Trouble the Water: A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice

Trouble the Water

What responsibility do churches have for the work of racial justice? What are the challenges of this work? How do we dismantle white privilege and white supremacy? How do we build coalitions to address the intersection of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other injustices? How do we create communities of equality, justice-love, and peace? These are among the questions addressed in Trouble the Water, edited by Michael-Ray Mathews, Marie Clare P. Onwubuariri, and Cody J. Sanders.

For many years I’ve been exploring these questions and collaborating with others on intersectional justice work. Recently Grace Ji-Sun Kim and I co-edited Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World. In this book we address some of the same questions as those addressed in Trouble the Water, but with a different focus: the creation of intercultural churches and other ministries for the work of racial justice and equality. Trouble the Water provides resources for this work for individuals and churches, both monocultural and multicultural. I welcome this outstanding new book that has stirred my thinking and strengthened my spirit for the work of racial justice.

In the Introduction to Trouble the Water, the editors write: “At a time in our country and in our world when expressions of interpersonal prejudice and structural racism are validated and even valorized, this is a resource whose time has come.” They note the book’s publication several months after our “national election that threatens the well-being of all who live their lives at the intersections of oppression because of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, religion, health and ability, and a host of other markers of human difference.” Trouble the Water centers racial justice while connecting it to other justice concerns. I appreciate this intersectional approach to justice work.

Birthed and nurtured in the Racial Justice and Multiculturalism Community in the Alliance of Baptists, Trouble the Water includes chapters by 23 diverse authors engaged in racial justice work from an intersectional approach. One of the editors, Marie Clare P. Onwubuariri, has also been involved with the Equity for Women in the Church Community, which I co-chair, and I have been connected with the Racial Justice and Multculturalism Community. We have found our missions intersecting as both communities work for racial and gender justice.

The title Trouble the Water comes from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water.” When the book was in the planning stages, the editors invited a diverse group of church leaders to gather with them to talk about content that would be important for this resource. After each person spoke, others responded through notes posted on a board while the whole group sang the refrain of “Wade in the Water”: “Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water.” The editors comment that these lyrics reminded them that “God has heard and will continue to hear the cries of the oppressed and will ‘trouble the waters’ as an act toward the release and freedom of God’s beloved.” Also, to “trouble the waters” became their motivation for staying engaged in the work of this book project.

Trouble the Water provides the necessary theological foundations for the work of racial justice, gives readers tools for engaging in this work, and includes inspiring stories from churches doing this justice work. Ideal for laypeople and clergy to use in church study groups, retreats, workshops, conferences, academic classes, and personal exploration, this book also includes helpful questions for reflection at the end of chapters.

There is a wealth of wisdom, inspiration, and challenge in Trouble the Water. I’ll give highlights from some of the chapters.

In a chapter titled “Resistance We Can Imagine: Cultivating Ecclesial Imaginations for Racial Justice and Healing in Public Life,” Michael-Ray Mathews states that the “work of racial justice in congregations must be understood as an ecclesial practice with public impact.” He tells the compelling story of his joining other clergy and organizers in visiting Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the uprising following the shooting death of Michael Brown. On one occasion he stood with hundreds of clergy from all over the country in the pouring rain outside the Ferguson Police Department calling for repentance and experiencing repentance and renewal. “We were being baptized into a movement for justice,” he writes. “We began to sing, ‘Wade in the water, wade in the water, children, wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water.’” Ray challenges us all to “trouble the waters: to disrupt and confront injustice, and to resist and tear down dehumanizing structures so that we can create new systems that honor our God-given dignity.”

Marie Clare P. Onwubuariri, in a chapter titled “An Intersectional Approach to the Work of Justice: Beyond the Default Categories of Identity,” invites us to go beyond the “binary (Black-White) and sometimes ternary (Black-White-Brown) racial conversations in the United States” to include people “who resonate more readily with ‘hybridity’ versus standard racial identities.” I appreciate her expansive view of intersectionality, including diverse racial identities along with diversity in ethnicity, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, and physical ability. Onwubuariri writes about the necessity of “coalitions” and “collaborative efforts” to address justice concerns on personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels. In keeping with her inclusion of a wide range of people, she offers a variety of approaches to racial justice work so that each of us can find a way that fits our gifts and training. She draws from Reyes-Chow’s book But I Don’t See You As Asian: Curating Conversations About Race to identify four different approaches for people to use in advancing racial justice: “relationships, academia, activism, and the arts.”

