Series 24: For The Love Of Faith Icons | Episode 04
How to Create a Politics of Love: Lisa Sharon Harper
Are y’all ready to go to church? Because in this episode of our For the Love of Faith Icons series, author and activist Lisa Sharon Harper graces us once again with her singular wisdom and fire—and we are here. for. it. Lisa shares what’s been going on in her work since she appeared on the award-winning episode in 2018 that everyone is still talking about. She helps us make sense of the innumerable tensions we see in the world right now between different communities and shines a light on the “narrative gap” that exists in our world: how one story affirms the experience of the powerful few, and another recognizes the dignity and worth of every single person in the world, including those on the margin. Lest we lose hope, Lisa shares a solution on the way reconnection can close this gap and calls us all to be as we were created to be: a “radically, interdependent web of love.”
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, guys. Jen Hatmaker is here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Hello, and welcome aboard! Glad you are here today.
Hey, before we jump into today’s episode, I wanted to make sure that you have heard me shouting from the rooftops over on my social accounts that I have a new book coming out, and it is so exciting. I rolled out the cover and the title and the vision, and it is called Fierce, Free and Full of Fire. Oh, it means so much to me, and I am so excited about it. And there are some really cool signed editions up for grabs right now. So just letting you know: you can head over to any my social accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Insta. They’re all they’re all up over there, and be in the know.
Of course, the easiest way to stay in the know about anything, but it’s definitely including the book and all the cool stuff that goes with it, is to be an email subscriber. I call them my EFs—my Email Friends. So over at jenhatmaker.com, you can sign up in like five seconds, and you’ll be glad that you did. We pack, pack our subscribers with all kinds of good stuff. I mean, you get first dibs on everything, of course, and first glimpse and insider info, just all of it. So just head over there, be an e-mail, be an email subscriber, be an Email Friend. You’ll be happy that you did.
Speaking of fierce, oh my gosh. We are in a series with some faith icons. And my guest today is literally the definition of fierce. Like, I think that’s probably her middle name. This is actually her second time on the show. I think she’s only my—I think she’s only my third guest to ever make a repeat appearance. And her original episode is one that people talked about forever. It was one of our most downloaded episodes, and it just kept going. It had the shelf life because everyone kept sharing it. Everyone kept listening and then re-listening to it, and re-listening to it and then sending it around because she is so interesting and so provocative and so smart.
So in the first episode, by the way, she told us all about her family’s deep history in America—some of them slaves. Boy, she just made my brain buzz with so many, so many incredible insights.
Of course, I’m talking about Lisa Sharon Harper. Talk about an icon. She’s been at this work for a really long time. She has longevity as a prolific speaker and writer and activist. I mean, everywhere—from Ferguson to New York, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Brazil. Lisa leads trainings that basically increase clergy and community leaders’ capacity to organize people of faith toward a more just world. I mean, talk about a mission.
She’s the founder and president of Freedom Road, which is a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap—by the way, we’re going to talk about exactly what that means today—in our nation by designing forums and experiences that bring common understanding and commitment and action.
Plus, she’s a brilliant writer. I mean, her work has appeared literally everywhere. A truly gifted author. In fact, her book, The Very Good Gospel, was a 2016 Book of the Year by Inglewood Review, which we talked about at length the first time she was on the show.
Meaningful. Gosh, she’s such a good—by the way. Let me just say this quick. I don’t know what you’re doing right now. You’re like running or you are in the grocery store or you’re on your commute or doing laundry. I’m not sure what the thing is, but let me tell you what you actually are: you’re at church. Because Lisa is about to take you to church. You’re about to get some preaching, and a word, and a strong word at that. I mean, when I say fierce, I mean fierce. And so you just need to buckle up and get ready because this conversation was . . . oh, baby. Okay? We need her right now. We need her leadership. I’m so happy to bring her to you yet again on the For the Love Podcast.
So you guys, help me welcome Lisa Sharon Harper.
Jen: I am delighted and honored to welcome my friend Lisa Sharon Harper back to the show. Thank you for saying yes a second time!
Lisa: Thank you, Jen. It’s so, so great to be back with you, and also with your listeners. You guys are fabulous. I’ve met you all over the country. I love you.
Jen: Yes, they are and they loved you. And we were just talking before recording that I’ve had, I think, two? I think I have had two repeat guests on the podcast. And so you are in this very tiny handful of repeaters.
And I was mentioning this to you, but your first episode on here was so provocative and interesting and important, and it’s still one of our most-talked about episodes. Thanks for coming back in. I mean, we’re, it’s 2020. I mean, here we are, what in the world?
Lisa: We are here. We’re here.
Jen: I know. What a year.
Lisa: We’ve been waiting for this moment for like at least three years, I’d say.
Jen: At least three years. Lisa, I was just sort of high-leveling your very rich experience and your massive credentials to my listening community, so I wonder if we could kind of start here. I’d like to hear where your work has taken you lately. What kinds of progress have you seen that has actually been encouraging to you in such sort of a wonky, weird time? And then on the opposite, is there a place right now where you’re working, where you’re advocating that you are kind of feeling blocked? What’s hard right now?
Lisa: Okay, so starting with the good and then going to the blocked.
Jen: Right, let’s do that.
Lisa: I mean, I’d say that I think the biggest piece of progress that I think we’ve seen, ironically, has not necessarily come because of our organizing. I think the biggest piece of progress we’ve seen is that the foundational nature of white supremacy in our nation has become [obvious].
