In this episode of As In Heaven, hosts Jim Davis and Mike Aitcheson welcome Jerome Gay to discuss and define dominant and subdominant cultural dynamics—and break down how members of each group can interact in an understanding way that promotes deeper love for each other and for God. Jerome Gay helps us see and avoid common mistakes and pitfalls such as power dynamics, preferences, and self-hatred. The group addresses:
- An introduction to Jerome Gay (1:07)
- Defining dominant and subdominant culture (2:18)
- Differences between dominant and subdominant cultures (4:14)
- Individualism vs. collectivism (7:06)
- Societal influence (10:15)
- Culture and the regulative principle (13:09)
- Cultural impact on exegesis (17:18)
- High-profile cultural moments (19:06)
- Subdominant cultures in dominant-culture churches (25:28)
- Common misunderstandings of churches in the dominant culture (28:15)
- “We want your color but not your culture” (30:37)
- What members of the dominant culture should know about subdominant culture (32:19)
- Why that question matters to gospel advancement (35:24)
- Internal dynamics between subdominant cultural groups (40:48)
- Urban apologetics (52:30)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of race.
1. What does it mean for there to be a dominant and minority culture? How would you identify the dominant culture and minority culture in America? Your church?
2. What are some values that might be different between a dominant and minority culture?
3. Jerome Gay points to the values of individualism and collectivism. How do these values shape the church, and how does this differ between cultures?
4. What does it look like for a dominant culture to become domineering? What are ways that can happen subtly or unintentionally? How does this affect the church?
5. How does a church seek to make space for both dominant and minority cultures in its ministry and worship?
Books referenced in this episode:
- The Whitewashing of Christianity: A Hidden Past, A Hurtful Present, and A Hopeful Future by Jerome Gay
- Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
- Rediscipling the White Church by David W. Swanson
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Jerome Gay: We still see this playing out today when we see the racial divide within the church. We label black and brown churches more style than substance simply because of the emotional expressions without even listening to the potency of the message that’s actually being communicated.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As In Heaven, a Christian conversation on race and justice. In this episode, we’re speaking with Jerome Gay on dominant and subdominant cultural dynamics.
Now if you’re not familiar with those terms, don’t worry, Jerome defines them very thoroughly and then breaks down how members of the dominant and subdominant culture groups can interact in an understanding way that promotes deeper love for each other and for God.
Jim Davis is your host. Mike Aitcheson is the co-host on this episode. Mike Graham is the Executive Producer of the show. My name is Matt Kenyon. I’m the Technical Producer. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of As In Heaven with Jerome Gay.
Jim Davis: Well, welcome to As In Heaven, season two. We are here today. I’m Jim Davis, joined by my co-host Mike Aitcheson over there. And we have the privilege of talking today with Jerome Gay out of Raleigh, North Carolina. He is the lead pastor of Vision Church in Raleigh. It’s a gospel centered, social conscious, missionally minded, disciple making church.
You may have heard him speak. You may have read some of his writings. He wrote Renewal, Grace and Redemption in the Story of Ruth. And he just come out with his new book, The Whitewashing of Christianity. Jerome, we are really thankful to have you hear today.
Jerome Gay: Thank you for this opportunity. Really excited to be on the show. Excited to tackle some of these topics so thank you for having me.
Mike Aitcheson: Well, Jerome, again, let me tag on and say thank you for coming on the show. We pick folks who are subject experts in their field. But we also bring folks on who are very pastoral and so we are grateful to have you on because you obviously have a firm grasp of this subject matter, but you come at it from a pastoral perspective so we’re glad to have you on here to help us out with this discussion today.
So this afternoon, we hope to unpack the realities and the nuances of dominant culture and subdominant cultures in America and how they relate to each other and how it affects our current cultural moment. So let me just begin by defining two terms that will guide our conversation today.
And those terms are dominant culture and subdominant culture. And I’ll present our working definitions. But please feel free to push back as we think through this.
So we define dominant culture as the majority culture in a particular society whose beliefs, customs, attitudes, values, and language are dominant.
And then subdominant culture is a minority culture in a particular society whose beliefs, customs, attitudes, values and language are subordinate to the dominant culture.
Jerome Gay: Yeah, I think that’s great. I think as we unpack a little bit more, I would only add that a lot of times when we talk about race, ethnicity, dominant culture can turn into being domineering.
I do think there’s a difference. It doesn’t automatically … We can’t automatically assume that. But the dominant culture … Typically when we talk about issues of race and then a subculture being marginalized, it’s when the dominant culture becomes domineering and imperialistic as it relates to their culture and how it compares or is better than others.
And as it relates to sub, subdominant culture, sub is usually typically numerical, meaning that the number of people represented by a particular race or ethnicity or some type of group, they can be marginalized, again, depending on how they’re treated by the dominant culture.
So I definitely like both of those definitions. That’s a little nuance that I would add to it.
Jim Davis: No, that’s good. Well, let’s continue that then. Let’s talk about the differences between the dominant and subdominant cultures in America. Can you unpack some observations and cultural differences between dominant and subdominant cultures?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, so I think a good example … So a couple of years ago, I wrote an article called Reform Theology Versus Reform Culture. And it’s actually a chapter in my book as well. And in that, I bring up Shoki Coe who is an Asian minister who was mentioned in Center Church, Tim Keller’s book.
And one of the things he unpacks is how his culture was encountering marginalization from the missionaries that would come. And the missionaries were high in number and they begin to see their culture, the way they did things. The way they worshiped. The way they … Even in an Christian setting as better than.