In his chapter “Being Brown When Black Lives Matter,” Miguel A. De La Torre also encourages inclusive racial justice work. While taking care not to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement, as whites have done by insisting that all lives matter, he calls us beyond the black/white dichotomy in our racial justice work. This dichotomy “ignores the largest U.S. minority group, who are also the deadly targets of law enforcement and who, thanks to our immigration laws, now represent the largest ethnic/racial group in federal prisons.” He tells the tragic story of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who was beaten to death by more than a dozen Border Patrol agents but, unlike Eric Garner and Michael Brown, remains unknown to most Americans because there is little media coverage of the brutal killings of undocumented immigrants. De La Torre challenges communities of color to build coalitions to confront the prevailing social structures protecting white privilege.

In their chapters Malu Fairley and Melissa W. Bartholomew include powerful stories of their experiences as African Americans in majority white churches. In a sermon to her church, Fairly shared her personal emotional response to the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin. She expressed her rage, sorrow, and fears for her own son: “I reminded them that to love him included his being African-American. Being color-blind or not seeing his ethnicity was a denial of the fullness of his personhood. His blackness mattered. I shared my fear that as he grew older our society would see him as inherently dangerous, and a problem.” She demonstrates how this “authentic, provocative sharing, connecting,” can lead to mutual transformation in our “racial/economic/social justice work.” Bartholomew writes about the trauma she experienced when she saw a hateful racial slur written on her church’s Black Lives Matter sign. “Ironically, I was going there to meet with my pastor, Rev. Cody Sanders, to discuss his invitation to contribute to this racial justice resource for congregations.” She acknowledges “the challenge of being one of two—or the only African American—in meetings or forums” connected to her church’s racial justice ministry: “I can no longer pretend that the work of racial justice is the same for people of color as it is for white people. Racism impacts each ethnic and cultural group differently. Our roles in the work are different, and so are our needs.” She realizes her need to reconnect to the Black Church for the work of healing her racial trauma wounds while continuing her racial justice activism within her white church community.

Trouble the Water includes important chapters on work for white people on the path to racial justice. Soon after I was ordained in 1985, before the terms “white privilege” and “intersectionality” were commonly used, I recognized on some level the connection between racism and sexism. I later came to understand that racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and all injustices are connected. As an ordained Baptist clergywoman, I have experienced my share of sexism, but I have come to understand also my privilege as white, straight, and middle-class. Reading the chapters by Jennifer Harvey and Tammerie Day deepened my understanding and illuminated my racial justice work as a white person. Harvey comments that “white guilt” is a healthy response for people committed to equality who understand we benefit from inequity and that “the antidote to being immobilized by white guilt is action.” But she cautions that “white work” should be in support of racial justice work “in which people of color’s experiences and leadership are centered.” Day explores spiritual practices to help white people in our anti-racist work, beginning with repentance: “When we allow the Holy Spirit to have her way with us in our remorseful confession and lament, we open ourselves to possibilities for repentance.” We stop racist practices such as “racist humor, ignoring whiteness, inattention to privilege, white religious imagery, white bonding, white fragility and ‘we’ve always done it this way.’” Another spiritual practice is working for transformation “by finding the work communities of color are already doing, and joining them in it.”

Another excellent chapter is Isabel Docampo’s “The Role of Immersion in the Work of Racial Justice.” From a postcolonial view of missions as sustained, mutual relationship with local church leaders, she encourages congregations to engage in immersion/mission trips within our own cities and overseas to help us “understand how trade, foreign policies, hegemony, and institutionalized racism and sexism are taking root both in our cities and abroad, and how they are interconnected.” To travel with integrity and intentionality, we need “self-awareness, authentic faith, and ongoing reflection,” writes Docampo. “We are created in the womb of the Divine and are bound together irrevocably. Our path to the Divine is to journey together as sisters and brothers bound by love. For this reason, Jesus commissions us to ’Go!’ beyond our borders and boundaries to reach out to one another. Mission and immersion trips that work toward authentic encounters break open oppressive, institutionalized racist and gendered structures and discover how the Divine’s power of love continues to resurrect amidst modern-day crucifixions.”

LeDayne McLeese Polaski and Kadia Edwards propose Conflict Transformation (CT) for our work of racial justice. For their insightful chapter they draw from their work with Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) in leading CT training. They view conflict as an “inherent part of human life that unlocks an immense amount of energy.” Conflict Transformation “releases positive power and channels that tremendous energy toward lasting, constructive change.” They acknowledge that the work of transformation is immense because the “disease of racism” goes “far back into our history” and “far down into our souls.” In moving forward, we must create safe spaces for people to share stories that evoke fear, anger, agony, and conflict. Polaski and Edwards emphasize self-care as crucial for this long and hard work and the importance of training to facilitate CT. They include a note that BPFNA offers this CT training to churches and other groups.

