"I am because they were." Lisa Sharon Harper joins Miroslav Volf to discuss the significance of narrative history for understanding ourselves and our current cultural moment; the sequence of repeated injustices that have haunted America's past and directly impacted Black Americans for hundreds of years; the Christian nationalist temptation to hoard power; the necessary conditions for true repair, the role of reparations in the pursuit of racial justice, and the goodness of belonging.
This month, Lisa Sharon Harper released a new book that traces her family's history. Even with the aid of new mail-order genetic testing and ancestry services, I think it's fair to say that most Americans live their lives disconnected from their ancestors. Call it ancestor worship, call it autonomy, call it selective memory—whatever is going on there, we tend to be disconnected from our past, mostly unaware of those from whom we came beyond our parents and grandparents.
Who were those people who we depend on for our very existence? Lisa Sharon Harper's new book is called Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World--and How to Repair It All. And when new episodes of For the Life of the world come back on May 7 this spring, we'll be talking with Lisa at length about how race broke her world and how she traced her family line back beyond the founding of America. For more information about the book, check the show notes and visit lisasharonharper.com/BlackFortuneMonth for more resources on reconnecting to our history and seeking restorative racial justice.
But for now, we're replaying Miroslav Volf's 2021 conversation with Lisa Sharon Harper; the two friends discuss the significance of narrative history for understanding ourselves and our current cultural moment; the sequence of repeated injustices that have haunted America's past and directly impacted Black Americans for hundreds of years; the Christian nationalist temptation to hoard power; the necessary conditions for true repair, the role of reparations in the pursuit of racial justice, and the goodness of belonging. Thanks for listening. And here's the episode in its entirety. Enjoy.
- Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World--and How to Repair It All
- About Lisa Sharon Harper
About Lisa Sharon Harper
From Ferguson to New York, and from Germany to South Africa to Australia, Lisa Sharon Harper leads trainings that increase clergy and community leaders’ capacity to organize people of faith toward a just world. A prolific speaker, writer and activist, Ms. Harper is the founder and president of FreedomRoad.us, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap in our nation by designing forums and experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment and common action.
Ms. Harper is the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat (The New Press, 2008); Left Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Elevate, 2011); Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Zondervan, 2014); and the critically acclaimed, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong can be Made Right (Waterbrook, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016). The Very Good Gospel, recognized as the “2016 Book of the Year” by Englewood Review of Books, explores God’s intent for the wholeness of all relationships in light of today’s headlines.
A columnist at Sojourners Magazine and an Auburn Theological Seminary Senior Fellow, Ms. Harper has appeared on TVOne, FoxNews Online, NPR, and Al Jazeera America. Her writing has been featured in CNN Belief Blog, The National Civic Review, Sojourners, The Huffington Post, Relevant Magazine, and Essence Magazine. She writes extensively on shalom and governance, immigration reform, health care reform, poverty, racial and gender justice, climate change, and transformational civic engagement.
Ms. Harper earned her Masters degree in Human Rights from Columbia University in New York City, and served as Sojourners Chief Church Engagement Officer. In this capacity, she fasted for 22 days as a core faster in 2013 with the immigration reform Fast for Families. She trained and catalyzed evangelicals in St. Louis and Baltimore to engage the 2014 push for justice in Ferguson and the 2015 healing process in Baltimore, and she educated faith leaders in South Africa to pull the levers of their new democracy toward racial equity and economic inclusion.
In 2015, The Huffington Post named Ms. Harper one of 50 powerful women religious leaders to celebrate on International Women’s Day. In 2019, The Religion Communicators Council named a two-part series within Ms. Harper’s monthly Freedom Road Podcast “Best Radio or Podcast Series of The Year”. The series focused on The Roots and Fruits of Immigrant Labor Exploitation in the US. And in 2020 Ms. Harper received The Bridge Award from The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation in recognition of her dedication to bridging divides and building the beloved community.
- This podcast featured Lisa Sharon Harper and Miroslav Volf
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Special thanks to Lisa Sharon Harper and Katie Zimmerman at FreedomRoad.us
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan & Nathan Jowers
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
Evan Rosa: Hello friends, Evan here this month, Lisa Sharon Harper released a new book that traces her family's history. Even with the aid of new mail order, genetic testing and ancestry services. I think it's fair to say that most Americans live their lives disconnected from their ancestors. Call it a fear of ancestor worship, call it autonomy or individualism.
Call it selectively. Whatever's going on there. We tend to be disconnected from our past, mostly unaware of those from whom we came beyond our parents or grandparents, who were those people on whom we depend for our very existence. Lisa, Sharon Harper, his new book is called fortune a race, broke my family and the world and how to repair it all.
And when new episodes of, for the life of the world, come back on May 7th, this spring, we'll be talking with Lisa at length about. And about how race broke her world and how she traced her family line back beyond the founding of America. And for this black history month, Lisa and her team are celebrating black fortune month.