And so when we talk about some of these differences, it becomes problematic when the dominant culture begins to say the way we do things is the way to do things. This is the right way to do liturgy. This is the only way to approach this homiletically as it relates to preaching and the communication of the word of God.
And so that’s some of the things I see. Robert Romero also mentions this in Brown Church, when he talks about the Latinx community and how just historically, how Spaniards begin to see their culture as better.
And so much so that some of the, within a Latin community, begin to embrace self hatred and wanted to be … Christ no longer became the example but the dominant culture.
So depending on how it is applied, that’s where we see these differences in culture. One more historical example. Christianity and Culture, just think it’s a book written about 50 years ago. They talked about how missionaries, white missionaries in particular, saw that other cultures needed to be civilized before they could be evangelized.
And we still see this playing out today when we see the racial divide within the church. It’s when we label black and brown churches more style than substance simply because of the emotional expressions, without even actually sometimes listening to the potency of the message that’s actually being communicated.
So these are some of the, just a few, I wanted to give some historical, some book references that highlight some of these differences that we’re still seeing now.
Jim Davis: Yeah, that’s really … That makes me think of the old missionaries when they went out to Hawaii. One of the first things they’d want to do is get them dressing like Europeans. And which actually, long term, did more harm than good by trying to change things about their culture.
Can you speak to the way we view individualism versus like collectivism in dominant and subdominant cultures? Is there a difference in the way a dominant culture would view individualism versus a subdominant culture would view individualism and collectivism?
Jerome Gay: Yeah. Well, again, it comes back to how one is … Their life experience. So for instance, when we talk about the whole individualism versus collectivism, typically … And we even see this in scripture. When the Jews are a marginalized community, then they view things collectively.
God even does that in Joshua, chapter seven, right? All right so Achan’s sins, collectively I’m addressing all of you. So we see this collectivism within scripture.
I would say individualism, in some ways, I’m not painting with a broad stroke, but I think in many ways, it’s somewhat antithetical just to the communal ethic of scripture. Scripture tends to think communally. “Let us create man in our own image.” There’s two views on that verse. Either it’s Trinitarian or there’s this divine council.
However you view it, there’s this group idea. There’s a communal idea of that. And again, we see that in scripture in terms of the Jewish community, the church. There’s this idea of this communal ethic. The Book of Acts is communal.
When God writes to the prophet, most of the time the word, “You”, to use a country term meant you all, right? It meant a group of people, right? It wasn’t individualistic.
So individualism, typically I think the way this plays out of church, in Christian settings, seems to be more secularly conservative than it does to be Christian. And I think that’s where we get to the problem with there’s a conflation of conservatism in Christianity. And people begin to look at their rights.
Well Paul lays down his rights. The Christian ethic isn’t about our individual rights. It’s looking at the group. This is First Corinthians eight. So we see this throughout scripture. So I think that’s where some of the differences come.
It’s easier for a marginalized community to think communally because in many ways you have to when you’re enduring oppression.
Jim Davis: Yeah, we talked with Trevin Wax. And he was talking about how the normative Christian experience is on the margins. And so what we’ve experienced as a white Christian America has been abnormal to the Christian experience.
Having really the influence in society. And he makes the case that we, as the white church, as the power is taking from us. Because if you’re going to hold a Christian view on sexual ethics and other things, marriage, you’re going to be pushed more on the margins.
And that the black church is really a place that we can and should look to historically over the past couple hundred years as what it looks like to live on the margins and you just naturally need each other so much more when you’re on the margins.
You need each other. And so, and I appreciate that. How do some of these differences play themselves out at a societal level, more broadly speaking?
Jerome Gay: Yeah. I think one, another culture can be seen as right as opposed to cultural. So when you make your cultural norms or rhythms or ethos right, then by contraindication, you demonize the other culture.
I think this is really how when you study the story of how we get things like regulative principle. When you actually dig into stuff like that, you find there’s a lot of cultural influences. You even see this in approaches to scripture.
Like Matthew Henry’s commentary on James. He literally says that, “Well, James isn’t talking about pew purchasing as it relates to favoritism.” That’s exactly what James was talking about. But because that was something happening in Matthew Henry’s tradition, it affected even how what he put actually in his commentary on James, right?
So we see things like this happening because we elevate our culture over one another. Another big thing is just how we process pain. I know we’ll talk about some of the things happening in our society, but the black community often is told how to mourn.
This is how you need to mourn. This is … Stop being emotional, right? As if emotions are bad. It’s almost this idea as if God didn’t create them. When Paul writes, “Be angry, but don’t sin.” Like it’s okay to experience what you’re experiencing. Feel the anger, feel the hurt, but don’t let that lead you to sin.
Then lastly, it plays in how other cultures are labeled because they see injustices and want to do something about it. They’re then labeled as liberal as opposed to being loving by the dominant culture oftentimes.
David Swanson has a book called Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Grace to Solidarity. And in that book, he covers some of that. Now I think some ways, he broad strokes. Again, no book is to be taken wholesale. I don’t think that was his heart. I think the essence of his heart is unity because I read it from cover to cover.
But again, he talks about how … Typically, how this is done in predominantly white churches and how they view other churches. Michael Emerson points this out in Divided by Faith in how surveying tons of predominantly white churches, many of which some of the people interviewed had never met a black person, but was able to diagnose what was wrong with black people.
