In this Episode:
On this episode, we are joined by Rev. Gail Song Bantum, Lead Pastor of Quest Church, which recently voluntarily cut ties with its denomination—the Evangelical Covenant Church—because of its hard right turn on LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Pastor Gail was invited to speak with us today, because she is an eye witness to a profound come-to-Jesus moment taking place right now inside of white evangelical denominations. She posted her letter to the denomination online. Lisa read it. We are going to talk about it.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet to Lisa @LisaSHarper or to Freedom Road @FREEDOMROADUS. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to Freedom Road. And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Mentioned in this episode:
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] Coming to you from Philadelphia, PA the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I am Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap, and we wanna welcome you to the Freedom Road Podcast. Each month we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations we normally have on the front lines.
It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces, and you are listening in. Now, this month we are joined by Reverend Gail Song Bantam, Lead Pastor of Quest Church, which recently voluntarily cut ties with its denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, because of its hard right turn on LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Now I invited Pastor Gail to speak with us today because she is an eyewitness to a profound come-to-Jesus moment that is taking place right now inside of white evangelical [00:01:00] denominations. She posted her letter to the denomination online, and we’ll post it here as well. I read it and we are gonna talk about it.
So we would love to hear your thoughts. Please tweet or insta me at Lisa S. Harper or to Freedom Road. At Freedom Road, us. Plus we’re on CK and Patreon at Freedom Road. Please keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think. Okay, so now let’s dive in. So, Gail, can I ask you first, we always start with our story because we don’t wanna enter into the conversation with presuppositions of. Who we are just based on what the topic is of the day. Mm-hmm. So I would love for people to hear your faith story. Can you share with us just in a few minutes, how did you come to faith?
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. No. First of all, thank you for having me on. It’s a joy and a privilege to be here with you. Yeah. I grew up with parents in Chicago. I was born in Chicago, grew up with parents who were really [00:02:00] active in church. I was formed, I always tell people I was formed in the Korean Immigrant Pentecostal church.
And then right around middle school I moved to Oklahoma with my mother, who was attending Oral Roberts University Seminary and got involved in a COGIC–Church of God in Christ Black Pentecostal Church,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God.
Gail Song Bantum: and really found resonance between the two of a kind of desperate faith, passionate, middle, low, lower middle income wow.
Community. So my formation at a young age was Pentecostal Holiness in the Korean immigrant and in the black Pentecostal church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That is so interesting. Can you tell me, like, because I mean, even in your family, because I know that you have a mixed family, black and Korean, and, and so, and I, I have found that… like where, where do you find the residents in those two [00:03:00] cultures?
Like, where do you find, like, like how did your mom end up going to a COGIC church? That’s amazing, as a, as a Korean woman, is she, was she first generation, one and a half, second generation?
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. So when we moved to Oklahoma, my mother didn’t go to the COGIC church, she had to do her ministry and internship in the Korean speaking immigrant church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Got it. Yes. to go.
Gail Song Bantum: I refused
Lisa Sharon Harper:
Gail Song Bantum: You were like, no. Yeah, yeah, no. So I ended up going to church with my friends. Oh. Went to that church and Wow. Just got plugged in there. Yeah. Wow. And I think the resonance that I found Yeah. Was really this sense of community. I can see for Korean immigrants, my parents were first generation Korean speaking church. Sundays, whenever they were together was like, family was safety. Right. From Monday through Saturday and the rest of their reality, and same with this particular church that I was part of in Tulsa, it felt like safe haven [00:04:00] for the community that was there.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s so true. That is so true. So when did you discern the call to the pastorate, especially as a woman?
Gail Song Bantum: So backtracking a little bit. When I was baptized in the Korean church, a bunch of older ladies, aunties prophesied over me and said, you’re gonna be in ministry. We could see you in ministry. And at the time, I just saw the ruthlessness of how my mother was treated, not only within the Pentecostal Church, but Korean culture is very patriarchal.
And so she actually struggled inside of that space. And I was actually wanting to be a musician. I was doing music, wanting to go to Music Conservatory in New York. And so that was my dream. I wanted to be a conductor. Right. And so of course back then I was like, no, I’m not. I’m not gonna go into ministry.
Then I go to Music Conservatory in New York. After my first year, I [00:05:00] go home during summer break and my mother’s diagnosed with stage four cancer. And, and dies seven weeks later.
Lisa Sharon Harper: No!
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. And there’s something about death that will just shift your perspective on reality. On life, on what you even thought you wanted to do.
That tomorrow is not promised, especially when it’s a parent and the ground just shifts under you. And so it, it’s something, I don’t even know what it is, but I remember going to church right around the school and just seeing myself like envision myself. Leading in the context of a church and literally said yes to God. And this is all my Pentecostal belief that the spirit is moving. The spirit went before us. Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You make sense to me now. Not that you didn’t make sense before, but I mean, you really, like, it’s like it went… you know, because you’re an artist. And you have Pentecostal [00:06:00] background, which means you are connected to the spirit.
And I very much believe that artists were created in order for the spirit to flow through and actually give us, show us new possibilities of being together in the world. Like that’s the role of artists in the world. And you also have this call to ministry. I just think, my God, I mean, what you just did with the ECC makes total sense to me.
