Propaganda, the Los Angeles-based rapper, came to New York City in late May to prepare young Christians for the looming fight for racial justice in America. Little did he realize how quickly they would need to apply his advice.
On June 17, a racial terrorist walked into a Charleston, South Carolina church with the savage intent of killing African Americans to provoke a race war in America. In the aftermath the nation is drawing together to discover what they can do to prevent more tragedies like this one.
In a concert at an Elmhurst, Queens church, New Life Fellowship, Propaganda warned that the job of social justice with a gospel twist was unfinished.
“Right now, if you are a believer and you live in New York, I think you have a great opportunity to do something that maybe our parents weren’t able to do,” Propaganda challenged his listeners. For at least two years the singer has been hitting the same refrain.
“From a Christian perspective, it’s like, you ain’t got an option about being involved in justice issues,” Propaganda told A Journey in 2013 at New York City Center about fighting sex and labor trafficking.
This time he came to lend his hand to an event, Awaken NYC, which is one of many concerts, rallies and community help efforts leading up to an evangelistic mass gathering in Central Park on July 11th that will feature Luis Palau, a well-known Latino evangelist mentored by Billy Graham.
Palau has taken evangelicalism in new directions by praising Pope Francis and making common cause with a gay mayor in his home town. Mike Doyle, who pastors Movement Church, put together the Queens concert that featured Propaganda as well as musical artists Phil Wickam, Urban Rescue and Aaron Gillespie.
Before the show, Propaganda, controversial for his sharp criticism of racism among Christians, outlined his current thinking about racial justice during an interview with A Journey through NYC religions.
What are some practical steps that churches can take to reconcile racial tensions? You obviously see very little distance between being a Christian and being for justice.
I think the practical has to come first out of the philosophical. The idea that gospel and justice are two different entities makes gospel not gospel. They’re inseparable. Justice is enveloped and assumed by the concept of the gospel. So once you have that understanding that it’s not social work, this is gospel work, you get that, then the natural outflow of your desire to evangelize and see the world change is going to involve justice work.
Then, from a practical standpoint, it’s really as simple as just walk your block for an hour, just look around. I think the ways for which these things can work become obvious. So then as a church, from a pulpit perspective, practically is one, you start training your congregation to think in those terms, that justice and gospel aren’t separate, they’re the same thing.
In terms of specifically racial reconciliation, you become aware of your own implicit racism and then you start fighting against that because your implicit racism is antithetical to the gospel. You start working on your own self. That’s one thing you can do as a personal step.
So just by being out there you might start recognizing...
You take a walk around your block, you start recognizing your own implicit racism. After that, what you find your hands to do will be very obvious, from an organizational standpoint where you start leveraging your privilege in different areas, empowering those that traditionally don’t have power in the neighborhood.
Can you give me a practical example of this?
A practical example is, the corner house that Aunt Betty has lived in for forty years, she actually has much more sway over the neighborhood children than any of you do. So hand her a microphone, let her speak to the city council, let her explain, let her broker peace deals between gangs, let her inform your elder board. Let her speak!
That is implicit racism in your thinking [when you believe that] your presence in this city is the only voice of wisdom and the only voice of change -- when it’s like, well, she’s actually been freedom fighting for generations. So, let her inform your staff.
Find your neighborhood builders and know that you’re not necessarily the answer to the city. And I bet you, Aunt Betty has been teaching Sunday school at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church the whole time and she probably has hundreds of stories of visiting hospitals and prisons and things that she’s been doing this entire time. This stuff that you guys are hoping to do, she’s been doing just cause she’s lived here, and she knows all these kids. Knowledge of stuff like that. Rather than, ‘we’re going to do these whisky tastings.’ C’mon, man.
It seems like there’s this trend of churches, pastors, coming into the city to help the city. What would be your advice to outsiders coming in?
On the one hand, you go where you’re sent. If the Lord’s calling you there, the Lord’s calling you there. Then I would say this: it’s pretty convenient that none of these dudes are being called to rural areas. You know what I’m saying? Apparently nobody’s called to the trailer park, like God doesn’t want to move in the meth-infested, rural-country trailer park ‘cause that’s not exciting, that’s not cool.
So, I’d say, one the one hand, again, you go where you’re sent. If the Lord sent you there, there’s that. Then on the other hand, that ‘sending’ might be rather cool and convenient, so just consider both of those things.
Then, like I said, the true understanding of mission is that you are not the end game. You are not the answer, and God has people everywhere. Rather, than coming with the answer, see where you can participate and continue work that’s already happening, how can you lend a hand to those already pushing a rock uphill.
Is this similar in L.A.?
It’s not like we’re at a shortage of unbelievers, so more churches is great! But I find, specifically in L.A., there’s a lot of assumptions, where I’m like, if you’re not serious about learning Spanish, you don’t want to do ministry in Los Angeles. To me, it's like you’re really not ready to be here if you haven’t tried to learn Spanish yet.
Like I said, you got to go where you’re called, but if you are going to do that, you better know that landscape. It’s not as cool and sexy as you think it is.
Who do you consider your audience?
Latina author [Gloria E. Anzaldúa] coined the phase “borderlands people.” Essentially they’re people who exist in dual cultures. Like, I’m just as comfortable in hipster life as I am in hood life. So people that exist in two worlds.
You have the Christian who has a very global perspective, or the non-believer who actually has a pretty good understanding of spiritual things. Hybrids! That’s my audience, a person who has my album in their iPod or on their phone and also has U2 and Sigur Ros...and then like Dizzylite and Chris Webby, just smoker’s music.
What do you think those two [the Christian and the nonbeliever] can learn from each other?
Obviously, I’m hoping that they can learn of gospel, number one, and then number two of grace and patience, from the other way around. One can use a little more patience, and I think the other could obviously could hear the good news. But it’s funny cause I feel like that the Christian isn’t necessarily afraid of the culture, they’re not afraid to engage and be part of and understand, but at the same time--I will say this, I think oftentimes that a believer is a little more timid too. If you get a chance to speak truth and righteousness, maybe, [they] could use a little more grace, but obviously some boldness to speak up when you have the chance to.
What’s next, long term for you?
I’ve been finding a lot of opportunities to speak specifically about race relations and culture, kinda influence the influencers. I think I may see where that rabbit trail goes. I don’t know what that looks like specifically or professionally, but that’s definitely where I want to be.
In [A Journey’s] last interview, you said you’re a huge fan of Charles Spurgeon. If you could have Charles Spurgeon explain one thing to you--and by that I mean, you always seem so sure. What’s something you struggle with, either doctrinally or putting doctrine into action?
The reality is, I’m not sure of a lot of stuff, and I’m sure of that! I’ve learned recently to be very okay with the fact that I’m not going to understand all of this and nobody around me does either. I’m kind of okay with that now. If I could have Spurgeon explain one thing to me, man...I guess he could lay out the balance between good, spiritual disciplines versus resting and relying in Christ, make those two work for me.
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