So you don’t have any relationship, but yet you know what’s wrong. And that’s part of the problem. When you’re in these homogenous settings sometimes, it’s real easy to elevate your culture as better as opposed to just different.
Jim Davis: I’m very interested if … You mentioned the way culture has impacted the regulative principle and the way that we understand that. Could you flesh that out a little bit?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, I mean this idea of music and, or beats or how things have to be done. That was inherently European. I mean in terms of influence. And so what does that do to other cultures who will worship the same God, but worship him differently.
And so when you put things like that in place and try to make it theological. Because that’s the issue is when you try to make something cultural theological in order to demonize those that disagree with you. And that’s what’s happening. That’s why we’re still seeing this whole divide racially, as it relates to justice, how Marxism and critical race theory are thrown around way too loosely.
It’s thrown around just as loosely as the word racism. They say, “Well, you keep saying that you’re diluting it.” Well, we’re diluting Marxism, when it actually isn’t Marxism. Because these things are thrown out. So that’s what I mean by that. It demonize other cultures. If you don’t do it this way, then you’re un-biblical.
Not realizing that you’re premise isn’t biblical. You don’t have a biblical premise that’s hermeneutically faithful to come to that idea.
Mike Aitcheson: Jerome, that’s very helpful. Because in our space, a lot of times, there’s discussion about revivalism versus biblical worship. And I think and I suspect that very often folks confuse cultural expression with what they “view as the negative side of revivalism.” So there’s a lot of suspicion about exuberance and excitement and emotive actions in worship.
And that’s one of the things that has concerned me as well. Where I think in the dominant culture, particularly in our context, people have certain blinders on and they’re very much unaware of how their culture is actually demeaning very helpful expressions of another portion of the body of Christ.
Jerome Gay: Yeah and I think it’s limiting to essentially you can only worship God cosmetively. When we don’t even see that in the bible. Like we literally see them after getting on the other side of the Red Sea, we see, what we call in our community, a praise break.
Mike Aitcheson: Yes.
Jerome Gay: You see a spontaneous … That’s in the bible. Miriam grabs a tambourine, right? You see this in the bible.
Mike Aitcheson: So put your praise on that.
Jerome Gay: But what did they do? They try to … Somehow it’s different. How is it different? Somehow they play what I call … They do hermeneutical gymnastics to get to their own personal, cultural conclusion to, again, to demonize, in many cases, is black and brown communities that may express.
And again, not to say that white people don’t dance or clap. They do. So we’re not going to paint white people with a broad stroke. But again, oftentimes, it’s black and brown people. Their expressions that are not somehow theologically inferior or unfaithful to scriptures. Like “Hey, we see this in the bible. We see all of these expressions.”
In fact, there are more volitional, emotionally expressive expressions to salvation by grace. There’s nothing else to be saved about. I mean to be excited about. Why would you not be excited about salvation by grace through faith?
What’s wrong with being happy about unmerited favor? It’s funny, I see people respond more exuberantly to a sale at Target than they do the gospel. Like when they get in church, somehow emotions got to be turned off. Again, I just don’t see that in scripture.
Mike Aitcheson: Oh, well, as they say, you meddling now. If you can’t say amen, you ought to say ouch. You bring out a good point with how the culture impacts exegesis. I realized this, in part, when I was reading through John, chapter one. “Light has come into the world. Darkness has not overcome it.”
Depending on what commentary you read some … And I know there’s debate, some understand that to mean, “Darkness has not understood it.” Whereas others will actually … See and I appreciate Merrill Tenney, “Darkness has not overcome it.” So they’re … Behind the idea of it is a spiritual battle and that’s, I think, another thing in our particular context where we’re afraid to engage the spiritual forces or the spiritual warfare that’s actually taking place behind a lot of things.
And we try to over rationalize it at times. Have you been seeing that in your interactions?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, yeah, I mean I think … I mean so there’s credence for the phrase when we talk about race and these things, it’s not a skin issue, it’s a sin issue. Agreed. But sin has names, right? We got 10 commandments with specific names of sin.
So murder, lying, stealing, racism. So calling something out by name isn’t antecedent or it shouldn’t eclipse the gospel. So yes, it is a sin issue which would make it spiritual, right?
But in that, again, culture gets in the way of even how we approach this sin issues. Because oftentimes, again, it’s seen through the lens of one culture. And if that person doesn’t acknowledge that they have one, then it’s real easy to dismiss and wrongly mischaracterize and label those that disagree.
Mike Aitcheson: Yeah, so as we think through some more specifics, how does some of these differences play themselves out in our cultural moments as we process and think through some of the more high profile moments like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd?
Jerome Gay: Yes. They can be seen as isolated incidents. But it’s too many names for it to be an isolated incident. And I do agree that facts matter. So don’t hear me saying that we should immediately assign guilt to cops. I’m not saying that shooting, an officer’s firing back, sometimes it is justified.
But what we’re talking about is unarmed people. And the issue I take oftentimes is that people claim total depravity. But I’ve heard well known, more reform theologians say that police brutality isn’t a thing. And my retort is well then you don’t believe in total depravity. Because if it’s total, it can play out in any way. That would include a white man in a blue suit with a black gun pointed at a brown man.
It doesn’t mean that all cops are bad. That’s not painting all white people. What we’re saying is because we do understand that total depravity because of the fall, that it will play out and there would be no sin that can’t happen as a result of our world being totally depraved.