What we’ve seen through Trump’s policies and their outcomes, for example, several people dying on our southern border in detention centers and also on the Mexican side because they were not able to get help, we see the impacts of that kind of policy making when taken to its extreme—which is what Trump has done. He’s taken GOP policies to their extreme.
Lisa: And so I think that what that has done—taking it to its extreme and seeing the result—has actually caused a lot of people who call themselves “evangelical,” who before Trump called themselves “evangelical,” went to Bible study every week, had small group and prayer groups and sing-alongs at church and summer camp and youth camp. They went to Young Life and did InterVarsity Campus and Campus Crusade. It has caused them to say, “Wait a minute.”
Jen: It’s a good point.
Lisa: Actually, what I have seen since the last time we talked, what I’ve seen is I’ve seen a lot of people—not just leaders who were doing the question asking like yourself after the 2017 inauguration day—a lot of evangelical leaders were asking, “How did we get here?” I think now, a lot of people in the pews are beginning to realize, “Whoa, what have we done?” Right? So, yeah.
Jen: Totally. I have the same experience. I appreciate you saying that because I’m . . . it’s Interesting. I’m embedded in a world with a lot of ideologies around me, so I don’t have a . . . just a through line in my entire community. And I see some of the real, say, deep uneasiness and really good questions that are important to ask. And so, yeah, I do see that as a net positive, ultimately.
Jen: Even though, it’s such a hard way to get there.
Lisa: It is, right? I mean, we have to . . . unfortunately, there’s got . . . well, I don’t know that this has to be the case. It doesn’t have to be. We can always just choose the right thing. We can always just choose repentance. We can always just choose goodness and beauty and truth. But sometimes when we don’t, the only way back to ourselves is to understand the cost of our sin, to understand the cost of what we’re choosing—maybe the illusion of goodness that we’ve chosen as support, as opposed to the actual good.
Jen: That’s a great way to put it. What’s hard right now?
Lisa: Honestly, I think the thing that’s the hardest is how overwhelmed everybody feels.
Jen: It’s so real.
Lisa: People are tired.
Jen: It’s so real, and it’s only going to get worst this year with soul fatigue.
Lisa: Yes, like I think people are—the folks who are actually fighting the battles are incredibly . . . this current administration is throwing the kitchen sink at the world, literally. And it’s only for one purpose: it is to win. It’s not for, like, to win a particular thing. It is simply to win. And when the only goal is to win, you actually are in warfare. We are literally in the middle of a political war, and therefore all bets are off. The truth doesn’t matter, ethics doesn’t matter. Any and none of that matters. And so as a result, we are actually in the middle of a war, and that’s why we’re so exhausted.
And recently, there have been actually a number of us that have begun to realize that we are so tired and at the same time . . . and I don’t mean people of color. I mean, just people who are in this struggle here in DC, and we’ve started to actually meet and kind of become a church for each other, which is wonderful. It’s been so good.
I have come to understand that the heart of it all, the meaning behind it all, the goal of it all is to be reconnected. That’s the whole project, the whole thing. It is about reconnecting to God, reconnecting to self, reconnecting to others, reconnecting to the earth and to the rest of creation. As we become reconnected, that is what brings shalom. That’s what it’s all about. And so if that’s what it’s all about, it’s not actually just about defeating Trump or getting this policy passed. Then what it looks like to fill myself in this struggle is, in the midst of the struggle, on the battle line, in the march to be connected, to make the choices to connect with those who are around me at that time, to make the choices to go walk and actually connect with nature and connect with God, and that . . . and that’s how I get filled. I’m not taking away from my sense of joy or peace or shalom by going out and marching or protesting or writing that piece. Those are all methods of connection.
Jen: The reason I love that you’re saying that among many things, so that I could start listing but what I love about that is the possibility that it holds because as we kind of survey the landscape right now and we look, I mean even just—let’s just say our American culture, but really the whole world—we’re never . . . I mean, we’re not ever going to find a place where ideologically we all agree, or that we understand how to solve complicated problems in the same ways. We have different ideas on that.
Lisa: That’s right.
Jen: We have different perspectives, but connection is always a possibility.
Jen: That’s a possibility anywhere, between anyone. And so that, to me, holds insight of real potential for healing and growth and renewal, whereas I think sometimes, some of us engaged in the battle are just constantly trying to get the other side to see our way and like, “Why can’t this make sense to you?” In some cases, that’s fair because we’re talking about matters of, like, justice and life.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Jen: But when I frame it at the way you just said and I think, What is the potential for connection here? Now there’s possibility.
Jen: Now I feel like there’s a path.
Lisa: Exactly, and the thing is, is that . . . so when people ask me, “How do you choose your political agendas that you’re going to choose?” How do I choose? I’m asking the question, “How do we create a politics of love?” In other words, how do our decisions about how the polis will live together create a more connected polis?
Jen: That’s good. That’s great.
Lisa: Create a polis, a people who are more connected to each other owning each other’s fates more, you know what I mean?
Lisa: That’s how we were created to be: a radically, interdependent web of love.
Jen: That would change the world.
Lisa: Well, now, wouldn’t it?
Jen: The whole world.
Lisa: It really would. Yes.
Jen: I want to pivot because I read a piece that you wrote and it’s was so good and so thought provoking, and it was kind of about your changing relationship with the Bible. And this sentence, it zinged me. You said, “Jesus is no longer my boyfriend.” That’s hilarious. “He is my liberator.”
That’s something that I’ve talked with Pete Enns on this show about, also, and I am interested to hear you talk about this. I would love to hear more about your experience here, what you meant, where you’re going, what this looks like in your life.
