The Störling Dance Theatre is preparing to put on it’s 9th annual Underground performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts this February 12 and 13 (more information here). As a church, this is a great opportunity for us to thoughtfully engage with the topic they are presenting, in order to bring more light into a conversation that too often brings division and confusion. Below, we’ve listed a few resources that can help us get started.
The performance tells the story of the abolition movement in the United States. It focuses on Victoria – a slave in the south whose degradation has only been exceeded by her desire to be free – and her journey towards liberation. Along the way, Victoria encounters the series of white and black abolitionists who mysteriously make up the Underground Railroad. Driven by their Biblical conviction that all men are equal and valued by God, these men and women risk all to overcome the evil of their day. The abolition movement in the United States is one of the bright lights of our common history, as well as a reminder of the key role the church should play in overcoming evil and standing with those who are suffering injustice.
This story provides a very helpful blueprint for us as a church today where the same kind of evil that degraded certain kinds of people continues to be very active today. The question it poses is the following: Will we, as the church, bow to the popular appeasement of evil, or will we lay our convictions on the line to push back the darkness?
In order to engage well with that question, we’ve put together a list of resources that can help broaden our understanding of the issues at stake, expand our imagination around next steps, and remind us of the vital role the church has to stand with those who suffer injustice and against evil in whatever form it takes. Grab one or two of these resources, read it with a few friends, your community group, or a family member, and talk about what you feel God is leading you to do next as a key participant in his church. If this list is overwhelming, just check out the first resource in one or each section, they get deeper as you go down the list.
Attend an event:
- If you haven’t seen the Underground performance, get tickets now. If you have, go again! Invite friends, neighbors, newcomers to church…and go enjoy this beautiful, award winning performance. You can get tickets here.
- Also, check out the events surrounding the show. There will be an art gallery event on the First Friday before the event (Feb 5 from 5:30-9pm at our Downtown Campus), and a Children’s Literature Event on Saturday (Feb 6 at 1pm at our Downtown Campus).
Watch a video or a movie:
- Racial Reconciliation. Christena Cleveland, an evangelical social scientist and professor of theology and reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, gave an excellent short talk at Urbana 2015 about how difficult and necessary it is for Christians to cross the artificial barriers between “us” and “others” and gives some first steps forward.
- Restoring the Justice System. One of the major factors in racial inequality today involves the mass incarceration system. Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer who defends death row prisoners gives an excellent talk for Q Ideas on how the church is the only hope to deal with the brokenness in people’s lives and the system.
- Collaboration in Kansas City. At our CG2015 conference in October, our friend and partner pastor Stan Archie talked in detail about how racial reconciliation must go beyond gathering together on Sundays and include the marketplace. Log into the RightNowMedia course and go to the 4th talk. For access to RightNowMedia click here.
- Amistad. This is a great movie, full of both despair and hope, to watch with the family or friends to talk about the racial history of the United States.
- Selma. An excellent telling of the story featuring the key events that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, a milestone in racial equality and a key moment in Dr. Martin Luther King’s work.
Read an article or a book.
- The Abolitionists. A short and very insightful article by Christianity Today about the history of the Abolitionists and how Christians played a key role for it (and against it!). This could be a helpful read before or after watching the performance.
- Why Does Racial Inequality Persist Long After Jim Crow? This is a very helpful article from the Bookings Foundation by Fred Dews about the continual challenges to racial equality, now particularly evident in the mass incarceration system.
- Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby. This is a great, easy to read book about the history of racial inequality and the current challenges in the United States. Pay special attention to the second chapter, which features Kansas City as an example of housing inequality.
- The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. This is a great book on the story of Frederick Douglass, a slave who escaped to the north and fought for abolition in a powerful way. If you like literature, a couple key literary accounts that contributed to the end of slavery include Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (one of pastor Tom’s a great, great relatives!).
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. An excellent book based on thorough sociological research on how the race divide continues to pervade in the Evangelical church and what an important role the church has in breaking it down.
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. This book goes deep into the history from slavery to the New Jim Crow to the current system of mass incarceration. It’s a powerful read and will bother just about everyone who reads it, but the thesis it conveys is very important to understand in order to engage in racial justice today.
I know this list can look overwhelming, and it’s only a sample of what’s out there. Don’t try to tackle it all at once, but please engage, even if it’s just with a movie or a short video! The idea isn’t to learn all the solutions, but to take seriously God’s calling for the church to be a light in a world full of darkness.