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Malcolm & Symbolic Victories

Episode Summary

“The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic equity and real justice.”

In this episode, Malcolm X’s words help make sense of current events. This time, Phillip and Taelor tackle what Malcolm has to say about symbolic victories and how that coincides with the recent decision to make Juneteenth a national holiday in the United States. For those who may not know or need a reminder, Juneteenth has been celebrated on June 19th since 1865. It commemorates the proclamation in 1865 from Union general Gordon Granger that slaves in Texas were free. This proclamation came a full two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in 1863. 

Phillip and Taelor bring up President Biden’s decision to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in this episode because the holiday is the exact kind of symbolic victory that Malcolm mentions in the quote above. It is a symbolic victory because at the same time that Juneteenth is being made a federal holiday, states are passing anti-CRT laws banning schools from teaching certain aspects of American history as it pertains to race and America’s treatment of minorities throughout its history.

Symbolic victories, as opposed to economic equity, are easy to pass out because they change nothing. Juneteenth has been celebrated for over 150 years and will always be celebrated, federal holiday or not. Beyond being hollow, symbolic victories often end up conflicting with the goal of unity or remembrance. Phillip and Taelor point out that Juneteenth being made a federal holiday has actually caused more division because there has not been an accurate recounting of history. Because of this, some think that Juneteenth tries to usurp the place of July 4th when in reality, both days commemorate two different historical events.

Symbolic victories also fail to move a country and its people forward. This failure comes because any victory gained from symbolism only lasts for a generation. In this way symbolic victories are temporal. Phillip and Taelor also discuss how symbolic victories are a distraction from addressing real issues and whole problems. This is, again, seen in our present moment. Juneteenth is a federal holiday, but the anti-CRT laws passed are making it impossible for schools to talk about why Juneteenth is a holiday. 

Phillip and Taelor also address what real justice would look like in America. For Christians, it is essential to remember that the federal government cannot give real justice to those who belong to the kingdom of God. But the church can, and should, set the precedent of addressing issues of injustice and economic inequity. In this way, the church could fulfill its role as being a light to the world. 

One way Phillip and Taelor discuss the church being able to fulfill this role is to take Paul’s example: while Paul says to obey the government, Paul also argued for his own humane treatment, based on his rights as a Roman citizen. Scripture shows ways that Christians can be leaders in the push for economic equity and social justice without constantly fighting whether these issues are biblical. 

Phillip also talks about the church’s pattern in fighting the government when it passes a law bringing about equality. The church has an opportunity now to be introspective and see ways that it has been a hindrance to equity and move forward. Instead, what the church should be doing is taking the opportunity to lead on these issues. The church should not be more devoted to its tribe than it is to God or the Scriptures. Blind adherence to tribe over all else keeps Christians and the church from leading as they should. If the church wishes to lead as it should, it must be devoted more to God and God’s Word than anything else.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is the recent passing of Juneteenth as a federal holiday a symbolic victory?
  2. Are symbolic victories always hollow? Why or why not?
  3. Why is it essential to invite challenges to maintain intellectual integrity?
  4. In what way does tribalism promise answers but only gives half-truths?


Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain, where we offer Christian reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Phillip Holmes.

Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. And we are your hosts. So, Phil, today I wanted to take a moment before we get into the meat of our discussion today and offer a disclaimer of sorts. For those who are listening, we just really appreciate your support and your feedback. There is a particular reoccurring point of feedback that I want to engage with right now. And that is to say that Phil and I don’t consider ourselves to be Malcolm X scholars. We’re not here to unfold the intricacies of Malcolm’s life in detail, give specific instruction in how to understand him in the context of academic history being portrayed as a linear focus. What we’re doing is engaging with his words in a discussion format. And from what he’s actually said, we gain perspective on how to engage with society. So if you thought this was kind of like a classroom setting, it’s not that. It’s more of a conversational setting. In the intro, we say we are looking to reflect on his words. To reflect on what we can learn. And hopefully, in the process of doing that, deconstruct our perceptions of him, and you know, approach figures like him—historical figures like him—with more humility as Christians. Because it seems as if we’re more likely, or more prone, to throw away voices like this or to downplay voices like this in our historical context in this country. So, just wanted to throw that out there to maybe reorient the perspective of how to engage with this podcast. So yeah, that’s our disclaimer. For those of you who are listening, who have been devoted to Malcolm X for a number of years, and you know, really consider him a strong influence in your life, we’re not here to sanitize him, either. We’re here to interact with the difficult quotes and actions—interpreting the actions—that he took part in throughout his life. We’re here to interact with all of it. We’re not here to sanitize him and make folks comfortable just for the sake of trying to appeal, but at the same time, man, we’re just two brothers sitting here trying to give historical and conversational perspective on someone who’s been demonized—we believe—has been demonized. And I’ll say, as a person who’s interacted with Malcolm a ton in my life, I think there’s a whole lot for us to learn and even appreciate in light of what’s going on now. So we’ll start our discussion as we typically do, with a Malcolm X quote. Malcolm says this: “The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories, rather than economic equity and real justice.” Man. Phil, how did that hit you when you first read that?

