In this episode, Isaac Adams mentions a painful experience he endured and references racial slurs. We certainly don’t want to censor or filter his story, but we do want to make you aware, especially if you’re listening or watching with little ears nearby.
In this episode of As In Heaven, Isaac Adams unpacks painful aspects of the broken trust in American culture and in the church. He talks about the challenges of being profiled, leaned upon as people’s “one black friend,” de facto segregated society, redlining, over-policing, and the long tail of the cumulative effects of these and a number of other things.
Adams explains how public videos like George Floyd elicit secondary trauma in black persons due to other negative incidents from their own lives, as well as the ways in which there is a greater collective cultural dynamic. Adams unpacks the ways in which people interpret data and encourages how it relates to humility, compassion, and kindness.
Encouraging us to believe black people when they share their experiences instead of putting them on trial, Adams also urges us to pray for human flourishing in this cultural moment, sharing why he started United? We Pray.
The hosts and Isaac Adams discuss:
- Introduction and background for Isaac (1:51)
- “Why is there so much anger out there?” (3:36)
- Factors (injustices) that fuel anger (8:14)
- Black people in plain sight, yet unseen (13:00)
- Basic primer on historical racial pains (13:36)
- Redlining, accumulated wealth, over-policing, and a growing national concern (16:58)
- The symbolism of a police knee on a George Floyd’s neck (22:04)
- Why we should care (26:52)
- Personal experiences of racism in Isaac Adams’s life (28:49)
- Continuing to care when you feel overwhelmed (30:50)
- Engaging the conversation in a redemptive manner (34:38)
- United We Pray—encouragement to pray together through these issues (40:30)
- A hopeful vision for the church in these volatile times (45:01)
1. What might be factors that limit our perspective on other cultures? What factors might limit our perspective on acts of injustice?
2. When you think of a racist action, what type of things come to your mind? How might other ethnicities answer this question differently?
3. How might Christians lead on issues of injustice? How would that be different than what the world has to offer?
4. What can we do on this matter that would make the world say, “Wow, look at the way they love each other”?
5. End in prayer. Pray for our country, city, and community. Pray that God would make these places where justice thrives. Pray that God would open our hearts to hear the instruction and rebuke of voices that are different from ours. Pray that God would make us more loving in our listening, speaking, and care for one another, that the world may see our good deeds and glorify God.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Isaac Adams: The easier thing to do is critique Black Lives Matter. The much harder thing to do is look in the mirror and ask why Christians aren’t leading out against racial injustice in our society. At least in terms of evangelicalism, we have seated much of this to the world as when our people are getting discipled by the world. Again, we remain the tail light, when we shouldn’t be the head light.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to, As In Heaven, a podcast about applying the gospel to our everyday lives and being more effectively on mission in our cities, and beyond. This season, we’re talking to Christian leaders about how believers should process issues of race and justice. Specifically in the context of ministry. In this episode, we sat down with Isaac Adams, a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist church in Washington, DC. Isaac offered some really insightful ways to think through biblical justice, as well as firsthand perspectives of his experience as a black man doing ministry in a major city.
Matt Kenyon: He also gave some practical advice for how believers can make the local church, a place of safety and refuge for the marginalized. Isaac has both a passion for the church and a deeply pastoral tone that come through, even over this socially distance Zoom call. Jim Davis and Mike Aitcheson are your hosts. Mike Graham and myself, Matt Kenyon are the producers. And without further adieu, please enjoy this episode of, As In Heaven, with Isaac Adams.
Matt Kenyon: And a quick disclaimer, Isaac does make mention of a painful experience he endured and references racial slurs. We certainly don’t want to censor or filter those, but we do want to make you aware, especially if you’re listening with little ears nearby. Anyway, onto the interview.
Jim Davis: All right, welcome to, As In Heaven, season two. I’m Jim Davis. I am joined by my co-host Mike Aitcheson at the other end of this long socially distance table. He’s the pastor of Christ United Fellowship. And we have the privilege of being joined by my friend, Isaac Adams from Washington DC. Man, we are thrilled to have you on here. We met in 2013, I believe when you were an intern at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in DC with Mark Dever. You have a degree from journalism and religious studies from UNC. You were a missionary for a time in Brazil. What city in Brazil?
Isaac Adams: Sao Paulo, man. Sao Paulo
Jim Davis: All right, the big city. And you have your M.Div from Southern Seminary. And now you’ve gone back to Capitol Baptist Church where you currently serve as an assistant pastor. Man, I can’t thank you enough for coming on and joining us here today.
Isaac Adams: Man. Thank you. It’s good to be on someone else’s show. I mean, I’m just glad I’m not in charge. So, y’all just take it away.
Michael Aitcheson: Isaac, we’re so glad you’re here with us today, brother, and we just are excited about how the Lord will use our time together. And our hope, this season, is to create a space where Christian discussion over, confusing and even tense discussions can happen. And we’ve chosen our guests, not only because they are national experts, but because they possess a pastoral tone and heart like yourself. And we really desire for this to be a place of safety for people to engage a discussion in meaningful and real ways. So without further adieu, Jim is going to go ahead and launch us.
