"Power, Privilege, and Subversive Witness with Dominique DuBois Gilliard" Transcript
Season 1, Episode 20
Dominique Gilliard: Privilege unbridled is something that seduces us to abide by the patterns of this world. And so when you are a person who is not impacted by the oppression that's happening in the world, then you have the privilege of being able to say, “Oh, well that's not my issue. I don't really have to be concerned about it. And the fact that you're trying to shine a light on this in a way that makes me uncomfortable- you're actually the source of the problem, not the oppression that's provoking your lament.”
[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, leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, a podcast of KTF Press. My name is Sy Hoekstra. I am here with Jonathan Walton and Suzie Lahoud.
Jonathan Walton: Today we have an interview with Dominique DuBois Gilliard, the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Gilliard’s latest book, Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege was just published by Zondervan. He previously wrote the award-winning Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores. Gilliard also serves as an adjunct professor at North Park Theological Seminary and its School of Restorative Arts and serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association.
In this episode, we talk to him about his new book; how the Bible discusses privilege; reading scripture with ideas like privilege, power dynamics, and trauma in mind; how disciples of Jesus leverage privilege for God's Kingdom; the church’s truncated conception of repentance; and a whole lot more.
Suzie Lahoud: As a reminder, if you like this show, the best way you can support us is by going to KTFPress.com and subscribing. That gets you our weekly newsletter curating resources to help you in discipleship and political education as you seek to leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, bonus episodes of this show, and writing from us. By the way, subscribers will get bonus episodes from us during the off-season. And, as always, they get their own private podcast feed where all of our regular and bonus episodes show up that you can easily add to your podcast player.
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Sy Hoekstra: Without further ado, here's our interview with Dominique…
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Dominique Dubois Gilliard, thank you so much for joining us on Shake the Dust today. We really appreciate you being here.
Dominique Gilliard: Ecstatic to be with you and your community.
Sy Hoekstra: So let’s just jump right into it. You have this new book out, Subversive Witness. Can you give us kind of a brief summary of what it's about and what you were hoping to accomplish with it?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. So at the core, the book is really trying to help the Western church in particular, reconsider the ways in which we have conflated and confused confession and repentance. And it's trying to call us back to a more biblical understanding of repentance, particularly rooted in Matthew 3:8, where John the Baptist tells us that there should be fruit in keeping with repentance. So that's one of the thrusts of the book.
And the other thrust is really to kind of respond to something I've seen across the country as I go across the country doing my job. So one of the things for listeners is, my “nine to five” quote unquote, is that I serve as a pastor to pastors for our roughly 900 congregations throughout North America, helping them make connections between scripture, justice, and racial righteousness and reconciliation, and how those things interact with each other and should ultimately be things that inform our witness as the body of Christ. So as I kind of go across the country doing my work within my denomination and outside of it, I really realized that there… when it came to the conversation of privilege, which has become such a contested conversation, there really are predominantly three congregational responses to the conversation.
The first I had noticed was a flat-out denial that privilege is real, and that it’s a biblical concept. The second response would be where leadership kind of acknowledged that privilege was real, but honestly determines that it’s too tricky of a train to navigate and that they would lose too many people and too much financial support for their church if they pressed into it, so they kind of sidestep it. Then the third one would be where congregations and congregants would press into the conversation and really try to reckon with privilege. But at the end, a lot of folks in the congregation would feel immobilized by the weight of privilege, and really wouldn't know what to do with these new revelations that they've gleaned from pressing into the conversation.
And I just noticed that none of those three responses were going to help animate our faith and help embolden us to participate and demonstrate our faith in profound and transformative ways in the world. So that really took me back to scripture and really spending some intentional time in discernment with God and with community. And what came out of that, was this revelation that the gospel offers us a fourth way. And that fourth way is that scripture affirms that privilege is real, but it also acknowledges that we're constantly going to be tempted to exploit privilege for selfish gain, as opposed to what we would do with privilege if we really look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And particularly the Philippians 2 Christ hymn, where we see Jesus had the option of exploiting privilege for selfish gain, but instead chose to sacrificially leverage his privilege for the furtherance of the kingdom and to sacrificially love his neighbors. So I wanted to point out how that’s not just a model we see in Jesus, but that’s actually a consistent model that is offered to us throughout scripture. So I wanted to point to those, flesh that out and talk about how that actually becomes a blueprint for the body of Christ in such an unjust society to try to really bear fruit in keeping with repentance and to distinctively bear witness to who and whose we are through how we live in love in the world.
