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Shake the Dust
Juneteenth, Christianity, and Critical Race Theory with Pastor Rasool Berry

Juneteenth, Christianity, and Critical Race Theory with Pastor Rasool Berry

Season 4, Episode 2

Today’s episode features Jonathan and Sy talking with Pastor Rasool Berry. They discuss:

-        The importance of acknowledging and understanding your own and your community’s power

-        The social and spiritual forces behind the opposition to CRT or DEI (or whatever they’re calling it today)

-        Pastor Berry’s incredible documentary about Juneteenth and Christian faith

-        When to leave communities that push back against racial justice

-        And after the interview, Sy and Jonathan reflect on the work it takes to pass on a tradition like Juneteenth well, and the truly, literally unbelievable levels of ignorance whiteness creates in people

-        Plus, they discuss the Daniel Perry pardon, and the threads that connect it to the Donald Trump convictions

Mentioned in the Episode

-        Our anthology - Keeping the Faith: Reflections on Politics and Christianity in the era of Trump and Beyond

-        An abridged version of Pastor Berry’s article from the anthology.

-        His subsequent article, “Uncritical Race Theory

-        The documentary Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom

-        Resources for screening Juneteenth and inviting speakers involved with the film

-        The soundtrack for Juneteenth

-        Pastor Berry’s podcast, Where Ya From?

-        The article on Daniel Perry Sy put in our newsletter

-        The Texas Monthly article about how legally unusual Perry’s pardon was


-        Follow KTF Press on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads. Subscribe to get our bonus episodes and other benefits at KTFPress.com.

-        Follow host Jonathan Walton on Facebook Instagram, and Threads.

-        Follow host Sy Hoekstra on Mastodon.

-        Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify.

-        Our podcast art is by Robyn Burgess – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.

-        Transcripts by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra.

-        Production by Sy Hoekstra and our incredible subscribers


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending – F#, B#, E, D#, B – with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]

Rasool Berry: There was a lot of nicknames and still are for Juneteenth. One was Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, but Jubilee Day. And when I discovered that, that's when I said we got to get involved in this process. Because you mean to tell me that these formerly enslaved people at a time when it was illegal to read, that they understood enough of the story that they picked out this festival, that it was this reordering of society, the kingdom of heaven coming back to earth. And in the context of this, of their faith, they saw God doing a jubilee in their lives?

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/ That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]


Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, seeking Jesus, confronting injustice. I'm Sy Hoekstra.

Jonathan Walton: And I'm Jonathan Walton. Today, hear us talk to Pastor Rasool Berry about his thoughts on the movement against CRT, or DEI, or whatever the term for the moment is right now when you listen to this. We're also [laughs] going to talk about his incredible feature length documentary called Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom, which is available for free on YouTube right now. And then after the interview, hear our thoughts on the pardon of Daniel Perry and the conviction of Donald Trump in our segment, Which Tab Is Still Open?

Sy Hoekstra: The 34 convictions of Donald Trump.

Jonathan Walton: All of them.

Sy Hoekstra: All of them [laughs]. We're going to talk about each one individually…

Jonathan Walton: Exactly.

Sy Hoekstra: …the specific business record that he destroyed, whatever.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Don't be afraid, we're not going to do that. By the way, I said at the end of last week that the guest this week was going to be Brandi Miller, and then we realized that we had to do the episode that was about Juneteenth before Juneteenth. So Brandi Miller's going to be in two weeks from now. And this time [laughs], it's Pastor Rasool Berry.

Before we get to that, just a reminder, we need your subscriptions. Please go to ktfpress.com and become a paid subscriber on our Substack. Your support sustains what we do, and we need that support from you right now. We've been doing this as a side project for a long time, and like we've been saying, if we want this show to continue past this season, we need to get a lot more subscribers so that we can keep doing this work, but not for free as much as we've been doing it.

So go and subscribe. That gets you all the bonus episodes of this show, which there are many, many of at this point. And then it also gets you access to our new monthly subscriber conversations that we're doing. Jonathan and I will be having video chats with you to talk about all the different kinds of things that we talk about on this show, answer some questions, just have a good time. And if you cannot afford a subscription, if money's the only obstacle, just write to us at info@ktfpress.com. We will give you a free or discounted subscription, no questions asked. But if you can afford it, please, ktfpress.com. Become a paid subscriber. We need your support now.

Jonathan Walton: Pastor Rasool Berry serves as teaching pastor at The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, New York. He's also the director of partnerships and content development with Our Daily Bread Ministries. Pastor Berry graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in Africana Studies and Sociology. He's also the host of the Where Ya From? podcast sponsored by Christianity Today, and the writer, producer and host of Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom. Let's get to it. Here's the interview.

[the intro piano music from “Citizens” by Jon Guerra plays briefly and then fades out.]

Sy Hoekstra: Pastor, thank you so much for joining us on Shake the Dust today.

Rasool Berry: Oh, well, I'm glad to be here with you all, back at it again, Keeping the Faith.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Yes, exactly [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: Amen. Amen.

The Importance of “Mapping” Power

Sy Hoekstra: So, you wrote this fantastic essay for… so, well, actually, it was originally for your blog, I think, and then we kind of took it and adapted it for the anthology. And it was about critical race theory, and you broke down a lot of the history and sort of the complex intellectual background of it and everything. But you talked specifically about something that you said, critical race theory and the Bible and the Black Christian tradition in the US all help us do something really important, and that thing is mapping power. Can you talk to us a little bit about what power mapping is and what the importance of it is?