And for more information about her book, check out the show notes and visit Lisa Sharon harper.com/black fortune month. For more resources on reconnecting to our history and seeking restorative racial justice in this.But for today, we're replaying Miroslav volts. 2021 conversation with LisaSharon Harper, the two friends discuss the significance of narrative history for understanding ourselves in our current cultural moment.
The sequence of repeated injustices that have haunted America's past and directly impacted black Americans for hundreds of years, the Christian nationalist temptation to hoard power, the necessary conditions for true repair, the role of reparations in the pursuit of racial justice and the goodness of.
Thanks for listening. And here's the episode in its entirety.Enjoy for the life of the world is a production of the Yale Center For Faith and Culture. Visit us online at faith dot Yale dot EDU.
Lisa Sharon Harper:In my mind, I know that my people came, they were brought in chains. Theysurvived. They were among those who survived. The Mid-Atlantic passage, thetransatlantic passage. They suffered incredibly grueling oppression in theCaribbean, and yet they survive. They've found ways to, to cope. They foundtheir pool of spirit to help them.
Project of resilience. And so th that's the stock I come from.We're also very mixed with European people, right? So there was a lot of rapein our family, so there's a lot of broken. That has passed down from generationto generation, to generation, to generation. And so I'm just very aware of whoI have been and also aware that their DNA literally lives in me.
So I literally am because they were,
Evan Rosa: It's forthe life of the world, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of ourhumanity. I'm Evin Rosa with a Yale Center For Faith and Culture. Humans comewith a history. When Lisa Sharon Harper says of her ancestors, I am becausethey were think of the weight. That's such a foundational fact carries for ourworld.
It speaks of depends. It speaks of our radical contingency. Itspeaks of resilience. It speaks of a kind of filial resonance, the ways inwhich our family's lives, reverberate and hum in us here. Now this statement Iam because they were let's do wave it off as obvious reflect for a moment onthe temptation to believe in the false hood of self-made.
We tend to scrub our histories, forget or euphemized the past,failing to appreciate the nuances and particularity of our unique family storyin opt instead for the phony greatness of individual identity, and then itsworst abstracting from the texture of our family, genetic, ethnic, cultural andchronological history can lead to outright oppression and dehumanization.
Humans come with a history today. Mears love Wolf is joined byhis friend, Lisa Sharon Harper, a writer activist, and Christian leader who hasfor many years advocated for peace and justice in legislative governance,immigration and healthcare reform, alleviation of poverty, justice across raceand gender and renewed civic engagement in each of these spheres, her books andcolumns consistently remind us that in her words, everything wrong can be made.
She is founder and president of freedom road, a consultinggroup, dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap in our nation by designingforums and experiences that bring common understanding common commitment tocommon action. In this episode, Miroslav and Lisa discuss the significance ofnarrative history for understanding ourselves and our current cultural moment.
The sequence of repeated injustices that have hauntedAmerica's. And directly impacted black Americans like Lisa's family forhundreds of years. And they talk about the necessary conditions for truerepair, the role of reparations and the pursuit of racial justice and thegoodness of belonging. Thanks for listening,
Miroslav Volf: Lisa,I'm really delighted that you can join us for these spots.
It's been there a long time since you and I last spoke and muchhas happened. In the meantime, you have shot into national prominence asanti-racist activists and I wanted to catch up, but more importantly, I think Iwanted our listeners to get a chance to get to know. And so it may be good tostart with a little bit of history, your history, you, you may recall that oneof my favorite philosophical temptations is Friedrich Nietzsche, and hementioned that he emphasizes that kind of the hereditary, seeing thephilosopher is lack of historical sense.
And sometimes I feel that's also my sin that I don'tsufficiently engage history. And yet our whole. Biblical account narrative isnow because it's a story. So maybe it will be good for us to visit your story.How did you get here? Can you tell us your story?
Lisa Sharon Harper:How did I get here? Oh my goodness. Wow. That's a fun story.
Well, I'll tell you what I, whenever anybody asks me, you know,who are you or, or is that question like that? It's, it's impossible for me toanswer without going back into my ancestors. My next book is coming outFebruary of next year and time for black history month. And having done 30years of research for that book, I am full of my family stories and Iunderstand very clearly now how I am, because.
Very much. So my mom, our family on her side has people whowere free since the 1740s. And before that they were indentured servants, theywere black indentured servants or mixed race. Also on her side, you have peoplewho were enslaved as early as the late 17 hundreds as far back as we can go. InSouth Carolina and probably were brought there from Virginia, according toancestry.com DNA.
Our family searches back to the earliest Africans in Virginiaand Maryland. Also on my father's side, doing that research has been sofascinating because they came from the Caribbean. Through the Puerto Rico. Sothey came and they were all here by 19 25, 19 30, when they settled in thesouth Bronx, in New York city.