Isaac Adams: Amen. Thank you brother.
Jim Davis: You have a voice that I think would help us get introduced to the conversation. So we’re going to, over the course of the season, we’re going to go into a lot of very specific topics. But as a pastor, I’m asked often by people who are relatively new to the conversation, “Why is there so much anger out there? We just, since anger, I don’t understand it all.” There’s confusion. And so I want just to really open this conversation with you about the factors that have contributed to our current political and racial environment.
Jim Davis: And I also want to make one… I’ve got to really like thread a needle here in the distinguishment and the way that I ask this question. I know there’s a whole historical side to this that goes back hundreds of years, that we’re not trying to detach from this. Actually dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, is going to address a lot of the historical side of this. I want to ask you to speak into current day. And by current day, say within our lifetime, the things that have transpired that really contribute to what is perceived in that question, “Why is there so much anger out there today?”
Isaac Adams: Yeah, man, I appreciate it. I appreciate it. I mean, we’re always threading needles in this conversation, right? So I appreciate you doing that. And again, I appreciate y’all having me on the show. And I want to be clear, it’s a sincere question that people are asking. People can ask it without sincerity, without good faith. But it’s a legitimate question. And then so far, as we simply can’t have honest conversations or really bring our honest questions, we will not make progress. We will continue to divide.
Isaac Adams: And the biblical word would be devour one another. Right? And how much of that do we see, every time we open Twitter or every time this conversation really gets going? It’s a question that pains me, but it’s a good question none the less. I say it pains me and I’ll come back to pain in a second, only because it means the person asking isn’t seeing certain things that someone else is seeing. And if it can be summarized, I think a right and biblical word, it is injustice that people are experiencing. That certainly is compounded by historical realities and historical facts. I know you’ll get into that more with Lig.
Isaac Adams: But that still exists and echo, and the effects of those tremors in history, if you will, quake until today. Right? And we can talk about a number of things, but just generally, as people undergo that there is a natural pain and anguish that leads to what is a righteous indignation? Yeah. I would say anger over certain instances. And Mike and Jim, I’ll just say that’s because we’re made in God’s image. So it’s not to say there isn’t unrighteous anger. It’s not to say that people don’t get upset about the wrong things, or something like that. But it is to say, God, gets angry about injustice, right?
Isaac Adams: I like what David Powlison said, “God is the angriest person in the universe.” Right? And rightfully so. And he does not… I was reading this and even in the Trinity the other day, there’s a wonderful section on God’s anger. And this person who was wrestling with God’s anger… And I promise my answers, won’t be this long, but here we go. This person wrestling with God’s anger. And they were talking about the ethnic oppression that they had witnessed.
Isaac Adams: They had come from the former Soviet block, and the oppression his people group had experienced. And he said, “I could not imagine God not being angry about this, who would want to serve a God like that?” So it just means simply that I think people are responding to injustice that they perceive. You can have a question about how it’s perceived, but that’s what’s happening. And some people, many people who had asked that question, simply do not perceive that injustice, don’t see it. So that would be, I think, a short summary answer.
Jim Davis: That’s good. And I think that’s a right statement, that for various reasons, there are people who do not see. And I would put myself in that category. And no one was doing any intentional harm, but there are a number of factors, and things going on in our society that friends like Mike Aitcheson would come in my life and helped me walk through and see things that I didn’t naturally see.
Jim Davis: So I know for me, the things that were really helpful and eye opening, but what do you think are these individual factors that somebody like me, who didn’t see at one time, that you would want me to see these things?
Isaac Adams: That’s a good question because the list could… I mean, I often refer to racism as the Velcro sin, meaning a lots of things stick to it. So education, incarceration, food distribution, we could just go on about the different kind of vectors and in life that racism has touched, right? It’s permeated the society and different things. This is why you hear about whatever it might be, women’s healthcare and racist origins there. And how black women were cruelly treated in the kind of founding of gynecology. We have an article about that at United We Pray.
Isaac Adams: But anyway, that’s what I’m saying. It seems like you can’t go somewhere without seeing the stench of racism because this sin was, and certainly so deeply rooted within our society. And it touched upon everything. Everything from bank loans, housing mortgages, and the rest. I can double- click on, on some of those. But what I want to get at, Jim, is that I think a lot of people, they think it’s just this kind of individual thing. Like, Oh, they’re just upset about this one thing, or this, that, or the other.
Isaac Adams: And so for instance, right now there’s the whole critical race theory debate, which we’re not hopping into here. But people just think, “Oh, it’s this abstract issue of theology and just a difference in theology.” And what I pray people understand is no, there is deep pain and distrust here. And it doesn’t matter that, I know you, or you know me.
Isaac Adams: Where we come from is compounded by that history and affects our relationship that leads to a kind of broken trust. So I mean, I can pick any number one of those things. But it means frankly, that operating within, I think, the experience of many minorities in predominantly white spaces is really tough because they simply do not feel safe to be themselves, or fully themselves. Unless they endure constant scrutiny.