Lisa: What I’ve come to understand is that what it means to be human is actually to be equally called and with the capacity, created with the capacity to exercise stewardship of the world. And so what it requires, then, for us to be radically connected again, to be reconnected is to recognize the equal call and capacity of all to exercise stewardship of this world, to exercise the agency, to shape the world.
Really, the good news is that Jesus did not just come to live in my heart and love me, right? To go out on dates with me to Starbucks.
Lisa: Jesus came to liberate the image of God on earth. Jesus came to confront the powers that are hellbent on crushing the image of God on earth. That means me and my third great-grandmother Leah Ballard, and my mother, and my father, and my brother, that the powers have been dead set against the thriving, against the exercising of stewardship and dominion, particularly around . . . well, actually, the powers in our world, in our time, in our era—and by era what I mean is the last maybe thousand years—have been the power of white patriarchy.
I know that that sounds like really academic-y to some people. It might actually sound, “Oh, you just put yourself in a liberal camp.” No. No. What I’m talking about is actual laws and policies that were put on the books by white people of European descent—men—in order to protect their own thriving at not only the founding of the country, but the founding of the colonies. And those laws and structures were not changed or taken off the books when we became a nation. And they only became more entrenched.
And so when I say, “Jesus is my liberator, not just my boyfriend,” in fact He’s not my boyfriend. He never came to be my boyfriend. He was here to liberate the image of God. The image of God. And that included the image of God in brown Mary, His mom, and the image of God in brown Mary Magdalene, and the image of God and brown Peter and brown Paul and brown everybody. In fact, there’s only one person of European descent who has a speaking role in the entire Bible, and it’s Pilate.
Jen: Great point.
Lisa: The one who put Him on the freaking cross. Now, what am I saying? I’m not saying people of European descent put Jesus . . . you know, like, that’s all they’re good for. That’s not what I’m saying, folks, don’t write me about that.
Lisa: I’m not talking about that. What I’m saying is the Bible is not a Western document.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: And it’s not a document that was written from the social location of empire.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: It was written from a social location of the oppressed. The social location . . . the entire thing. The whole thing, including David’s Psalms and all of the passages in the Song of Solomon. The stories of Solomon and David were written about and by a king of a dinky little kingdom that kept getting sacked by empire.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: They were not building an empire. They were a dinky little kingdom that God didn’t even want them to build. God said, “Don’t build a kingdom. I am your King, you don’t need a king. In fact, if you do, you’re going to have to build tall buildings and enslave your people. Don’t do that.”
But they did it, because they wanted to be like everybody else. What does that cause them to do? It caused them to dominate each other. It caused them to break the connections between God and themselves, and each other, and the land.
And so what does it mean, then? What is the good news of Jesus? What I’ve come to understand about this brown, colonized, indigenous man is that He came as the God-man, the King of the kingdom of God, to confront the empires of this world that are hellbent on actually waging war with God. Because what they’ve done is they have desecrated the image of God on earth.
And anybody who knows anything about ancient cultures, then you know that the image of the king is supposed to be a marker of the flourishing of that kingdom. And so, where you have desecrated images, it’s an indicator there’s a war going on in that land. We have desecrated images on our southern border. We have desecrated images in our jails. The fact that we have so many jails is an indicator that we are at war with God.
Jen: Well, I guess, you’re just going to preach today on the podcast, and I am here for it.
Let me ask you this. A lot of your work at Freedom Road is about shrinking the narrative gap. Can you explain what that means, and what it might look for us specifically in 2020?
Lisa: Ooh, that’s good.
Shrinking the narrative gap basically means that there is a gap between the narratives, the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and how we got here and the truth, like, of actually what happened.
Lisa: There’s also gaps in different people groups’ stories. In fact, in America, there’s probably two major competing stories about who we are as a nation and how we got here. And we saw those two stories—this is when this became really clear to me—was in the aftermath of the 2016 election. You saw those two stories competing in that election. One story says, “There was a time when we were great. And it was a time when white men ruled, and we have to get back to that time.” And I know that they didn’t expressly, explicitly say, “It was a time when white men ruled,” but through all of the rhetoric, that’s actually implicit.
I actually went to the Republican convention—hello, somebody, yes, I did—I was out there actually with the nuns on the bus.
Jen: I remember you telling me that.
Lisa: Yeah, right? And we did these surveys, and one of the things we asked them was, “Okay, so if there was a time you want to go back to, when was it great?” By and large, what they said was before the New Deal.
Lisa: Before the New Deal is what they wanted to get back to. And what was true then, before the New Deal, we didn’t really have taxes. Before the New Deal, we didn’t have a sense in America of a common good. We didn’t have actually even a national sense of responsibility for the polis. It was like, “Everybody is for themselves.” That’s what they want to go back to. That was the time when white men ruled, also, because the laws themselves were set up to benefit white men.
Lisa: Remember, that’s before Brown v. the Board of Education, which required equal treatment under the law.
So what you have is you actually have one narrative that says, “It’s those days when we were great and we’re trying to get back to that.”
And then you have another competing narrative that actually looks back, and it’s usually . . . this one has people of color and women at the center, and it says, “Actually, there’s never been a time we’ve been all that great. We have great ideals. We have great vision, but even that has been contested. And we are an ever-progressing nation that is growing more and more into its own stated ideals.” That’s why the word progressive is progressive. It means “to progress toward our own ideals.” That’s actually what it’s stating.