Suzie Lahoud: So, let's talk about one of the passages in scripture you read through the lens of leveraging privilege. You write in Subversive Witness about the ways that Esther was privileged while living as the queen and that privilege made it both easier for Xerxes to exploit her and harder for Mordecai's lament about the King's genocidal decree to really affect her. Can you explain how that worked and how privilege more broadly harms discipleship?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. So Esther’s story is a complex story and one of the things you'll see when you read the book is that, for your audience, is that I really try to press into some of the complexities of our human realities. Because I think one of the things that we have a bad tendency to do, is to disconnect some of the complexities of life today from the biblical revelation in scripture. So for example, trauma. Trauma is a thing that's real, that tangibly impacts our lives, our brains, our decisions, our life chances, all of these things, but generally we read scripture as if trauma wasn't a reality then, and it wasn't something that informed people's lives and their decisions and their ability to hear God's call upon their life and respond to it.
And I think that inability to make that connection between our present realities and that historic truth is something that really becomes a stumbling block for a lot of believers as they try to discern and respond to God's call today, because we don't really see ourselves as worthy because of some of the baggage we bring and some of those different things. So I really wanted to enter into some of that complexity and help make some connections there.
But one of the reasons why I offer that, is because when we talk about Esther’s story, we can't honestly talk about this story without talking about Esther’s trauma. Esther is someone who is an orphan, who then has to go live with her uncle Mordecai. And then she ultimately is somebody who gets swept up into this den of exploitation after king Xerxes expels Queen Vashti from the palace for standing up for her human rights and personal dignity, refusing to be sexually exploited in front of the king and his drunken friends. So that jettisoning creates this space, this vacancy within Xerxes’ reign or kingdom for a queen. And he creates this, what we generally talk about as a beauty pageant, which is really this kind of exploitative commissioning of young virgin women.
Sy Hoekstra: Mass trafficking of women, yeah.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah.
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. Yeah, of young virgin women who are trafficked and are ultimately pampered before they're sexually exploited by the king. Then he selects the woman who satisfies him the most to become queen. So Esther has to go through that sexual exploitation after losing her parents at a young age, and she's told by her uncle to conceal her true ethnic identity, to be able to pass as a Persian in the palace. So she has all of this trauma that she's trying to navigate. And one of the things that we know from trauma studies today, is that when traumatized people are in toxic situations where that trauma is pretty consistently triggered, they usually end up either going into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Freeze mode really is a way in which you are immobilized in the midst of what you're trying to navigate, because that trauma takes over your body and your brain because we carry it in our body and our brain. And it kind of leads us into this, essentially a sedated state of engagement where you can't fully function as yourself and respond in the ways that you would in your healthy centered self. And I see that's really a lot of what's going on with Esther in regards to Xerxes’ ability to exploit her and to keep her kind of in this sedated state, where she ultimately starts to engage in the luxuries and the privileges and the prestige of the palace, to the extent that she really loses her ability to be connected to the pain and the experience of her people on the outside.
So much so that she is completely unaware that as someone who is a Jew, that there is a commission, a decree going out that all the Jews will be exterminated throughout the land. And Mordecai- she only comes into a revelation of this decree that comes from the King's new number two, Haman, and the king signs off on- when her uncle comes to the palace gates in sackcloth and ashes and he's weeping and wailing and lamenting because of the pending fate of his people, and Esther has no clue what's going on, because privilege, privilege and her own trauma, because I think it's complex, so we have to hold the two together.