In her chapter Deborah DeMars Conrad, a pastor in Flint, Michigan, makes the important connection between racial justice and environmental justice. The infrastructure problem that caused poisoned water in Flint hasn’t been fixed after more than two years, and an EPA official indicated it’s not a priority. Flint is sixty percent black, 40 percent poor, and more than 25 percent unemployed. Conrad writes: “You cannot understand this manufactured emergency without talking about racism, about economic inequality and disempowerment, corporate pillaging and a thousand acres of industrial brownfield poisoning the river, plus the community-depleting effects of mass incarceration and the underlying presumption that people of color are not credible sources of information about the realities of their own lives.” She continues to connect racial and environmental justice: “Environment justice means tending to the wholeness of creation. Racial justice is also about wholeness—the right of historically exploited and oppressed people to be made whole.”

Christine Y. Wiley and Dennis W. Wiley illustrate what Martin Luther King called the “beloved community” in their inspiring story of Covenant Baptist UCC in Washington DC. Covenant has modeled an intersectional approach to justice for many years. In 1969 this previously all-white church called a black pastor and opened its doors to black people, and in 1985, hired a woman minister. In 2004, Christine and Dennis became co-equal pastors “with equal authority, responsibility, and compensation,” and the church voted to become open and affirming to the LGBT community. They write: “A long time ago some white Southern Baptist laypersons started a legacy of inclusion, justice, equality, and liberation, and we look forward to what God will do as She continues to build this beloved community.” They challenge churches to model the beloved community “within its walls” so that it will also become reality “outside its walls.”

Trouble the Water is a must-read for individuals and congregations who want to work toward racial justice, while attending to intersecting oppressions, so that we all have freedom to flourish in the divine image.


michael-ray-mathews-3-mstcx8oqubkpuijdg1b4ranexk1u1syrhho70vcm4s-mstlgh7mpu5qq29ceca5bcdgk6wzs01gxja7wbetxoMichael-Ray Mathews is an ordained American Baptist minister and leading pastor in the multifaith movement for justice. He brings nearly 30 years of ministry leadership experience as a senior pastor, grassroots leader, psalmist, and community organizer to his work as the Director of Clergy Organizing for PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network in Oakland, California. Since 2014, Rev. Mathews’ leadership has centered on the Theology of Resistance. Developed in the aftermath of the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Theology of Resistance is a prophetic, multifaith discourse intended to ignite conversations and spark faith leaders to fight injustice and dehumanization and cultivate Beloved Community. He serves as co-convener of the Racial Justice and Multiculturalism Community within the Alliance of Baptists. [Twitter: @mrmathews]

MarieOMarie Clare P. Onwubuariri is an ordained American Baptist minister serving as Regional Executive Minister (REM) of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin. She holds the distinct honor of being the first female and first person of color in this position in the state and the first Asian-American female REM in the denomination. In her pastoral, administrative, and educational ministries, Rev. Onwubuariri strives to embody an approach that integrates cultural self-knowing, and interpersonal and organizational practices that affirm the value of and ensure equity for all people. She ventures to develop the expressions of her intersectional soul through the  media of poetry, photography, and piano and incorporates these into the breadth of her ministry passions. She has been involved with the Alliance of Baptists since 2008, particularly in the work of Equity for Women in the Church and the Racial Justice and Multiculturalism Communities. [Twitter: @MarieCPO]

CodySanders.jpbCody J. Sanders, PhD, is pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, serves as American Baptist Chaplain at Harvard University, and teaches on the adjunct faculty in pastoral care at Andover Newton Theological School. He is author of Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives, co-author of Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church, and author of A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth. Rev. Sanders has served as co-convener of the Racial Justice and Multiculturalism Community since its inception within the Alliance of Baptists. [Twitter: @QueerBaptistRev]

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“Revisiting Re-Imagining,” by Dr. Sherry Jordon

reImaginingIn September of 1993 I first heard about Re-Imagining. A member of our Dallas Clergywomen’s group talked with excitement about her plans to attend the first Re-Imagining Conference scheduled for that November in Minneapolis. I liked the name “Re-Imagining” and the purpose of the conference—to explore theology from women’s experience. But I didn’t have the time or the money to go that year. I eagerly followed news reports from this groundbreaking conference. More than 2,000 people from 49 states and 27 countries, representing 40 Christian denominations, participated in rituals that included female divine images. The celebration of Sophia especially resonated with my study of the connection between Christ and Sophia.

The Sophia rituals sparked the most media attention and the greatest fury of conservative denominational leaders. Several administrators in mainline denominations lost their jobs because of their participation in the conference. Although I hadn’t attended the conference, I lost a book contract with a denominational press because of my book’s focus on Sophia. Not long after, In Search of the Christ-Sophia was published by Twenty-Third Publications (revised and updated edition, Eakin Press, 2004).

I determined to go to the second Re-Imagining Conference. There I had the joy of experiencing rituals led by feminist theologian and liturgist Miriam Therese Winter, and presentations by Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and other feminist theologians I admire.

