Jeff’s talk was brilliant and I can assure you that even among the list of elite speakers present at the gathering, he captivated the audience to the point that we were breathless at times, as though inhaling and exhaling would keep us from hearing his powerful words. One memorable quote came when he accused even the “multi-ethnic” body of Christ still classifying African-Americans who they don’t go to church with as “niggers”.
“They’re not ‘niggers’ if they go to church with me, but they’re ‘niggers’ in the street. They’re not ‘niggers’ when we’re worshiping; they’re not ‘niggers’ because they know Jesus. They’re not ‘niggers’ because they’re saved. As if their blackness was somehow eradicated once they accepted Christ.” He paused smiling and looked around the room filled with mostly white, middle-class, suburban, megachurch-is-the-solution-minded folk, and said, “Some of you are so uncomfortable right now!”
The tension in the Tabernacle erupted in laughter, but the point was made. The notion of ethnic diversity in church is a sterile one at best; at worst, it’s leveraged as propaganda — “Oh we have a Thai person here who came to Christ, please tell us about the depravity that the Lord delivered you from through the work of our church! And do share with us some of your recipes for pad thai, I love exotic cuisine!”
Jeff continued to talk about hip hop as a language of a community, a multi-ethnic and global community, and how we as the church can begin to embrace hip hop by acknowledging “them” as “us”. He drew a full circle from his intro when he opened up his talk with Don Imus, to declaring to the well-churched audience…”This has nothing to do with Imus, but everything to do with Imus, because I — am — us.”
I attended the “talkback” session with Johnson afterwards and he was equally quick and articulate. While I have no video from it, you can check out the clip below to get a taste of the man’s energy and clarity. I believe we, as Asian Americans, have a lot to learn when it comes to identifying with “the other” and including “them” into “us”. Thank you Jeff, thank you for speaking for us and to us.