So Mordecai comes and actually becomes this prophetic voice that's trying to remind her of who and whose she is, and the fact that her privilege actually has a missional purpose, and it's not just to actually isolate her from the suffering of the outside world and to make her life nice and comfortable and pristine. So when she first encounters Mordecai's lament, she responds in an imperial way, which is to silence suffering. She sends him clothes, tells him to get dressed because sackcloth and ashes is inappropriate, it’s going to bring attention. It's going to be an indictment on Xerxes and his leadership in the palace she has found a home within. And Mordecai refuses to be silenced in his lament, and he persists.
And it's only after that persisting, only after her initial, his refusal of her initial kind of way of trying to meet him, and I want to, and again, nuance is important. I actually think that Esther is very well-intentioned in trying to send Mordecai clothes, because as her uncle, she's concerned about his safety, she's concerned about the retribution and the way worldly empires actually make public spectacles out of people who try to shine a light on the oppression that their flourishing is built upon. And that's really what Mordecai’s lament is doing, is shining a light on what's actually happening inside the confines of the palace.
So she's trying to silence it, but well-intentioned, and I think this is important because I think one of the things that can trip Christians up is, we have been conditioned to prioritize intentions over impact. And in doing so, we make ourselves complicit with the silencing of suffering. Oftentimes when we do that, we become people who try to proclaim, “Peace, peace!” where there is no peace. And we end up becoming affirmers and supporters of the status quo, which really in reality is antithetical to the Kingdom of God and what we're commissioned to represent in the world.
And so, but ultimately Mordecai is able to penetrate the, what I talk about as like the imperial numbness or satiation, and he's able to help Esther realize the missional purpose of her privilege, and that is to subversively use it to get access to the king, because she has unique access even though restricted access, because of the patriarchal society she's in. She does have unique access to help inform and persuade the king to actually reconsider the genocide and actually denounce it and actually create a way for the people of God to actually be able to be restored and liberated from the genocide that's pending for them.
Sy Hoekstra: Can we talk about that issue of lament for a second, because I thought this part was particularly important for a lot of dynamics in the church today. You use the point briefly where Esther sends Mordecai clothes as kind of a starting point to discuss the idea of repackaging; people telling people who are lamenting to repackage their lament, to make it more appropriate, to make it more palatable. Can you talk a little bit about how that plays out, and how you are seeing that play out in the church today?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that privilege tempts us into doing, really privilege unbridled, is something that seduces us to abide by the patterns of this world, and really in a Romans 12: 1-2 kind of a way. And when we do that, one of the lies, the imperial lies that exists, is that we only have to be concerned about oppression or injustice when it directly impacts us, or people we see ourselves as related to. So when you are a person who is not impacted by the oppression that's happening in the world, then you have the quote unquote “privilege” of being able to say, “Oh well, that's not my issue. I don't really have to be concerned about it, and the fact that you're trying to shine a light on this in a way that inconveniences my life or makes me uncomfortable, you're actually the source of the problem, not the oppression that's actually provoking your lament. And I can have some sympathy and empathy for your cause, but that sympathy or empathy will not allow my life to be interrupted. So if you’re part, if your oppression, the oppression you're experiencing is causing me to have to interrupt my life, I can only quote unquote, ‘stand in solidarity with you’ or show empathy or compassion towards you, as long as you can reframe your lament in a way that doesn't make me uncomfortable or doesn't interrupt my life.”
And that's a very anti-gospel way of thinking. And we, I mean, we see this from conversations about Me Too, or Church Too, to Black Lives Matters, to advocacy around separation of family at the southern border. This is a constant thing that we see where I think a lot of Christians are like, “I'm not necessarily against you shining a light on that, but your light can't inconvenience my life. And if you could only repackage that in a way that feels more palatable to me, then I could be more supportive of the cause.” And I think we have to really reckon with how privilege really tempts us to first seek to repackage protest, as opposed to first seeking to figure out what injustice is evoking such a visceral response, such a prophetic lament that folk feel like they have no other option, but to, right now amid a global pandemic, go out and mobilize in the streets.