Isaac Adams: I’m talking about smaller things here of necessarily treating blacks theological institutions as suspect, and doubting the integrity of them, necessarily being racially profiled, even within the church. Having to convince white brothers and sisters of an issue before they care about it. I mean, that’s one of the hardest things is just the callousness you meet is really difficult. Feeling like you’re a spokesperson for your entire race, feeling like you have to be everyone’s one black friend, the comforter and counselor.
Isaac Adams: Those are kind of just some of the feelings. But it’s deeper than just like, “Oh, this is hard.” I think it gets to fundamentally, I mean, we look at… And this is where segregation would touch upon the present. But I think one of the reasons we don’t see this is because by definition we have set up society, so we don’t see it, or so certain aspects of different communities don’t have to deal with certain aspects of other communities, right?
Isaac Adams: That was the goal of segregation; keep them over there and us over here. And by and large, we still live in a defacto, at least, segregated society. I know some people would argue further than that. And it means that we have communities, more or less, that are broken and bleeding on the side of the road. And we have people walking around those communities, like the Levite priest did, the bloody person on the side of the road, but the Samaritan came and ministered too, right? And we can talk about how that is a racialized story in many ways. That’s why Jesus told it the way he told it, I think. The brokenness there within those communities that is really hard to see. And then on top of it, people blame that brokenness strictly on the individuals in that community. I want to be clear, I’m not denying individual agency, but I’ll sum it up like this.
Isaac Adams: People say, “Oh, they act like,” Chicago is a popular example, “Oh, folks in Chicago act like animals.” And I’m not even endorsing a statement like that to refer to image bearers as beasts. But this is where we’re at. I just want to say, I think it’s easy to see the animal behavior, but maybe they act like animals because they’ve been put in a cage. And I think it’s really easy to see the animal behavior and really easy to kind of critique it and move on, really hard to see the cage. And that’s what we want to be helping people see.
Michael Aitcheson: Isaac, I appreciate everything.
Isaac Adams: … to be helping people see.
Michael Aitcheson: Isaac, I appreciate everything you just said. It’s moving, it’s thought provoking and it really brings to light some of the concerns that black people have that are quite honestly hurtful. It sounds like you’re describing this situation where black people, if I may, are within plain sight, but they’re still not seen.
Isaac Adams: That’s right. This is, I mean Invisible Man. Paul Laurence Dunbar writing, We Wear the Mask. I mean, just go sign that poem, We Wear the Mask. Look at the year it’s written and then realize that same conversation is still being had.
Jim Davis: I do want to double click on some of these things and you’ve referenced cage and you’ve referenced some of the banking stuff, housing stuff, putting black people in a certain part of the community. Obviously, if we want to take the cage thing way back, we can. We’re not going to… I mean, again, we’re going to cover that in a future episode, but let’s talk about the more recent redlining things that I think you’re getting at in those statements, but I’m not 100% sure. I know there are people who don’t even really know what it is that we’re kind of just putting our toes into here. So for someone who’s new to the conversation, help us understand what you mean by these things.
Isaac Adams: Yeah. So, I mean, let’s take redlining for example. There were certain communities where folks were that were kind of marked off with red lines of which blacks were relegated to, or were not allowed to purchase properties in and things like that. I mean, housing is the basic wealth building block in our society for better or for worse. And that meant that the kind of foundational institution to build wealth was denied people. And this is not by like flaming racist, KKK people, this is by the government.
Isaac Adams: Just double clicking on this example. This is what I mean, this is, and just so we can keep talking biblically here, we have a category for this. We have yet to define a term… I’ll just use the working definition for racism I use is ethnic partiality. James 2, my brother show no partiality. Ethnicity is a category we see in Scripture where Jesus says in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” All people groups. So we have a category for people groups. We can debate on the merits of race and understand the modern concept of race and all that but in the book of Esther, we see ethnic partiality systemically put about.
Isaac Adams: We see Haman codify his ethnic partiality against the Jews into the law. And yes, there is more than that going on in the book of Esther, but there’s not less than that going on. And that’s what we see with redlining for example. When people are saying, “Oh, I don’t see that nowadays.” Well, people will even debate that. That has an effect that echoes out to the present day.
Isaac Adams: So for example, we have a brother in our church who was alive and well and he went to a segregated school. So let’s just switch over to education. And they got all crappy and nasty textbooks from the white school. And in those textbooks were written horrible things to those students. From the white students to the black student, just horrible messages in their textbooks. A white sister who is this brother’s age just said… When you hear that, there’s something different that happens of…
Isaac Adams: We’re not talking about 1865, we’re talking about people’s lifetimes. I’m not even talking about the racism I’ve experienced present day, but people’s lifetimes. And I have examples of that. So anyway, so what I hope people see is that, Michael Emerson has a good phrase in Divided by Faith where he says, “Invisible enemies are hard to see,” and I don’t mean coronavirus in the way that phrase is being used, but the effects of them are still happening. And we have to do the hard work to go see them and how they’re bearing upon fellow image bearers. So that’d be one example.