Rasool Berry: Yeah. I first kind of got wind of that framework when we were launching a justice ministry at our church. And two friends Gabby, Dr. Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes and her husband, Dr. Andrew Wilkes, who do a lot of great work with justice, actually walked our church through thinking about mapping power in our church as a way of evaluating what types of justice initiatives did it make sense for us to engage in, in light of what we had in the room. And so for instance, when I was in my church in Indiana, a lot of the parishioners worked at Lilly who's headquarters is in Indiana. And so when they decided to do something for the community, they ended up opening up a clinic in the church building, which still exists and serves the local community, because they all had medical backgrounds.

So when they do mission work, they do mission work with a medical component, because that's a effective way of mapping power. Where our church in Brooklyn average age is about 28, 29 and they're more artsy. So we're not opening up clinics, you know what I mean? But what we can do is events that help inspire and help engage with people. And then eventually with our pastor's leadership started something called Pray March Act, which looks to be a place to mobilize churches around issues of justice in New York City. So what is oftentimes overlooked in Christian spaces, and I really am indebted to Andy Crouch and his book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, for really surfacing the need for us to have a theology of power.

That this is something that oftentimes especially evangelical churches, or more kind of Bible oriented or people kind of churches, there's a sense in which we don't know how to think about power. And I believe, I suspect this is one of the reasons why the church has been so susceptible to issues like sexual abuse, to egregious theft in money, is because we are not really conditioned to think about power, which is really ironic because the scriptures really do point to… I mean, we literally have two books, First and Second Kings, and those books are pointing to you have the king, this king was a good king, and it impacted the kingdom of Israel this way. This king was a bad king, and then this is what happened.

And so it's wired in the text, right? Amy Sherman in her book, Kingdom Calling, Dr. Amy Sherman points to this when she points to the proverb that says, “when the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” And it's this idea, when she says righteous, she's not thinking about it in the kind of traditional pietistic aspect of righteousness, but she's talking about “tzedakah” in the Hebrew, which has this connotation of justice. Because when people who are put in positions of power and influence, when they do right by the people underneath them when they do right, that people celebrate. Versus when there's somebody who's a tyrant that's in office, the people groan because there's that sense of they recognize we've mapped power dynamics, and somebody who's going to do ill is going to have a disproportionate impact on all of us.

And so power mapping is bringing to surface the awareness of what is it that we have in the room. And it's also a very humbling way of being aware of our own power, right? Like how do I show up as a man in a space, in certain things? Like I know if I get up and I'm about to preach that there's some different dynamics depending on who I'm talking to in a room. Like if I'm in a predominantly Black context that's younger, then the locks might actually kind of give me some street cred. Like, oh, that's kind of cool. But if I'm in a older, traditional space, looking younger is going to be more of a uphill climb to say, okay, what's this guy coming at? And if I'm in a White space, versus but I also recognize that when our sisters come up, that there's a whole different type of power mapping situation.

And so all of these things are helpful in being aware of how we show up and how that matters. And Andy’s kind of thesis is that unlike the kind of post Nietzschean postmodern suspicion and critical view of power that only sees it as a negative, that God has actually given us and ordained us to exert influence and power in redemptive ways. But we can only do that if we map it, if we're aware of it, and if we use it in a way that's not just for our own self or comfort or glory, but for those who we're called to serve.

Sy Hoekstra: Can I ask, just for some like to get specific on one thing, because I'm not sure this would be intuitive to everyone. You said if we map power, then we might not end up in the same situations that we are with, like abuse scandals in the church?

Rasool Berry: Yeah. Yep.

Sy Hoekstra: And I think I… where my mind goes is I think we would react differently to the abuse scandal. I don't know if the abuse scandals themselves would… those happen unfortunately. But I think where the power mapping might come in, is where so many people are then just deferring to whatever the person in, the pastor's narrative is. Is that kind of what you're talking about, like the reaction?

Rasool Berry: I think it's on both sides.

Sy Hoekstra: You do? Okay.

Rasool Berry: Yeah, because for instance, if I am aware, very aware of power dynamics with children and adults, I would see the value in a practice of not leaving an adult in a space with a child by themselves.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, I see. You might put systems in place ahead of time. Yeah, yeah.

Rasool Berry: Right. So there's the sense in which we can put policies in place that recognize… it's the same thing why we put the labeling system on kids when they check into childcare, right? Like you put the little label so that some random person can't just come and pick them up because a kid can’t defend themselves. Or they may not have the capacity to understand what's going on if somebody just random comes up and says, “Hey, your mom and your dad told me to come get you,” and then they believe that. And so we have systems that we put in place to recognize those power dynamics. And I think unfortunately, that in a lot of our church context and culture there's an overly naive sense of, and really sometimes idolatrous view of pastors and leaders that essentially say, well, they're good and they're godly people, so there isn't a need for accountability, or there isn't a need for, you know…

And so no, it's like, well, in the same way that we have trustees in certain churches, or there's a elders board, depending on what your church polity is, that polity should reflect a sense of accountability and transparency so that there is an awareness on the front end as well as on the backend that when it does come to bring people into account, that there's also an awareness of a power dynamic at play there too.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense especially when [laughs] we throw those things out, all we have are the systems of hierarchy and social dominance that exist to define what power is, right?

Rasool Berry: Right.

Jonathan Walton: So the train just keeps going.