And so that ideal of every person being created, endowed with the right to pursue happiness and liberty and all that stuff, that we know . . . I know in my DNA and in my family history that that was not always the case—and actually, to this day, is not fully the case, but it’s more the case than it was before.
So that narrative gap is the gap, at least in today’s moment, is the gap between those two narratives.
Jen: So what is your strategy . . . of course, you’re one voice but in your world, this is the influence of your stewarding and this is the leadership you’re offering, what’s your strategy to close that gap?
Lisa: There is nothing more powerful in this world than narrative. Narrative shapes worldview. The stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves shapes our worldview. And I think we have to tell more accurate stories. And we have to center at this point in our history, given the fact that these voices have been marginalized for so long, we now have to push to the center those whose stories have been silenced and those whose stories have been pushed on the margins and not seen as important. Those are the stories that are actually most important right now. They are, they’re most important because it’s those stories that will help us to see the things we haven’t ever seen. It’s those stories that will help us to understand to a deeper degree how we got where we are and how we got here.
In fact, that’s actually my next book, which is coming up, hopefully, we’re praying that it comes out in early 2021. And my prayer is that it’s the answer to “What next? After this election, now, how do we fix it?”
Jen: I can’t wait.
Picking up the thread to something that you just said about centering the stories that the greater cultures finds the least important but rather those we listen to. Something that I would love to hear you speak into a little bit, especially as we turn into this year and I’m thinking so much about Iran. I’m thinking so much about Iraq. I’m thinking about the Middle East. These people that live there are very much a useful tool in the hands of re-election when they are seen in a certain way, and they are cast in a certain light, and there’s this very broad dehumanization and thus, they become a real resource for fueling fear and paranoia and disinformation.
And then ultimately, of course, as you know that has a real devastating trickle-down effect on all immigrants, on all refugees. The state of Texas just said, “We will refuse refugees.” That just came out last week. Refuse them. We’re the only state.
Lisa: That’s horrible.
Jen: It’s horrible. And so, the Middle East is a springboard for a lot of that ideology. And so, as we watch escalation over there right now and don’t know what’s going to happen—I mean, as of this recording, it’s murky—I would love to hear you talk about how we as Americans can rightly think of our brothers and sisters in Iran, in Iraq, in the Middle East, in these places of conflict and chaos. What [does] the call of Christ ask us to do here?
Lisa: The call of Christ calls us to focus and center the stories of the people of Iran and Iraq. We have to hear them tell their story. When we do, when we listen, what we will understand is that their story does not begin with us. Their story actually began thousands and thousands of years ago. And it’s actually their story is where our biblical story begins because our biblical story begins in Iraq.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: It actually begins in that land—and also, in Northern Africa. I mean literally, Babylon—as it has been called as well, Babylon from Genesis—I think that was like Baghdad. Like, it was literally in that area. Now, it was an empire, it was one of the first empires on earth was right there, and we see that in the biblical text. We know that their story is not dependent on us. They have a life, they have story, they have culture, that they have arts. They have intellect that was developed apart from the West and before the West, actually. And so it is incumbent upon us to see them as fully human in and of themselves.
What Dr. Andrea Smith says in her paper, “Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” which you should link too in the show notes here, so I’m giving you a little tidbit. I recommend everybody to read it. For me, this has become a seminal text of understanding the moment we’re in and how white supremacy is operating in this moment on our borders and as we look at Iran and Iraq.
She says there are three major logics of white supremacy. The first major logic is as white supremacy looks at the Other, as it looks at people of African descent, what it says is, “They exist in order to provide us with low cost or no-cost labor for the thriving of whiteness, for white thriving,” right? That’s why you get slavery, that’s how you get Jim Crow, that’s how you get mass incarceration, that’s how you get the Labor Act of 1935—exempting farm workers, which were mostly black at the time, and hospitality workers or examples maids and things like that—from labor protections because white supremacy cast people of African descent as existing for the thriving of white people. And that, in order for them . . . for people to thrive, you need a low-cost labor pool. That’s one.
But then it looks over at Middle Easterners and Asian people and says, “They are almost fully human but not quite, so they are our competition. They need to be dominated at all costs, at all times.” And so you always see them in a perpetual state of war with, with the self—with whiteness. And so you have to dominate them in order to keep yourself up.
That is a lie from the pit of hell.
The reality is, folks who live in Iraq, in Iran, in Pakistan, and in northern Africa and all over, they are human. And they have human stories of mothers and babies and nieces and dreams and failures and best practices and culture and mores and all of the same stuff that is all as valid.
Jen: That’s good.
Lisa: As valid as anybody else. And so they too were called to exercise stewardship of this world.
But the thing is, now, now you also have to look at history because in order to have an honest interrogation of the story we’ve been told, we have to be willing to look at the story we’ve been told. And what we were told, what we’ve been told is that Iran and Iraq are our enemies, period. But that’s not true. Did you know in 1953, Iran actually had elected its own democratically elected [prime minister], that they were actually on the road to having a solid democracy—but that, in our book, would destabilize our interest, which would be bilking their oil.
And so what we did, we went in with our CIA—this is not conspiracy theory, this is fact—and then we replaced that [prime minister] with the Shah of Iran. And the Shah of Iran was a brutal, brutal dictator who absolutely bilked his own people for his own thriving and crushed his people. And the Shah of Iran is what actually then brought us the hostage crisis in 1979 and the taking over of American embassy, because the people there knew what we did. And they knew that we were responsible for their pain. And so they pushed back at us because that’s what we deserved. And it’s that moment in history, in 1979, that is indelibly seared in our collective national memory and causes us to think of Iran as our perpetual enemy, but we have to see what they did in the context of what we did, and that’s where we normally leave out.