Or in Mordecai's case, to go and strip his clothes in protest in front of the palace gates in sackcloth and ashes. Our first response should be to seek to understand what kind of sinful reality has caused our sisters and brothers, our neighbors who suffer, to prophetically lament in such a public way. But generally, because of privilege, our first response is to try to repackage it and then we seek to understand after we have become more comfortable with the way that it's being presented to us.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. And I think trauma comes into this too, like you were talking about before. Suzie has spoken before on this show about how a lot of times we want to hear people's stories of basically how Jesus helped them overcome their trauma, but we don't actually want to hear anything about, we don't want to deal with the ways in which trauma affects people that make us uncomfortable. And sometimes, not always certainly, but sometimes the ways that people react to things that are tragic and painful, are traumatic responses. And they don't, they're not clean and they're not simple, and they're not necessarily like a good bullet-pointed argument to convince everyone about whatever the injustice is. And I just, I appreciate you bringing those points and that aspect of trauma into your reading of scripture, which I agree is something we see very rarely.
Jonathan Walton: All right, so you used Paul and Silas in Acts 16, as examples of how we can leverage privilege in a Christ-like way. What did that look like, and what does someone who's been discipled well, in the area of leveraging privilege do? So how did Paul and Silas do it and then how can we apply that to our daily lives as we leverage our privilege for the Kingdom of God?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. So Paul and Silas were Roman citizens who saw an injustice happen in their community. They saw a woman who was being exploited for the demon that was possessing her body, and there were powerful men who were becoming rich off of her exploitation. But it wasn't just the men because they were connected to an entire inter-web of exploitation, because the text tells us that the city was thrown into uproar because of their liberation of this woman. So they go, the men try to make them pay once they liberate the demon, and they take them to the city square, which doubles as the judiciary. And scripture was trying to give us a hint here that the marketplace and the judiciary are in cahoots.
And they go before the magistrates and they are taken and the men who are pressing charges against them, don't only press charges against them for liberating the woman, they also ethnically identify them as Jews. And this is a strategic choice because they know that in Rome, there has been fear-mongering that has been deployed that has created a very anti-Semitic atmosphere. So the attachment of Jewish identity to Paul and Silas, even though they are Roman citizens, the attachment of them being Jews really unleashes the crowd’s repressed xenophobia.
And the text tells us that the crowd joins in on their persecution and they are stripped naked, beaten with rods, before they are denied access to a trial by the judiciary, and then falsely incarcerated. Paul and Silas though, are Roman citizens. So they're from Rome. They know the temperature of Rome in regards to anti-Semitism and they know that all they have to do the entire time that the trials are going on, is actually prove their citizenship, and then the way that their case is being handled will be fundamentally shifted. But instead of doing that, they endure the persecution of the other, of the outsider, of the immigrant, of the non-Roman citizen. And they are falsely incarcerated.
Well, the next morning or early at the crack of dawn, the magistrates come into awareness that they actually had persecuted and profiled and were unjust to fellow Roman citizens. And at that point they become concerned, and they say, “Actually, we have to reckon with this and we actually have to free these people.” So what they want to do, is they actually send orders to release Paul and Silas at the crack of dawn, when there's no accountability and there's no transparency about what has happened. And Paul resists and he says, “They beat us publicly, they humiliated us publicly, and now they want to release us quietly. No, make them come and release us themselves.”
And he's basically using his Roman citizenship as a way to resist the ways in which the judiciary has been unjust to anyone who is non-Roman citizen, and the way in which they do their dirty work under the veil of darkness. And he's saying, this sin has to come to light and we have to reckon with the fact that it is not okay for us as the people of God, to live in a land where the legal system is only just for Roman citizens. But we know that our non-Roman neighbors who live amongst us are going to be exploited and there's going to be a prioritization of profit over justice for them. But the system might work for us, and it's not okay for us to be complicit and complacent within a system where we know that it's only just for some and not just for all.