Dr. Sherry Jordon wrote an article for Christian Feminism Today (CFT) about the history and the revival of the Re-Imagining Community. Thank you to CFT and Dr. Jordon for permission to post this article here:

In November 1993, more than 2,000 Christians from around the globe gathered in Minneapolis to celebrate the World Council of Churches “Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women.” The gathering was simply titled “Re-Imagining.”

What might “solidarity with women” mean for churches?  What questions needed to be raised, and what ideas and practices invited re-examination? Those attending the Minneapolis gathering— clergy, laity, theologians, academics—were unafraid to use their imaginations in exploring such matters creatively. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call the Re-Imagining Conference a watershed event in the history of Christian feminism. Along with so many others who attended the event, I found the experience nothing less than transformative.

Since that 1993 conference, three things have happened. First, the conference was followed by charges of heresy against many of the participants and organizers. Second, the Re-Imagining Community formed in response. And third, after having been inactive for a time, Re-Imagining has recently returned!

Re-visiting the 1993 Event

The 1993 Re-Imagining Gathering featured Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and Asian Feminist theologians from around the globe, including Mary Hunt, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Delores Williams, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Hyun Kyung Chung, Kwok Pui Lan, Beverly Harrison, and Elizabeth Bettenhausen.  These speakers re-imagined God, Jesus, Church, Sexuality, Language, and Ethics from a variety of feminist perspectives. We sat at round tables to discuss their inspiring presentations, we drew on the paper tablecloths, we sang, we danced, we laughed and cried. We worshiped as feminists, sharing rituals grounded in women’s experiences and using feminine language for God. These rituals included a milk and honey ritual that celebrated the goodness of women’s bodies and a song that affirmed the wisdom of women as created in the image of God:

Bless Sophia
Dream the Vision,
Share the Wisdom,
Dwelling Deep Within

Most of us left the conference encouraged, challenged, and inspired.

The Backlash

The backlash was swift and powerful. Concerns were angrily raised about many aspects of the gathering, with special ire directed toward the centrality of Sophia, the use of feminine language and imagery for God, the milk and honey ritual, and the positive acceptance of homosexuality, including the participation of lesbians in attendance.

The conference had received some denominational support and funding, especially from the United Methodist and Presbyterian (PCUSA) Churches. Conservative groups within those denominations, allied with the Institute for Religion and Democracy, charged participants in the Re-Imagining conference with heresy, demanded that they resign from church positions, and threatened to withhold funds from the denominations that supported the conference.

Unintended Consequences

This backlash had two unintended consequences: it made Christian feminism part of the national conversation, and it led to the formation of the Re-Imagining Community. During the ten years it was in existence, this community sponsored six more conferences, published a quarterly journal and several books, taught classes on feminist theology at churches, and organized small groups to discuss feminist theology. The Re-Imagining Community dissolved in 2003, however, because it could no longer sustain itself as a grassroots, volunteer organization.

Alive and Active Once Again—Preserving History

Almost twenty-five years later, the Re-Imagining Community has re-incorporated. Its intention is both to preserve its history and to continue to “re-imagine” Christianity.

Women’s history has often been lost or distorted, and the backlash against Re-Imagining in 1993 threatened to do that yet again. In order to preserve the stories of those involved, I conducted sixty-five oral interviews with founding members of the Re-Imagining Community, leading feminist theologians who presented at the conferences, people who were on the national staff of the women’s units in the Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist churches, and authors who have written books related to Christian feminism and/or Re-Imagining. These interviews are filled with laughter and tears, stories of accusations of heresy as well as accounts of support and community. They will be added to the Re-Imagining collections found in several archives (including Duke University, Union Theological Seminary, the Minnesota Historical Society, and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities) and will inspire future generations with their examples of courage and wisdom. Duke is in the process of making these interviews accessible via their website. I will be presenting my research based on these interviews at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in a paper titled “Re-Imagining Re-visited: Conference, Controversy, and Community.”

Alive and Active Once Again—Continuing to Re-Imagine

The Re-Imagining Community is not only trying to preserve its history, however, but to continue “re-imagining” in this time of backlash against women, people of color, immigrants, and persons of various sexual orientations and gender identities. It is planning several events in 2018 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1993 Conference. Information about these events will be posted on The Re-Imagining Community website and Facebook page when the details are finalized. In the meantime, please visit them for digital versions of the speakers and rituals from past conferences as well as links to resources and other organizations (including Christian Feminism Today).

Our Organizations Have Much in Common

I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering and I was very impressed by the warm welcome my sister and I received, the thought-provoking speakers, and the inclusive worship. Christian Feminism Today’s inclusion of younger scholars, its web resources, and its strong sense of community are remarkable. The Re-Imagining Community shares and celebrates Christian Feminism Today’s commitment to feminist theology, expansive images for God, social justice, and the equality and inclusion of all people in church and society.