So what would help is, boy, what if we all just repented for believing that we should have a say in their government and their governments? I mean, all the talk that’s happening right now is, “Should we overturn their nation or not? Should we do nation building there or not?”
Can you believe we are actually having, in our public discourse, a conversation about whether or not America should take out their leaders? That is insane! They are a sovereign nation. Yeah, we don’t necessarily like necessarily all of the ways that they would run their nation, but that’s why they’re not us. We are us, they are them. We need to let them be them, and then deal with the world accordingly.
Jen: Thank you for speaking into that very complicated narrative gap, really, is what it is.
Lisa: When we talk about shrinking the narrative gap, at Freedom Road we do that in five ways, there are five major ways. One is just through consulting. We actually come in and we help organizations to begin to see the places where they are operating out of their narrative gap, and we close it for them in various ways and then help them to move forward accordingly. We also do coaching, executive coaching, whatever. But the most potent way is through pilgrimage. And you know, you heard me talk about this a lot, but pilgrimage gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the story of the other for a period of time and walk the land where things happened so that no longer is it a question of where or when. We know because we have had resonance with the people. We have . . . our bodies have felt their pain.
And so now, it becomes ours. We carry their story in another way so then we make better decisions. Our decisions are based now, not only on our own understanding what we’ve been told but also incorporating their story as well. That’s, I think, how we close the narrative gap. We put ourselves in closer proximity and in fact, immerse ourselves in the stories and the communities of the other so that . . . and that is an active connection so that we can all move forward together.
Jen: You and I did something like that in Montgomery when we were down with Bryan Stevenson and EJI [Equal Justice Initiative]. We walked the lynching sites, and we prayed, and we took the soil and we bless the ground. I mean, I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It made such a huge impact on me. To your point, you don’t . . .
Lisa: That’s so true.
Jen: That’s just not head knowledge, and my body has experienced it. And so I couldn’t recommend your pilgrimages more.
Jen: Let’s talk a little bit about . . . let’s shift in a little bit closer to sort of our faith community.
Jen: It’s kind of impossible to think about faith in a way that isn’t political this year. I don’t know if that ever was a thing but . . . and you mentioned earlier, the Christianity Today editorial. And for listeners who don’t know what I’m talking about, essentially after many years of basically silence, the lead editor, right, lead editor, am I getting that right?
Lisa: Yes, the editor in chief.
Jen: Thank you, I couldn’t find it. Editor in Chief.
Lisa: Yeah, Mark Galli.
Jen: That’s right, wrote a pretty . . . I mean, as direct of piece I’ve ever read calling out sort of the evil and the immorality of this administration, and it created a lot of shockwaves. Of course, five years ago, it would have been unprecedented, I think, that we would have seen such a pillar in the evangelical community—and that’s not to say that represents Christ followers at large, of course. It’s that’s a version, that’s a branch of the tree.
But I would like to hear you talk about how we got here. How it is that the word evangelical has now become synonymous of course with Republican, that’s baked in at this point?
I read a quote by an African American pastor and theologian, Howard Thurman. He said, “It cannot be denied that too often, the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful against the weak and oppressed. This, despite the gospel.”
I mean, that just like boom, just cuts right to the heart of it, which is so ironic, given our conversation earlier, that scripture was written by oppressed people for oppressed people, so it doesn’t even make sense. There’s no basis here, it makes absolutely no sense that all of a sudden, we now, leverage our . . . not just our ideology, not just our politics, our faith against the immigrant, against the refugee, against people of color, against the LGBTQ community. And it just . . . it boggles the mind how we got here. Can you walk us through a bit of that?
Lisa: Well, whenever you have a faith that has been crafted in the halls of empire, which is what happened here. Basically Jesus was hijacked and whitified and dumbed down, and actually His message then was nullified to the point where it had absolutely no . . . it said nothing about what empire was doing. I mean, you could see that so clearly. There was literally, literally a moment when this, the question of “What does our faith have to do with our politics?” came up in 1671. Now, why do I know this? Because again, for the next book, I’m doing family history, and I’m actually going through like all the 10 generations of my family and asking, “How did we get here,” right?
And I looked back at my first ancestors that came here 1682, and they were Scotch-Irish. They were actually Ulster Scots, right? I’m not going to go into that whole story, but what I will say is what I found in my research is that there was a time when the race laws were being crafted here, and the determination about who could be enslaved. That determination was based 100% on money, on the money and filling the pockets of the people who were the legislators themselves. You knew that money was then trumping faith when they made a determination that after . . . I mean thousands, or at least a thousand years of common law in England, that you could not enslave a fellow Christian. But enslaved Christian people in Virginia began to fight their case in court and say, “Hello, Mister Legislator, I’ve been baptized. I should not be able to be enslaved. And also, by the way, my father is an English citizen because he raped my mom and so, here I am. And because he’s an English citizen, according to common law in England, I cannot be enslaved. And he baptized me.”
And then the courts began to say, “You know what? You’re kind of right.”
And they began to release these people. There were lots of people who began to go to the courts and fight these on the basis of these two things. The first of whom was Elizabeth Key in Virginia and then several after that. Well, they start to say, “Wait a minute, this is going to threaten our what? Our base of no cost labor.” So what did they do? That’s the moment that they racialized slavery in 1670. And when they did that, they also changed the law and said, “The status of your Christian identity has no bearing on whether or not you can be enslaved,” from that point forward, right?