Jim Davis: No, that’s really good. You talked about redlining and the accumulated wealth that’s acquired. My grandparents were allowed to take a loan on a house that would appreciate say 10 times more than Mike’s great-grandparents. That has an accumulated effect.
Isaac Adams: Let me just hop in with one resource real quick. A really good book on this American Apartheid. So folks, the conversation will be, I think, helped by a deep study like that. It’s a beefy read. The man is a good, because it’s not, yes, it’s accumulated wealth, but the terror black people experienced in white neighborhoods, just the sheer… Yeah, that’s a book you want to pick up and read.
Jim Davis: So, as time goes on, I guess I’m going chronologically here. You hear people talk about the over-policing and we’re going to get more to our present day police situation. But how does that turn this idea of over-policing contribute to our current situation?
Isaac Adams: Yeah, I mean, that’s a conversation being had right now about the amount of policing certain communities experience. This is nothing new that with poverty comes crime and these broken neighborhoods. So, you saw this with crack and you saw it with cocaine. You have effectively the same drug, but one is being policed in such a way that the other is not. And one is primarily a property of one type of community and one is primarily a property of the other. And we have to ask ourselves the question is that then just? Is that right?
Jim Davis: One’s being policed one way and one the other way. Can you flesh that out a little bit? Somebody might say, “How is that specifically?”
Isaac Adams: Yeah. Okay. Sorry, to be very clear. Black people were getting arrested for crack, which is a cruddier version of cocaine that rich white people were enjoying and using. And so we want to ask ourselves the question is that just and what is motivating the differences in those sentences? Whether it be red… I mean, so your house is not stable, you’re being over policed, whatever it is compound to make a really, really hard life and then you are then blamed for.
Jim Davis: Is it a fair statement to say things have been building, but it feels like something has just spilled over? What’s happening now that is making this conversation as national as it is in the way that it is?
Isaac Adams: Yeah. That’s a good question. For people coming into this conversation, it’s just, you have to be able to do some deep thinking with some nuance. Now Christians should be used to this. We believe in a one God who is three persons. That’s some nuance required. I believe in election and individual agency, there’s some nuance required. So I can keep going. But all that to say, we should be able to do this.
Isaac Adams: There are several factors here. One we’re seeing, one person said, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting recorded.” We’re seeing the prevalence of social media. We’re seeing there is just immediate access for better and for worse where these things that were happening are now being able to be seen. John Lewis just passed and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, part of the strategy there was the nation saw what was happening and just said, “How can we stand by with this?”
Isaac Adams: For a lot of black people, they’re not surprised that this is happening right now. And if there’s any surprise, it’s like, “I’m surprised that you’re surprised, that this is happening and going on.” But here we are, these videos, which are almost a genre unto themselves right now of police injustices and shootings and things like it.
Isaac Adams: I would sum it up like 2012, Trayvon Martin, 2014, Mike Brown, 2020, George Floyd. All election years. I’m not saying there’s any connection there, but I’m saying in those, you have a whole slew of image bearers. Walter Scott, Eric Gardner, Philando Castiel, Breonna Taylor, all of these going on. And so I think what is happening now are people’s consciences are being provoked. And I want to be clear. There is progress happening. My marriage right now, I’m in an interracial marriage. My marriage could have gotten me arrested if not lynched 50 years ago. Praise God that that has changed, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Isaac Adams: Anyway so I think with George Floyd, there’s just yet another, there is a problem in this country. There’s still this issue and it is compounded by the past that still rears its head. These are not just isolated incidents. And some people would argue heartily that they are. And so in that sense, I think the prevalence of social media people’s conscience is being provoked and you see this happening, but we have to be careful because even with George Floyd, now that the press is starting to roll on, the question is, will we still care and do something now? Today? Who will you post your black square on Instagram like, what are we doing?
Michael Aitcheson: You touched on where I was going to ask you to go next, but can you make a succinct statement or expand if you will, on the symbology of Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. You alluded to people saying this is an isolated incident, but could you give us a statement of its symbolism within its historical context or the historical context of the struggle for black Americans?
Isaac Adams: Yeah. To put it in a sentence is black Americans feel that white America has had its knee on their neck, that means they’ve been the ones in authority primarily, and have misused that authority in lethal away, in ways that are ultimately lethal against blacks. Not all the time, not all white people, we can make all the caveats of course. Nuance. I think an even more succinct answer is, you put up the picture of Chauvin and you put up the picture of Kaepernick. You saw the reactions to them both. And that’s not saying I endorse everything Colin Kaepernick says, but my goodness, I mean, I think that was a good question. Which knee are you more upset about? And so that’s, to bring it to Jim’s point, bringing it more to the modern conversation.