Holmes: So, at the time of this recording, it is Juneteenth, so by the time you guys hear this, it will be the Wednesday after Juneteenth. Taelor, you sent me this quote yesterday—Friday—and I was like, that’s the next episode. Yes. 

Gray:  (Laughs) Yeah.

Holms: Because, as many of you know, Juneteenth just became a Federal holiday, and I immediately looked at it as certainly a victory, but a symbolic victory nonetheless. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And so you see all of these articles that are popping up, rightfully so, saying yeah, we got Juneteenth guys, but none of the other policies that actually matter actually went forward. And then you also have all of these anti-CRT laws being passed, which, again, you guys, if this is your first episode, go back and listen to the previous episodes before you assume what we actually believe or don’t believe about CRT. But you have all these anti-CRT laws that are being passed, which is essentially laws that are making it very difficult to present an accurate history of what actually happened to black people in this country. It makes it difficult for educators to talk about these things, because as we have seen in the circus via Twitter, social media, but also in Capitol Hill, talking about race, talking about slavery, talking about Civil Rights movement and all the stuff that has transpired over the last 200 years—these things are all being conflated with the CRT bogeyman. Because when you talk about one, you must be a proponent of the other. Which is absolutely false.

Gray: Honestly, I was responding to the way folks interact with whether it’s CRT or any other kind of broader ideology that comments on systemic structures, and things like that, and how folks just have an allergic reaction from a distance, you know. Instead of getting up close and trying to understand better, not only what’s being written—what’s being communicated—but who is writing and who is communicating. So we go back to this Malcolm X quote. I’m just gonna let our listeners know—now you are engaging with Malcolm X. You are engaging with his words because he says this—he says: “The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories.” So what is an example of a symbolic victory? In this case we’re talking about Juneteenth, which is an attempt to take time, take space, take a day to reflect on what has actually been a part of our country’s history. The story of America. The story of a particular people group trying to make their way in this country. And it’s a painful part of our history, and we can’t sit here and act like it doesn’t deserve reflection, or doesn’t deserve space for us to understand better why it’s significant. First, before we kind of get into more of the critical part of this, I do want to acknowledge that there is a woman named—a sister Opal Lee who’s 94 years old. She’s been fighting for this for a long time—for decades—for the Federal Government to acknowledge Juneteenth as a national holiday. So, I don’t want to just act like her efforts are meaningless. This is something that she’s been advocating for for a long, long time. So as we interact with Juneteenth as a symbolic victory, it ain’t symbolic for her. She’s 94 years old, so I’m going to give her her flowers and say thank you, sister, for your advocacy.

 Holmes: Amen.

Gray: But at the same time, from a critical standpoint, there are things on the table that many activists, and community leaders, and even church voices have been advocating for in recent years that have gone largely unaddressed. So in the face of actual legislation that’s sitting in Congress, or that’s being advocated for on a local, state, city level, we get this. We say hey, we’re gonna push this through and get Juneteenth as a national holiday. Maybe for you that means you get a day off of work, but I don’t know if that just took place on this past Friday for you. Maybe you gotta wait a year to get that day off. End of the day, this is a form of acknowledgment of what black people have gone through in this country. And now we take space to look at it more deeply. But unfortunately, the symbolism associated with it almost kind of assigns us—for some people—maybe assigns this notion that all right, we’re passed this. And now look at the better place we’re in right now. And, you know, we want everybody to now take part in this celebration as a country. But there’s something painful about asking people to take part in a celebration that they don’t understand. You’re putting and forcing people into a narrative that they may not understand, nor embrace, so the symbolism falls short of the actual thing you’re trying to accomplish, which is restoring unity, which is providing equity, which is addressing the issues that ultimately are causing the black community pain. So here we go—you get a day off of work, but on Monday, you still have to deal with the everyday realities that you’re trying to change.