So right there, the legislature in a land that would become the place that says “We all have the right to freedom” says . . . they changed faith. Like, they were all devout people in their faith. They were deacons, they were pastors. But they decided that based on their economic standing, that they wanted to maintain their economic standing so they were willing to enslave their fellow brother and sister in Christ.
So our faith, when your faith is formed in the halls of empire, then your faith becomes complicit with the intentions and the goals and the mechanisms of empire, which God warns His people, Her people, “It will enslave, it will exploit your own people because that’s what it takes to build empire,” period. That’s what it takes.
So when your faith is crafted there, that’s what’s going to get you, and that’s what it got us, and that’s what got us the Moral Majority in 1983, when they came to rise.
They didn’t just come out of the blue, and they certainly didn’t come just out of their Roe v. Wade movement, though that’s what they would have you believe. They literally rose out of the segregationist movement because they lost the case of Bob Jones v. the USA in 1983 in the Supreme Court. And that case was based on a title that had been changed based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was based on or stood on the foundation of Brown v. the Board of Education, which guaranteed equal protection of the law. It was that, the equal protection of the law and the threat that that offered to white space, that Jim Bakker and all of the folks of the Moral Majority—“majority”—were fighting against.
How did we get here? We got here because we finally come to a moment where the spin of 1983 leaders put in place was, “Hey, we have built a movement that actually could funnel more people, particularly Southerners who are now disenfranchised because they can no longer be Democrat,” because the Democrats were for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and they left the Democratic party after having that be their party forever before that. “But now they’re looking for a party. Well, let the Republican party be the party of the disenfranchised Southern Democrats.”
So they came in and when they said, “Our goal is to overturn the Supreme Court. Our goal is to make the Supreme Court a conservative court.” Do you know that resonated with them? They said, “Oh yes, that’s what we need to do.” And it wasn’t because of Roe v. Wade, because only a few years before that, the Southern Baptist Convention had issued a statement saying that Roe v. Wade was actually a good decision.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: How about that? It said it was a good decision. And yet now, Southerners are rising up and saying, “We need to overturn the Supreme Court.” Why? Because the Supreme Court was protecting Brown v. the Board of Education. They couldn’t fight on that basis anymore. That was not gauche, it wasn’t in, it wasn’t going to win, and it couldn’t win in the courts as the Supreme Court had just shown them because they lost the Bob Jones’ case.
So they said, “Wait a minute. There’s this sentiment now shifting in the wind that nation is now turning against Roe v. Wade because they’re seeing that there’s all these abortions happening now. Let’s leverage that issue to do the same thing. Let’s say Roe v. Wade is our goal, but our strategy for overturning Roe v. Wade is to overturn the court, to make the court a conservative court. What will we get when we do that? We will get the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education.”
Jen: Well, it worked.
Lisa: It did, it really did.
Jen: It worked.
It feels overwhelming, to be honest, and everything that you’re describing has been a real lived experience. I mean, it’s silly for me to say, just in recent history, obviously but very acute since 2016, so incredibly acute as you mentioned earlier and for those . . .
Lisa: I’d go back and I’d say since 2014. That when George Zimmerman was let off, when Michael Brown died, that’s kind of when the world started to turn upside down but keep going.
Jen: You’re 100% right. That is really when I felt the tremors in a way that I hadn’t before, and that obviously speaks to my like privilege and position. But something turned a corner there.
And for those of us in faith, it has . . . I don’t quite know how to word it except to say that it has been so . . . for those of us who see the world through a lens that just says, “Gosh, these are our neighbors. These are our brothers and sisters, and we’re looking for a collective good. and we are looking for, “How can I vote on behalf of and in honor of my neighbor?” And just that . . . it’s a completely different way of thinking which, of course. I would say that’s what literally Jesus taught me. I do not mean that as a virtue signal. I just simply mean that’s all I’ve ever been taught.
And so it’s profoundly disorienting and has created so much disruption in our families, and in our communities, definitely in our churches. And what I experience when I’m engaged in either a discussion or a space—even a debate, if you want to use that term—around another Christian who sees things from, as you mentioned, that side of conserving, that, “We want to conserve, we want to make America great again,” which is a version of their . . .
Lisa: That’s right.
Jen: And I mean this from a charitable standpoint: I believe that they deeply believe what they’re saying. Deeply. That they find it faithful, and that they say, “God is on our side,” you know, that kind of language.
Lisa: Yeah, totally.
Jen: “This is the correct reading of the gospel,” and they’ve put up some bumpers around it that are impenetrable. And so it’s, like, an unimpeachable position and it just, it feels . . . well, I hate to use this word this often because I’m not really like this, it feels a little hopeless.
I just wonder if you think there is a path forward here—in the community of faith, specifically—which obviously follows the fault lines of our country’s cultural lines. But do you see a path right now?
Lisa: I think that what’s happening now is that there is a disintegration of that empirical center, and there’s now what’s happening, honestly, it’s creating space. It’s creating space for everyone to go, to push into the scripture, push past the veneer of whiteness, the cushion of whiteness that is actually separated us from the scripture itself, and touch brown Jesus, and sit at the feet of black Mary, and understand what they were actually saying in the context of oppression, all of every last one of them. All of them were speaking from the ground with the weight of empire’s foot on their neck, all of them.