But not without hope. Because we have Yeshua as our savior, as our hope, as the image of the invisible God. So that’s one. There’s a lack of empathy, I think, where facts over feelings.
I hear Ben Shapiro quote it more than I do scripture. And that’s problematic where this Jewish guy is quoted as mark of what Christians should look towards as opposed to scripture itself. We are supposed mourn with those to mourn and bear one another’s burdens.
And I think this is a more controversial one is they’re not allowing … We have to allow nuance for Black Lives Matter, the sentiment, versus Black Lives Matter, the organization. And I tell people, “Listen, I will affirm the sentiment as an anthropological and theological truth because black people and brown people and all people are made in the image of God.
I do not affirm the organization. I’ve read their core values. I’ve seen the statements on the attack of the nuclear family. I’ve seen the cis gender comments. But it’s no un-biblical to co-op a term. Paul does this in Acts 17, verse 28. “In Him, we live and move and have our being.”
As some of your poets have said. So Paul, I think it’s Epimenides, I think is the one. Yeah, Epimenides is the one. He’s quoting this … So here’s Paul co-opting a term and applying it to the real God. So I think for us to say that you can’t co-opt a term or a remix a term to provide redemptive value it, again it’s inconsistent.
But again, these are the some of the things that happen. It’s like, “Well, don’t say that.” Or because you say that you somehow embrace everything to do with the organization. And I’m saying that’s just … It’s illogical and we have to allow grace and nuance in how we approach … And realize we all do have blind spots.
And if we do, and we only talk to the same people, we nurture our delusion about each other as opposed to moving towards unity.
Mike Aitcheson: Jerome, I’m glad you mention that about BLM distinction between organization and sentiment. I’m honestly, brother, of the persuasion that Christians actually need to be more vocal about the statement than the organization itself because that is a claim that belongs to our worldview in the truest and fullest sense of the word.
So if we’re out front that would dismantle, that would disarm their ability to make the claim that we don’t actually care. What are your thoughts on that? I think we should be more vocal than them about it?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, I agree. Agreed. And I did some posts just saying, “Yeah, I mean I affirm … This is a theological truth. It’s an anthropological truth. It’s a creative order truth. It’s a biblical truth. And so I’m going to say it.”
“And I’m not going to be silenced just because I’m saying that and you have them on tape saying that we’re trained Marxists.” I’m not disagreeing with that. I’m not. Here’s the hypocrisy and I want to say this lovingly, right?
So the argument is don’t group white people together, right? But then you do it to black people by saying a phrase. “Because you said this phrase, you’re now grouped in with the organization just by saying the phrase.”
So there’s duplicity there. One it’s like okay, hey, allow us nuance but then you’re not giving the nuance that you want for your community to the black and brown community. And I’m saying that’s where yeah, I’m going to say it. I encourage people to say it. And again, just like anything else, there has to be nuance.
Jim Davis: When Trevin Wax was on the show he, in a cheerleader way, he said, “Church we can do this. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. This nuance, we can do this.” And he wasn’t coming down on people. He was saying, “We got this. We can do this.”
What I really appreciate about the way that you answered that is you worked in total depravity. So if anybody doesn’t know what total depravity is, it’s the doctrine that every faculty of our being is ravaged by sin. That doesn’t mean we’re as sinful as we could possibly be. We can all be worse.
But every faculty that we have is ravaged by sin. And so if organizations are made up of people and systems are creating by people, why would we think, if we hold a total depravity that that wouldn’t affect all these areas. So I appreciate you pointing out that when you were speaking about police.
But it would be true of everything, including our own church. Everything. All right, so let’s … A similar question, but we go a different way. How do some of these differences play themselves out in the ways in which members of the subdominant culture experience churches that largely reflect the dominant culture?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, so again terminology becomes weaponized, right? So we talked about how Paul used the phrase, co-opted it, then applied it to the one true God. He applied it to Yahweh.
And we’ve seen this historically, [inaudible 00:25:57]. The concept of narcissism comes from Freud. Freud was not a Christian. Therapy. We begin to embrace things that start in a secular arena. And then we see some human value and the church has largely embraced. There’s historical precedent with this.
But again, black people feel marginalized when it’s like how come when it comes to us, we have to literally fight to matter. Like the committee and Michael said, he said, ” All we saying is we can’t even get matter.” He said, “We can’t even get matter. Like really? We got to fight to matter.” Right?
So literally like it’s interesting that people are more vehement about responses to racism and injustice than they are actual injustice. And that’s what we feel. The whole critical theory and critical race theory, we’re then labeled, automatically assumed, we’re assumed to embrace all these things wholesale.
And I think we have to allow nuance or what J.P Morley calls conceptualized integration where there’s this idea of … I mean there are things that maybe the phrase came from a hashtag in 2013 as a result of Trayvon Martin.
And again, these are three lesbian women. I think two of them are lesbian, but three women who started BLM. But just because the source may not … Doesn’t agree with us theologically, it doesn’t mean that every single thing that the person says need to be rejected. Again, that’s what Paul is doing.
He’s saying, “Yeah, this phrase is great. You all just applying it to the wrong person. So let me show you this. So this phrase, I’m going to take this and you guys are polytheistic. You guys are pagan. But I’m going to take this phrase and I’m going to show you who it really applies to.”
So that’s the thing I think many black and brown people are saying is like “Guys. Like why do we have to go through all of these hoops just for you to care?” And that’s the feeling and in many cases that’s the experience.