Holmes: One hundred percent. I think too—forgive me if I missed this, because you may alluded to it, but—that point that you made about how this type of symbolic victory in some ways, from a critical standpoint actually conflicts with the overall goal of unity, remembering, honoring, acknowledging—especially within this cultural moment. It’s interesting—and this is kind of how double-minded America is, or perhaps even how divided we are. 

Gray: Sure.

Holmes: Juneteenth was made a federal law by a progressive president, while in the same cultural moment conservatives—right-wing Republicans—I’ll say that—are trying to whitewash history. So, to your point, Taelor, it does cause division, because now you have a people—the dominant culture—many of whom have never heard of Juneteenth, don’t know what Juneteenth is, don’t know anything about the history or what actually happened during the Civil War, don’t know why it’s significant. And they’re frustrated, they’re confused, because they haven’t been educated regarding America’s history and the atrocities that have taken place. They just know black people were enslaved, and then there was, you know, the Civil Rights movement, and after that everybody was free, and black people had the same opportunities, right? That’s probably an oversimplification but my—

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: But my point though is—I think what you touched upon—is actually very insightful and pastoral, and is what politicians are not getting. Because the acknowledgement and the making Juneteenth a federal holiday is not a bad thing. It should have happened. It needed to happen. We’re celebrating today, right? So that’s not at all what we’re saying. Not mad about it. But you gotta have this conflicting feeling when you recognize that of course America’s divided, because at the same time an accurate account of history isn’t being told, and Juneteenth is being looked at as just a way to get revenge against white people, or a way to replace the 4th of July. 

Gray: Well that’s ultimately the picture of the inconsistency or the hypocrisy. Again, to become a little unhinged for a moment and talk about hypocrisy more directly is to say, all right, we’ve got the symbolic victory of Juneteenth giving people who work in typical work environments a day off of work to acknowledge this moment in our history. But we still have the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 chilling in the Senate. Again, I remember all of the activity surrounding the George Floyd moment in our country. I remember all that. I remember the Black Lives Matter, or the all-black Instagram posts. Just like, you know, whatever. You got signs in your lawn, you know, maybe there were some sermons being preached. There were countless panels on race happening in churches and, you know, all these environments that people were trying to just jump straight face-first into the firehose, and just understand racism for the first time maybe in their entire lives. Yet we have legislation that literally speaks to the problem, or at least one of the problems that are—that the black community has been engaging with for a long time. It’s specifically related to police brutality. And that legislation has not been passed. And it’s like okay, well we’ll compromise and give you a day off for a holiday, but when it comes to the actual structural issues that we’re dealing with as a country, we need to hold off on that. We need to wait. And this is historically consistent in terms of the American political system, and I think when you read Malcolms words, and he says, “the white man”—you know, maybe you get triggered immediately and say oh, what does he mean by “the white man?” Well let’s be clear. He’s talking about the white political power structure. He’s talking about the white government in a sense. The racialized system of government that we have.

Holmes: Right. Don’t necessarily just hear “the white man” from Malcolm. Now I understand definitely being triggered by “white devils,” but you gotta—again—unpack what Malcolm actually meant by that. 

Gray: Oh, we’ll talk about that, Phil. We ain’t gonna give them that today (laughs).

Holmes: Yeah. But “the white man?” That’s just him talking about a particular people group, or at the very least, a culture. 

