Why We Published That Interview

CHICAGO, IL (November 10, 2017) — In the latest issue of the Covenant Companion, we feature an interview with pastors Peter Ahn and Alex Gee on the need for Covenanters to speak more honestly with each other about race relations in our churches. The article has generated a considerable amount of buzz—both positive and critical.

I recognize that some readers have concerns about the tone of the interview as well as statements made by Peter and Alex suggesting that the next nominee for ECC president should be a person of color (or, at the very least, someone with a sensitivity to issues of diversity and multiethnic ministry). In publishing this interview our intention was to open dialogue, not to exert influence on the Presidential Nominating Committee and its important work in any way. As is the case with all interviews, the opinions expressed by the interviewees are their own and should not be construed as any kind of official position of the Companion nor of the ECC.

Still, as the editor of the Companion and executive director of communications for the ECC, I feel a responsibility to explain why we published an article that many find so controversial. Partisan politics and racial tension are straining our nation and our churches. People are afraid to speak honestly for fear of being accused of racism or divisiveness. As Covenanters, we have a history of approaching the turmoil of the times with a gracious and redemptive spirit rooted in the hope of the gospel. We have historically chosen to live in the tension of disagreement while still loving and respecting our brother and sister in Christ. It is in that spirit that we published the article.

For the 25 years of my professional life, I’ve lived and worked as a person of color in predominantly white evangelical settings. Though I’ve sometimes felt like a person with no home—too “other” to neatly fit into the white evangelical world, yet too “white” to feel at ease in mostly black churches—I’ve worked hard to build bridges between these different parts of my life. I’ve written books and shared speeches about the John 17 vision of unity in the church. I’ve promoted a sober-minded message that acknowledges the potential landmines of multiethnic ministry, even while confessing a wide-eyed hope in the gospel of reconciliation. In the Covenant, I found a community of faithful believers who place a high value on a Christian community that rightly reflects the true diversity of God’s kingdom. I found a home.

I share all of this because I want readers to understand the context of where I’m coming from as a Christian leader. Since the publication of the interview, I’ve heard from some who have felt alienated or vilified by its content. My sincere desire has always been that people who read or hear words for which I’m responsible would feel respected and safe. So, it breaks my heart that anyone would feel marginalized or attacked as a result of something we’ve published. That was certainly not the intent.

Nor was it our intent to give the perception of influencing the choice of an ECC presidential nominee. We trust that the women and men of the Presidential Nominating Committee will choose the person whom God has for the Covenant through their own prayer and discernment—whether that nominee be male, female, white, or a person of color.

Presidents—both the USA and ECC variety—will come and go, and our society will always be tested by the stresses that come with our freedom and diversity. Still, I remain hopeful that the church—and more specifically the gospel of Christ—holds the solution to our divides. But we must be willing to put in the work. That can be difficult and even painful, as it demands that we be in true community with one another, that we risk being vulnerable, and that we are open to receiving each other’s story with patience and respect. That is the conversation we hoped to prompt with the interview.

We knew that not everyone would agree with Alex’s and Peter’s perspectives, and that some might even be tempted to walk away from the conversation. We hope that doesn’t happen. Our vision for the Companion is that it would be an instrument for connecting the whole Covenant community and advancing the mission of the church. Sometimes it’s impossible to connect and advance without being willing to enter into some tension. My prayer is that we’ll all be willing to be vulnerable, to expose the wholeness of ourselves in all our complexity, trusting that our commitment to Jesus and to each other is strong enough to withstand our disagreements.

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About the Author

Ed Gilbreath

Edward is an award-winning journalist and author. Besides being the executive minister of Communication at The Evangelical Covenant Church, he is author of Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church and Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. Ed’s mission, both professionally and personally, is to be a bridge-builder, bringing people together across racial, denominational, and cultural lines.

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20 Comments

  1. Ed, you are to be commended for such a gracious response. Dare I suggest that if a defense was needed, it needed to come from Senior (and White) Leadership? If we are going to truly break the silence, our white leaders need to step forward and speak clearly (and maybe not gently) on how lopsided this dialogue has been in the ECC and in the church in general.

  2. Until denominational leadership more finely-tunes its moral compass and includes our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the conversation about inclusion that Alex and Peter call us to, the shared table of communion and community has many empty seats. Many Covenanters are waiting, waiting for that day.

  3. It’s not a conversation if you are only hearing one side of the story. In fact, it is quite the opposite. You are being talked at. If we want to have an “honest conversation about race,” then we should actually have one, instead of only hearings from people who have the same opinions on matters of race. Unfortunately, I do not have faith that the ECC will follow through on that, and for that reason, I will also withdraw from this “conversation” that isn’t one.

    1. We have been hearing only one side of the story, almost exclusively, for 400 years. Our beloved Covenant talks about openness, diversity, and serving globally. But we do so carefully, selectively, trying to avoid open discussion regarding race and gender. Meanwhile, those who suffer from our avoidance continue get accused of “stirring things up,” “making people uncomfortable,” and nothing changes. When is the right time for evolution, if not revolution, in order to make things more right?

  4. I doubt that anyone who complained was a person of color, or was in close relationship with people of color. The article was an honest portrayer of the marginalization of people of color in the white evangelical church. I highly recommend that white evangelicals read “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice In Troubled Times” by ECC pastor Soong-Chan Rah,for a timely critique and a call for those of us in the white church to listen to other voices.