Jim Davis: Well, that’s a good … It’s a good biblical perspective and high altitude perspective. But I want to ask you to get really specific here. What are some common mistakes that church make and misunderstand this? And really from the dominant side?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, well I think trying to get … Bringing on a black person for racial diversity and then not listening to him or her. That’s a huge mistake. So you bring this person … Number one, they can’t represent the entire black community. Number two, they’re not going to fix your church’s race problem in two years.
Sadly, that’s usually the time they’re given before they’re fired. And I’ve had tons of people who they come in with this position and you’re going to help us. But then they just, as they begin to make suggestions and say, “Hey, how can we think about this? We can do this differently.” They’re met with resistance.
So like what was the point in hiring that person if you’re not going to give them a voice at the executive table. Which leads to another one, not having any real authority. Not giving them a voice at the executive table. Not having diverse … Now let me say this because again, people try to mischaracterize my statement.
I’m not saying make a guy an elder because he’s black, but if he’s qualified, if he meets the biblical qualifications of First Timothy three and First Timothy five, Titus, then getting some diverse voices who meet the biblical qualifications at the executive level and let them have real authority to speak into these things.
So these are some of the issues. And then you got to be willing to lose people. The pastors are … You’re going to find that a lot of your members are more conservative than Christian. And again, I say this in love, but we have to have these honest conversations. They’re more … They’ve given more into secular … While they’re talking about critical race theories, they’re more secular conservative than they are biblical Christians.
And you’ll see that once you begin to pursue biblical unity and justice. And when you pursue that, they’ll just … It’s easier for them to label you because confronting this is going to ruffle feathers. And I’ve seen my white brothers and I’ve seen them lose people. I’ve seen them be labeled Marxists. And they’re like, “Man, I never even read the Communist manifesto. Like I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” But they’re quickly labeled just for trying to pursue biblical justice in love. So those are a few. If you want some more, let me know.
Jim Davis: Well, I would like … There’s a phrase that you hear a lot and I’d like you to explain for us. The phrase is “We want your color but not your culture.” What does that mean? And how would you explain to someone maybe who’s not even familiar with the term, the phrase.
Jerome Gay: Yeah, so what happens with that is you want black faces, but you don’t want black voices. So outside of singing, right? So we can entertain, but again, we’re not offering anything else other than that. Or that person is marginalized to issues of race, but they can’t speak about pneumatology, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, homiletics. As if that person only serves either in entertainment or a racial purpose.
The cultural element is, again, we might get on the stage to sing, but we’re not at the decision making table. So that’s what black people mean when they’re at these predominantly white churches and that’s the experience. It’s like, “Yeah, you want my face to be able to check your diversity box. But you don’t really want the essence of who I am. You don’t what I bring. You don’t want my expertise. You don’t want my challenge. Like I need to be able to challenge you without being fired.” Right?
And so these are some of the things that we’re talking about when you say, “You want our culture, but you don’t really want our culture.”
Jim Davis: One of the things that seems to come up in every episode is just the value of listening. Just really listening. Not listening so that you can come back at them. But really listening and understanding and the role of Christian empathy in this whole conversation.
So I want to listen to you for a moment. I want to understand how you feel when I ask this question. What would be some things that you would want the dominant culture members to know about what it’s like to be a member of subdominant culture?
Jerome Gay: Yeah, well again, a number of … Several, but one is I don’t want … Black people don’t want to talk about race all the time. We’re put in situations where we have to. Like when I was … I’ve been racially profiled in a place called Cary, North Carolina. I’ve experienced that.
My daughter was told by another student, “My parents taught me not to like brown people.” I can’t skip that conversation. So the idea that we want to talk about race. No we’re forced to. And we’re, oftentimes, we’re not the ones bringing it up. We’re asked. We’re brought into these conversations so that’s one. It’s like there are a lot of other topics that I read, I study. I have interest in.
But my experience in America often forces me. Number two. We don’t teach our kids that black is a strike. We teach them that other people view it as one. And so we have to say, we have to teach our children these things.
Like listen I tell my daughter and my son like, “Your black is not a strike. God made you the color. He wanted you to be that color. But because of sin, other people will view it that way. I want to make sure you never view it that way. Black is beautiful because it’s biblical. Because the creator thought of this and he chose to have many different shades of melanin and some have more than others. But this is all a part of his mosaic of creation.”
That talking about an issue doesn’t make you a race baiter or it doesn’t make you a person that’s always giving into victimization. We have to realize there are real victims. Was George Floyd perfect? Absolutely not. But was he a victim? Yes.
Was Breonna Taylor a victim? Yes. They’re real victims. And so when all of these cliches or political terms are used, it comes across as extremely unloving, un-biblical. It’s hard to feel like family when this is what you’re getting from the dominant culture. And they claim the doctrines of grace.
And it’s interesting that what separates Christianity from other religions is grace. But that grace is often not extended to black and brown people by the dominant culture. And that’s what they need to know.
And so having these conversations, listening. And when I say listen, I mean both sides. It can be mutually edifying when both of us actually listen. Not just a black person talking. But that we actually listen to each other. So again, I got a ton, man. But we don’t have time. But those are few. I hope those help.
Mike Aitcheson: Thank you for sharing. And yes, we know that one question alone, we could dedicate just a whole lot of time to that. And along the same lines, what would you say to someone from the dominant culture who struggles, excuse me, to understand why it is beneficial to the advancement of the gospel to seek understanding, knowledge and wisdom about these matters?