The Social and Spiritual Forces behind the Fight against CRT/DEI

Jonathan Walton: So leaning into that a little bit, you wrote an essay focusing on CRT power mapping and things like that. But it feels like nobody in the Trump camp really had an idea of what CRT was, and it didn't even really matter to them what it was.

Rasool Berry: Right.

Jonathan Walton: So what do you think is at the core of what's going on with White people when they reject CRT or DEI or whatever the—conscious—whatever the term would be?

Rasool Berry: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: What do you think the underlying concern is?

Rasool Berry: Well, you know, after… and it's so funny because when I wrote that first piece, I wrote it as a way… [laughs] I wrote it just to get it off my chest. And in my mind, almost nobody was going to read it because it was like a 20-something minute read, and I just didn't care because I was just like, “I'm getting this off my chest,” and this is the last I'm going to say about it. Like I thought that was going to be just this thing, just so I can point people to, if anybody asks. I did not intend, nor did I think that it was only going to kind of position me as this person that people were listening to and reading and resonating with about it. So that was funny. But then what ended up happening, and especially after I was on the unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley, kind of in this debate format with Neil Shenvi, who's kind of been one of the most outspoken evangelical Christian critics of critical race theory. Critics is probably too mild of a term, kind of a…

Jonathan Walton: Antagonist.

Rasool Berry: Antagonist, even stronger. Like this doomsday prophet who says that, who’s warning against the complete erosion of biblical norms because of the Trojan Horse, in his mind, of critical race theory. In the midst of that conversation, that kind of elevated, it was one of their top 10 episodes of the entire year, and it just kind of got me into these spaces where I was engaging more and more. And I kind of sat back and reflected, and I had a few more interactions with Neil on Twitter. And I ended up writing a separate piece called “Uncritical Race Theory.” And the reason why I did that, is I went back and I was curious about what kind of insights I could get from previous instances of the way that there were being controversies surrounding race in America in the church, and how the church talked about those debates.

So I went back and I read The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, who looked at and examined the actual debates during the time of the antebellum period of pro-slavery Christians and anti-slavery Christians, and he analyzed that. Then I went back and I read The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, who looked at the pro-integrationist and segregationist arguments in the church. And what I found was that there was incredible symmetry between what was argued in each of those instances, going all the way back to the 1800s, to the 1960s, to now, and there were two things that emerged. The first was that the primary response from those who were supportive of slavery in the 1800s, or those who were supportive of segregation in the 1960s was to claim first of all, that the opposing view were not biblically faithful, or were not even concerned about biblical fidelity.

So this is different than other types of discussions where we could say, even going back to the councils, right? Like when there's some type of, like during the Nicaean Council or something like that, they're debating about how they're understanding the text about certain things. Whereas is Jesus fully God, is he man, is he both? But there's a basic premise that they're both coming at it from different aspects of scriptures. What I noticed in the American context is that there was a denial that the side that was kind of having a more progressive view was even biblically faithful at all.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. Christian.

Rasool Berry: The second part is related to the first, is that there was this allegation that there was outside philosophies that was actually shaping this impetus because it wasn't clearly the Bible. So in the 1800s that was the claim, “Oh, you're being influenced by these post-enlightenment ideas.” In the 1960s it was straight up Marxism, communism. You see the signs. “Integration is communism.” Like you see the people protesting with that, and of course the new version of that is kind of the remix of cultural Marxism, or these type of things. And so what I acknowledged in each of those scenarios is that part of the problem is that there is such an uncritical understanding of race that it causes, I think especially those in a dominant culture or those who've been susceptible to the ideologies of White supremacy, which can be White or Black or other, There's a tendency to see any claim that race is a problem as the problem itself because there's an underlying denial of the reality of racial stratification in our society, and the what Bryan Stevenson refers to as the narrative of racial difference or what is more commonly known as White supremacy. So when your default position is that you are introducing a foreign concept into the conversation when you talk about the relevance of race in a scenario, then it causes… that sense of uncritical nature of the reality of race causes you to then look upon with suspicion any claim that there's some type of racial based situation happening. And that is what I call, it is really ironically uncritical race theory. It's the exact opposite of what critical race theory is trying to do.

And so I think that that's my take on what's happening. And then I think that's more of the scientific sociological, but then there's also a spiritual. I am a pastor [laughter]. And I have to end with this. I have to end with this, because in some ways I was naively optimistic that there was, if you just reasoned and show people the right analogies or perspectives, then they would, they could be persuaded. But what I have since realized and discovered is that there is a idolatrous synchronization of what we now know of different aspects of White Christian nationalism that is a competing theological position and belief system that is forming these doctrinal positions of what we now kind of look at as American exceptionalism, what we look at as this sense of the status quo being… all the things that are moving toward an authoritarian regime and away from democracy, that that is all solidifying itself as an alternative gospel.

And I think that at the end of the day, I'm looking at and grieving about mass apostasy that I'm seeing happening in the church as a result of an unholy alliance of political ideology and Christian symbols, language, and values expressed in this kind of mixed way. And that's what is really being allowed to happen with this unmapped power dynamic, is that people don't even realize that they're now exerting their power to kind of be in this defensive posture to hold up a vision of society that is actually not Christian at all, but that is very much bathed in Christian terms.

Jonathan Walton: I want to say a lot back, but we got to keep going, but that was good.

Sy Hoekstra: We got to… [laughs]. Yeah. I mean, we could talk forever about what you just said, but we could also talk forever about your documentary. So let's transition to that.

Rasool Berry: [laughter] You all are like exercising restraint.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes.

Jonathan Walton: I am.

