies, after shredding you, ends the email with “Peace.” I see little evidence of peace in his correspondence. I write this very aware that as a white woman, I still have much to learn. I am so very sorry Kathy.
Thank you for your witness. Hardin’s email demonstrates the fragility of the self-righteous who seeks to hold power. A space such as the cancelled conference seeks the absence of tension, not peace (paraphrase of Dr. King). They seek assimilation not the beauty of engaging difference for the sake of peace and justice.
That email is horrifying and I just wanted to voice my support for you. He seems really mad about money.
Just read Hardin’s email, Kathy. While there are many things he wrote that disturbed me, I am most offended for you (first and foremost) and for any of us Christ-followers (especially POC) who will no longer keep silent in the face of blatant exclusion from all manner of public platforms. His repeated use of vitriolic labels when referring to you (and us) cancel his repeated commitment to preaching peace. His portraying himself as the hapless victim here tells me that he hasn’t learned a thing from all this. Probably never will.
Thank you for being one of the vigilant Watchers on the wall. You did nothing wrong. Nothing but honestly point out the glaring homogeneity of his speakers. Hang in there. I’m with you.
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve seen this dynamic so much in the past. And I’ve been entangled in such fragility myself. I have hope for healing, even for Michael. But it only is possible when folks courageously challenge injustice when they see it. Thank you for doing that, even though it has cost you and is likely to continue to be a source of scrutiny and judgement.
Thank you for speaking up!!! So sorry, for what’s happened against you and your family!!!
For us that believe in justice and equality for all we must continue to stand up and speak up, no matter the cost.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your unfortunate experience with the leader of this conference. Your suggestion about researching the background of how a conference gets organized is right on. Thank you for your courage. Please continue to challenge us, WP, to stand with you.
Thank you for raising your voice, calling out the injustice and paying the price that followed. I’m sorry you were falsely blamed. I wonder if you have any recommendation of progressive Christian or faith based conferences that are being organized by a a true diversity of folks. Thanks!
I don’t know, Kathy. I hear what others are highlighting in your post, but I feel that all this was unnecessary, as the people on the other end have immediately shown their willingness to make changes as they could, even quickly offering you their own spot. Why didn’t you participate in the conference instead?
Some “causes” take decades to be carried into change, and that is the nature of societies, composed of millions of people. Interacting with the conference would have been a great opportunity for your own ideas to be tested in real life too, not just from a distance. And doing so in co-laboring relationship with those you may (wrongly) have labelled enemies?
Nothing to rejoice over, here. Many people were deeply hurt, and a few falsehoods allowed to keep floating about. I know some of the organizers, and they all would agree with your assessments about a need to proactively have diverse representation. But NONE of them deserve the incendiary labels you put forth.
You wrote this post with terms that are talking points for a politically-correct ideology, not really bringing a holistic understanding of how change can happen from the heart of the Gospel of peace and reconciliation: people.
Dividing people with accusations of white supremacism toward other believers is something very serious. I don’t think it is right to categorize people this way. History has shown us that “supremacism” is evidenced by a deep sense of entitlement that has no color or creed, knows no border or gender, and is proactively discriminating.
My hope is that you will grow wiser through this. Other people paid a huge price for your opportunity to learn, here, more than you know. I hope you will not waste it defending yourself as the victim. I think Michael Hardin, and all the families that were hit by the (unnecessary) backlash, have been paying the price.
If anything I wrote requires clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask. English is not my first language.
This is a learning experience here for myself. The pain I feel is difficult to process. I wish Kathy or Michael came out as a heroes instead of hurt because that is how I feel safest considering the world. We may not ever have had the power to help Michael or know what he was going through. The collision and damage of just causes seems bewildering and were anticipated by no one, sending out an cry to christians all over. I don’t know what Michael’s conference was about but remeber memes being behaviors transmitted amongst peer groups loke children unthinking ly teaching each other for generations schoolyard songs independent of adult guidance. Its a social phenomenon of thoughtless persuasion that creates culture. Sounds like Michael has been looking at sacrifice and its abuses in Christian culture. This is particularly true in dependent personalities being narcissistically abused. Ive been seeing a lot of great youtube clips on this as it pertains to recovery from codependency, a relational pain issue of depth and complexity little understood. As a Korean American Kathy may have seen abuses of authority, as Michael may have too, and I certainly have. My gifted creative type a southern white feminist artist mother was narcisistically abused by her alcoholic workaholic authoritarian father. They divorced, She cut off commonication with most of my growing up. With her passing a few years ago I have been connecting with him. I often blamed my mother for not giving me the nurturing affirmation of being that she espoused. Sadly despite our best intentions we harmed each pther much with bitterness. We are all white christians. There is no easy champoons or good an evil here. These pains weren’t rewards for obedience or punishmemts for disobedience though sins have devastatong consequences, sometimes God is mwrciful and purppseful in lifetime suffering and tragedy. Take heart my brothers and sisters I would not have xhosen this pain for you but here we are.
I am sympathetic to your cause, but this looks like you assembled a mob to gain a cheap ‘victory’ over some random group of academics. Were you excluded from going the conference? Were any people of colour? Did you or any of your readers suggest or attempted to help the organisers find a quorum when they failed to be inclusive?
From an outsider’s perspective (Hardin is an author on my reading list) it appears that you have have blocked twelve disciples from meeting because they were men, rather than being the change you wish to see. From the email it sounds like you might have crippled his income and caused a ripple of real pain (not simply ‘crocodile tears’ of white privilege).
Was there one good thing or lasting change that came of this, or was this only activism concerned raking up notches?