  5. Thank you for your leadership Ed. As many have posted already, there is nothing in Alex and Peter’s interview to apologize for, which makes me appreciate even more that you would take the time to write this post explaining the interview’s importance and your reason for printing it. That kind of grace toward those who struggled with the initial interview is really commendable, and I think models so well our Covenant approach to discussing important issues (and stands in stark contrast to the rancor with which much of the world, and sadly, much of the church, is approaching these issues). Thank you for opening this conversation in the Companion – I hope more interviews and articles in this vein will follow.

  6. It saddens me that you had to write a defense of publishing the article. If the church isn’t the place for this discussion, just where do we expect to find it?

  7. Ed, I too am saddened that you would feel pressured to explain the reason for this article. It is such an important conversation which we need to hear and be a part of. As a man of mixed European descent, I need to become more aware of how privilege gets assigned by skin color and gender, even though it has been a part of my progress for a long while. If we are going to be representatives of Christ, we need fully embrace brothers and sisters from all races and nations otherwise we are running country clubs for the care of our local tribe not the church. WE as a church need to embrace and celebrate differences and that is at the root of Covenant Theology. Thank YOU Ed, Thank YOU Alex, Thank YOU Peter for courageously sharing your perspective and increasing our understanding. I would be pleased if this influences the nominations committee to find a candidate for president of the ECC that is a woman or man of color. I am sure that they will also be a person of deep faith and commitment with the prerequisite organizational and leadership skills. However, it is more important that we embrace the way prejudice of all kinds that result in our inaction or even participation with all of abuse (hatred, belittling and defamation, etc. of others. It is time to talk about it and find understanding and the love of Christ.

  8. Thanks for your comments on this article and for your leadership with the Companion. I read it as soon as it comes each time. When I read the comments about the next etc president my concern was not who was selected but why a person was selected, was she or he qualified or did he or she fit a certain ethnic test. We need a president who has a 24/7 passion for bringing the “Good News” to everyone! As best I understand Christ’s time on the cross He spent it equally for each of us, just like the old children’s song: red and yellow black or white they are equal in his sight.

  9. Thank you for that interview, Ed!! It was timely, honest, and necessary. Also? Critically important. We need to be able to talk about this painful reality and I found this dialogue extraordinarily helpful and important. We have one of the finest denominational publications anywhere – thanks to you and the editorial team. Keep taking risks and telling it true.

  10. I agree totally with Robert McNaughton in his response to your interview with Alex Gee and Peter Ahn! I as deeply moved by their open honesty and graciousness in speaking of the call of the Gospel and the imperative for the Church to live out its calling to speak truth in the midst of the racism that continues to infest our country! Absolutely no need to apologize!!

  11. Thank you for this gracious response. The conversations are so difficult, but we have to keep building bridges and get to know one another on a deeper level.

  12. I want to add my ditto to what my good friend Bob McNaughton wrote in his post. This is a conversation that needs to take place, and I hope this might be the beginning of a sustained dialogue. Kudos to Ed Gilbreath for his leadership and graciousness. We are grateful that he is a part of our Covenant family. Thanks too to Gary Walter for assembling such an ethnically varied leadership team. When I see the diversity of our Church, reflected in our publications, it is so heartening, something many of us have dreamed of for many years.

  13. Wow. I’m sorry that you felt the need to explain yourselves. This proves how important it is to keep talking about race and injustice in the church, from the pulpit and from other places of power like this denominational magazine. Thanks for not backing down. No apology needed.

  14. Thank you to Robert McNaughton, for his words. I agree with everything he wrote and could not have expressed my thoughts as clearly as he did in his beautiful comment.

  15. It grieves me and raises serious questions about the state of the ECC when the Companion has to run a lengthy piece explaining why it published an interview on an issue as relevant to this day and age as race has become.

  16. Thank you for your courage in opening the discussion in this brave format. We have so much to gain by talking and nothing to gain by pretending there is no racial discrimination or racial issue within our Christ seeking denomination which tries hard to live the kingdom life. May God grant peace to all as we speak with honesty and with grace.

  17. Please do not apologize for presenting an issue that has needed discussion and understanding since the first slaves were brought here even before the Puritans arrived at Plymouth. We white people seem to want to continue the dominance we have held over these centuries, and we have no right to be offended or disappointed. In fact, we must give our thanks to those who, at great personal and professional risk, honestly, clearly and gently talk about the realities of life in the U.S. It is embarrassing to me that there is anyone in the Covenant who is in any way upset by discussing matters that are at the heart of the gospel.

    1. I am a life-long member of the Covenant Church. I have never responded to an article from the Covenant Newswire. On this one, I cannot be silent. First, there is no need to apologize or explain why this interview/article was published. It is a timely issue that we need to have honest and open dialogue about as followers of Jesus. I did not hear in the article any manipulative or self-righteous language tone or language. Secondly, I was blessed by the interview. That does not mean that I felt comfortable or agreed with everything said. I was blessed because I have heard both of these men speak (as well as communicated in the interview) and they are clearly committed to Christ and to the Evangelical Covenant Church. What they dream for is the same Covenant Church that I grew up in and want to be part of for many years. Thank you for blessing us…which always includes a challenge for us to grow and to be more of what God wants. Thank you for being on this same journey of faith that I am on.

    2. Thanks, Ed, for including the article in the Companion and for your heartfelt explanation. I applaud and agree with your vision and hope for The Evangelical Covenant Church, that we can be a people who truly listen to the voices and opinions that differ from some others in the family. I am grateful for the ministry contexts in which Peter and Alex serve; that gives them a perspective that I need to hear and reflect on. We are always richer when we listen to the variety of voices and cries within the larger Kingdom. May God keep us from closing our ears to words that make us uncomfortable!

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