The Re-Imagining Community defines itself as: “an ecumenical, radical, Christian movement. Together we pursue creative and relevant ways of understanding Womanist, Feminist, Mujerista, and Asian Feminist theologies, opening space for dialogue with the church, diverse religious communities, and the world. We are impassioned to participate in Re-Imagining by our love and search for God, justice, and a challenging, empowering, and inclusive church.”

I hope that our two communities will find ways to encourage and support one another in the years ahead. I am deeply grateful for all that you have done and continue to do.

Sherry Jordon, “Revisiting Re-Imagining,” originally published in Christian Feminism Today. Reposted with permission.


Dr. Sherry Jordon

Dr. Sherry Jordon

Dr. Sherry Jordon currently serves as Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. She specializes in historical theology, particularly the Reformation period, and Women’s Studies. Dr. Jordon served on the Coordinating Council of the Re-Imagining Community from 1998-2003, spoke at the 2003 Re-Imagining Gathering, and wrote an essay on feminist theology for Bless Sophia: Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual of the Re-Imagining Community. She holds a Ph.D in Theology from Yale.

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“Mobilizing Faith Communities,” Panel at the Alliance of Baptists Gathering

AllianceAmong the inspiring presentations at the Alliance of Baptists Gathering was “Mobilizing Faith Communities,” led by panelists Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Goldsboro, North Carolina; Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Petty, board chair of Repairers of the Breach and pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina; Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq., Associate General Secretary for Action and Advocacy, National Council of Churches; and Rev. Benjamin Boswell, pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. Their wise words provided guidance for social justice activism. I found their practical suggestions applicable to our local social justice advocacy organization, initiated by Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo and Dr. Hind Jarrah: FOCUS-DFW (Faith. Organizing. Community. Unity. Solidarity – Dallas Fort Worth).

The panel at the Alliance Gathering gave us a helpful handout with steps for mobilizing in the streets, at the polls, and in the courtrooms.

  1. Engage in local grassroots organizing, and connect with others across the state.
  1. Use moral language to frame and critique public policy, regardless of who is in power.
  1. Demonstrate commitment to civil disobedience that follows the steps of nonviolent action and is designed to change the public conversation and consciousness.
  1. Build a stage from which to lift the voices of everyday people impacted by immoral policies.
  1. Recognize the intersection of racism, classism, sexism, and other injustices.
  1. Build a broad, diverse coalition including moral and religious leaders of all faiths.
  1. Diversify movements with the goal of winning unlikely allies.
  1. Build transformative, long-term coalition relationships rooted in clear agendas that do not measure success only by electoral outcomes.
  1. Make a serious commitment to academic and empirical analysis of policy.
  1. Coordinate use of all forms of social media: video, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  1. Engage in voter registration and education.
  1. Pursue a strong legal strategy.
  1. Engage the cultural arts; moral movements are as strong as the songs we sing and the stories we tell.
  1. Resist the “one moment” mentality and work toward building a movement.

(steps outlined by Repairers of the Breach and published in The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear, by William J. Barber.)

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

In the panel discussion Rev. William Barber responded to a question about healthcare, pointing out that healing is a central focus of Scripture. He talked about the hypocrisy of members of Congress having healthcare but working to deny it to others. “I believe that healthcare is a human right, a part of our faith tradition,” he said. “It’s sinister to deny people healthcare because people are dying without it. The same states that deny healthcare also deny living wages, suppress voter rights, deny gender rights, and pass some of the most unjust immigration laws.” Rev. Barber compared some elected officials to the leaders condemned in the Bible who became “like ravenous wolves who kill and devour the poor” (Ezekiel 22:27).

Over and over Rev. Barber challenged us to claim moral authority, to preach good news for the poor (Luke 4:18). He emphasized using moral language: right or wrong, not right or left, not Democrat or Republican. “Healthcare, budgets, public education, immigration—these are moral issues, not just public policy issues,” he said. He called for a national revival campaign for poor people, challenging racism, sexism, militarism, and poverty.

Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Petty

Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Petty

Rev. Nancy Petty called for non-judgmental respect for people who feel called to play different parts from ours in advocating for social justice. “We need people working for change on the outside and on the inside of institutions,” she said. “No one can play all parts. That’s why we have to work in community. Our part may be as activists out on the streets, maybe even getting arrested. Others may find their places sitting at the table to negotiate. I realized when I got arrested one time, I had lost my place at the negotiating table. I learned not to pass judgment on people who play different roles in the movement.”

Rev. Petty encouraged us to ask questions about where we can start with our congregations. She commented on ways clergy and laypeople can work together to build the narrative in our faith communities that social justice action is what we’re all supposed to do, not just what some “liberal” congregations do. Building this narrative takes trust and intentionality. It involves taking risks together. Working for change takes asking questions, listening to fears, and challenging fears in relationships.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq.