And, but they had according again to ancestry.com DNA and also23. And me, we can trace them to the Caribbean as early as 1750. So in my mind,I know that my people came, they were brought up. In chains, they survived.They were among those who survived. The mid Atlantic passage, the transatlanticpassage.
They suffered incredibly grueling oppression in the Caribbean,and yet they survived. They found ways to, to cope and they found their pool ofspirit to help them. And the project of resilience. And so th that's the stockI come from, we're also very mixed with European people, right? So there was alot of rape in our family.
So there's a lot of brokenness that has passed down fromgeneration to generation, to generation, to generation. And so I'm just veryaware of who I have been and also aware that their DNA literally lives in me.So I literally am because.
Miroslav Volf: That'sreally fascinating, but what struck me when you were talking about you, yourhistory is both the incredible pain caused by others, but then also yourcomment about the resilience.
And I have always, for years now, I've tried to think about,uh, this question by the other adore. Now, whether a true life. It's possiblewithin the false one. Now the life that they were brought into and the way theywere brought to this life was as false as lives could be. And yet there wassomething of the true light shining.
Lisa Sharon Harper:what you were telling me? Yeah. Yes it is. I would answer that question. Yes.Because if not, then African-Americans have no possibility of living a true.Because we are brought and have been brought since 16, 19 into a false one intoa life where we are told from birth that we are not fully human, at least since1662 in Virginia, we have been declared intrinsically in slavery and inperpetuity, according to the law.
And so I believe, especially I see so many stories ofresistance. Like resistance to the lie that we were told to the lie we wereborn into to the shackles, which were a lie that instituted, protected. And,and, and forced that lie. And yet there are people in my family and not just myfamily. There are African Americans who struggled, who resisted from the verybeginning.
I have a seven times great aunt who owned land, her sister,Betty bought land. And in order for her to own that land in Maryland, at thetime she had to play a black women's tax. They literally charged free blackwomen and extra tax to own land. It's where we get the terminology today. Blacktax, the black tax.
You have to pay more to be free if you're black. And so, butshe there's actually a record in the tax record. You can find us in the taxrecord. It says the tax recorder actually recorded Betty fortune. She, shechased me off the land. And, and she refused to pay the tax and she's thefortune stock. Right.
So she's tracing her right back to fortune my, our firstancestor born on this land in 1687. So yeah, that's from the very earliesttimes we resisted. In fact, the reason that police exists today, It's becauseof our resistance. Then it was the rebellions that were happening all overVirginia and North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, and the 16 hundreds thatthe very first police patrols work were created in order to round up andcontrol people of African descent who were saying.
No, you're making me live according to a lie. That's
Miroslav Volf:extraordinary courage that it takes to do that and to stand a wonderful story,chasing somebody off your property with a gun, for a stupid tax. You shouldn'tbe paying in the first place. Of course, one thing for people that areoppressed to resist, but it's the other thing for nation.
To have a history and engage with such people and stand beforethis historical juncture and you have written and thought about those roadstaken and roads about taken. Do we find ourselves today at the juncture? Do youthink.
Lisa Sharon Harper:We definitely do find ourselves at that juncture. One thing that I I'mconvinced of, again, after having researched the history is we had choices thewhole time.
At every single point, we had a choice in 16, 19. We had achoice when the white lion first sailed under the shores of Jamestown andoffered the Jamestown colony. These enslaved Africans who had been piloting.Off of a Dutch ship and brought onto an English warship and they were notexpecting them. The Jamestown people had no idea they were coming.
They had never had enslaved people on their territory beforethey had a choice that day. Should we turn them back and send them back totheir home country? Should we be Christian about it? Should we actually followour faith or should we accept this freely? These people who have been stolenfrom their land and conscripted to us for no reason, we don't deserve this.
They chose. To enslave and 1662, when Virginia passed its lawthat said that people of African descent, or no, sorry, that citizenship shouldbe determined at that point from thenceforth no longer through the line of thefather, which was English common law. But instead through the lineage of themother, which is part is the Roman law part is at that point.
They had a choice. They could have said, no, we're going toremain. We're going to continue to have citizenship go through the line of thefather and we're going to suffer. The consequences of that, which is to losethe enslaved people that we are giving birth to because we keep raping ourwomen. We're going to stop raping the women that we own.
Maybe even, you know, maybe we shouldn't be owning these peoplein the first place. Maybe we could actually just make this, you know, an actualcondition of servitude if they actually did do something wrong and call it aday. But no, they did it. They decided to take advantage of the lack ofpolitical power of the people of African descent.
And they racialized slavery with that first law in 1662, bysaying, no, we're going to move citizenship. In other words, because in. Youcould not enslave another British citizen. So we're going to move that to theline of the mother. And if the mother is black and enslaved, then no longer isthat child and citizen.
