Name the White Elephant in the Room
I don’t actually sit at my computer scouring the internet for examples of Christian conferences that feature almost all-white speaker line-ups. The examples actually fall into my inbox, and it’s rather tiresome, discouraging, embarrassing, and offensive.
These conferences – from progressive to evangelical to conservative spaces – are marketed for “all” Christians purporting a value for colorblindness. We are expected to look beyond the white faces and assume that their experiences, theology, and expertise is universal and that somehow those of us who on a daily basis are reminded that our names, faces, food, stories, theology, and mere existence is just outside of normal, orthodox, Christian, and American.
Somehow our commitment to scripture forgets that ultimately the vision we are given for heaven is “a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language” and instead these conferences and conference planners offer us American English with shades of beige.
It wouldn’t be a problem except that more and more faith leaders are recognizing, sometimes too late, that there is an audience hungry for new stories that speak truth about the sin of racism, sexism, and homophobia. They say diversity is important, but taking action and changing the ways conferences are planned, speakers are platformed, and stories are told are too slow to change.
So when these conferences with homogeneous line-ups land in my inbox it’s part of my story to call out truth. It’s not part of my story to hand out gold medals when white leaders finally take action only after they have been publicly called out. I’m grateful, but I’m not here to hand out medals. – Kathy Khang
Stand up and Say “Representation Matters”
One Speaker of Color Does Not Make a Diverse Lineup
Whenever I see an ad for a Christian conference, I don’t need to scroll down to the speaker line-up to know what it’ll look like. It will be either 1. six white people or 2. five white people and one person of color, usually Francis Chan.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for Brother Francis and I throw him no shade. But if you think that having one person of color makes your conference lineup diverse, you’re mistaken. All it communicates is that once you found a speaker of color, you applauded yourself for checking off the diversity box, and you stopped trying.
If your goal is to get a single person of color in your lineup, you’re looking at diversity the wrong way. Having only one speaker of color indicates that your primary interest is showcasing all the white voices you like, and you got a token person of color in hopes of pacifying the diversity police. If you truly value different perspectives, you’ll try to get as many people of color, women, and LGBT folks as possible. You won’t stop at one. — Liz Lin
Remind Them International Speakers Are Not Substitutes for Americans of Color
When it came time for him to take the stage, I was ecstatic. My Latinx colleagues and students were excited. Someone who looked like us, talked like us, walked like us, and saw the world like us was about to take the stage. We were sitting in the audience of what is likely the largest missions conference in North America, and one of the largest in the world. The man who spoke that day was a Latin American man doing ministry in the Middle East. His story was beautiful.
But after he began to speak, I quickly realized, that he was in fact not “one of us.” Now, I get it, that sounds crass, but I’ll explain. You see, his Latinidad is quite different from mine, and of Latinx-Americans. To be Latin American, is different from being Latinx-American.
It will come as a surprise to many that White people love Latin Americans, and in fact, they LOVE Latin America. They love the “exotic” accents, and the “exotic” stories of “exotic” far away distant lands where white people send their kids to paint buildings for spring break. For some reason, White Christian people seem to love painting buildings in Latin America.
The Latin American conference speaker has to eventually get back on a plane back to El Dorado or whatever exotic place they came from. The Latinx-American conference speaker will likely be driving to the other side of town where white people would never send their kids to go paint. You see, the paint on that side of town are murals and graffiti telling the story of how we are here to stay. White people don’t want us to stay.
White Christians love a Latin American speaker at their conferences so they can get their diversity card validated. Having a Latinx-American on stage would mean bringing visibility to a people that White Christians would rather not engage with.
I say that this Latin American preacher was not “one of us” simply because his story and his experience is from a world vastly different from ours. It doesn’t mean that his story or his teaching was worth any less or didn’t matter, it was simply different. Latinx-American voices, stories, and experience of God were not represented at that conference, as is the case in many Christian conferences.
Stories were painted for us at that conference of the Latinx experience south of the border. However, the story of God and the Latinx on this side of the border remains invisible. Having a Latinx-American on the conference stage is not just about representation at a single event, but about bringing our lives and our stories and our experience of God into living color.