Jerome Gay: Yeah. Because there’s an evangelistic element to unity which is why Paul rebukes Peter. And keep in mind, Peter is the one who had the Acts 10 experience of ” Oh man, okay. I can treat … I’m not going to call what God calls clean unclean.” Right? He has this experience.
But even after that, Galatians two, right? And so Paul has to rebuke him. And he says, “Listen man, your xenophobia is contagious. And you’ve got Barnabas going astray.” And what does he say? He says it wasn’t just the racial or the cultural component. However you want to view that verse. He says he wasn’t in step with the gospel.
Mike Aitcheson: The truth of the gospel.
Jerome Gay: This is what Paul says. He says, “He’s not in step with the truth of the gospel.” And so that’s what we … This is why it’s beneficial to be in step with the truth of the gospel, we seek unity, not only with … In homogenous sects. But if diversity is within reach. And I get some states are dominated where it’s not a lot of diversity. So I don’t think we make this a prescription.
But if you have the opportunity, I think the scriptural ethic would be to pursue that. To pursue someone different than you who thinks different than you do. And maybe even vote differently than you. And seeing where you can meet common ground because, again, the world is watching.
We have a world watching. And we don’t want the world leading in diversity and engagement more than the church. Our mission is to glorify him and doing so, we de-populate Hell. But when we’re not unified and we say we have the important message … Think about this. This is the claim we’re making that there’s only one way for seven billion people in the world. That’s the claim Christians are making.
And I’m one. So this is the claim I’m making. How can I make this claim? And not be able to defend my position and then not have unity with people who claim to have the same position.
Like again, the world is watching. And it is a bad witness when we’d rather talk about critical race theory than we do people who are dead and many of which may spend eternity separated from God. Like this, we’re missing the core message.
Mike Aitcheson: Jerome I think as something … You touch on something so important. And I just, all the way from Acts one, all the way up to the council. Barnabas is involved in seeing the Jerusalem church expand. He sells his property. He’s involved with the expansion of the church at Antioch.
And then you get to Acts 15 and Peter comes around, right? So he ends up saying, “Okay, we can’t keep going in this direction. We got to get out of the way of God. The Gentiles are included in this plan.” I think there’s something that’s important there for us to see that a racist repented.
And so if, in fact, you do struggle with racism, the cross is big enough for that as well. So to just simply say that racism does not exist, does not do you any good if, in fact, you are struggling with racism.
Jerome Gay: Right, yeah, because then you never confront. You never confront the issue. And what I love about, also in Acts 15, right? Who’s one of the ones that speak up? James. James speak up and then he’s the one who writes “No partiality. No favoritism.”
Mike Aitcheson: That’s right.
Jerome Gay: So James who’s at this council then writes again, “Hey guys, I was there. I saw the damage this could have done if we didn’t get this right. So let me make it clear. Don’t show any partiality.” And that’s how I define racism biblically, it’s the sin of partiality that we see in the book of James.
And it can be class, but obviously it can be race. So yeah. That’s definitely a huge point, man, that there is … Racists can repent.
Jim Davis: So Crawford Loritts said the same thing when he was with us. He talked about the sin of partiality. And I think it’s interesting, as you’re talking, I’m thinking about … I’ve been … I was overseas doing mission work for about five years. And I would interact with missionaries of all different theological stripes.
And all of us, whatever our theological background, all of us went into this culture looking to, because we wanted the gospel to go forward, we wanted to learn about that culture. And in many ways, assimilate and … We didn’t ask them to become like us.
We sought to look like them. And so as you’re talking, I’m thinking we, as Christians, could learn a lot from our missionaries because of the way that they understand and listen in culture and put the gospel before a value of them assimilating to us.
All right, I want to shift now and talk about the internal dynamics between different subdominant groups. So we’ve talked previously and discussed on the show, I think it was Darrell Williamson’s episode about the ways in which we know that black people are not monolithic, despite having a number of common experiences and challenges.
We understand there’s a spectrum in all that. And there’s a bell curve in terms of how people process a wide variety of things. So how do factors like timing, location and origin of your ancestors affect people of color in the subdominant culture?
Jerome Gay: Well, a lot of ways. When you talk about, I guess, ancestor origin and that thing, I think there’s a geographical element. When you talk about the experiences of black people in the south versus the experiences of black people in the north where we got to get rid of the misinformation as if racism didn’t exist in the north even during the Great Migration. It did.
But what I’ve found is being from Washington D.C. and living in PG county, this is one of the wealthiest black suburbs in America. So I’m used to seeing black people in power, black people leading schools, leading … Did an internship at Freddie Mac. And most of the … A lot of the people in power were black.
So it gives me this framework to think beyond what culture is telling me. America is telling me, I’m good for either basketball or rap or sports or rap. When you get to see principals, CEOs, SVPs of businesses, entrepreneurs and you see this, then it reminds you. It lets you know that there are other avenues. There are other options.
When I moved to … So we went from DC, chocolate city, to Junction City, Kansas. You can’t talk about a different place. Literally, and I’m not exaggerating, my first day … I’m talking about moving. The truck, we’re moving. I go out just to take a little break from lifting stuff and this kid gets nose to nose to me and says, “You listen here, nigger, this here is my neighborhood.”
I hadn’t been in Kansas a full day yet. And this is before I was saved so I punched the kid. That’s what happened. After I beat the kid up, we get a bang on the door. I open the door, it’s a big black guy with the kid who just called me a nigger behind him. It’s his stepdad. He said, “Why you beat my son?”