Isaac Adams: And this is, I’ll just say that one thing I continue to be disturbed by is, with Kaepernick, for example, for example, people want to make the form, or let me be more specific for Jim, because he’ll tell me to in a second. White brothers and sisters, generally speaking, too many I’ll say want to make the form of the protest the issue rather than its content. And it is a move we’ve seen from the days of Dr. King and so on. So how you’re doing it. During the national Anthem, that becomes the debate and it becomes a distraction from the central issue that is being raised. And we see the same thing, black lives matter, “Oh, they’re…” And this is why King said the church has too long been the tail light on this issue and not the headlight. And it’s because I think of a proclivity to make the form of the protest the issue. And that’s not to say we can’t talk about those things rather than the content. And I think we would do well and many white brothers and sisters would do well to ask themselves, “Why is my instinct to simply criticize rather do the harder work of asking myself, ‘What am I doing about racism on my front step?'” Or let me put it a little more specifically. I said this in a tweet recently. The easier thing to do is critique black lives matter. It’s not to say there’s nothing to critique. We’re all pastors on here. We can all do that. It’s not to say it’s not hard to critique Black Lives Matter in certain contexts, but intra the church, it’s the easier thing to do is critique black lives matter. The much thing to do is look in the mirror and ask why Christians aren’t leading out against racial injustice in our society. And I think it’s because we have ceded, at least in terms of evangelicalism, we have ceded much of this to the world that’s why our people are getting discipled by the world. And that’s why the world is leading. And again, we remain the tail light and we should be the headline.
Jim Davis: Well, I think that’s a good distinction. Actually, in future episode, we’re going to have Trevin Wax spend a lot of time on Black Lives Matter and how the church should nuance that and approaching that and processing it. But I appreciate the way that Mike, you said how people see the symbology of George Floyd, because it’s very easy for people let’s say, we’re down here in the corner of the country in Florida to say, just like us, “We’re very far off. Why should that matter to black people here?” Mike, you look at the numbers of police officers who actually kill black people, and 9 or 10 people, and you hear these facts and people begin to say, “Well, why does that matter to you, Mike Aitcheson. Why does that matter?” And you’re right, it’s a symbology thing, but what would you say to people-
Jim Davis: … and you’re right. It’s a symbology thing. But what would you say to people … and these are good people. I’m not saying they’re bad people, but they’re trying to understand how that issue over there affects people of color here.
Isaac Adams: While I wasn’t in Minneapolis where this happened with George Floyd, it reminds and triggers experiences like that. That have seemingly existed for so long and in so many different places that I do face, and that black moms do have those fears for their own sons. And black fathers do have those fears for their own sons. So yeah, it’s just not this disconnected thing of isolation like, “Oh, why is that up there? That’s up there. Why is that bothering you?”
Michael Aitcheson: Yeah, well said. In the first place we should care because we’re Christians. Another image bearer being damaged in such fashion. Quite honestly, no matter what the skin color is, should give us concern. But then within the black community, there is a greater degree of elective sensibility or corporate sensibility vis-a-vis our white brothers and sisters, who tend to be a little bit more individualistically focused.
Michael Aitcheson: But then there are also numbers beneath. So the subtext, you say, “Well, there are more white men who were killed by the cops.” Right? But then, if you look down just a little bit further, you might discover that, well there’s more unarmed black men who are killed by the cops. Then you keep on digging a little bit further and you find that the rate at which black men are being killed by the cops is greater than that of the rate at which white men are being killed by the cops.
Michael Aitcheson: It’s not just enough to just look at the numbers, prima facia. We have to dig deeper to discover that there’s some very significant disparities that are taking place that, quite honestly, have been concerns for black people for hundreds of years. I mean, I think about this. My grandfather is 96 years old. He’s still alive and he can tell you stories like it was yesterday. You think about the trauma that exists for those of our ancestors who’ve had to have this conversation with us. It’s in some sense, just as real for them now, as it was back then. And I agree with you, of course, tremendous progress has been made, but not withstanding, there are still issues that should give us serious concern about the loss of black and brown life.
Isaac Adams: Amen.
Jim Davis: Well, and what Mike … You’re giving us the information and the data. If you’re willing to share, you’ve referenced some of your own personal experiences and the things that are stirred up in Isaac Adam’s soul, when you see some of this on television. Is that something you’d be willing to share a little bit with us about?
Isaac Adams: Yeah. Yeah. So let me … I’ll speak from a couple experiences in my own life. Number one, I try to run regularly. I run because I like to eat. I don’t … you know, so. Some people eat so they can work out. I work out so I can eat. I have yet, really, to go for a run without thinking of Ahmaud Arbery. And we’ve not even mentioned his name yet on this thing. This is what I’m saying. I mean, given the prevalence. And compounding that though, is not just thinking about Ahmaud in my own neighborhood.
Isaac Adams: The year is 2016, I’m walking to church with my wife. I mean, I live in Washington DC, in a really nice part of the city. A guy in his mid-thirties, couldn’t have been much older, walks past us, this is 5:00 PM. Starts singing, “Too many niggers, too many niggers, too many niggers.”