Therefore, that child cannot claim in the courts that theyshould be set free, which they were doing, and they were winning their cases.So they had a choice then, and they made a choice toward, toward exploitationof the image of God. And it goes like. I mean at all these junctures, they hadchoices and they failed and we are at that juncture again, George Floydpresented the world with the truth of who we are last year.
And it was at that time, I don't know what it was. And I'm sureyou saw it too. Everybody has acknowledges this now, but there was kind of likea scales off the eyes thing that happened for white folk all over the world.Like they, all of a sudden saw the reality that systemic evil exists and theyare guilty of benefiting from a society that does that.
And we have a choice. Now we have a choice. We have a choice,whether an honestly the Republican party has had a choice and they have chosen.They've made their choice. They've decided to dig their heels in and, andcontinue to propagate the big lie. That, that Trump lost the election in orderto maintain power, which has been the, the objective at every juncture has beento maintain white male power, but they don't have to do that.
And we don't have to do that as a society. We have a choice wecan choose to pass the fix to the voting rights act. We can choose to passsweeping legislation that would reward. Our policing system in a way thatactually gives public safety, not just policing of black bodies. We have achoice right now.
We have a choice right now and it is possible Miroslav. I amsure it is possible for us to choose. Well, the only question is, will weexercise our faith enough to choose.
Miroslav Volf: It'sinteresting that you mentioned faith in disregard, right? It's almost, youcould almost put it also. Will we exercise and put to work our proper humanity.
Right. But there, there is, there is a faith involved in it tofaith in who we, as a nation faith in who we as individuals are. And I thinkone of the most disturbing things is to see. Christians even today, a spouse,something like Christian nationalism. I have been at this through my socialmedia, Twitter feed, but I know this has been one of the important issuesissues for you.
This is the kind of deep concern before you w w what do we needto say about Christian nationalism in America today? Uh, seems like verydeeply.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Yeah, it is. It's actually very deeply rooted. And it's funny because mostChristian nationalists would never call themselves Christian nationalists. MostChristian nationalists.
Just go to a church with a flag in the background. And, andthey sing my country TIS of thee on the 4th of July in church. And they talkabout Jesus as if he was born in their suburb and hangs out with them atStarbucks every day. Right? Like that's, that's how they talk about Jesus, butthey don't recognize the reality that Jesus was not born here is not Americanat all.
And actually was born on the underside of empire altogether.And was born brown in the context of an explicitly white supremacist nation andan empire Rome. Then I say that because the philosophers that influenced Romewere Aristotle and Plato and Aristotle, and many scholars would say. Actually,when he thought of what it meant to be a human being, you would've seen a whiteman.
He would've thought of a white man who was able bodied. Andthat if that's the mindset of the empire, which it was, it's why the motto ofRome and that's their motto of all of the empires in that lineage of the Greekempires, Roman empire, British empire is make the world as we. Make the worldRome make the world Greece, make the world England and England succeeded.
Actually, you know, they literally did colonize the world. Andso when we think about church in America, I would just argue that the majority,the majority of white evangelical churches in particular, and especially in thesouth, probably could be. Have vestiges, if not, could be named fully Christiannationalists, but don't say that because the white Christian nationalistproject is to do one thing is to preserve and protect the power, the assumedrule of white Christian men on this land.
That's what it exists to do. And I think that when you look atmany of our white fundamentalist churches and many of our white evangelicalchurches in particular, that is that's the ethic that they espouse. The it's,it's not, I believe an un-Christian ethic. It's an ethic of domination. Youalso see it in their eschatology, right?
Where you at, and not even just their eschatology, also theirunderstanding of who we are as a nation, that America is like the newJerusalem. We are, the new chosen people. It's just a battery to the text.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah.But I sometimes feel a fail. It would be, it would be almost good if it was abad reading, simply bad rating of the text.
Right. Because you could then point and persuade, but somehowit's so entrenched. And I'm wondering what you would think again, one of mythings that I sometimes have come to think recent maybe 10 years or so thatJesus. Has become a moral stranger to us. Things that were really important tohim don't matter to us and things that are really important to us didn't seemto be.
To him, it all, it puts a bird, Christian nationalismovernights. If they were to keep credence to who Jesus really was. Do you havea similar sense? Is it it's clearly there in, well, it may be in the kind ofbroader culture, but in different subcultures. Do you see
Lisa Sharon Harper:it as well? I think absolutely. That's true, but I don't think that it's.
That we have forgotten our moral Jesus. We are disconnectedfrom moral Jesus. I just don't. I really don't think that the white ChristianChurch, the Western Christian Church, since Constantine understood who Jesusreally was. So I think that where we are right now is the natural outcoming andit's a natural result of the logics of empire that have been embedded inWestern Christianity since constantly.