And I said, “Your son called me a nigger.” He looked back at his son, closed our door and had to go deal with him. My point in sharing that story, right? Is just my experiences there versus the more … And I know Kansas is more Midwest, but even here in North Carolina, I’ve experienced those things. I experienced stuff from teachers in Kansas where I was frequently accused of stealing when I didn’t.
Of bullying when I wasn’t. By the teachers. So it’s just important that we understand these claims are not just when we’re adults. There’s residue of racism or prejudice throughout that. And let me say this very quickly because you’re missing it … One thing I say here is-
Jim Davis: Hold it up there a little longer.
Jerome Gay: Yeah, I’m sorry.
Jim Davis: For anybody watching.
Jerome Gay: So yeah, this is-
Jim Davis: I know most people listening so people that are listening, tell them what you’re holding up.
Jerome Gay: That’s right. So this is my book. The Whitewashing of Christianity. Then as a subtitle. A Hidden Past, a Hurtful Present and a Hopeful Future. And I put that subtitle because I know many will judge a book by its cover. The book is not a white bashing book. But it is dealing with the effects of white supremacy, one of them being whitewashing and presenting Christianity with a broad white stroke.
But anyway, one of the things I say in the book is we do need to think of race in a spectrum. There’s racial ignorance. That’s first. That’s not knowing because of proximity.
There’s racial indifference. This is when we don’t care whether we’re in homogenous or diverse settings. Then there’s racial insensitivity. And this is when we could care less and we’ll say jokes. We’ll say things about another culture without any conviction. Then there’s racism which is willful hatred.
And the reason I think we need to think on a spectrum is so that we don’t label the ignorant a racist. And it’s through these experiences with each other, and I talk about it more in the book. But that’s how we can actually grow in understanding someone like me who’s had these … From southeast DC. I grew up in the hood. But through these different experiences, God has shown and taught me a lot.
And this is the story of many black people. And last thing I’ll say about is black people are often accused of being, “You all just want to be victims.” No, what’s ignored is our triumph. There were literal laws against reading, laws against us voting, redlining keeping us from getting loans. And we’ve still gotten houses, started businesses, started schools. So it’s amazing that people talk about black victimization, but ignore black excellence.
Mike Aitcheson: Jerome, I appreciate you expressing that. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to engage that more intentionally. I just got tired of seeing black men in particular become persona non grata in movies. I mean you know the common joke, who’s going to be the first one to die? It’s the brother. Without fail.
Jerome Gay: Even by the shark. Even though they don’t think we swim.
Mike Aitcheson: I think it was Jadakiss may have said, “Why did Denzel have to do Training Day before the award.” And the Oscar, right? And so even though he was making Oscar money before that, I got frustrated even with movies that were depicting the black family and black culture that black men were being seen as the thing to avoid. And so I watched a movie with … I think it was when Idris Elba was the hedge fund manager. He was married to Beyonce.
And he pulls up in opening scene in this S550, a Benz. And I was thinking … I was so excited and I couldn’t understand. I said, “Man, why did that excite me so much?”
And it had dawned on me how frustrated I was over the years of black men being type casted. And finally here we’re having a movie, a mainstream movie, where a black guy is being elevated. So I so appreciated that. And recently, I was listening to Dr. Howard Dodson. He just retired from the Schomburg Center up there in New York.
And he was talking about rebranding the black narrative as well. He said, “It’s not just one of a struggle. It is a story of overcoming, right? Not just because of the system, but despite the system.” So that’s something that we need to unearth more of as well.
Jerome Gay: And it’s important, Michael, that this isn’t missed. It was because of our understanding of the sovereignty of God. When you God back … Like I think, and this is one other thing and I’ll stop talking about the book but many of these church fathers were African.
Mike Aitcheson: Yes.
Jerome Gay: They were African. Augustan, Athanasius, Iranius, Cyprian, [inaudible 00:48:48]. These are Perpetua and Felicity, African women martyrs. Female martyrs. Like these people … Now the imagery doesn’t reflect that. And that’s a problem. But when you study this, and even when you read the slave narratives, when they were able to sneak and read, they knew a difference between what the slave masters said and what the bible actually said. And they saw hope in the story of Exodus.
And they saw hope in scripture. And this was a part of our triumph is our understanding of the sovereignty of God. And so it’s not that the slave masters tried to beat Christianity. Christianity was in Africa before it was in Europe. They tried to beat inferiority. And they were unsuccessful. And that’s what’s it’s important that we understand. That theological heritage that we have. Because oftentimes, that’s ignored and we don’t get credit or credence for that.
Mike Aitcheson: Listen, Jerome, you are speaking my language. Before they could even read or write, they had already crafted remarkable theology about the bigness of God. Ah, well, so let me move on and ask you another question. So broadly speaking, we have African descendants of slaves, Afro-Caribbean, African American and Afro Latino.
And some of these groups come from dominant cultures more recently. And some have been subdominant for hundreds of years. How does that affect the way they are going to see our cultural moment?
Jerome Gay: Well, it depends on who they’re received by. So I’ve seen some Afro Latino or full Latino tend to … And I’m putting this in quotes, “Side more with the dominant culture based on their experiences on who discipled them. Who shaped them.”
So sometimes … And I tackle this. One of the things, when we talk about black people not being a monolith, there are people within the same community who give some of the same more secular conservative talking points about other black people.