Isaac Adams: I turned around, shocked. And then he says, “Rape is the number one problem in DC and you’re surprised nigger?” Now, I think that’s an uncommon experience, but it’s an experience nonetheless. I still get afraid that guy is going to run me down someday in DC when I run. So when we’re talking about the kind of knee on the neck. The symbolism Mike raised. It’s there and it’s a category. So it is stirred up. It’s there. Then I think man, besides that, I don’t think … I like Mike’s point. And Jim, I think you’re going to kind of like caring about these matters, is just like these are image bearers.
Isaac Adams: Regardless of if no one’s ever had that happen to them. These are image bearers, but we can talk about that. But that’s one example I’d offer to you.
Jim Davis: Man, I appreciate you saying that. And you’re right, really, we want to do two things here. We want to talk about the factors that contribute. The things like the police shootings and racial profiling, over-policing of black communities. Even racism in different forms of public life. Mass incarceration, sentencing disparities, crack epidemics. There are all of these things and each of them in and of themselves could be an entire episode, maybe an entire season. We’re not wanting to dive in that … we just don’t have time to dive in that deep in one episode.
Jim Davis: But what we want to do is illustrate the contributing factors and then help shepherd people into a biblical understanding of why is it that I should care? You know? It’d be really easy for me to look at all these things, because they are so complex in their nature. They’re so confusing. They’re sad. Just to feel overwhelmed and say, “I want out. I don’t want to be a part of this confusing conversation.” What would you say if that were my response to you?
Isaac Adams: I would say, while I understand, love is not easy and let’s praise God that Jesus, didn’t say, when things got overwhelming, I want out. Right? I mean, there’s a notion that loving people should just feel fun and easy as a worldly notion. When we look at reconciliation, when we look at the cross, it was anything but easy. Of course, again, it’s a unique work, all of that. But it is. Jesus is our standard. I remember talking to a white brother once he said, “I just don’t want to believe America could be like this.” I actually appreciated the honesty there. That is you want to hold to a certain idea of this nation that I don’t think is true. That many people don’t even have the privilege to hold to. We’re not dealing with just people who can just be rationally convinced if you use the right words and present the right set of data. I appreciate the data, but I’ve been in this conversation long enough to know that everyone has their predetermined set of stats and data that allows them to remain within their predetermined camp.
Isaac Adams: They just spin. I mean, that’s the thing about data. It matters how you interpret it, right? So that people without their stats. And I’m like, well, someone who says that, I’m just like, “Hey, God is going to … So you need something more. God is going to have to help you.” Because the standard for Jesus was pretty simple. Image bearer suffering on the side of the road, are you going to help him? I get how complicated it can be, but let’s just … this is why … I mean, scripture is sufficient. Right? We do believe that. That, hey, let’s get back to the basic premise of humility, of compassion, of kindness.
Isaac Adams: Kindness is radical nowadays. It’s just give me someone who is kind and humble. Right? 1 Peter 3:8. All of you have unity of mind, brotherly love, a humble mind, a tender heart. I would just exhort someone to see, it’s not about you and how you feel overwhelmed. It’s about your brother. It’s about your sister. Even in Adam, right? I get that you feel overwhelmed, but this is what I’m talking about. We don’t want to distract from the fundamental issue. It is just fundamentally not about you. And as Christians, our sin makes us self-centered instead of neighbor-centered. We want to be neighbor-centered. God-centered and neighbor-centered. You know, first commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength of mind. The second is like it. Love people. Love your neighbor. Why is like the first commandment? Because your neighbor is made in God’s image.
Michael Aitcheson: Very helpful. So as a matter of clarification here, or maybe an expansion. This question is a follow-up to Jim about the manner in which people at a certain place on the continuum can engage in being a part of redemptive solution. So you think on on this continuum, you have folks who are honestly just innocently ignorant. Then you have folks who, they know, but they are … Well, let me go all the way to the extreme. Then you have folks who are just woefully ignorant, and they need to repent. They’re evil. They’ve doubled down in their sinful ways.
Michael Aitcheson:But then there’s this middle ground that says, “Hey.” And these are questions I get all the time. And I would find it very valuable for you to help me think through this as well. ” Hey, I see that something is wrong. I know that something is wrong. I believe that it is wrong, but I’m afraid of saying something that might cause more problems. How do I get into, how do I engage and find the redemptive solutions? How do I engage this discussion or this matter without causing more problems.”
Isaac Adams: Yeah, that’s a good question, man. If I had five bucks for every time I was asked that, I would’ve retired nice and early. A few thoughts on that. One, I want to encourage the person asking that question, because it’s a good question. I think it shows the sign of a conscience that’s alive and well. You hear about the horror, the damage. You want to do something. And yet, there’s the young husband whose wife comes home upset and he wants to just fix it all. And she’s like, “I don’t need you to fix it. I don’t need a fix. I need a hug.”
Isaac Adams: There’s the basic postures that I do think are important. So again, Michael Emerson said this, “One simple thing white people can do is when black people talk about their experience, believe them.” Don’t put them on trial, believe them. So there’s that. So belief, caring. And you talked about that. But beyond that, I want to encourage people because I think people are so just under discipled on this, I want to encourage people to do more research.