So they ultimately leverage their Roman citizenship as a way to shine a light on a systemic sin, and to advocate for judicial accountability and systemic change. And when we understand our privilege properly, then we understand that when we have access and influence within a broken system or structure, that access and that standing within that system is not for us to just exploit it in a way where we take the perks of it, but we're supposed to become advocates who, advocates and allies, who bear witness to who and whose we are through how we exist and navigate those systems. And prayerfully, we are supposed to be people who create kingdom pressure points within these structures of exploitation, where we can work with our other members of the interconnected body of Christ, and we ultimately start to topple these unjust systems and structures and reconstruct them in God-honoring ways.
And so I think that that takes an understanding of solidarity that is just much deeper than the way that a lot of our congregations talk about it. You know, Paul and Silas suffer in solidarity with the oppressed to expose systemic sin the Roman judicial system is mired in. They embody, again, going back to the Christ hymn, by understanding that true solidarity requires suffering with- enduring, entering in when privileged tempts us to believe that we don't have to and that we can opt out of suffering. So that's a real discipleship of how do we leverage privilege, helps us to see that we're always going to be tempted to be able to opt out of suffering or to see ourselves as not being called to share in the sufferings of Christ like scripture commissions us to. But if we truly understand that we are blessed to be a blessing, and that ultimately my flourishing and my… my flourishing is tied up in my neighbor’s flourishing. And if I'm okay in a society where things work for me, but I know that what works for me is rooted in the detriment of my neighbor, then we're not faithfully following Jesus.
And we just have to be really, we have to be more explicit about that, because I think that we have taught passages like the Good Samaritan and taught passages that imply it, but we're not really explicit about it. And I think one of the things I tried to really bring forth that I think is one of the core questions at the heart of scripture that I think is asked over and over again, but we don't explicitly name it within our preaching and teaching and discipleship oftentimes, is the question, “Is the gospel still good news when it costs you something?” I think that's the question that’s laid before Paul and Silas in this passage, and they knew that standing in solidarity with their non-Roman citizens meant that they were going to have to endure being beat, persecuted, stripped naked, falsely incarcerated. And they were willing to do it all, and they didn't mumble a word about their citizenship until it was the right opportunity to hold the system accountable and to expose the systemic sin and advocate for structural change.
Sy Hoekstra: You used the phrase in the book, “cruciform solidarity,” and I was like, “Underline. Highlight. Write that down.” [Laughs] That's so good.
Jonathan Walton: You just gave a quick personal, relational, systemic exegesis of Acts 16. Gave context, gave content, something I'm wondering is, what do you say to pastors and leaders that do the exact same thing, but for, I would argue like unbiblical purposes? So they would look at the same passage and say, “Look at how Esther submitted to authority. She did not try to oppose the system. She beared witness in the midst of it and struggled and helped her family.” And then did something different with it. That's something that wasn't subversive, but use the Bible to justify that. Because I think there's going to be people who listen to this and say, they're going to go to their pastor with this Acts 16 or Esther passage, and believe wholeheartedly they've done their research, and then they're going to be resisted theologically. So how do we engage in a way that pulls people into subversive witness and not just posturing arguments?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah, let me double down on Acts 16 real quick, and then I'll expand. So one of the things, one of the ways in which we hear kind of the subversive witness suppressed within the church, is for Christians who say things like, “I wasn't a part of building an unjust system, so therefore, I'm not responsible for trying to deconstruct it.” Or the way that that might translate in North America is, “I wasn't a part of indigenous land theft. I never owned a slave. I didn't support or vote for Chinese exclusion or Japanese interment. Those things are horrible, but I didn't do it, so I have no responsibility. And even if there are some structural distortions that still existed as remnants of those things, again, I didn't do it, so I'm not responsible.”
So in this passage, Paul and Silas didn't construct the unjust legal system of Rome. They weren't lawyers in that way. They weren't magistrates. They weren't prison guards. They weren't complicit in the construction of the system at all. But they recognized that they were still benefiting from the system and that their lives were going to be fundamentally different as Roman citizens in Rome, because of the way that the judiciary was set up to affirm, dignify, and humanize Roman citizens’ lives, in a way that it wasn't willing to do for non-Roman citizens.