Drawing from her work with the National Council of Churches, Rev. Aundreia Alexander challenged us to form coalitions to work on the national level. She emphasized that movement work happens at the local, state, county, and national levels. “We have a national president, a national attorney general, and other national officials setting policies that affect states and communities,” she said. “Yes, there are state laws, but those guidelines come from the national level.”

Rev. Alexander called us to find ways to work together nationally. State interfaith councils, state councils of churches, and other state organizations coming together to work at the national level have power to bring change. She gave an example of 150 pastors in Iowa joining to advocate for change on the national level. “We need ways to connect and communicate, to move at home and then on to the national level,” she said. “We can wield power from local and state levels to the national. One of our roles in society is to serve as a moral compass within the public square, and to call our leaders to account when they act in ways that are unfair or are self-serving. Christian leaders have a responsibility to care for the holistic needs of the community as well as to speak truth to power and hold the 3 branches of government accountable.”

Rev. Benjamin Boswell

Rev. Benjamin Boswell

Rev. Benjamin Boswell spoke about the struggles he and other white clergy have in trying to organize to build power for social action. A pastor of a large, wealthy church told him, “If it’s about power, I’m out and my people are out, because Jesus didn’t talk about power.” Rev. Boswell commented that the reason these pastors don’t have to think about power is that they have it. “There is a deep theological misunderstanding about the Bible, about theology, and about what the church is supposed to be doing. It’s not true that Jesus doesn’t care about power. If we’re not willing to talk about power in white churches that have power, we’re not going to be able to participate in the movement.”

Rev. Boswell talked about how fear and distrust keep pastors from working for social justice. “A spirit of fear is keeping white wealthy churches from getting involved in the movement,” he said. “We have to get over that fear. There is also so much distrust—between blacks and whites, between whites and whites. When we’re doing organizing, we have to trust each other.”


The Alliance Gathering provided an opportunity to act on the challenges to mobilize for social justice.

Clergy and laypeople at the Alliance Gathering rallying for justice and equality throughout the country

Clergy and laypeople at the Alliance Gathering, rallying for justice and equality throughout the country


rally2.jpbPress Conference and Protest at Alliance Gathering in Raleigh

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Review of Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World by Dr. Robert Cornwall


Coverintercultural-ministry-cover copy

Many thanks to Dr. Robert Cornwall, pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan, for this review of Intercultural Ministry.

Most churches in North America, including my own, are mono-cultural. We are evidence of Martin Luther King’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Many of us would like our congregations to be more diverse, but getting there has proven difficult. We seem to like the cultural accouterments of our congregations. We like our music, liturgy, instrumentation just the way they are. To move toward a more inclusive experience of worship, one that reflects the vision of the heavenly court in Revelation will require great sacrifice. While we might want diversity, the cost seems too steep. It would probably be easier to do this if you were starting from scratch, but for existing churches it remains a seemingly impossible dream.

While not widespread, there are congregations out there that are not only racially/ethnically diverse, but intentionally inclusive. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Jann Aldredge-Clanton, two theologians, one Korean-American and the other Euro-American, have gathered essays written by pioneers in intercultural ministry. In the gathered essays, the writers share their experiences with intercultural ministry and worship, along with words of wisdom and some practical advice regarding something that Dwight Hopkins, in his foreword to the book, suggests “might be the defining theological line of the twenty-first century—how to be curious about, have sympathy for, and develop long term friendships in the mixing of the world’s cultures” (p. vi). We may be witnessing, at this moment, pushback against globalization, but the mixing of cultures isn’t going away. Younger Christians seem more adept at welcoming diversity and inclusion, but we all have a ways to go before we reach the point where intercultural ministry will be the norm not the exception.

 So, what is this intercultural ministry that this book explores? The editors define intercultural in terms of the “interaction of people across races, ethnicities, and nationalities to learn to value and celebrate each group’s traditions” (p. ix). In other words, we’re not just talking about diversity in congregational makeup. We’re also talking about the ways in which we value the various traditions and cultures that make up our communities. What we’re talking about here is not assimilating people into normative Christianity, that is white Euro-American forms of Christian worship, whether traditional or contemporary. These churches are also marked by a commitment to “justice, mutuality, respect, equality, understanding, acceptance, freedom, peacemaking, and celebration” (p. x). Therefore, worship in these communities will be marked by differences of style and leadership will be shared across ethnic, racial, gender, cultural lines.