Gray: When we talk about what it means to move forward in this country, symbolic victories are not going to get it done. We should have learned that lesson many times leading up to this moment. Because most of what it means to be an American has to  do with idealism in terms of how we learn about this country historically,  and we often, if we’re very—if we’re honest—we’re often looking at how we don’t live up to our ideals. We project this image of America, and freedom, and respecting everyone’s ability to pursue life and—well, to pursue happiness, and life, and have all these opportunities. But, you know, historically we’re failing at achieving our ideals. I think we’ve gotten kind of an introductory conversation going as it relates to who Malcolm’s audience is. He’s talking to black people about the white political structure, and he’s telling us to avoid symbolism essentially like the plague, or at least be aware of symbolism versus actual change. And he uses this term—he talks about economic equity. A lot of times I think you and I are interacting in Christian circles around a specific conversation relative to reparations. You know, reparations is not something we’re going to unfold in detail or even necessarily address it from a federal level, but as Christians interact with Malcolm’s words here, I think economic equity sometimes becomes a trigger word—or trigger words—that, you know, don’t fully invite us to engage with what’s being said. So, if you use your imagination—like, you know—what’s valuable about a conversation relative to economic equity or reparations toward black people, or people of African descent, from a Christian point of view?

Holmes: Reparations might not be the first conversation that we need to have. And someone—a really, really interesting podcast that I’d encourage people to listen to is The Anthony Bradley Show where he discusses transitional justice. Transitional justice essentially refers to the way that countries emerging from periods of conflict or some type of repression, address, like large scale or systematic human rights violations, so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response. 

Gray: Okay, yeah.

Holmes: So, in some ways, reconstruction was a form of this, because they recognized that you just can’t free slaves and then say all right, go and find jobs, go and do this, because you have the side that lost the war—the Confederacy side, still essentially have the power in these areas. So reconstruction was trying to reconstruct society. Because you gotta reconstruct society. 

Gray: Right. Yes.

Holmes: Otherwise, these individuals will still be under the control of their former oppressors. It’s just now, these oppressors are individuals who maybe can’t necessarily call them property, but they do have enough power so that they are able to significantly keep them oppressed. And abuse them, or misuse them, and so on and so forth, right? So reconstruction was, I think maybe a form of transitional justice. I’m not an expert on this. This is something that—this is a new paradigm or new concept that I’m actually thinking through. Because it’s not something that we’ve discussed a whole lot in America, but apparently other countries have been doing this for quite some time. It is foreign in a sense.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: But it’s not new. It’s just new to

Gray: Right.

Holmes: —people in America.

Gray: Well, I mean I appreciate you even bringing—or raising the term up. Because I think we need this terminology to have some substantive conversations in the black community about specific things that we’re hoping to achieve. And, you know, there may be some nuance in what people mean behind reparations—a term like that—or, you know—transitional justice. But we need to bring those to the table instead of, you know, just kind of expressing a sentiment of “this isn’t fair, this isn’t right, this is unjust,” without language to actually address what’s going on. So I guess I’ll ask you directly. What—do you feel like what Malcolm is saying is capturing the spirit of what you are thinking through right now and what, you know, Dr. Anthony Bradley is processing when he says, you know, we don’t want symbolic victories. We want to move towards economic equity. Do you feel like you agree with that, in just kind of the spirit of that, or how do you interact with it? 

Holmes: Oh, one hundred percent. I mean, I agree with it. Because I think that symbolic victories, rather than economic equity and real justice, only fuels the angst that is currently present. Because, at the end of the day, that high is only going to be experienced by one generation, even if it lasts that long, right? But, again, twenty years from now—thirty years from now—we’re gonna be still having the same conversations because we never really solved the problem. So I think what people have to recognize from what we’re seeing with Malcolm is that, like y’all, this ain’t going anywhere. You can pass your anti-CRT laws, you can do whatever it is that you want to do, but this problem is not going anywhere. Because as long as symbolic victories are put in place as sort of temporal solutions, to sort of calm the angst, and for people, you know, progressives to give themselves a pat on the back even, and say hey we did something, a few things are going to happen. There’s going to be a significant hard shift to a form of socialism and Marxism that’s going to become a self-inflicted prophecy. Or—and the reason why I say that is because conservatives are saying we’re going towards Marxism, we’re going towards socialism, we’re moving towards communism, but the reality is is that they’re doing everything that will inevitably lead us there, because they’re not showing the beauty of what it is that America claims to be. So in the Tweet today, recognizing Juneteenth, one of the people that I follow says this: “While some will use Juneteenth to push racial division, it has always been a day for recognizing America as an exceptional nation—a nation that while flawed, was built with a Constitutional framework that allowed us to right our wrongs. Let’s use this day as a teachable moment about the evils of slavery, and the system that redeemed us.” So for the most part, like I can get with what she’s doing there. At the same time, I think that I’m slightly conflicted.