To live with that awareness and to apathetically respond to that systemic sin would have been something that was antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not good news to people who were non-Roman citizens. So their faith in Christ, their new life in Christ compelled them to respond to the brokenness that existed because of their foreparents’ decisions and sin, to be a part of being what Isaiah 58 tells us, is to be a repairer of the breach. And this is what I think we really miss out on within our preaching, our teaching, and our discipleship. Scripture is explicit. There are breaches that exist in our world, and it's not just a breach between us and Jesus because of sin. There are actual structural breaches, systemic breaches, and legislative breaches that continue to exacerbate the sins of our foreparents. And we are called to be co-laborers with Christ, who are in the midst of reconciling all things, not just broken people. It says all things, which includes broken systems and structures, to Christ. I mean, to God through Christ. So as we do this work as ambassadors of reconciliation, part of what that entails, is cultivating hearts to respond to the breaches that exist in our world. And to understand that our missional purpose as the people of God is to make God’s name known, and love shown throughout the world.
And when we do that, scripture is clear that we know what love is because Christ first laid down his life for us, so that we could go and essentially do likewise. And so in doing that, when we see oppression, injustice, systemic sin in the world that doesn't directly impact us, we get the chance to really take on the Christ-like mindset. And again, let me be clear: we are not saviors, we don't go salvifically and do this, but we get a chance to follow the example of our Lord and Savior who chose to leave the shalom of heaven to enter into the brokenness of our world, compelled by love, to bear witness to the fact that we have an opportunity to be liberated from the powers and the principalities that are vying to claim our allegiance or cause us to give our allegiance to anything other than the kingdom.
And the passage that’s really important for me in this is John 13:34- 35, where Jesus is, Jesus gives us a new commandment. He says, by how we love one another, the world will know that we are Jesus's disciples. So I think right now, we confuse how the world will know. A lot of people believe the world will know that we are Jesus's disciples through our culture wars. A lot of people think that the world will know that we are Jesus's disciples for what we stand against. A lot of people think that the world will know that we are Jesus's disciples by all these different things, but scripture is very clear. Jesus himself says that the world will know that you are my disciples by how you choose to sacrificially love one another. So when there is oppression and injustice going on that doesn't directly impact us, but we choose to enter in, to share in the suffering of Christ, to stand in true solidarity with our neighbors, the world sees that and they recognize that there's something distinctive about who we are. And when they want to know, and they start to inquire, why do we choose to live and love in the way we do, then that's when we get a chance to bear witness to the fact that it's not us, but it's actually a power at work in and through us that's stronger than us, that compels us to love beyond our human limitations. And we get to bear witness to the fact that it is truly not us, because we have died, but it's Christ who is risen and now lives in and through us.
And that's a way, I think, we really get to pair evangelism and justice together in a way that is really at the foundation of the disconnection that you're talking about, Jonathan. Most of our congregations are congregations that prioritize evangelism at the detriment of justice. And then we have some congregations that are all about justice and don't really care too much about evangelism. But the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to the both/and. And I think we get ability to bear witness to the both/and when we live and love in that way.
And then lastly, one of the other passages I really flesh out in the text that kind of explicitly speaks to this, is Acts 6:1-7. It's another example of when we are mature enough in our faith, and this is one of the other impulses or calls of the book is really for the body of Christ to move from milk to solid food. We got to mature in our faith so we can have some of these difficult conversations. But when we are mature enough to recognize injustice in our midst and to respond to it appropriately, not to just try to throw a bandage over it or explain it away, but to truly reckon with it and to systemically address it, then the world recognizes that as good news.