And, and, and it's just me think about it. I thought about thisand it, it literally blows my mind, not one person in the entire Bible, not oneperson with a speaking role. No, I shouldn't say that only one person in theentire Bible with a speaking role was European only one. And his name was. Hekilled Jesus.
He's the guy who killed Jesus. Right. And I'm not saying, youknow, you know, I'm not saying anything, but what is actually there, that isthe truth. And yet we have centered the interpretation of this brown Afro Asiantexts in the halls of MIT. So it's the halls of European empire that haveinterpreted this text to us for centuries, for millennia.
So for more than a millennia. So of course we don't know Jesus.And when the scales start to fall, when we start seeing, oh my goodness, likewe've been taught. It's an existential crisis for so many people of Europeandescent, because they, they feel duped. They feel like they've been lied to andthey have shaped their entire lives and institutions around this big lie.
The big lie that God is white, that Jesus is white. That Moseswas white. That Mary was white. That Eve was white and everybody else isabnormal. Everybody else is. Slightly different inferior. Yeah, you took andyou took it there. There you go. Right. But that's not true. This whole book iswritten by brown people who were serially, oppressed, serially, enslaved in thecontext of their oppression, about their resilience, about the faith that gotthem through that.
So you just, you cannot understand this. If you are reading itfrom the halls of empire, you just can't, which I think is why we are in thefaith crisis that we're in right now. People are leaving the church in drovesbecause they're beginning to see that what they've been told is not true.
Miroslav Volf: So asyou're sketching this rather bleak picture of Christianity today, at the sametime, I'm thinking you've written about restaurants.
You've written about what you call the new seed, and I'm notsure exactly what you mean by new seed, but I send something really hopefulthat, can you say a little bit more about.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Thank you. I'm literally laughing out loud because I don't think of this asbeing so hopeless because I do have so much hope inside of me, but it's becauseI guess I know the other part of the story, which is that redemption ispossible.
Restoration is possible repent because repentance is possible.So confession is possible. Repentance as possible and truth telling and seekingis possible. That's the reason why my last book is called the very good gospel,how everything wrong can be made. Right. I believe it, everything wrong can bemade.
Miroslav Volf:everything that word there, that it was really fascinating. Everything tells meabout that word,
Lisa Sharon Harper:everything wrong, I believe because it all. In our capacity to repent. Now, thequestion of whether it will be made right, is another question, but it can bebecause we all are human. If you are human, you have the ability to betransformed
Miroslav Volf:because that's what you and eschatological cope as well.
And partly for present, but partly also utopia and a central
Lisa Sharon Harper:logic. Cool. I do believe that there will be a time when we get to that lastchapter of revelation. And there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isno longer there. It is only the tree of life and spans the river of life. Andthe fruit of the tree feeds the nations and the 12 tribes.
The leaves are for the healing of the nations. I believe we'regoing to get there. I do, but I don't think we get there without repentance.Yeah.
Miroslav Volf: Youmean exactly. Maybe that's where we can explore these repentance. It seems alsoa negative, right. But it's turning away from something that's negative towardssomething positive.
Can, can you spell out a little bit what you mean by repentanceof what it means concretely in situation? Uh, racialized human hierarchies.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Yeah. Yeah. Well also I was sitting at the table with my friend, Craig Stewart,who is, um, in Cape town, South Africa. And I was there to speak for thejustice conference a few years ago and we were having dinner and soul familykids, and we were having a really great conversation.
And we started talking about how to make things right in SouthAfrica. Now they've already had their Democrat. Election. They have democracy.Now one person wants. But yet the economic situation in South Africa has notreally changed. They still have very much the same situation they had underapartheid.
Now they just have economic apartheid. They have de factosegregation, just like we do in America because we never fully repented of JimCrow and redlining. They have defacto segregated jobs, segregated, water,segregated, electricity, segregated air, just like. And he was saying that whogets the reparations, like who gets the repair, who gets it?
That's I feel like that is a smoke screen. That is somethingthat is not really at the heart of the, the real question. The real question isnot who gets the repair. The real question is when was it broken and how did itbreak? Because when you go back to the Genesis of the break, you go back to thebeginning.
And you ask, how did it break? Then you start, there you goback and you claim a do over. Can we do this over? Can we start again? In otherwords, can we do right? What we did wrong then now there are some things thatwill just always be lost. We can't actually do over because people have died.We've lost. So restitution is never going to be complete because people haveliterally lost lives and they can't be, they can't raise from the dead.
Unfortunately, people, most people are not going to do that. Sothere you go. But what we can do is we can solve for the heart of the problem,the heart of the break, which came the moment that, that. European Explorerlanded on the land, looked at the people and said, they're not civilized. Sotherefore they are not called by God to exercise dominion on this land.
We are, and they claimed the land through the doctrine ofdiscovery or Roman as Pontifex, which became the doctrine of discovery. Theyerased the image of God from the people who lived on that land. So what wouldrepentance look like? Repentance looks like going to the people, originalpeople of that land and asking, what do you say we should do in order forthings to be made?