Rasool Berry: Like, “oh, I want to go there.” I just threw steak in front of the lions [laughter].

Why Pastor Berry Made a Documentary about Juneteenth

Sy Hoekstra: But it's because, I mean, the documentary's interesting in a way... It's sort of like, okay, you've seen this movement of mass apostasy and everything, and you've had all these people tell you you're not faithful. And with this documentary in some ways, you're just sprinting on down the road that you're on. You know what I mean? It's like sort of [laughs], you're just going straightforward like we need to remember our past. We need to learn about power dynamics in American history. So you wrote this—[realizing mistake] wrote— you were involved in, you're the kind of narrator, the interviewer of this documentary Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom. And you went to Galveston and you went to Houston, Texas to learn more about the history of Juneteenth and the communities and the people that shaped the celebration and everything.

And I guess I just want to know how this got started and why it was so important for you to engage in what was a very significant project…

Rasool Berry: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: …to teach people about this kind of history that I think the movement against CRT or DEI or whatever is quite actively trying to suppress.

Rasool Berry: And these two stories are very much intertwined…

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: Absolutely.

Rasool Berry: …in ways that I didn't even fully anticipate in some ways. In some ways I knew, in some ways I didn't. But I grew up in Philly, where there was not growing up a significant Juneteenth awareness or celebration or anything like that. So I had heard about it though when I was very young, the concept of it. I had a classmate whose middle name was Galveston, and I was like, “That's a weird name. Why is your middle name Galveston?” [laughter] He told me that it's because his mom had told him about this situation where there were Black people that didn't know they were free for two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. I was like eight years old when I first heard that, but filed that away.

It wasn't really until more recent years with the, just massive racial justice movement spurred on by the murders of Tamir Rice and George Floyd and others, Sandra Bland. And so, as that movement started to gin up, conversations about race that I was kind of plugged into, I heard about this 90-something year old woman that was appearing before Congress…

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Rasool Berry: …and challenging them to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Sy Hoekstra: I can't believe you got to interview her. She was amazing.

Rasool Berry: Yeah. And I was like, why would a 90-something plus year old woman be like this committed to this? So I started looking into it and realizing, I think both spiritually and socially, that there was incredible potency and opportunity in the recognition, the widespread recognition of Juneteenth. I'll go socially first. Socially, the reality has been the United States has never had a moment where we collectively reflect on the legacy of slavery in our country. And if you do the math, from the first enslaved people that we have documented coming into the States in 1619 until if even if you go to the abolition of slavery in 1865 or 1866 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, that's about 244 years.

If you go from 1865 to now, it's like 159 or so years. So we still have way more time in our society that has been shaped by this most intense version of a caste system and brutal slavery that had global, it literally reshaped the globe. And sometimes we forget. I live in Brooklyn where most of the Black folk are Afro-Caribbean. When you think of Jamaica, you think of Usain Bolt or Bob Marley. Do you realize that all of those people are from Africa, like our African descent people. That like the native people of Jamaica would've been Native Americans. So the legacy of slavery and colonialism has literally reshaped population centers in our world. That's how significant it was.

And so to not have a moment to reflect on all of it, the implications of how the legacy still shapes us, but also the progress of what we've seen happen and how we are not in that same place is a missed opportunity. But on the contrary, to put that in place is an opportunity for reflection that I think could really help ground us toward being a more perfect union, toward us being a unified people. Because we're basing it on the same story and information, which increasingly in the age of misinformation and disinformation, that the erosion of us having a shared narrative is really upon us. So I think it's interesting and important from that standpoint. Spiritually, it was even more dynamic because one of the… so there was a lot of nicknames and still are for Juneteenth. One was Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, but Jubilee Day.

And when I discovered that, that's when I said, “Okay, Our Daily Bread, we got to get involved in this process.” Because you mean to tell me that these formerly enslaved people at a time when it was illegal to read, primarily because they didn't want people to read the Bible, that they understood enough of the story of the Old Testament, that they picked out this festival in Leviticus 25, this ordinance that God had put in place, that on the Jubilee year, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths, I call it the Super Bowl of Sabbaths [Sy laughs]. Seven years times seven, forty nine years plus one, fifty. That on that day that it was this reordering of society, the kingdom of heaven coming back to earth, which simultaneously anticipates the wickedness and the brokenness of human systems in power, but also projects and casts vision about the kingdom of heaven, which would allow for equity and equality to take place. So debts were forgiven, lands were returned, and people who were in bondage primarily because of debt, that was the main reason back then, they would be set free. And in the context of their faith, they saw God doing the jubilee in their lives. So what that gave was the opportunity for us to talk about and reintroduce in many faith traditions the relationship between spiritual and physical freedom, and see that in the Bible story those things were wedded.

What's the major account in the Old Testament is the Exodus account. Like it was both physical and spiritual freedom. And in the same way we see that is why Jesus, when he reveals himself and says, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” notice when John the Baptist starts to waver because he's expecting this conquering king. He's still in prison and he says, “Hey, are you the one or we should expect another?” Jesus points to physical and spiritual aspects of liberation in his response. “Tell John what you see. The blind receive sight. The sick are healed. The gospel is preached. Blessed is the one who is not ashamed of me.” So in the sense of that, what we see elements of the kind of seeds of in the gospel is this aspect of the physical and spiritual liberation being tied together.