And because of that, the gospel flourishes in our communities, and sometimes because of the wisdom and the humility that we demonstrate, the gospel will also flourish in another place down the line that we may never know or see, but is still alive and active, because the world responds to the fact that there are people who are mature enough and centered enough in their faith to understand that we're going to make mistakes. And when we do, will we have the humility and the integrity to acknowledge those things in public and to acknowledge them in a way that's not just a cover up, that will just mean that the problem will reemerge in three months or four months or a year later, but we're really trying to faithfully do the hard work of actually being folks who are fostering flourishing and seeking shalom. Even if that means that we have to concede power, that we have to publicly confess our sins, and that we are going to create new systems and structures of accountability so that the same sins don't continue to re-emerge and kill, steal, and destroy our witness. And I think that's really important, because we talk a lot about the mission of God, but we don't talk about the mission of Satan. And scripture is explicit. Satan has a missional purpose in the world, and that is to kill, steal, and destroy our witness. And when we're silent in the face of our neighbors’ dehumanization and exploitation; Satan steals, kills, and destroys our witness to the world, because the world won't know that we're Jesus's disciples when we pass by on the other side, as our wounded neighbor suffers and bleeds to death.
Jonathan Walton: That was great. Very helpful. And I hope that people can break that down for their pastors when they have these conversations.
Sy Hoekstra: Just say that. That's all you gotta say.
Jonathan Walton: Just hit play at minute 40 and watch the Holy Spirit come into your pastoral meeting.
Suzie Lahoud: So you mentioned this at the beginning of our conversation as one of the major thrusts of the book, and certainly it's already been a cross-cutting theme of this conversation. But you draw on a distinction between understanding repentance as just oral confession and actually bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Could you take some time to double down on that, to explain the difference, to unpack that some more for us?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. There's a real difference between acknowledging that we did something wrong and turning away from sin and returning back to God. And I think in a lot of our congregations, we have become content with confessing that we did something wrong. But scripture calls us to turn away from sin and to turn back to God, and says that there should be some evidence of that turning back to God in our lives. There should be something distinctive about our witness in the world, our relationships, our posture, because of our restoration of right relationship with God and neighbor.
And I think, and part of the reason why I think this conversation scares some folks, is the fact that I think when we start to talk about fruit, then some people start to think that we're talking about works righteousness. And scripture is clear that because of who and whose we are in the world, there should be kingdom fruit that's produced in the way that we live in love. And that measurement of like, is there actually life that comes from our connectivity to the source of life? Does that ooze out in the way that we relate to our neighbors and creation itself? Do we think about stewardship versus ownership and possession? Do we realize that we're blessed to be a blessing? Do we realize that what God has entrusted us with, should flow through us and not just be contained within our nuclear families? Like there should be tangible evidence of the fact that it is no longer us again who live, but it's Christ who lives in and through us. And that's what I'm really trying to get after with the fruit and repentance, not this kind of works righteousness. Because we know scripture is clear that we're saved by grace, and our faith in Christ, and it's not us and our ability to become these great people in and of ourselves, but it's really us being humble in our intentionality of submitting our lives to the spirit and allowing the spirit to navigate our steps, that really start to produce this kind of kingdom fruit.
So I think what happens is that when we are content with confession, then we realize that confession is not enough to actually help us to realize that we are being formed and shaped by powers and principalities, but also customs and the culture of worldly empires to live in a way that leads us to be more prone to pledge our allegiance to flag over the cross. And we have to understand the ways in which we are being seduced away from a gospel vision of flourishing that says that my flourishing is connected to my incarcerated neighbor’s flourishing, or my neighbor who doesn’t have housing or inadequate food, or my neighbor who is being trafficked. All of these different things.