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: Because again, I don’t think that that is as—there’s nothing that she says there that isn’t true, I do think that America’s greatest strength is our Constitution, but America’s greatest weakness is that there is a culture that’s built around not practicing what it is that we preach, or not practicing what it is that is written on paper that we claim to believe, right? There’s a culture, right, that has developed over time in America, where what is written has always kind of conflicted with what is done. And I think when that happens for so long, there’s a blindness to that reality, which makes it really dangerous, because one thing can be on paper, but the actions will look very different. So when she says that it’s “a nation that, while flawed was built with a Constitutional framework that allowed us to right our wrongs,” like one hundred percent, but it’s not the system that redeemed us. I didn’t like that word. It’s not the system that actually redeemed us. Because that’s not really how the Civil War and the emancipation went down. It’s not just that Lincoln wanted to free the slaves, but—we just talked about that—had this whole conversation with a PhD who’s getting—with a PhD student who’s writing her dissertation on when did the slaves become free? And so there’s a whole other conversation around some of the complexities to how the emancipation actually occurred, and how freedom was actually attained. Regardless, though, we do have a Constitution that says all men are created equal. However, we have a culture that exists in America today that constantly conflicts, and ignores, and leverages that Constitution when it’s convenient. They ignore it when it’s convenient. They leverage it when it’s convenient. But they’re not—we’re rarely ever consistently ever following…

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: What our Constitution actually upholds as these grand truths.

Gray: I mean, listen, I just gotta say—welcome to Make it Plain, where we actually interact with, you know, voices that we may not one thousand percent agree with. But we’re trying to be fair in our presentation of what’s being communicated, and then offer our critiques or responses to places that we don’t quite track with. So I just want to commend you, Phil, for humanizing—

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray:—this sister in such a way where you’re able to read her words—

 Holmes:  Oh, I love her.

Gray: Yeah. Yeah, but at the same time you were able to identify charitably, like, a place where, you know, you might not necessarily go with her. And that’s what we try to do on this podcast, is like, you know, we’re not trying to articulate perfect perspectives as if you don’t have to check in or compare with other voices that may be trying to communicate similar things. But we’re trying to do our best to interact with what’s out there, and all the nuances that are associated, so, that was really good, bro. That was really helpful, and I do think at the end of the day, you know, being a citizen of the United States of America is going to involve that difficult journey of identifying our idealistic pursuits versus how things actually played out.

Holmes:  Yeah.

Gray: Here’s what I’ll say, too, is just to be clear, I don’t think we’re going to sit here and try to solve a problem that should be responded to by the Federal Government. We are at the end of the day citizens of a kingdom that’s not of this world. And, you know, this notion that Malcolm just says—it’s just funny to me because I can just hear so many different people using these words with different meanings. He says “real justice.” Real justice. You know, and every—I can hear so many people contending for that sentiment in different ways. In saying, you know, this is real justice, or this is real justice, or this is real justice. When you talk about reparations, man, I—you know—I don’t look to the Federal Government necessarily to establish the way we should go. Like, there’s a difference between being hung up on symbolism or being disappointed in symbolic gestures. It’s the difference between that and actually setting a precedent. You know, and saying this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to demonstrate our commitment to this decision, or we’re gonna demonstrate our commitment to this standard by implementing this decision. You know, the thing I think Malcolm is addressing here is to establish a distinction between symbolism and setting a precedent. You know, if you offer a symbolic gesture with no real intention of addressing the issue at hand, then I think, you know, Malcolm’s saying we need to be aware of what that looks like, and distance ourselves from that. Versus setting a precedent, which is identifying the issue at hand—not overpromising and saying that you’re going to solve everything right now, but demonstrating a commitment or an investment to the end of the standard you hope to achieve. And so it’s not, hey let me give you something to distract you from the fact that I’m not really going to address what you’re asking for, you know—a smokescreen of sorts. It’s more of, hey, I’m going to acknowledge what you’re saying, I’m not going to commit to—maybe I’m not going to commit to everything that you’re asking for, but I am going to commit to this action that’s going to demonstrate a long-term commitment at addressing the whole problem. And I think that we have to work through what that looks like, and that doesn’t necessarily mean relying on the Federal Government. Because here’s the thing. I would like for us to get to a place where the church establishes the precedent. Not the government. You know? And if we could get to that place, I think we’ll have a better witness in society. We would convince the Malcolms of the world that the church is for real. That this is something—