And that is what Jubilee gives us opportunity to explore and investigate. And I think lastly, seeing the role of the Black church in bringing out that insight, I think is particularly valuable in a time where oftentimes those contributions are overlooked and ignored.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, absolutely. I think being able to watch the documentary was transformative for me. Mainly because I'm 38 years old and it's being produced by people who look and sound and act like me. It's interviewing the people who came before us, trying to speak to the folks that are younger than us. And each generation I think has this, this go around where we have to own our little piece of what and how we're going to take the work forward. You know what I mean?

Discerning Whether to Leave Communities that Push back on Discussions about Race

You interviewed Lecrae in the documentary and he's taken that work forward, right? And you both say that you've had the experiences of believing you are loved and accepted in these White evangelical spaces until you started talking about racial justice issues.

And so I feel like there's these moments where we want to take the work forward, and then we're like, “All right, well, this is our moment.” Like Opal was like, “Hey, I'm going to do Juneteenth.” Where now you're like, “I'm going to do something.” [laughs] So I wonder, like for you, when you have to make decisions about how to stay, not to stay or just leave. What is the effect of constantly engaging in that calculus for you?

Rasool Berry: Oh, man! It's exhausting to do it. And I think it is valuable to count the cost and realize that sometimes you're best suited to reposition yourself and to find other ways to express that faithfulness. At other times, God is causing you to be a change agent where you are. And I think how to navigate through that is complicated, and I think it's complicated for all of us, for our allies who see the value of racial justice as well as for those of us who are marginalized and experience, not just conceptually or ideologically the need for justice, but experientially all of the things through macro and microaggressions that come up, that weigh and weather us and our psyche, our emotions, our bodies.

And I think that it’s important to be very spiritually attuned and to practice healthy emotional spirituality as well as, best practices, spiritual disciplines, all the things that have come alongside of what does it mean to follow Jesus. I was recently reflecting on the fact that in the height of Jesus’ ministry, when it was on and popping, he’s growing, the crowds are growing in number, it says that he went away regularly and left the crowds to be with God. And then the verse right after that, it's in Luke, I can't remember which chapters, I know the verse is 16 and 17. And then it talks about how he had power as a result of going away to do more. And there's this relationship between our needing to rest and to find recovery in the secret place in the quiet place with God in order to have the energy to do more of the work.

And that's a lot to hold together, but it's really important because otherwise you can end up being like Moses, who was trying to do justice, but in his own strength at first when he kills the Egyptian, and then he tried to go to his people being like, “Yo, I'm down!” And they're like, “You killed somebody. We don't want to hear from you.”

Jonathan Walton: [laughs] Right.

Rasool Berry: And then he flees. Because he tried to do it in his own strength. And then when God reveals himself at the bush, now he's totally broken and not even confident at all in himself. And God has to say, “No, the difference is going to be I'm with you.” So I think in my own journey, I've been one of many people who've had to evaluate and calculate where I've been in order to kind of see where there are opportunities to move forward. For instance, I was on staff with Cru for 20 years and then as the opportunities to work with Our Daily Bread, and I remember specifically the podcast Where Ya From?, that we launched and then Christianity Today got connected to it.

They were eagerly looking, or at least supporting the idea of us having conversations about faith and culture and race and all these things. Whereas in my previous environment, I felt like that was not something… I didn’t even feel like it, I experienced the pullback of talking about those things. So it has actually, by repositioning myself to kind of be able to be in spaces where I can tell these stories and advocate in these ways, it has been a better use of my energy and my time. Now, even in that other space, everything isn’t perfect. It's still the same type of challenges that exist anywhere you go in the world where you're a minority in race and racial difference is prominent, but at least it's a opportunity to still do more than I could do maybe in a previous position. And all of us have to make those type of calculations.

And I think it's best to do those things in the context of community, not just by yourself, and also with a sense of sobriety of encountering and experiencing God himself. Because at the end of the day, sometimes, I'm going to just say this, sometimes the answer is leave immediately. Get out of there. At other times, God is calling you to stay at least in the short term time. And it's important to be discerning and not just reactive to when is the right situation presenting itself. And the only way I know to do that is by doing it in community, doing it with a sense of healthy rhythms and time to actually hear the still small voice of God.

Sy Hoekstra: Amen.

Jonathan Walton: Amen.

Sy Hoekstra: Because you really can err in either direction. Like some people, “I'm getting out of here right away,” without thinking. Meaning, when you're being reactive, when you're not being discerning…

Rasool Berry: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: …you can get out right away or you can have the instinct, “No, I'm going to stick it out forever,” even if it's bad for you, and it's not going to accomplish anything.

Rasool Berry: Yup, yeah.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. Which I think leans into jumping all the way back the critical versus uncritical.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah [laughs]. There you go.

Jonathan Walton: Like if we're not willing to lean into the radical interrogation of the systems and structures around us that inform our decisions each day, we will submit to them unconsciously, whether that be running when we should resist or whether that be resisting where we actually should flee. So yeah, thanks for all that.

Where you can Find Pastor Berry’s work

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much. And so we will have links to both of the articles, to the documentary, which is entirely free on YouTube.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: So you're just wasting your life if you're not watching it, really [laughter]. And a couple other things you talked about, we'll have links. But is there anywhere that you want people to go to either follow you or your work online?

Rasool Berry: Yeah. So the other thing that what we did with the Juneteenth documentary, because the response was so strong and overwhelming, really, people wanted to host screenings locally. And so we did a few things to make that more possible. So you can actually go on our website experiencevoices.org/Juneteenth. And you can fill out like a form to actually host a screening locally. And we have designed social media so you can market it, posters that you could print out, even discussion questions that you can use to host discussions. And sometimes people invite some of us from the production on site. So I've gone and done, I’ve been at screenings all the way from California to Texas to Wisconsin and here in New York.