Well with you, we get this example from David who was kingafter Saul had committed near genocide against the Caribbean. And they came tohim, knocking on his door and said, Mr. David, after he had gone to God prayingsaying, we have a famine in our land, God, and I don't know why we have thisfamine, what what's this famine about?
And then there's like a knock, knock, knock, knock. I justloved, I love the scripture. It's so funny that way. So knock, knock, knock.And they go, Mr. David Saul tried to kill all of us and he wasn't supposed to.And he goes, ah, that's why we have a famine in the land. And what does he do?He doesn't say, okay, let me get my counsel together.
And we'll figure out how to make this. Well, he doesn't say gohome, which is what most of our politicians would say today. They wouldn't eventry to deal with it. They would just try to contain the problem contained bycontaining them. Instead, what he says is how do you say, what do you say Ishould do for you in order for things to be made well with you?
And they tell him, and it is costing. Hmm, because oppressionis costly. So of course the remedy will be costly, but it's not an eye for aneye. I mean, an eye for an eye would have been, would have been, you know,genocide on your side, but they didn't call for that. Yeah.
Miroslav Volf: Youknow, it's interesting talking about forgiveness and repentance and then riskgenerally kind of CRS evangelical and other.
So, so of maybe not so much Catholic of repent and somehowrestitution gets dropped. I remember my father. Um, when he came to faith, howhe went back to his village when he was a 10 year old boy and was stealing fromthe orchards peach or apple and wherever he could remember that he tooksomething. He said, I needed to go talk to the people, confess what I have doneand offer to restore.
To the extent that I can, whatever I have taken as a 10 yearold boy. Wow. Repentance means not just you let me off the hook, but Ishouldn't have done it. If I've done it, I'm going to try to make it good toyou. And I'll just say this and then ask a question. So I ended up put defaecatinghere. My colleague here, John care says, well, what's the appropriate risk of.
And he says, well, and re-appropriate restitution is such thatif you have somebody doing something, some harm, you restore it to the positionin which the person who has suffered harm would be indifferent between eitherthat harm happening plus restitution occurring more, no harm happening. Right.So that harm plus restitution equals no harm.
That's like that would be fair restitution. That's a very, verytall order, but told us of that order, suggest something seriously, needs to bedone. Now, so I'm asking you, what should we much of America do? How should weproceed? The given the long history of oppression? How does, how do we begin torestore?
If we want to take it seriously, we try to believe in.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Iactually really prefer to call it. What were, what would repair look like inAmerica? Right. Right. Because reparation and restitution are very legal termsand you can, and they also get us into the weeds and I'm not a legal scholar.So I can't say this is what she looked like, but what I can say is that thereare multiple groups of African-Americans that have actually said just.
The Gibson I had said to David, this is what we require inorder for things to be made well with us, there are multiple groups ofAfrican-Americans over the centuries that have created those lists. And, andnow right now, black lives matter. The movement for black lives has actuallycreated a really easy basic list of this is what.
For reparations to be made well, and then also in Congressright now, we have HR 40, which is now I believe Sr 40. It says in Senateresolution, 40, 40 standing for the 40 acres and a mule that we never got, youknow, the promise 40 acres in the mule that people of African descent have evergotten. But there's just what we're saying.
We want is a study. We just want you to study what it wouldtake and people are not willing to do that, or it's pushing and we may, theymay even be, it may even pass this year, but it's taking everything to get thatpassed. So again, it goes back to what was the. The break happened when wefailed to recognize the image of God, the, the intrinsic call and capacity ofpeople, of African descent.
To exercise dominion in the world, going back to the first pageof the Bible, when that very first, that very breath, that moment when Godcreates humanity and says, let us make humankind in our image, in our likenessand let them have dominion all in the same breath that dominion in my book iswhat is, what defines what it means to be.
And so for people of African descent, what it meant since 16,19 is that you do not get to exercise dominion on this land. And before that,going back to the 14 hundreds and slavery, as it began and Barbados, and, andthen also in, uh, in south America, from that point forward, It becameunderstood or an assumed logic in the lives and the logic of European Americansthat people of African descent exists in order to give us free and cheap labor.
That is a big lie and that lie needs to be repented of. And thetruth that needs to be embraced is that we were created by God to exercisedominion on. Along with all the rest of humanity. And so our first act ofrepentance will be to go to you and say, how do you say that it should be madewell, and from there to do it right, that's it it's actually, it actually isvery.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah,it seems as the old saying goes where there's a will, there's a way. And in, inthis particular case, people feel that so much is at stake. And so the will isblocking it. It will, it will cost,
Lisa Sharon Harper:but you know, what, can I just say this very quickly? Yes, absolutely. Jr.Wrote this book. That's right behind me.