The editors bring their own experiences to this conversation. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Korean-born, Canadian-raised, and now she is a citizen of the United States. She is an ordained Presbyterian minister and theology professor. She grew up in Korean churches, but more recently she has sought out more diverse experiences of worship and church life. Therefore, she understands the attraction of both monocultural and intercultural worship experiences and church life. Her co-editor, Jann Aldredge-Clanton, is a white, straight, female, Baptist minister, who has chosen to be involved in inclusive intercultural ministry. Having their own experiences with intercultural ministry, they have invited others who share their vision and concerns to bear witness to the possibilities and challenges of intercultural ministry.

 The book is divided into three sections, each with five chapters. Part 1 is titled “Building Theological Foundations for Intercultural Churches and Ministries.” Each of the authors in this section wrestles with the theological vision necessary to moving toward inclusive intercultural ministry. They remind us that any movement forward will be relational. It will also include disrupting the status quo. They address the felt need for reconciliation, but remind us that too often we don’t have a shared understanding of the past, which makes the path forward difficult. The heart of the problem is that too often the way forward means making whites comfortable at the expense of communities of color. Thus, Brandon Green puts it: “Reconciliation without a clear understanding of the needed reciprocity destines those in the pursuit of reconciliation to do so on preexisting constructs of power, ultimately rendering this endeavor toward reconciliation to be nothing more than a nuanced and complicated captivity for people of color” (p. 17).  Thus, we have diversity without inclusion.

 Part two invites us to explore “Strategies for Building Intercultural Churches and Ministries.” The authors of the chapters in this section offer us some examples of how this has been pursued. One of the most principal issues in this quest for a more diverse and inclusive vision of church is that of power. As Brad Braxton notes, “until issues of power are addressed, congregations interested in intercultural ministry often confuse representation for diversity.” He goes on to say that “diversity genuinely surfaces when minority groups are represented in sufficient numbers to organize and thus challenge and change power structures in a community” (p. 87). Christine Smith notes that getting there requires open and honest conversations, for “even if it is difficult and uncomfortable, it is better to flesh out differences and concerns at the beginning than to wear masks and pretend that all is well when people really want to scream” (p. 108). As we consider this question, we’re reminded that this is not simply a black and white issue. The people at the Table are much more diverse than this, and some, as is true from the experience of Asian Americans is that they are often seen as white and thus not discriminated against. Such is not the truth. What we learn from these expressions is that the path forward is not easy. There are significant challenges, but there are also resources, including biblical resources, to be considered.

 Part 3 invites us to consider “Future Possibilities of Intercultural Churches and Ministries.” The way forward may not be easy, but benefits of taking the risks to get to the other side of the river are promising.  It may involve creating new wineskins. Again, it requires us to address issues of power. As Karen Hernandez-Granzen, a Puerto Rican-born/ New York raised Presbyterian Pastor reminds us: “Over the years we have learned that radical transformation takes kairos (God’s time) and chronos (chronological time), genuine compassion, open and ongoing communication, and mucho patience” (p. 191).

 As the editors remind us: “Founded on the theology of people of all cultures created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27), intercultural faith communities give equal value to people of all cultures so that they can share power and empower others.” The essays in this book, which represent diversity in gender, sexual orientation, color, ethnicity, and theology, offer us an opportunity to reflect on the present and the future of the church. There is an honesty present in these essays that open up the conversation, which will be needed in the days to come, because our communities are becoming more diverse. I live in a relatively affluent suburban community. From one vantage point, we don’t look all that different from a typical predominantly white suburb. But if you dig deeper, you discover that Troy is the most ethnically diverse city in Michigan. It also has the highest number of foreign born residents of any city in the state. This may not have translated into city council seats, but if you go to the library or to the schools or the grocery stores you see the diversity that marks our city. But, even though we are diverse, we’re still working on that inclusion issue. Nonetheless, the diversity that marks this city is making itself felt across the country, so how will the church respond?

If the church is to respond to the needs of our communities, it will take more than turning from traditional worship to “contemporary” worship. It will require creativity and openness to God’s Spirit.  Reading these essays will be a good start for those willing and able to consider a new future for the church. After all, as the editors write: “The possibilities for intercultural churches are great because they are God’s ideal as represented in Scripture” (p. 205). If this true, and I think it is, then we must thank the editors for bringing this book together so we might see a path forward.

Robert Cornwall, Intercultural Ministry (Grace Ji-Sun Kim & Jann Aldredge-Clanton) – A Review, originally published in Ponderings on a Faith Journey: The Thoughts and Opinions of a Disciples of Christ pastor and church historian. Reposted with permission.

Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall

Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall

Dr. Robert Cornwall is a Disciples of Christ pastor, theologian, community activist, church historian, author, and teacher. He currently serves as Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan.  Among his many published books are Freedom in Covenant; Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide; Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for a New Great Awakening; Worshiping with Charles Darwin; Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide; and Faith in the Public Square. He is the current editor of Sharing the Practice (Academy of Parish Clergy) and is editing a new series of books for the Academy of Parish Clergy titled Conversations in Ministry. He has also written for such journals as Church History, Anglican and Episcopal History, Progressive Christian, Christian Century, and Congregations. Dr. Cornwall holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. His blog and other writings focus on theology, the church, the ecumenical movement, interfaith dialogue, and politics. He has served as Convener of the Troy-area Interfaith Group and President of the Metro Coalition of Congregations, (now Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity).







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“Transformational Music for All Ages,” workshops at Alliance of Baptists Gathering

Workshop Booklet copy 2Larry,meIt’s been my joy to collaborate for 15 years with composer Larry E. Schultz, Minister of Music at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, on music that names Deity as female and male and more to support the foundational biblical truth that all people are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). At the 2017 Alliance of Baptists Gathering held at Pullen, we led workshops titled “Transformational Music for all Ages.”

Thirty years ago the Alliance of Baptists began as a prophetic voice for changing church and society. Now more than ever, our world needs the Alliance’s prophetic message of love, peace, social justice, freedom, inclusiveness, and equality. Music has power to embed this message in our hearts in order to shape our actions. Music has great power to transform our world.

For many years the Alliance of Baptists has encouraged and supported Larry and me in our hymn writing, singing our hymns in annual Gatherings and local churches. At an Alliance Gathering in Washington, DC, we presented a workshop titled “Inclusive Song! Let Your Worship Catch Up with Your Theology.” Many times church music lags behind the progressive, inclusive theology of churches, and many times it’s hard to find inclusive music. So our mission is to create music with inclusive, justice and peacemaking lyrics. Our hope is that our music inspires transformation through an expansive theology and an ethic of equality and justice.

Larry, workshopIn the 2017 Alliance workshops we presented inclusive music that can be used in various settings and for all age groups. We included music appropriate for interfaith and multigenerational settings. We sang songs that name the Divine as female and male and more, providing a foundation for all people from the youngest to the oldest to know we are all created equally in the divine image.

workshopMembers of the Pullen Chancel Choir joined with other workshop participants to make the singing glorious! Talented life-long church musician Cindy Schultz added her beautiful piano accompaniment. Choir member Bo Reece accompanied on flute and xylophone and also contributed his talent to make the workshops flow smoothly.

Jann Workshop











We began with singing short songs from our latest collection Earth Transformed with Music! Here are the lyrics and music to one of these songs, “Come, Sophia Wisdom, Come.”


Come, Sophia Wisdom, come, live in our hearts;

come, Sophia Wisdom, come, peace to impart.

Heal us, bless us, stir us, and free us.

Come, Sophia Wisdom, come, live in our hearts.


Come, Sophia Wisdom, come live throughout earth;

come, Sophia Wisdom, come, bringing new birth.

Heal all, bless all, stir all, and free all.

Come, Sophia Wisdom, come, live throughout earth.

Words © 2014 Jann Aldredge-Clanton; Music © 2015 Larry E. Schultz

Included among the children’s songs we presented was “Our God Is a Mother and a Father,” from Imagine God! A Children’s Musical Exploring and Expressing Images of God.


In the workshop we sang one of our first collaborations, “Sister-Spirit, Brother Spirit,” published at the beginning of Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians. Sister-Brother Spirit has been the divine image that Larry and I have seen as important in our creative collaboration. Here is a video with this hymn:

From our latest collection, Earth Transformed with Music! Inclusive Songs for Worship, we sang “Follow Her Peaceful Ways.” Larry created a beautiful, vibrant musical composition for this song. The refrain and third stanza of this song were also included in the Sunday morning worship service of the Alliance Gathering.  I made this video on my iPhone from the back of the large sanctuary, so the quality could be better! But I hope you will get the wonderful tune in your mind as you read the stanzas and the refrain below the video.

Follow Her Peaceful Ways   (Proverbs 3:13-18; 1:20-23)

Follow Her peaceful ways; join Holy Wisdom,

changing the world with Her kindness and grace,

blessing all cultures, all genders and races,

welcoming all in Her loving embrace.


All through the world many suffer from violence,

hunger, oppression, and plundering of earth.

Wisdom cries out with a voice full of longing,

“Join me in labor to bring peace to birth.”


Rise up to answer the calling of Wisdom,

working together for peaceful reforms.

Come to the Tree of Life blooming forever,

filling the world with Her love that transforms.


Follow Her peaceful ways! Follow Her peaceful ways!

Join Holy Wisdom to end all the strife.

She gives us power to meet every challenge;

follow Her peaceful ways, bringing new life.

Words © 2014 Jann Aldredge-Clanton: Music © 2015 Larry E. Schultz

We pray for people in our country and around the world to follow Her peaceful ways.

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