So you can reach out to us on that website as well if you're interested in hosting a screening with the director or one of the producers or myself, and we can kind of facilitate that. Also be looking at your local PBS stations. We partnered with PBS to air screenings so far over a hundred local channels.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, wow.

Rasool Berry: And have aired it. Now, the PBS version is slightly different because we had to edit it down to fit their hour long format. And so the biggest version is the PBS version doesn't have Lecrae in it [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Oh no [laughs].

Rasool Berry: We had to cut out the four-time Grammy winner. Sorry Lecrae [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Rasool Berry: You know what I mean? But it just so happened that way it, that it was the best way to edit it down.

Jonathan Walton: You had to keep Opal.

Rasool Berry: Had to keep Opal, had to keep Opal [laughter].

Sy Hoekstra: I feel like Lecrae would understand that, honestly.

Rasool Berry: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was so gracious. And actually, the other thing that Lecrae did, I had told him that we were working with Sho Baraka, a mutual friend of ours, to do the music. And he said, “Yeah, I heard something about that.” He's like, “I have a song I was going to put on Church Clothes 4, but I feel like it would be a better fit for this. If you're interested, let me know and I can send it to you.” I'm like, “If I'm interested? Yes, I'm interested.” [laughter] Yes. I'll accept this sight unseen. And so he sent us this incredible song that features, well actually is listed as Propaganda’s song, but it features Lecrae and Sho Baraka. And you can get the entire Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom soundtrack 13 tracks, poetry, hip hop, gospel, rnb, all on one thing. And wherever you listen to your music, Spotify, Apple Music, anywhere, you can, listen to it, stream it, buy it, and support this movement and this narrative. So yeah. And then personally, just @rasoolb on Instagram, @rasoolberry on, I still call it Twitter [Sy laughs]. So, and we're on Facebook as well. That's where folks can follow me, at rasoolberry.com, website. So thanks for having me.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, pastor, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

Jonathan Walton: Thanks so much, man.

[the intro piano music from “Citizens” by Jon Guerra plays briefly and then fades out.]

Reflecting on the Interview

Sy Hoekstra: Hey, Jonathan, you know what's really useful, is when in the middle of an interview with one of our guests, we say, “Oh no, we don't have time. We'd really like to get into this, so we have to move on to another subject.” It's really useful when we have these little times that we're doing now after the interview to talk more about the subjects than we did with the guests [laughter]. This works out well for us.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: Why don't you tell everybody what you're thinking after the interview with Pastor Berry?

Passing on a Tradition Well Takes Significant Work

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I think the biggest thing for me that I took away among a lot of the nuggets that he… nuggets and like big things that got dropped on me while we were listening, was like the amount of work that he went through to make this film. Like traveling to Galveston. There's a lot in the documentary that reminds me of how much it costs us personally to create things that are moving. To be able to have these conversations, sit down with these people, smell the smells of these folks' homes. That's just a big thing, particularly for me, like not having… I grew up with the Juneteenth story and needing to think through my own traditions and what I’m going to pass to my kids and stuff like that.

It's just I'm challenged to do that work so that I have something substantial to pass on to Maya and Everest. And to the folks who listen to the preaching that I give or the stories I write, or the books I'm going to write, just so I can communicate with the same amount of intimacy that he did. So, Sy how about you? What stood out for you?

The Literally Unbelievable Racial Ignorance of Whiteness

Sy Hoekstra: I think what stood out for me was actually right at that point where we said we really wanted to talk more about something, I really did have more thoughts [laughs]. When he was talking about the thing that underlies the fight against CRT and DEI and all that sort of thing. Being just a straight up denial of any sort of racial caste system or racial stratification in our country, I think that point is extremely important. That so much of our disagreements about racial injustice, at least on the intellectual level, not on the emotional and all that kind of thing, the intellectual level that come down to a difference in beliefs about the facts of reality in America. It is literally just do you think racism is happening or not? Because if you do think that it's happening, then everything has to change [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: And there's not a lot of room… you'll have to do a lot more like kind of active denial. A lot more having a very active lack of integrity [laughs] to continue in the way that you're thinking when you believe that there is no racism in America if you find out that there is. Which kind of explains why there's so much resistance to it. But I think one story that sort of illustrates how this dynamic works a little bit that just, this is something that happened to me that this reminded me of. I was an intern right after college at International Justice Mission, and I read Gary Haugen's book, The Good News About Injustice, where the intro to this book is about his childhood growing up in kind of suburban, I think he's outside of Seattle, somewhere in Washington. A suburban Christian home, things were pretty nice and easy and he just did not know anything about injustice or anything in the world. Like oppression, racism, he did not know anything about it. And then the book takes you through how he discovered it and then his theology of what God wants to do about it and what the organization does and all that kind of thing. But just that intro, I remember talking to one of the other interns who was at IJM m when I was there, who was a Black woman who was ordained in the Black Baptist Church and had grown up relatively low income. And I was talking to her about this book because I read that intro and I was like, “yes, I totally resonate with this. This is how I grew up, check, check. That makes sense. I understand all of it.”