Where do we go from here? It was written in 1967 and he wrotethis book months before he died. He was summarizing all that he's learned sincethe passage of the voting rights act and all that's happened. Like what are thelessons that he's taking from all that came after that? And one of the thingsthat he brings out in the very first chapter, which literally blew my mind wasthat.
White backlash prevented them from doing what was right. Okay.I want to, I'm going to read, can I read this to you? Right. I'm gonna readthis. This is page six, page six. That's early in the book, right? Theassistant director of the office of economic opportunity. Hi, I'm in bookbinder and a Frank statement on December 29th, 1966.
Declared that the long range costs of adequately implementingprograms to fight poverty, ignorance, and slums, particularly amongAfrican-Americans will reach at that time. The bill was $1 trillion. Now it'sgoing to be more than that. Now he was not odd or dismissed. By this prospect,but instead pointed out at the growth of the gross national product during thesame period makes this expenditure comfortably possible, comfortably possible.
Like when you pull people out of poverty, when you correct forthe systems and the structures that have kept them in post. That creates morecapital to go into businesses. It creates more businesses which create morejobs, which creates more money going into the marketplace. So it actually is abenefit to America to repair what it broke through the constructs of race.
And he goes on to say, it is, he said, as simple as this quote,the poor can stop being poor. If the rich are willing to become even richer. Ata slower rate.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah.Yeah. I, I, I think, I think that's, that's exactly right. And situation hasn'tchanged since that time there was cost, but the cost is economicallymanageable, certainly, but there is benefit that.
Certainly no to also economic benefit that might be possible,but I'm thinking there's human benefits. We can not place this issue in thekind of cost benefit analysis, and then struggle over or over that withoutgetting that. Benefit to us. Isn't how sick is our pocket book benefit to us ishow rich is our humanity, how truly human we are.
And it seems to me that should be at the center of the, ofconcern. I think that's a center of repentance, right? That's the center offorgiveness of,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Iasked somebody yesterday and it consulting conversation. What is power for,what is power for, why does it exist? To do what one person said, somethingkind of so esoteric that I forgot.
The second one though, the second one said power is for ourfaith to flourish, like to, to get as many people to be as, as good a witnessas possible so that as many people find Jesus as possible. Right. So I thought,okay. So, but what is power for, right. But really now how I would answer thatquestion and how I are I shared with them.
I've come to answer that question is, and again, it goes backto the very first page of the Bible that power exists in order that we mightprotect and serve the rest of creation.
That's why power exists now, it's funny. It's actually really,isn't it ironic that the police have as their motto, protect and serve. Andthey actually are the most powerful civil servants in America because they getto kill. They get to actually take life. But what's what we're finding now isthat as we look at our history and as we look at, even just the last severalyears that they take more lives, Then they are accountable for, and they're notaccountable.
And so, but power exists in order to protect and to preserveand to serve the creation that God created.
Miroslav Volf: So tooto make it flourish, protect it from being broken and then letting it, lettingit unfold.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Exactly. And the thing is, is that when we hoard power, when we, when we claimexclusive rights to it, then what we're really doing is we're not, we're notacknowledging the reality.
That is real, that we are all connected. Yeah, and I can'thoard power over here and take it from you and think that that's not affectingme. It does affect me all of a sudden the hoarding I love this actually comesfrom Brian McLaren's book. Everything has changed where he talks about that inthis current system that we have, the people have, who have hoarded power.
Now you have to have a whole security industrial complex. Now,and this it's nowhere. Is this more prevalent? Have I ever seen this more prevalentthan in South Africa? Because Cape town in particular is the most inequitablecity on the planet. And so you have more wealth and deeper poverty in that oneplace than you'll ever find.
So you have people who've hoarded power and what do they have?Every single house has barbed wire around the tops of their homes. Becauseviolence follows in equity, not poverty, but in equity. And so it affects uswhen you hoard power. Now you have to be concerned about keeping it, and thenyou have to result to violence resort to violence in order to keep it.
And then that brings in the possibility of death in your life,death on your side or death, into the. No longer are we open-handed open fistedwith power, which is how it was created to be, it was created to be shared inorder to all might flourish. So when we look at reparation, when we look atrepentance, it's repentance from the hoarding of.
It's repentance from the belief that God created only one race.First of all, God didn't even create race. That was a human made thing, butthat's, it's such a big lie that God created the area and race, which isn'teven area, but the white race, white people, white folk to rule the world. Thisis ridiculous.
And it's literally a. And it literally has had hugerepercussions. I mean, we wouldn't even have, it comes from the lineage ofempire. We wouldn't even have the cross. If it wasn't for empire, like violencecomes from domination, domination, traces, its way right back. To the apple,to, to, to, to the ball personally, when I look at that at Genesis three, that,and not just that, but when you trace it, trace it all the way, Genesis threeto Genesis 14, what you find is you find that the essence of the fall isdomination.