And we have to also realize that depravity can take on the form of self hatred. To where you have a disdain for people of your own ethnicity, your own race, your own culture. Because you’ve been discipled by a dominant culture to see your own culture as less than.
And so, that’s how that can play out in some ways to where there are going to be different approaches on the Ahmaud Arberys, the Breonna Taylors, the Trayvon Martins, the Eric Garners, the Walter Scotts and the Charleston nine.
Again, all of these names, right? So you’re going to see that. And then there are going to be, again, theological differences to where talking about justice, talking about racism, talking about these things, based again those subgroups you talk about. It has a lot to do … At the end of the day, it is a discipleship issue.
And if your discipled in a more conservative evangelical. When I say conservative, I don’t mean biblically, I mean politically with a little scripture thrown in, then you’ll take on that if you’re not careful. And you’re going to see groups within those different groups you just mentioned. You’ll see those differences even amongst those groups.
Jim Davis: That’s really helpful. I want to shift for this last question. I know you’ve written and you’ve spoken and you’ve made videos about what some people call urban apologetics. And I have black pastor friends. One of them’s sitting right over there. And I’ve come to understand that especially in black communities, a lot of the questions they’re asking, it’s not the validity of the bible. Can I trust the bible? They’re not your classic apologetic questions.
They’re asking things like is Christianity the only white men’s religion? So as someone who’s written on this and made videos about this, can you unpack what urban apologetics is and how it differs from the questions that we read in most of the apologetics books. That we read from anywhere from Lifeway to seminary.
Jerome Gay: Yeah, so it’s important to understand that when we talk about urban apologetics, we’re talking about the cultural, theological, social, financial and existential concerns of people of African descent. The primary one is existential.
And so when you talk about, “Look, we’re not out talking about the validity of God’s existence.” It’s more so when we bring up the whole white man’s religion thing … This is why I call my book The Whitewashing of Christianity.
Because there’s an existential question that many black and brown millennials and other groups are asking. And that is, “Does Jesus even like black and brown people? Did he use anyone that looks like me in scripture? Has he used anyone that looks like me in history?”
And when we look at him, this is sad, when we look at the images. And I got my Masters in 2016 so it wasn’t that long ago. Literally, all of the images of the African church fathers were white. All of the images of Jesus in my books were white. All of the images of the Jewish people were white. All of the images of the New Testament church were white.
So you have to realize that unsaved people seeing this and reading some of these things are making the not unfair conclusion that God only used white people. And that God wants to save you, but he won’t use you as a part of his redemptive plan.
And so they’re asking this existential question, does God really care about me? Did God use anyone that looked like me? Because what our seminaries, our more reformed, sadly, the seminaries are functionally saying. And I’m not saying that they’re all racist. But what they’re functionally saying is, “Well, God only used white people. Jesus was white. The 12 white disciples. You might get Samson. You might get Samson with dreads.”
But then we get who I affectionately call Pantene Pro V Jesus with the hair and the immaculate beard. White guy. So all of this white imagery is communicating something to people. So the urban apologists has to deal with their existential concerns. We have to deal with these questions and then we have to go back and say, “Hey.” And here’s the challenge, right?
I have to apologize for my more reformed, predominantly white seminaries and say, “This imagery is not accurate of the history. This is not.” So then I have to make that apology to try to deal with their concerns. Again, ultimately get to the gospel because I’m not saying that recognizing that Christianity was in Africa, that doesn’t save. But that’s a valid concern.
In order for me to be able to get to the message that save, which is the gospel. And so that’s what we deal with. And we confront what’s known as BRICS, which are Black Religious Identity Cults, and WRICS, White Religious Identity Cults. KKK was considered a Christian, spiritual organization.
The Hebrew Israelites, again would be primarily a black religious identity cult. And they’ve been able to successfully tap into those existential concerns. But the issue is that they blackwash the bible.
Like my book is not saying, we don’t want to address whitewashing by black washing. And I say this. The issue is not the inclusion of white people, it’s the exclusion of black and brown people as it relates to imagery. And so the urban apologist has to deal with those concerns. Does God … So the shooting of unarmed black people. That’s a question of theodicy.
Like this is missed in urban settings. Like no, that’s a question of theodicy. The problem of evil. Why is God allowing this to happen? Habakkuk, again, didn’t he wrestle with this. He’s asking God, “How long do I have to-”
So we see in scripture. But again, when black people ask these questions, we’re often marginalized. So the urban apologists are saying, “I can’t ignore these people because they’re lost.” And it seems like the traditional apologetics does not care.
And again I’m saying it comes across this way. I’m not, I don’t want to make a hard assumption, right? But it comes across that they don’t care about black and brown lostness.
And so urban apologetics is saying we want to deal with these concerns. We want to speak a language you’re going to understand. And again, we want to get you back to Yeshua who can save.
Jim Davis: Well, it’s just so sad to think, obviously there’s lots of gospel implications when we talk about racism> But just that racism itself causes people to not want to associate with the gospel. To question the validity of the gospel and to question Jesus himself.
I mean this a gospel issue at every corner and especially in black communities, it affects the advancement of the gospel. Jerome, man, I just can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing. I look forward to buying your book and reading it. I am going to as soon as I can.
And I hope our listeners will as well. We’re thankful for the work you’re doing in Raleigh and really all around the nation. Thank you for giving us so much of your time today.
Jerome Gay: Thank you. Thanks for having me, man. I enjoyed myself, guys.