And it makes sense to a lot of the people who support IJM, which are a lot of suburban White evangelicals. She told me, she read the intro to the book and her immediate reaction was how, there is no way that anyone could possibly be this ignorant. It is not possible [laughs]. And I was like, [pretending to be hurt] “but I was” [laughter]. And there's this wrench in the gear of our conversations about justice where there's a large spectrum of White people who are, some engaging in actual innocent good faith about how much nonsense there is, like how much racism there is in America, and people who are engaging in complete bad faith and have ignored all the things that have been put right in front of them clearly.

And it is just very difficult for a lot of people who are not White to understand [laughs] that there are actually… the level of ignorance of a lot of White people is unbelievable, by which I mean it literally cannot be believed by a lot of people. And I don't know, that's just, it is a complication in our conversations about race that doesn't really change what you have to tell people or how seriously you should take your conversations or whatever. It's just a note about what you might need to do to bring people kind of into the fold, by which I mean the fold of the truth [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yes. This is true of like a lot of White people. And the sad part is that it can also be true of a lot of people of color…

Sy Hoekstra: Well, yeah.

Jonathan Walton: …who say, “I'm just going to deny, because I haven't experienced.” Or, “We have opted into the system of ignorance and don't want to engage.” And so I'll tell a story. Priscilla was at the airport this week.

Sy Hoekstra: Your wife.

Jonathan Walton: My wife Priscilla, was at the airport, not a random woman [laughter], was at the airport this week. And someone said, “Yeah, everyone who came to this country, like we're all immigrants.” And Priscilla said, “Actually some people came here as slaves.” Then the person says, “No, that's not true.” And it's like, what do you say to that? When someone just says slavery doesn't exist? And that's literally why we celebrate Juneteenth. So I don't know what this person's going to do on Juneteenth, but when there's a collective narrative and acknowledgement that this happened, and then there's a large group, James Baldwin would say, ignorance plus power is very dangerous.

If there's a large group that's ignorant and or like intentionally not engaging, but also has power and privilege and all the things, the benefits of racial stratification without the acknowledgement of the reality of it, which is just a dangerous combination.

Sy Hoekstra: So when somebody says something like that, like that didn't happen, people didn't come over here as slaves, I think it is possible that they legitimately don't know that I suppose [laughs], or that they think it's a conspiracy theory or whatever. My guess is, tell me what you think about this. What I would imagine happened there was, “Oh, I never thought about the fact that Black people are not immigrants. And so I'm just going to say no.” Do you know what I mean?

Jonathan Walton: Oh yeah. Well, I agree. I think some people even, so let's say like, I write about this in 12 Lies. Ben Carson says that we all came here as immigrants, even if it was in the bottom of a ship. He says that. And I think that is a, to be kind, a gross misrepresentation of the middle passage [laughs], but I see what he's trying to do. He's trying to put Black folks in a narrative that fits in the American narrative so people can, so he's not othered. Because what happens when you acknowledge enslavement is that you have to acknowledge all that. They all come with each other. It's like being at a buffet and there is literally no other menu. Like once you say, once you go in, you can't order one plate. If you talk about slavery, you're opening up all the things and some people just don't want to do that. And that sucks.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Which Tab Is Still Open: Daniel Perry

Jonathan Walton: It's true. And [laughs], I think this feeds into a little bit of this segment [laughs] that we have aptly called Which Tab is Still Open. Because out of all the things in our newsletter and our podcast, there's stuff that comes up for us and it's just still hanging on our desktops, we still talk about it offline. So for Sy, like for you, which one, which tab is still open?

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. We're going to talk about Daniel Perry and Donald Trump today.

Jonathan Walton: Fun times.

Sy Hoekstra: So I recently had an article in the newsletter that I highlighted as one of my resources, that is about the case of Daniel Perry, which I think kind of flew a little bit under the radar in the fervor of 2020. But he was a known racist, meaning we have now seen truckloads of social media posts and text messages and everything revealing his out and out racism, his fantasies about killing Black Lives Matter protesters, all these kinds of things. Who in the summer of 2020, during those protests, drove his car through a red light into a crowd of protesters. And he did not at that moment hurt anyone, but another, an Air Force vet, Daniel Perry's also a vet, but another Air Force vet named Garrett Foster, walked up to him carrying, openly carrying his, in Texas, legal assault rifle.

He didn't point it at Daniel Perry, but he was carrying it. And he knocked on the window and motioned for Perry to roll his window down, and Perry shot him through the window five times and killed him. He was convicted of murder in 2023 by a jury. And the day after he was convicted, governor Greg Abbott republican governor of Texas said that he wanted his case to be reviewed for a full pardon, so that the pardons board could send him a recommendation to do it, which is the legal way that a governor can make a pardon in Texas. And that happened a couple weeks ago. Daniel Perry walked free with all of his civil rights restored, including his right to own firearms.

Texas Monthly did some really good reporting on how completely bizarre this pardon is under Texas law, meaning they very clear, they kind of laid out how these pardons typically go. And the law very clearly says that a pardon is not to be considered for anyone who is still in prison, like hasn't finished their sentence, except under very exceptional circumstances, which are usually that like some new evidence of innocence has come to light.

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: And the actual materials that the board reviewed were basically just his defense case where like him arguing that he was doing what he did out of self-defense. He was standing his ground, and that he was afraid of Foster and therefore allowed to use deadly force. In any other case, the remedy for that, if you think that's your defense and you were wrongly denied your defense by the jury is to appeal. Is to go through the appeals to which you have a right as a criminal defendant. And in this case, he became a bit of a conservative cult hero and the governor stepped in to get him out of jail. It was so bizarre. So the weird thing here is, for me at least, for these cases, for the cases surrounding like where someone has been killed either by the police or by an individual, it has always been pretty clear to me which way the case is going.