And when Jesus shows up in Luke 4 and says, “I have come,” He quotes Isaiah 61 and says, “I’ve been anointed to preach good news,” to whom? Not to the middle class, and He’s not preaching this at Starbucks. He’s literally in Nazareth, he’s in the bottom of the bottom of the empire. His foot is not only under the neck of empire. He’s been stamped down.
Think about this—in the year Jesus was born, 2,000 people were crucified in one day, in His region, in northern Galilee because they attempted an uprising against white empire, against Caesar. And Caesar came in and stamped them down. So when He stood up in that temple, when He stood up in that synagogue and He said, “The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the oppressed, to set the prisoners free,” He’s not talking about people who stole a loaf of bread. He’s talking about the people who are put in prison because they tried to uprise against Caesar.
Jen: It’s powerful.
Lisa: When we become reconnected to the actual scripture in its actual context, then I think we will be able to see anew what this Christianity thing is all about, who this Jesus person is all about. And I honestly think we all need it, all of us.
Jen: I agree.
And to that end, back to my earlier question “Is there a path forward to such polar opposite versions of what faith looks like in the public square?” To your answer, I feel like that can be interpreted no other way except good news. If what it ultimately does is shake it out—if it does—if it just shakes it down and it’s all smaller and it looks different and it’s decentralized, that’s good news. It’s going to be good news for the poor. That’s going to be good news for the oppressed.
I hope that in the core of what I hoped to be faithful, that I can hang on to that, that that’s worth it, no matter how different that ends up looking—and I think it is. It’s in front of us right now, changing in front of our eyes.
Lisa: Well, I think . . . let me just say this. I think this is important, Jen, that I think that the good news for people who have lived on the upside of empire, who have actually lived positioned on the scaffolding of human hierarchy of belonging, that they have literally been placed higher up on that scaffolding because they have been deemed white by the state or male, right? And so a result, they get the privileges that were afforded them because of the laws that were established in 1660. The good news for them is that when that scaffolding comes down, you get to join the community of creation.
Jen: That’s great.
Lisa: You get to lay down your arms against God. You get to come and join hands with people whom that scaffolding and the laws that protected, it named as less than human, and you get to see them, and see the truth, and see that you are allowed to only be human. Just be human! Y’all don’t got to be perfect! Ain’t nobody asking you to be perfect! God is perfect, God’s not trying to have you be perfect too.
Even that theology—the focus on purity, the focus on perfection—that’s something that came out of Europe. That’s something that y’all looked at in scripture and said, “That’s what this is all about.” But actually no, that’s not what it was all about. That’s not what the people, the Hebrew people were focused on. That’s what it was made to be about, because when you read it in your context up in Northern Europe, that’s what mattered to you. And maybe that’s what mattered to you because of the pagan rituals of purification, everything that came in, that got synchronized into Jesus. Hello, somebody. What am I saying? I’m saying that we all need new glasses and that those new glasses are going to do two things: they’re going to connect us to God, and they’re going to connect us to each other in a way never experienced before.
Jen: That’s great.
Lisa: That’s at this moment, this moment—more than any other moment, I think, in human history—gives us the capacity for it, if we choose the good news.
Jen: That’s a good word, sis.
Jen: Let’s wrap it up here. We’re going to land this plane. I’m just going to ask you three question we’re asking everybody in this series and just kind of top of your head.
Jen: The first one, you probably have more than one answers so you can just pick one. Who’s one of your biggest mentors in faith?
Lisa: Oh wow. One of the biggest mentors in faith would be Brenda Salter McNeil.
Jen: Yes, she’s amazing.
Lisa: Yeah, she is in many ways my big sis or my auntie, depending on the day. She’s literally, literally been a mentor of mine for about 20 years and was one of the very first people . . . because I was on my way . . . literally, I was on my way to Broadway. My play won a national award, An’ Push da Wind Down and people were saying, “Broadway, Broadway.”
God said, “No, you’re going to the ministry.” And she was one of the first people to pray over me and actually kind of set me on a path to listen and listen for the voice of God. Her preaching is what taught me to preach, and her love for scripture is what caused me back to the scripture, every time that there is no more high value—there’s no higher value, rather—in preaching than to bring the scripture to life.
Jen: That’s great.
Lisa: Because the scripture does it. We don’t need much more. It’s, if you can the scripture to life then we’ve done our work. She’s been probably one of my . . . most long time and most valuable mentors.
Jen: We’ll link over to her stuff, everybody, listening because she is absolutely worth following and paying attention to and learning from.
Here’s one: right now, currently or just whatever, do you have a question for God, if you could ask Him something?
Lisa: The reason I laughed is because I’m like, well, I think my main question would be, “God, how did we get patriarchy? How did that happen?” I think I . . . I laughed because I think . . . you said, “What would you ask Him?” And I think my first thing would be just to change I would say, “What would you ask Her?” I really am . . . I don’t mean this physically, but I believe that God is a black woman.
Jen: I love it.
Lisa: What do I mean by that? I mean, black women are at the bottom of everything, right? And Jesus said, “Unless you love the least of these who are my family, you have not loved Me.” And I think that what you have to do is you have to ask the question, “Who’s one the bottom?” In the human hierarchy of belonging in America, it has been women of African descent who’ve been on the very bottom of our human hierarchy. And so I think that God positioned God’s self as on the bottom, and we see that even in Philippians, right, where it says that Jesus came and did not see striving to be God something that Jesus did, even became a slave, even onto death on the cross.
And so I think God is a black woman. So my question to God?
Jen: How’d this happen?
Lisa: Yeah, how’d this happen? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I kind of want to change it. It would be, “How do we get out of this?”