Holmes: One hundred percent, bro.

Gray: Yeah, that this is something bigger than us. This is something that God is concerned about. And that’s the—

Holmes: And it would be powerful because it’s voluntary.

Gray: Yes, man.

Holmes: Whatever the Federal Government does is going to be through coercion. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And this…this also…you know, I wrote this article a while back, and it wasn’t necessarily from this angle, but I do think that one of the reasons I’m attracted to libertarianism in some ways is because it basically demands that the church be about the church’s business. Because the church has essentially in some ways not been as active about the mercy ministry of the church, and the caring for the neighbor—I mean, like, who was building the hospitals? It was churches, right? It was Christians that were doing—that were bringing about a lot of the social goods. And when the government essentially came in and began to do those things—a lot of times people talk about big government replacing the father in the home. It also replaced the church doing good in society. Nobody talks about that.

Gray: Bro. That’s a bomb right there, because at the end of the day, we’re talking about all these hypocrisies associated with American idealism. What about the Christian church? You know, and the things that we say that we’re about—the things that we say we’re committed to on a wide scale. And then we look at the track record. You know, this conversation, as it relates to social inequity, and—Malcolm uses the term—“real justice.” You know, I would even associate what you talked about in terms of building hospitals and other ways that churches have committed historically to seeking the good of the society—I would consider those justice efforts as well. And, you know, we have to look at our witness and what people think of us based on what we can actually say we’ve committed to over the years.

Holmes: Yeah, and I want to make a distinction, too, between the church as an institution, right, and the church as, like, the individuals that make up that body. Because, I think that, you know, what a lot of people will hit you with is like, well what’s the mission of the church? So, like, I hear this a lot and I’m like, I think the—I feel like for some—not all—the “what is the mission of the church?” is a 2021 version of “who is my neighbor?”

Gray: Sure.

Holmes: Like, American government is so unique and so different, like, the government is made of the people. Like, we send people to Capitol Hill, to the state capitols, and to the national capitol in order to represent us. Right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: The people, ultimately, within the confines of the Constitution, the people are the government. We don’t have a dictatorship, we don’t have a monarchy. The government is a reflection of us. So what the government does, to some extent by nature of the way that this beautiful (in someways) experiment—is made up—it’s a reflection of our values. It’s a reflection of who we actually are as a people to some extent. I just oftentimes think about the church and how it engaged the government during early Christianity, like Rome. You can’t—that’s not a one-to-one comparison to how we should engage government in the 21st century as Christians living in the freest nation in the world. Right? Because we have liberties that Paul and early Christians did not have.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: We have power that they did not have. I just say that we gotta be very careful when we’re talking about those two things—not to conflate them as if they’re the same, because I don’t think that even Paul would go to different governments and give a prescription for how you should engage all governments. I think we should look at what Paul said about government, but oftentimes I see this even in the Reformed circles. We take what was described—even though we know better—we take what was described and then we try to prescribe it in our context. And I’m just like, no, no, no. Paul was—when Paul was being prescriptive—and when he talked about the government, he was prescribing—and I think that honoring the government is still true. Honoring your leaders and your authority is still true. But you can’t be looking at the book of Acts and then trying to ascertain how we should engage, because we’re—Acts is telling the story of what happened in the early church.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: Not always prescribing what we should do in the 21st century. 