Like if you're someone who's actually taken a, like me, gone to law school, taken a criminal law class, you've studied murder and then like the right to stand your ground and the right to self-defense, and when you can use deadly force, most of these cases are pretty predictable. I knew that the killers of Ahmaud Arbery and Walter Scott and Jordan Davis were going down. I knew that people were going to get off when they got off. Like those were not confusing. And that isn't because the law isn't racist or whatever, it's just the law doesn't take race into account at all. It just completely ignores, it has nothing to do with the cases, according to the law. So it's like this one was stunning.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: Because if it had gone to the appellate judges, the judges who actually are thinking about like the whole system and the precedents that they're setting would say, “Hey, in an open carry state like Texas, we do not want to set a precedent where if someone who is legally, openly carrying a gun walks up to you, you can kill them.” That is not a precedent that they want to set. But this is not an appellate case, so we're not setting that precedent, we're just letting this racist murderer go. That's it.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: And that is like what effectively Greg Abbott and the Board of Pardons in Texas have conspired to do. And I didn't know this was coming actually. I hadn't heard the news that he was calling for the pardon when it happened, but it's wild. And I just kind of wanted to give that additional context and hear what you're thinking about it, Jonathan, and then we'll get into Donald Trump a little bit.

Normalizing Punishing Protestors and Lionizing Murderers

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I mean, I think first thing for me is like this is a PG podcast. I won't use all the expletives that I would like to use. The reality of like Kyle Rittenhouse lives in Texas now. George Zimmerman, after he killed Trayvon Martin, he was in other altercations with people with guns. So this is not a person or a scenario that is new, which is sad and disappointing. But the reality of an institution stepping into enforce its institutionalized racism, is something that feels new to me in the environment that we're in. And what I mean by that is like, I think we now live in a society that desires for protestors and folks who are resistant to the system that oppresses and marginalizes people, if you believe that is happening.

There are individuals and institutions that desire to punish that group of people. It is now normed that that group of people can be punished by anybody.

Sy Hoekstra: If you're in the right state.

Jonathan Walton: Well, I won't even say the right state, but I almost think if you can get caught in the zeitgeist of a certain media attention, then you will be lauded as someone who did the right thing.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh yeah. Even if you might still end up in jail.

Jonathan Walton: Even if you might still end up in jail, like you'll become a hero. And so the circumstances have been created where protesters can be punished by regular members of society, and then their quote- unquote punishment could be pardoned in the court of public opinion, and so much so you could end up being pardoned by the institution. There are going to be more protests on campus. There are going to be more protests in light of Trump's conviction and potential election. The chances of political violence and protests are very high, highly probable there're going to be thunderstorms. And what we're saying is like, let's give everybody lightning bolts [Sy laughs]. And we all know if this is a racially stratified society, which it is, if it's a class stratified society, which it is, then we will end up with things like Donald Trump getting convicted and becoming president.

Sy Hoekstra: And the racial stratification is important to remember because people have pointed out, if there had been a Trump rally and someone had been killed, that like, not a chance that Greg Abbott does any of this, right?

Jonathan Walton: The hallmark of White American folk religion is hypocrisy. If this were a person of color, there's no way that they would've got pardoned for shooting someone at a protest.

The Criminal Legal System was Exceptionally Kind to Donald Trump

Sy Hoekstra: And this is the connection to the Donald Trump case [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Because despite the fact that he was convicted, he has been treated throughout this process in a way that no poor or BIPOC would, like no poor person or any BIPOC would ever be treated by the New York State courts. I can tell you that from experience [laughter] as an actual attorney in New York state. Donald Trump had 10 separate violations of a gag order, like he was held in contempt by the court and required to pay some money, which is significant, but nobody does that and doesn't spend some time in jail unless they are rich and famous and White. It was shocking to watch the amount of dancing around him and his comfort that the system does. And this is, pastor Berry mentioned Bryan Stevenson, another Bryan Stevenson quote.

I've mentioned, we've mentioned Brian Stevenson so many times on this show [laughter]. But it's true. One of the things he says all the time is that the system treats you better if you're rich and White and guilty than if you're poor and BIPOC and innocent.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: And, that's the demonstration. So the Trump indictments happened when we're recording this yesterday. Or the convictions, I mean. And in terms of what it'll do to the election, probably not much. In terms of what it'll like [laughs], like Jonathan was just saying, like this is the situation that we're in here. We don't have a lot of political analysis to bring you about this case because I don't think there's much political analysis to do except to continue to point out over and over again that this is not the way that people are treated by the criminal justice system. This is an exception to what is otherwise the rule.

Outro and Outtake

Okay. I think we're going to end there. Thank you all so much for joining us today. Our theme song, as always is “Citizens” by John Guerra. Our podcast Art is by Robyn Burgess. Transcripts by Joyce Ambale. And thank you all so much for joining us. Jonathan, thanks for being here. We will see you all again in two weeks.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/ That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was like the amount of work that he went through to make this film. I'm challenged to do that work so that I have something substantial to pass on to Maya and Everest, just so I can communicate with the same amount of intimacy that he did.

Sy Hoekstra: So now you're going to go make a documentary about Juneteenth, is what you're saying?

Jonathan Walton: [deep exhale, and Sy laughs] At least a reel [laughter].

Sy Hoekstra: A reel… yeah, those are pretty much the same I'd say.

KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.