Isaac Adams: It can’t just be, I read this one book and I’m going to go trailblaze. You guys did something really useful. You posted an example about Orlando. Some article I saw on your website or something like that. That’s really useful because it takes it to, okay, now we have a local expression and I can go to those groves or whatever was happening there, that injustice you guys were kind of fleshing out. I can go see, I can go touch, I can go smell, I can go learn. What can we do to help make what went wrong in the past better today?
Isaac Adams: Those are questions that come from learning, from reading, from digging. So I want to encourage people to … I mean, I just said, this is not like a … this conversation is a part of our discipleship. Meaning there’s no off-ramp, unless one, we die. Or two, Jesus comes back. It’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to get on the highway for a little bit and then get off at this exit.” You’re getting on, so you just continually need to be reading, listening to brothers and sisters. There’s just kind of personal stuff you can do.
Isaac Adams: I mean, I’m just still shocked by the amount of people who have not had a meal in the home of someone of a different ethnicity, or had a different ethnicity over. So there’s that. So those are kind of personal things, but I think another thing we want to be careful of about that question that you’re asking about, what can I do? The reason we want to be reading, reading, reading is because we need to understand what has been done here that shapes the present context.
Isaac Adams: And then we also want to look at, okay, before I say, what can I do? Which is a very personal kind of individual question, and we’ve been talking about the kind of individualistic outlook on life. Why don’t I look to say, “Who’s already doing something?” How can I get behind that ministry? How can I get … and this is a whole other episode on the kind of the just preach the gospel, right? We would say, “In light of this just preach the gospel.”
Isaac Adams: And let me be clear … and all these caveats I have to make, I mean, I understand clarity is important, but it just kind of illustrates the problem. I can’t just say this, but here we are. I love the gospel. Only the gospel can make us-
Isaac Adams: Here we are. I love the gospel. Only the gospel can make us brothers forever, so I’m there for that. Got it. I’m going to preach the gospel loudly on Sunday, call people to repentance and faith, only that brings hard transformation. But what I would say is, a lot of people who say, “Just preach the gospel,” have yet to even do that. Low-income community, have yet to pray for those community. Now I’m not saying all people do that, but when I asked, I was talking to my brother and he was kind of saying this. And I was like, “Okay, so are you going to go plant a church in low-income neighborhoods? That’s what you believe the solution is, why don’t you go do that?” And then I asked him like, “Hey man, just tell me about your prayer life for that neighborhood.” And it was just kind of a blank stare, because I think sometimes we use that… Frankly, what we’re using that kind of retort for is to deflect.
Isaac Adams: And this is what I’m talking about, Mike, Jim, that’s what I was talking about earlier. It was just like, you’re deflecting that when you shift and make, how something is said, rather than what’s being said, the issue, you’re deflecting. Now, I think brothers and sisters sincerely believe that I’m only happy for that, but man, I want to see some people get behind some work that’s already going on, because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel that way. So those are some things that I say to folks, who ask me that question. But notice, a lot of those things were really small things and it’s really hard to be faithful in the small things. And that’s why we started United We Pray, because if you’re not even praying about this, and it’s really hard, we know as pastors, it’s really hard to keep praying for the same thing over and over.
Matt Kenyon: But that’s the work that’s before us, I think.
Jim Davis: Well, that’s the next question I want to ask you, but before I do, I just want to say there are so many great resources out there, I agree, totally. Reading, reading, reading, getting involved with other initiatives, but there’s just nothing, I don’t think in my own life and journey, that has been more beneficial than my black brothers and sisters in my life. Just my own friends, I can hear their own experiences. I mean, my family’s, since Mike’s here, my family is eating at your house tonight, we vacation together. I mean, those are the kind of real relationships that have blessed me more than the best books. And I’m really, really thankful for that. You included being here, joining us today. Well, tell us, you’ve started your podcast, United We pray, I would love to hear a little bit about what has caused you to want to start that and what you hope that it accomplishes.
Isaac Adams: United We Pray, I started United We Pray, so I went back to those three killings, Trayvon, Mike Brown, George Floyd. Well, around the time of Mike Brown, when I think there was a kind of national uproar about this and uproar in a lot of people’s minds, hearts and souls, I read a prayer by or I read a sermon by Francis Grimke, pastor up here in DC. Yo, like this’ a Presbyterian, so there we go. Something good can come out of the Presbytery. Just playing, that’s my baptist love for you, brother. And he had a-
Matt Kenyon: We are more efficient with our water.
Isaac Adams: Yes, though you throw it on everybody. But anyway, so it’s 1898, Francis Grimke is preaching this sermon called, God and prayer as factors in the struggle. And you know, Grimke is preaching in DC at the time. And I think I was undone by the sermon, because I was so convicted by my prayer-less ness in this conversation. And judging by Twitter, I don’t know people’s hearts and don’t know people’s prayer closets, but my guess is, a lot of people were struggling with prayer. So I tried to put a flag in the ground to say, “Hey, you might be far left or far right, or in the middle, but if you’re a Christian, one thing we all agree on, is that we should pray.” If we don’t even agree on that, then what do we even have hope to accomplish together?