We don’t need White Christians to paint for us. We need White Christians to step off the stage and watch what we can do with our own paint and our own brushes. – Michael Vazquez
White Speakers Need to Use Our Privilege to Get Speakers of Color on Stage
White Speakers can’t wait for conferences to do the right thing. We can’t wait for trickle-down ethics. As a white speaker I have to remember that it is easier for me to be prophetic. Like a spoonful of sugar with medicine. My sugary white skin and middle class straight voice makes it easier to hear me speak on even the most taboo topics of race, colonialism social inequity, sexism, and white privilege.
And I know that it can feel like a big risk to ask for a person of color to join you – especially if your friends of color want you speak on white taboo topics. And I get that in our Twitter call-out culture it can feel like there is no margin for error. But if you sit down with our brothers and sisters of color and speak honestly about what you know and admit what you don’t know – you can help be some sugar for a prophetic message your followers need to hear.
And this is not just an abstract idea. I was invited to give a TEDx Talk about a school I had co-founded in Kenya with black Kenyan college roommate Michael Kimpur. And even though Michael’s life is the stuff of modern miracles – he grew up as a World Vision sponsor child, founding a school for kids in his village – while I lived here in the states…my soft white ass was the one invited to give the TEDx talk.
I called Michael – who was over the moon excited for me. But my conscience was gnawing at me – I knew he deserved to be on that stage way more than I did. So I called TEDx back and asked if Michael could speak with me. They agreed, but I was told I needed to cover his flight from Kenya and his in country travel costs. And I wasn’t even being paid! But I made a few phone calls and raised the money for both our travel. And sometimes this is how far leveraging our privilege needs to go. To ask to share the stage with people of color and leveraging our connections to raise the funds to make it happen.
I hate to say it but until conferences prioritize speakers of color, it is our responsibility to ensure our international and America brothers and sisters of color get on stage. – Nathan Roberts
When you speak up and the organizers lie and say “But we can’t find any speakers of color to speak!”
Give them our contact info.
Remember this is a lie. Conference organizers have Google and speakers of color have websites. But its is a lie conference organizers often tell to cover for not prioritizing and budgeting for voices of color. So here is a list of some fantastic (and progressive!) Christian speakers of color you can find at a click of a button.
And Yes. You have to pay them.
Liz Lin is a Senior Fellow at Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco, where her work focuses on race and culture. She has a PhD in clinical psychology, as well as master’s degrees in theology and psychology, from Fuller Theological Seminary. She speaks about race in America, particularly where Asian Americans fit into the picture, and a range of Asian American issues, including family dynamics, mental health issues, and unique challenges facing Asian American students.
Lawrence Richardson speaks on transgender inclusion, diversity trainings, and travels the country presenting this information to faith-based organizations, governmental, businesses, and non-profit organizations that seek to be more welcoming for LGBTQI and people of color.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and critical race theorist working to bridge the gap between evangelicalism and justice-centered liberation. Centering her work on deconstructing white supremacy in theological thought. She regularly preaches and speaks on navigating power and privilege in the church, Christian ethnic identity development toward multi-ethnic community, and understanding justice as central to the way and work of Jesus.
Rozella White is a sought after coach, consultant, speaker, and writer who is desperately seeking justice, mercy, humility and love. She believes that everyone is gifted and has the power to transform themselves, their communities and the world when they tap into their most authentic self.
Kathy Khang is a writer, speaker, and coffee drinker based in the north suburbs of Chicago. She is the co-author of More Than Serving Tea (IVP, 2006), God’s Graffiti Devotional (2015), and Do Better Study Guide (2017) and is a columnist for Sojourners magazine and The Covenant Companion and partners with Christian influencers to move forward on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender within the Church.
Michael Vazquez is a leader, storyteller, researcher, and educator advocating, speaking, and writing on biblically based social justice, contemplative activism, inclusion, and reconciliation.
Booking: [email protected]
Bianca Louie is an educator, researcher, and community organizer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches regularly on the intersections of race, queer identities, and faith among youth, college students, and churches. Her research is on “Queer Asian American Christians: Redemptive Reclamation and Subversive Imagination.” She can be reached at
Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche lives a hyphenated life as a second-generation Indian-American woman. She focuses much of her work and ministry on racial justice, dismantling white supremacy, and conversations on the complexities of identity/ identities. She is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Networker for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism, co-curator of a subversive online Advent devotional (#F***ThisS***/ #RendTheHeavens), and has served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration.
Booking: [email protected]
Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Medium: @tvrasche