Jen: Even better. Please let me know if He gets back to you. If you get a missive on that one, I’d like to hear about it. That’s a great question.
Here’s the last one. I asked you this last time, you were on the show, we ask everybody this, this final question and you can answer it literally however you want to answer it, whatever is true right now. What is saving your life right now?
Lisa: Oh my gosh. I think what’s saving my life right now are two things. One is family. So I just came from LA where my mom, and my sister, and my niece live, and my friends and everything. And I think being connected to people whom I love, who love me, that is saving my life.
Jen: It means so much.
Lisa: It does, I mean, I think . . . and it’s the same vein. I’m part of a new small group that has started here in LA. Sorry—not in LA—in DC. And it’s not formal. We haven’t advertise. There’s no . . . it’s just a group of friends that are sick of wandering, and we realized well, “We’re coming together on a regular basis, anyway. May as well just make this a formal thing and come together and pray for each other.
Jen: I love it.
Lisa: “Share our lives with each other, and pray and offer counsel from scripture or from life.” And so, in some ways, it’s like a little house church but it’s not a church. We’re not delusional to think that, but we are being church to each other.
Jen: That makes my heart sing.
Jen: Those are my life lines also. Those are the things that keep me safe, and loved, and then from that point, strong. At that point, you can operate out of strength and courage and conviction. And it doesn’t take a lot, but just a handful of people [who] you can 100% drop your shoulders down [around]. There’s no guard. Absolutely no guard. Beloved.
Lisa: Exactly, and they’re going to be there.
Jen: No matter. Yup, it means the world.
Lisa: I would add to that, Project Runway.
Jen: Oh yay! Oh good! One tiny little shallow thing. Thank you.
Lisa: We need to fluff. Everybody needs a little bit of cotton candy in their life.
Jen: Just a little bit. I literally sat with my best girlfriends, kind of like the ones you just described, last Monday night and we watched . . . I could not make this number up, three straight hours of The Bachelor. Like who, what are we doing? What are we doing?
Lisa: You did, you watched it.
Jen: Hell yeah.
Lisa: I was just watching it last night. Yeah, girl.
Lisa: That’s serious cotton candy, and I’m very . . .
Jen: It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Lisa: Sometimes I feel guilty for consuming that much, but hey.
Jen: I was kind of a, “But hey,” day. And I was like, “You know what? this is what . . . pour me some wine.” Let’s just watch this absurdity.
Lisa: I totally did that. Yup.
Jen: Real quick before I let you go. Just again, I want to, from the bottom of my heart thank you for your leadership in the world, and what it has meant to me. And it’s been such an honor for me to get to walk alongside of you and work alongside of you now. And every single time you and I talk, every single time I hear you teach, every single time we sort of circle around the same thing, I learn, I’m stretched, I am challenged. You say something every time I’ve never thought of, every single time. You bring up perspectives that I need to hear, and I feel really grateful that you’re one of my teachers right now—and I mean that sincerely.
And so I honor your work in the world, and I want you to know that the cost of it is not at all lost on me. Not at all. I see the toll that this sort of labor exacts, and you are especially gifted for it. Honestly Lisa, for me to watch you lead and go, “I’m going to obviously do it in my own way, in my place the way God has made me.” But that, those, the pillars that you hang on to and the way in which you do it instructs me and I’m learning from it.
Thank you for your time again today. Thank you for leading us and teaching us. We’re listening, we’re paying attention. We are not of people without hope and so thank you for all the places you reminded me today that we have hoped and that goodness finds a way to rise up, it does.
And so, sending you all the love in the world, my friend. And grateful for your time today.
Lisa: Thank you so much, Jen. For the Love, right? For the Love.
Jen: For the Love.
Welp, I told you that we were gonna go to church. I wasn’t kidding. It’s like being in the room with like a prophet and a preacher and . . . well, that is what it is. Not “like.” That is what it is.
And you know what? Let me say this. As we press into such . . . such space filled with trauma and complicated history with competing narratives, if there is something in there that makes you feel discomfort, I say you just sit with that discomfort. Discomfort is not the end of the world. For me, discomfort, it’s always the beginning of growth. So if that’s you, great. I would urge you just to sit with it, and let it be what it is. Pay attention to what is rising up. Look it in the eye. Figure out, “What is this in me? What is this? What’s the response? What is my emotion? How can I sort of lean into it instead of just react?” That has always been how I have grown. Always. It begins with learning something new that, for me, typically means unlearning something. And it’s the unlearning that’s uncomfortable.
And so it’s just a part of the work. This is a part of working toward a just and a fair world. And so I love teachers who make me sort of sit in my own discomfort—maybe not at first, but ultimately, I’m grateful for their leadership, and grateful for their expertise to show me what I didn’t know, to teach me what I didn’t understand, to give me the experience and the perspective and the history that I have to have in hand in order to be a good leader in this world.
And so anyway, boy, she is a good teacher, isn’t she? Really grateful for her time today. Grateful she came on again.
As always, over at jenhatmaker.com, we will have everything. We’ll have the transcript, in case you want to read some of this or cut and paste any of it or whatever. Links to all of Lisa’s socials, and her books, and her . . . and Freedom Road. And if you want any information about her pilgrimages. And we’ll have it all over there for you guys.
So behalf of Amanda, and Laura, and I and our podcast team, we love you. We love to serve you. We’re happy to bring these stretching conversations and people to the podcast community. And thank you for being such good listeners and so engaged and paying such a good and close attention. I’m always just so proud of you.
Okay, guys, see you next week.