Gray: Yep. And I think looking at what happens is extremely helpful for us, because we’re not just chilling in the idealism. You know? That’s some of my issue with folks taking a hyper-focus on the epistles in the New Testament to talk about the instructions, as if they exist outside of application and how things actually played out. You know, like you’re not a getting an actual—or an accurate view of the local church’s role in society, or even how it effected other people, whether it be in a personal context or society-wise. I mean, if you’re going to quote Paul and talk about what he says about honoring the government, also remember that Paul is a person who organized a personal protest around his rights as a Roman citizen. He said listen, you ain’t gonna just treat me like this. I’m a citizen of Rome, and you will acknowledge this, and the laws that are associated with it. And that’s something we should learn from as well, you know? And so, again, I don’t want to rely on the Federal Government to necessarily be the entity that achieves all of God’s goals, or, you know, the kingdom agenda, or whatever language you want to use. The church should be setting the precedent. We should be able to be introspective enough to look at what we have done, what we’ve committed to, how we apply the faith that we proclaim in ways that transform society. And in this case, I think we have a real opportunity here to take some macro-level accountability as to how this plays out. And, you know, a person like Malcolm is right to critique American society, in particular the expression of the Christian church in America. Because right now, Phil, we still have an argument in one of the most—one of the largest denominations in this country about what this looks like. You know? Like—

Holmes: Here’s the pattern that I consistently see within the church: the government takes action, Christians oftentimes fight those actions tooth-and-nail, and then a generation or two later—now all the sudden—you have equal rights, what more do you want? Why do you just keep asking us—

Gray: Bro, yes.

Holmes: We gave you this. We gave you—you actually didn’t do anything. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Like, it was always, like…so the church, in this particular cultural context, and I think that—and I’m hoping that, you know, my children and my grandchildren won’t be repeating the same thing—but the church has an opportunity to do something that the American church historically has never done.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And that’s lead.

Gray: Yes, bro.

Holmes: Rather than fight.

Gray:  Yes. Yes.

Holmes: Rather than fight at ever turn, and then all of the sudden, when they realize they can’t win, accept it, and then, to some extent, talk about it as if they participated in the giving of that thing. 

Gray: Man.

Holmes: Whatever that—whether it’s the Civil Rights Act, whether it’s the emancipation—regardless of what it is.

Gray: Yes, bro. I love—I love that. I mean I don’t even—(laughs) Lead! Like we are not designed to be reactionary. We’re designed to be prophetic. And that means we have insight into things that have to do with the design of our own bodies, our own—you know, the design of a human being—and the design of society. So, we can take on this mission personally in our interactions with individual people, but we can also take on this mission on a society-wide level, and proclaim the things that God has said, and ultimately hold systems of power and government accountable to his standard. You know? So I think sometimes that gets conflated with the story of America, or the purpose of the American government, and that narrative gets propagandized to its citizens broadly, and to its church. And what we are talking about is an expression of following Christ that may not necessarily hit the mainstream, and it’s creating all this tension and division and all this stuff, because the integrity of the church’s role or presence in this country—it deserves some critique. It deserves accountability. Like what’s going on? Are y’all down for this, or are you not? And I think that’s why Malcolm X is so helpful, because he’s saying things that should cause us to look more deeply at our convictions, and what we believe the Scripture teaches us, and to literally be dialed in to what following Christ means on a much deeper level.

Holmes: That’s good.

Gray: You know, man, I think we covered as much as we could today. I think we left people with some things at least to talk about and to think about and process. So yeah, let’s just stop here and, you know, if you guys have any feedback or thoughts, please continue to share with us. 

Holmes: Absolutely, man. Yeah, I enjoyed having this conversation with you, bro. Man there is—there’s so much here that can be explored. And another—

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: —Malcolm quote is definitely going to bring us back here, so I’m looking forward to continuing this, man. And we gotta get in the same studio—with like—we gotta get in the same studio and do this, as opposed to—maybe I need—maybe it’s my turn to fly to Ohio. 

Gray: Come through.

Holmes: Set up shop or something up there, and see if we can record. Or meet halfway or something. We gotta figure something out.

Gray: Come through. I’d love to welcome you to the midwest, dawg. Malcolm’s birthplace—the midwest (laughs). 

Holmes: The midwest. Broadly. Yeah. Broadly—the midwest.

Gray: Yeah. Dope. Dope. All right, man. This has been a blessed conversation, dawg.

Holmes: Yep

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.