The White Church Is 'Late' to the Racial Reconciliation Conversation, Christian Rapper Propaganda Says (Interview)Blog
DULUTH, Georgia — Christian rapper and spoken word artist "Propaganda" is warning churches that don't embrace racial reconciliation efforts and openly acknowledge the racial sins of America's past will fade into irrelevancy and be questioned about who they really worship.
The 37-year-old hip-hop artist and former art teacher, whose real name is Jason Petty, performed at the three-day 2016 Catalyst Atlanta religious leadership conference earlier this month, where the theme was unity through "uncommon fellowship."
As racial tensions continue to be a major problem in communities throughout America, Propaganda sat down with The Christian Post to discuss what it is that churches need to do to lead the nation's racial reconciliation discussion and increase racial diversity in their own pews.
Below is the transcript from the interview.
CP: In this year's Catalyst Atlanta the theme is unity through "Uncommon Fellowship." Given the climate that we are in today with the rise of racial tensions in the country, how important is an event like this, especially with this focus?
Propaganda: In some ways, it is yet to be seen. Of course, unity is, like you said, given the climate that we are in, is important but we have to define it. If we are talking about uniformity, that is not helping anybody because our distinctions are important. These are things that God created. I am what I am because I am supposed to be.
So, if it is a matter of doing this to get homeostasis again, that is not doing us any good. If we are going to talk about this fellowship because it just makes you all feel comfortable, that is not helping us either. So, if we are going to talk about a fellowship, we are going to talk about a fellowship that embraces the other and allows for the uncommonness about it and doesn't seek uniformity but dignifies every member around the table.
So, If that is where we get to, then it is absolutely timely. But if we don't get to that, then its like you just dropped a lot of money to do what we have been doing.
CP: In the last few years, we have heard a lot about how there are racial issues in America. But it doesn't seem like there is a lot of concrete action taking place, especially within the Church. Is that what you are seeing?
Propaganda: It depends on like which "the Church" are we talking about. If you are talking about a construct that looks more sort of Western and white, if you will, you are all late to the conversation. You know what I'm saying?
So, like in that sense, there has been a lot of movement with the rest of us, who been continual members of issues of justice, race and reconciliation. You can go back to the Methodists. We have have been a part of this for a while.
I think that in that, in a good way, the dominant culture, if you will, is going, "Oh crap, our silence is indicting." I think that particular facet of the Church is sort of new to the conversation, and probably seven conversations behind where my Uncle Ray is, who never went to seminary because he wasn't allowed to go. But his understanding of what it actually means to be a culturally relevant Christian may not come from the academy. It comes from actually being a relevant Christian.
I think there is more of like a catching up, if you will, where it is like the culture has pushed that facet of the Church so far into the corner that you are either going to jump off the cliff and become completely irrelevant or you're going to be called to the table and asked, "Alright, who do you really worship?" Either you stand up and say, "Yeah, we stand for the Gospel and I am willing to get into this" or you just push yourself into irrelevancy.
CP: Do you find that white evangelicals are less willing to acknowledge that there are racial issues?
Propaganda: I don't want to blame that on all white evangelicals, per se. They are not the only ones.
Propaganda: Yeah, you could say that. I think it is more of a microcosm of the macrocosm, with the macrocosm being sort of this lullaby of equality where we thought once we ended Jim Crow, we are good now, which flies in the face of what we already know doctrinally and that is that we can't legislate a heart change.
Even if the legislation changed, still sitting in the hearts of men is evil sinful deeds that sometimes will play out along the lines of our areas of weakness.
In this particular situation is this position of privilege and cultural dominance that for the last 40 years has become such a norm. I heard a saying recently that equality feels like oppression, if you have only known privilege.
So, if you have only known privilege, it's more of a fear in the sense that if a roach walks in and if nobody looks at it, maybe it will just walk out. The implications of what that means is that so many things you have taken for granted now have to be deconstructed — whether it is your understanding of patriotism, or what conservatism is actually conserving or how much supremacy you have actually allowed to creep into your doctrine.
CP: Is it kind of like admitting that you were wrong?
Propaganda: Yeah. In the same way that if a woman was in an abusive relationships with her husband and he has beat her for so long and then one day he stops. Well, the story is not over just because you stop hitting her. You can't just be like, "You can't be mad because it's in the past now." It is preposterous. There are things that you have to rectify and acknowledge at least for any sort of fellowship to actually occur.
So, I think that it is more of a sense of retroactively owning our mistakes. Nobody is asking for a time machine but in the same way neither is your spouse. What I am trying to say is let's acknowledge your role in this and that way we can get to healing.
CP: Do you think that the problem is a fear of losing privilege?
Propaganda: Yeah. I think that all people, in some way, have privilege in some way shape or form. I have access to things that others don't, so privilege isn't wrong. But as a believer, we kind of bank on that. We have access to the Father, so we bank on that through the Son, so Christ gave us privilege.
Privilege by nature isn't wrong. Where it becomes dangerous is when we hold it so tightly that it is to the detriment of others and if it's not leveraged for the sake of those that don't have it.
So, a fear of losing privilege, I would imagine, is normal. But you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, "Am I willing to leverage this for the sake of others?" Leveraging shouldn't feel like a loss of privilege. Leverage should feel like access and giving to to others.
CP: What are some concrete steps that churches can take to become more multicultural?
Propaganda: I think there are two sides to this question. On one side, if we are in [white rural areas], don't force a church to go find a black dude. Let them be where they are. If you are in Spanish Harlem, you are in Spanish Harlem. … On the other hand, if we are talking about a major metropolitan church, it is going to look like their relationships.
If from the leadership to the pews you don't have multi-ethnic relationships in your life, it is not going to show up in your church because we are going to surround ourselves with people we feel comfortable with. If you haven't crossed the bridge to really feel comfortable with someone, then it is not really going to fill your pulpit.
On the other hand, especially from a practical standpoint, there is your elder board. That's easy. Your elder board doesn't necessarily need to be like the good ol' boy network. You have no biblical foundation to say that a woman can't be on your leaderboard, you have no foundation for that. Get one of the ladies. Get somebody old. There are so many things you can throw on there to get that sort of voice.
CP: How much first-hand experience do you have with racially being profiled or stereotyped?
Propaganda: We don't have enough time to get into all that but at least once a quarter, bro. That's the story of my life.
CP: How did you come up with the name Propaganda?
Propaganda: It was given to me. So, my cousin, when I was in high school, kind of gave it me. I was a visual artist first and he knew I was Christian. I taught high school, so I was into education and new music. They are all propaganda, so he just kind of kind of like gave out the name.
CP: When hearing the word propaganda, we think of something exaggerated for some particular cause. Do you have a cause that you feel like you are the propaganda for?
Propaganda: Multiple causes. There are things that I am passionate about, whether it's the season or just kind sort of what is necessary for culture. I like the idea that I can shape the culture in any shape or form that I can in whatever topic. But a lot of times, for me, it is about representing "the other," whoever "the other" is.