Isaac Adams: And so I just tried to put the flag on the ground to say like, “Hey, let’s have conversations like this and then let’s take them to the Lord in prayer.” And since then, we’ve been trying to help people think better and more biblically about race and racism and inform their prayers, right? Praise God, He knows what we need. The spirit helps us in our weakness when we don’t know how to pray. And yet, Jim, you pray for Mike in a way that I can’t because you are more informed about Mike’s life. And so we’re trying to inform people and help them think in ways that are biblical. Because again, I think the world right now appears to have a good conviction about racism, but the world is going to use the same faulty tools about racism that they’re going to use about homosexuality, or abortion, or whatever it may be. The foundation there is cracked.
Isaac Adams: So we want to be biblical. We want to be beneficial. I think some people are just tearing people down in the name of justice, right? I mean, some of my brothers, this was a minute late, but like let’s not scorn them out of the building, right? We want them here, right? So we want to be beneficial. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to tear some things down, but the ultimate aim of… I mean, this is what’s happening. Some people are deconstructing, but the ultimate aim of Christianity is edification. So we want to be beneficial. We want to be clear, II Corinthians 1, Paul writes, “I’ve not written anything to you, except what you can understand.” So we want to be clear and then we want to be hopeful. And which is to say, man, we want to speak in such a way as if a tomb is empty, because it is.
Isaac Adams: And Jesus really is alive. And that means really one day, racism really will be dead. And until then we got a lot of work to do. So that’s what we’re trying to do at United We Pray, in our articles and we’re doing a lot of stuff right now. We’re fundraising right now. So all your rich listeners can call me and I would love that. And yeah, man, the Lord has been kind. We’ve got a great team and establishing this ministry. So you can check out uwepray.com. That’s the letter U-W-E-P-R-A-Y. com. And you can see what we’re trying to do.
Jim Davis: We will get it out there. I can’t thank you enough for your time. I want to end, you mentioned hope and you talk about our eschatological hope, and that there’s a lot of work to do now. We’re supposed to believe the best in each other as Christians, let’s finish by, what do you hope for in the near future? Give us a vision of what the church can really do in this season and what you are hopeful and excited that the church could do in the midst of just so much trash talking and bomb throwing between different groups of people.
Isaac Adams: Yeah. My hope is that that the church would present to the world, another world. And say, “Hey, out there, you’re racially beat upon, demeaned, mocked, scorned, not believed, not loved, but in here there’s a different world.” And the sad fact is, gentlemen, the one place that should be the most comfort to people for their racial pain, their church, is the one place they’ve actually incurred the most pain. That’s the tragedy, right? But my hope and prayer, John Perkins asked this is, “I think it’d be a good thing for us to ask ourselves, what can we do on this matter to make the world say, wow, look at how they love one another.” John 13:35, “By this, all people will know you’re my disciples if you have love for one another.” And we’re over here squabbling on Facebook. My hope and prayer is that churches can answer that question. Wow, look at the way they love, what can we do to get that response?
Isaac Adams: And I want to be clear. I think this is happening in some unsung stories, right? But may God make it happen all the more where it has to be the story, where people can only look at us and only have beef with our good works, that they may glorify Him when He comes. And right now, I think there’s a lot of evidence to show that the church on this matter is an anti-witness and not a positive witness, and that needs to change. So I think that looks like a lot of things, but I think one conversation is, why are multi-ethnic churches primarily, and I mean, very much primarily, blacks only, black minorities going to white churches? Like until that direction changes, and we can have a whole conversation about that, but yeah, man.
Isaac Adams: I mean, I want to see, I think a lot of people mean and understand themselves to be compassionate, but like Mike was saying, they’re afraid to speak out. And my exertion to them is, fear the Lord, not man, right? God is the one you’re going to answer to. And it’s just really hard when the people who are supposedly compassionate, I think they’re trying, they don’t have a positive goal, they just want to be racist. When I think the goal is positively to love their brothers and sisters. And that means saying something, and speaking out, because I think some people assume like, “Oh, you know I’m against that.” It’s like, “No, I don’t.”
Isaac Adams: That would be a hope of mine, a prayer of mine, but man, I want us to rise up to that question and say, “What can we do to make the world say, wow, look at how they love one another?” But we’re not going to do that in so far as we say, well, if you guys would just value the family more, there wouldn’t really be an issue.
Jim Davis: Man, you’ve given us a compelling reason of why we should care. I really am thankful for you. Thankful even as I follow you at a distance, for what God is doing through you, thankful for your time, man. We are praying for you, for your church, for your podcast, for your writings, everything, we really appreciate you. And thank you for joining us today.
Isaac Adams: Thank you for having me. Really appreciate y’all man. Keep doing this work. I mean, we need honest conversations and if we can’t have them, it’s going to be really hard to love one another, much less our neighbor and make change for the better.