A Call to Boycott by Curtiss Paul DeYoung

Randy Woodley is calling for a boycott of Christian conferences where all of the speakers are white … or there is only a token representation of persons of color. I support his call.

As I view the advertisements in Christian periodicals I am disappointed at how many conferences are still dominated by whites in the 21st century. (Many of these conferences also have few or no women.) This is the century where the demographics in the United States move from a white majority to a cultural and racial plurality. According to US Census reports it is estimated that by 2042 whites will drop below 50% of the population. That is only 30 years from now. How can we acquire the required vision and skill to navigate these transition years using only a white male paradigm for valuing wisdom and expertise?

Even some of the conferences focused on urban ministry, diversity, reconciliation, and social justice are mostly white male speakers. I went to seminary at Howard University School of Divinity, which is a historically black university. I had considered several other seminaries with urban ministry programs. It was a gift to end up at Howard University because the divinity school lived and breathed urban ministry. Yet when I would go to urban ministry conferences most of the experts were white. I never could understand this contradiction. The overwhelming majority of folks living and doing ministry in urban contexts were persons of color. Yet the experts at Christian conferences were mostly white. That was 30 years ago and still we face the same dilemma.

Why do so many Christian conferences continue to have mostly white male speakers? One problem is that many of the sponsoring organizations are predominately white in staff, boards, networks, and worldview. Persons of color are often still on the margins or seen as the “other” in the worldviews of whites. Too many white Christians have limited experience in Christian contexts that are not dominated by whites and therefore lack cultural competence and any opportunity for being mentored by someone not white. Or could it be that the root of the problem is that white leaders do not fully trust persons of color to lead. One of the results of white dominance is the subtle discrediting of persons of color. So while we may not be consciously aware of it, perhaps the white Christian community simply does not trust persons of color to lead or offer valued wisdom and expertise. According to Paulo Freire, whites trusting persons who have experienced oppression or marginalization is the “indispensable precondition” for transformation.

While likely not the intention, all or mostly white-led conferences communicate to people of color that their concerns and contributions are not important. All white conferences render the lives and souls of persons of color invisible. So I join Randy Woodley in this boycott.

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5 Responses to A Call to Boycott by Curtiss Paul DeYoung

  1. Rick says:

    Randy you are right on it. Just think, the first great revival to hit American soil was not Azuza Street which was lead ny a man of color William Seymour bit happened in the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina around Murphy, N.C. and a Cherokee Indian evangelist was the man the Lord Used, one of the greatest healing evangelist of the modern era was based in Oklahoma and was of Cherokee descent, Oral Roberts, instead of conferences, how bout gatherings and welcome the whites into your realm. Randy, I met you at Qaum and Suuquinna’s first gathering in Tennessee , Creator was having me walk a path to find out about myself, they welcomed me into their realm and honored me and my wife, it has forever changed my life and made my walk with the Lord less churchy and more real. I can never thank you enough for the book(When going to Church is a Sin) you gifted me with and the teaching on the ceremony you shared with me. Thank you for understanding where I was at and comming back to my level in order to help me get down the road. Blessings to you!

  2. Calvin Konop says:

    Randy Woodley is definitely onto something, and I can see only benefit in having all Christian conferences joined with an assortment of people from all kinds of backgrounds (cultural, racial, or other demographics).

    I was wondering: is there any scientific/factual data that can corroborate the idea that “all or mostly white-led conferences communicate to people of color that their concerns and contributions are not important?” If not, where/how would we start to collect this kind of data? If there is, where can I find it?

  3. aussiemef says:

    In 1988 I,an Australian, arrived in the USA as Associate Director of Urbana, a missions conference of 24,000 students. My boss, Dan Harrison, was committed to changing the platform of Urbana. The next Urbana Conference was radically different and has continued different ever since. We worked hard to ensure platform speakers, seminar leaders and student scholarships led to a Kingdom community present from all communities. One Native American leader asked me why he should attend and speak and bring Native American students. My response was that we Caucasians would be poorer if they didn’t come. I can remember Alex Anderson, the Area Director for InterVarity Christian Fellowship, an African American giving me a great hug and saying: ” we did it”. Alex had been the first person to sensitize me to past experience of minorities. Newly arrived on USA soil from Asia I had no idea. Elward Ellis was another who sensitized me during a lengthy meeting in Colorado. There is NO excuse with the calibre of young minority preachers, both men and women I heard in the USA before I returned to Australia. Now Australia has to learn.

  4. Daniel F. says:

    Calvin,

    I think you mean well, but you are asking the wrong question. Your question assumes that people of color have to prove something to white men in order to legitimize a seat at the “Christian” conference table.

    Actually, the reverse is true.

    Given that they were responsible for an inquisition, four major crusades, several minor ones, enslaving one continent, genocides on at least two other continents, colonial exploitation of every continent other than Europe, and the cultural and physical extermination of countless indigenous peoples, it would seem that the onus of proving their worthiness to lead a justice movement would rest firmly on the shoulders of white men. Considering they’ve morally mucked up every continent they’ve been on, with the tenuous exception of Antarctica, and that they continue to benefit from the injustices their forefathers wrought, why should white men maintain a monopoly on leadership at Christian conferences? How can they claim legitimacy or even self-awareness, in light of the contrast between the enlightenment they claim to promote and the darkness of their legacy and continued apathy towards the plight of their colored brothers and sisters? [not to mention the subjugation of white women]

    Data is useless. Neither you nor I can be reduced to equations or statistics. To do so would be to strip oneself, or others, of the Image of God. What we are is stories. Begin by collecting those.

    The burden of colored people in this world is not one of proof but of survival. And it is these tales of survival that you will find not simply information, but inspiration as well.

  5. Kiesha Lamb says:

    Thanks for the much needed reminder as white Christians often forget their privilege at the most convenient times. Leadership at its best serves at its best, when leaders are distorted by whiteness they are in turn disserving the community.

    I’d also add a piece about the registration fees at these Christian conferences, it’s almost as bad as the tuition at these Christian universities. I guess they’re trying to reach the same audiences.

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