The essence of the fall is the propensity to dominate theother, the dominate, the self. To dominate God by saying how many God by sayingGod doesn't know God's talking about, you know, and to think that God's goingto try to dominate us, we run and hide from. Um, to dominate the earth becausewe have to beat the earth to get anything out of it.
And then to dominate each other Cain and Abel L'Amic with histwo law wives, then you have the confusion of languages that leads to the veryfirst ethnic enmity and the first mention of the word war and Genesis 14, whichcomes in the context of colonization, the domination of one king over multipleother smaller Kings.
And that just, that's just Genesis 14. So the heart of it, theheart of sin is the separation between us. That comes as a result of domination
Miroslav Volf: toturn this at the end of our conversation, the other way around and to us, ifthe, if the false law. It is a life of domination as you've been describingNYPA right now.
W well, how would you describe the true life life that is trulyworth living life? That flourishes?
Lisa Sharon Harper:Yeah. Well, I want to share two, two things with you want, the first is animage and the second is a story. So the image first, we have built a world andI say we generously European American. And people of European descent aroundthe world have built a world built on the hierarchies of human belonging, andthose hierarchies have been racialized, but they've also been genderized.
They've been sexualized basically at the very top of thisladder is white. Cis-gendered Christian men. Right? And then every, and theyare the ones just like Aristotle would have believed are the full humans. Andeverybody else is a little bit less human until you get to the very bottomwhere people of African descent are non-human, we're not even animals.
We're literally understood to be things. And according to lawand the antebellum south counted with the pitch forks and knives in the census,that's the human hierarchy that we've created. And I think that the principlesin of people of European descent has been actually not only to claim the toprung of that, that hierarchy, but actually to war against God, for supremacy totry to define everyone and everything, to try to control everyone andeverything.
And so what would repentance look like? Repentance would looklike coming down off of and burning the ladders of human hierarchy and insteadentering into a circle of human belonging and a circle of belonging with therest of creation, because we are actually all brothers and sisters and theyare. You know, the trees and the birds and the faxes and the hounds, they'reour cousins.
And to come into a circle and to say, what do you need forthings to be made well with you and to serve and to protect the circle. Thatthat's not how we're trained to live. We're really aren't. And I understandthis now because I've just recently entered into middle-class. I bought ahouse. Right. And so, I mean, I did, and I, for the first time in my life, I'veI rented up until this moment and I bought a house in the house is literallyone block from where my grandmother and my great-grandmother used to live,where my mom grew up.
They were there for. 60 years in this community. And then wemoved away and now I'm coming back and I'm coming back in the midst of agentrifying community. And I bought a nice house. I like, I want beautifulthings. And so I bought a nice house, but when I realized, when I got here iswhoa, there's kind of a struggle happening here.
There's a struggle between. Those who are moving in. And thosewho have been here who are left behind who didn't leave, didn't have the meansto leave. So they've just been there the whole time. And I had a choice. Icould see them as the enemy. I could gear up against them. I could live in thefear of them, or I could allow those tapes that have been programmed into myhead.
The violence of black men into my head, a black head, a blackAmerican woman's head, but I live in white America. Right? I live in anAmerica, a white dominant nation. I could allow those tapes to rule me, or Icould allow brown Jesus to rule me brown Jesus, who was born, a brown Mary andbrown Joseph comes from a lineage of brown people who struggled, just like theyoung men who stand out, out on the street on my black.
Who were occupied, just like the young men who stand out on thestreet on my block, and I can see them as fully human called by God to exercisedominion in the world. And I can see them as ones who are capable of makingchoices good and bad, and I can interact with them as human. And so I startedto say hi to them, and hi grew into conversations.
And conversations grew into one of them actually helping me toplant my planter last week out in front of the house. And like he literallysprinkled seeds into the planter with me. And I was amazed to hear that he knewabout daffodils, right? So that was my other planter. I planted daffodils andhe and I had been waiting for them to come up.
But you see like that it's the creation of ties. It's thechoosing to be connected rather than the choosing to say apart, that's thechoice we have.
Miroslav Volf: That'sbeautiful brown Jesus creating the service. Well, if you have universalbelonging. Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Thank you Marisol
Evan Rosa: for thelife of the world is a production of the Yale Center For Faith and Culture atYale Divinity School. This episode featured author and activist, Lisa SharonHarper and theologian Miroslav Wolf production assistants by Martin Chan andNathan Jowers special. Thanks to Lisa Sharon Harper and Katie.
Does it freedom road.us to learn more about how Lisa and herteam are using narrative in history to work for a more just world. I am EvanRosa and I edited and produced the show for more information, visit us onlineat faith dot Yale dot EDU new episodes drop every Saturday. If you occasionalmidweek, if you're new to the show, so glad that you found us remember to hitsubscribe.
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