Remind and Renew 2016: Leah Gunning Francis

Closing Phillips Theological Seminary’s Remind and Renew was Leah Gunning Francis, author of Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community. Currently on the faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, Francis brings her intimate perspective on the protests in Ferguson, Mo., sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 and the subsequent protests and legal (in)actions in the case. She was on the frontlines in the protests and interviewed dozens of other leaders to collect their perspectives on what worked, what didn’t, and what others can do to react to the next Ferguson – because, as she often says, “There is a Ferguson near you.”

  • “[Clergy] were not there to be the leaders … but rather to enter this space the young activists had already claimed and to go stand beside, stand with, to listen, to learn, to offer all kinds of support.”
  • Given the racism originally built into the Constitution: “Every time you hear the phrase ‘constitutional rights’… you should shudder.”
  • “The call for the church to wake up and stay awake – or as the hashtag says, “#staywoke –still resounds loudly today.”
  • It’s not enough to merely think racism exists; we have to heighten our awareness of the way it exists and lives and thrives.
  • “[Racism is] alive anytime you hear the word thug. It’s alive anytime you hear somebody say of an 18-year-old ‘he’s just a criminal.’”
  • “We’ve got to change the narrative. It’s killing us – never mind the emotional and spiritual damage it’s doing – it’s killing us.”
  • On who needs to be at the table when discussion dismantling racism: “The only time I’ve ever seen a black mother on television [talking about racism and justice] is after her child has been killed.”
  • “We’re going to have to listen to the voices that have been left out and marginalized. We’re going to have to be willing to believe the stories, the narratives, of the people who have been most deeply affected.”
  • Framing our perception of racism in the five senses: “We have to be willing to taste the bitter dregs of discomfort. [Protest] is not going to taste good in your mouth.”
  • “The truth is, there are untold numbers of people living and breathing and alert today who not only have very vivid memories of those kinds of acts and worse – but [those] who also instigated them and orchestrated them. We’ve got to own that and confront that.”
  • “I wish you could hear the stories of every black man in this country because I haven’t met one yet who does not have some very explicit life altering story [of institutional racism].”

On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2016, following yet another violent year that included the horrifying Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre and Bree Newsome scaling a flagpole to tear down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol, with both the realization that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is here to stay and that thinly veiled racism is part of the national political scene, I hope we discover new ways we (individually and collectively) can tear down racism, how we can reach out to those on the margins and to the oppressed, and how we can fulfill the visions of Dr. King, Jesus, and the other peacemakers who inspire us to make the world a better place — and then I hope we will move beyond talking about it and actually do it. It’s up to us.


Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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Brad Lyons

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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