Again, Paul and Silas recognized this. They recognized that their flourishing was connected to this woman who was being exploited by this demon. And they chose to enter into her reality, liberate her, and pay the cost that worldly empires enact on people who understand that they shouldn't just be interested in their own individual flourishing. But the kingdom economy says that our flourishing is found when we seek the peace and the prosperity of our neighbors, particularly our most marginalized neighbors. So it’s a different worldview that calls us to live distinctively for Christ in a way that makes us find discontentment in the status quo, because we know that there's something deeper, richer, more robust that's possible. And we know that the Spirit is willing that into existence. And we know that the good news of the gospel is that God wants broken vessels like you and me to participate in that inbreaking Kingdom, which will, which has already been inaugurated, but not fully manifested. And we get a chance to bear witness, again, to who and whose we are through how we choose to live and love. And that is rooted in our ability to understand that we have to turn away from these patterns, these logics, these systems and structures, and these powers and principalities that are trying to persuade us to find contentment in the status quo, particularly when the status quo works for us.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Thank you for that. And I love how you really flesh that out. Like really put flesh on that in the book through historical examples of what that should look like, through contemporary examples, folks that you know that you feel like are living that out faithfully. And in a way that I feel like really shows also the communal aspect of repentance that, this movement from a self-orientation to an other-orientation, that if your repentance, it’s less about you just feeling good about yourself and more about bringing about, as you said, the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God. So yeah, thank you for that and for the way that you demonstrate that through the pages of this book.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I would like to emphasize that everything, listener, you've heard today is a small fraction of what is packed into this book in terms of the theological and practical wisdom. There is a lot in the nine chapters that make up this book [laughs]. So this is a small taste, so we definitely encourage everyone to go out and get the book. And it's already out. It's not pre-ordering. Just go get it. We'll have a link in the show notes.
Dominique, before you go, is there anywhere that people can follow you or is there anything that you want to plug other than the book?
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. One of the things, I guess, that's been really encouraging about some of the response to the book is that for people who didn't know me, they've been inspired to read me as an author backwards.
Sy Hoekstra: Oh yes.
Dominique Gilliard: So a number of people who didn't know about my first book, Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores. It won a 2018 InterVarsity Reader's Choice Award, and it won the 2019 Outreach Magazine Social Issues Book of the Year Award. So I would encourage folks who are trying to understand, like you're a little enticed by what I talk about in Acts 16, and what advocating for systemic change could look like, I really press into what it looks like for the Body of Christ, specifically around this conversation of incarceration.
Folks can find and follow me on Facebook, on my author page at Dominique DuBois Gilliard. On Instagram, I’m Dominique D- “D” as in DuBois- Gilliard. So DominiqueDGilliard, and then on Twitter I'm DDGilliard. So those are places that you can follow me.
And there is also an accompanying video-based small group curriculum that goes with Subversive Witness, and so we'll put a link to that in the show notes as well. But I really wanted to make this very tangible for people to process in community, because this is communal work. While it has individual elements to it, there are also communal elements, and I think we have to be more intentional about the both/and as opposed to the either/or.
Sy Hoekstra: There are also reflection questions at the end of every chapter in the book. So it's a good thing to go through with a small group or something like that.
Suzie Lahoud: And those questions do not let you off the hook.
Sy Hoekstra: No.
Suzie Lahoud: I was going over those with my husband and I was like, “Wow, you do not pull any punches with this one.”
Dominique Gilliard: Oh, and can I just give a real quick shout-out, because I know there might be some InterVarsity folk on here. This book would not be what it was without the wisdom of my sister, Jazzy Johnson. So folks who know her, you'll be able to see some of her wisdom soak through the pages as you engage, and so I'm so thankful for her and her witness in the world.
Sy Hoekstra: That’s awesome. Dominique Dubois Gilliard, thank you so much. This has been incredible. We really appreciated having you today.
Dominique Gilliard: Yeah. It was a blessing to be on with you all, and chop it up, and talk about the subversive nature of the Kingdom.
Sy Hoekstra: Amen.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Thanks so much for listening. Just a quick reminder, you can get a free month of the subscription to our website at ktfpress.com/freemonth. That's ktfpress.com/freemonth. Please remember to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @KTFPress. Hit the subscribe or follow button on your podcast player. And write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have that you want us to talk about in our episode next week, and remember to do that as soon as you can.
Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you all next week.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades back in. Lyrics: “Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” Song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan, do you wanna go back to your first question?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I'm trying to think of a bridge…
Sy Hoekstra: Or do you have eight other questions that just arose in your brain? Whatever.
Jonathan Walton: I do. I really do. I was trying to not ramble, but now I'm rambling.
Sy Hoekstra: You can ramble for a second. We got, we have enough time for you to ramble a bit.
Jonathan Walton: Here's my, here's my question…