Now it makes total, you know, because it’s not science when you’re in, when we are navigating this really treacherous minefield–labyrinth of a world that we live in right now–where a lot of the things that we thought were certain, and like had intrinsic structure when we’re realizing actually they really don’t, they really were conceived in particular contexts and so therefore are contextual themselves and go [00:07:00] poof when you take them outta that context, like you, science no longer works, right? It’s, it’s, it’s no longer just a scientific formula. It’s art. It’s art. We’re moving. We move with the spirit in this world in order to find our way through the labyrinth, and that’s why your ministry has had the power that it’s had.
Can I ask you, how did that ministry that you end up in the Evangelical Covenant Church from the Pentecostal Church? Come on now.
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah, right? Um, I’ll say, I’ll say that my whole existence in ministry really is a reluctant pilgrim. Like even from the jump, right? I didn’t wanna be in ministry, I didn’t wanna be a pastor.
But there’s something about the Pentecostal faith and being led by the spirit where there’s this beautiful marriage of obedience and release and trusting. My [00:08:00] fundamental kind of belief is that I am not here to protect God,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello!
Gail Song Bantum: but God has always been there to protect me. I think that’s the reality of people who occupy marginalized spaces.
Like God has been my defender, God has been my protector and my provider, as opposed to me having to defend God. And in that, God leads us to different spaces. And ask things of us. And it really is a Mary-moment. How will this be? Be it unto me. According to your will. So how the Evangelical Covenant Church came about was when we moved to Seattle.
My husband and I were at Duke for 10 years. I had just graduated from seminary. I actually went to seminary later, even after doing ministry for many years. And when we were here in Seattle, I told the family, Hey, y’all we’re gonna visit lots of churches. I wanna take a break. I’m burned out [00:09:00] from ministry.
Y’all pick the church that we go to. And so I asked the kids, Hey, we do you wanna go? And they said, we liked Quest Church. And I was like, Quest? It was so different, especially back then, what? 14 years ago.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh wow. Okay.
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. And it wasn’t what it is now. It was led by a Korean man. Which, if you know my story, that in itself is a trigger.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, wow. Okay.
Gail Song Bantum: It wasn’t Pentecostal and it was predominantly white and East Asian. And I was like, really? You wanna go to Quest? Okay, well I said that you can go, we can go wherever you you wanna go. And then about nine, 10 months later, I ended up on staff.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Of course. Of course. Oh my God.
Gail Song Bantum: As their, as their worship pastor, young adult pastor, associate pastor. And one of the things in the bylaws of Quest Church and the Constitution was every pastor [00:10:00] on staff has to either be credentialed with the denomination that they’re a part of or in process. And so I remember the interview process of coming on staff and the elder board was like, Hey, would you be willing to go through the process of being ordained?
And I was like, what denomination is this? They’re like Evangelical Covenant Church. I’ve neverheard of it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, right. It’s very small.
Gail Song Bantum: And then I looked it up and I was like, it was a Swedish, small Swedish denomin, and I’m coming from Right, the black church
Lisa Sharon Harper: and COGIC.
Gail Song Bantum: I was like, yeah, I know. And even my friends were like, what are you doing?
But it was the, it was part of their, their constitution. So if I was gonna come on staff, I had to go through this process. So that’s actually how it, it feels a little thoughtless, but it was part of the process. But I think what, what resonated with me though in my research and getting to know the folks of the Covenant is their deep [00:11:00] value of empowering women in ministry, their deep value to racial reconciliation, racial justice in word. And trying to do it in practice.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. That’s a nice way to put it. That’s good. I mean, I think, and they, and they would, they would actually use the language of racial healing versus racial justice or racial reconciliation. At least that was when I was with them. Right? Yeah. Yeah. And that is, that is in full disclosure for everybody.
I forgot to say this, that it used to be my denomination as well. And I left the denomination for exactly the same reasons that Quest Church just left. So I want you to, can you explain kind of what happened, um, inside of the ECC that led to Quest Church deciding to leave?
Gail Song Bantum: Well, um, so 2018, the founding pastor stepped down. And up until that [00:12:00] point, Quest was, Quest resonated as a church with the beliefs of the. Ecc, the Evangelical Covenant Church on the issue of LGBTQ+ affirmation. Um, and I was more progressive on that. I was very inclusive in affirming of our LGBTQ and I think that’s why I initially decided not to apply to be the lead pastor, even though I would, I had been the executive pastor for 10 years.
Um, but you know, after some prayer and discernment and talking to other people, I decided to candidate to be the lead pastor and decided, yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Can I just say very quickly that you’re talk… like you started your story in 2018 and that’s when your lead pastor at Quest stepped down. But the year before that wasn’t that the year that the denomination itself began to take this hard turn to the right [00:13:00] on the issue of LGBTQIA because they had had, and I think this is really important for folks to understand, especially other leaders of other denominations who might be listening, that they had had a statement on LGBTQIA, although of course they didn’t call it that. It was written, I think in 1995. Is that right? And, and had not updated it and actually had barely enforced it. But then all of a sudden in 2017 decided that, that they were going to then reference this 1995 statement. Yeah. Which really was not actually a full theological exploration of the issue. It was just a list of verses, quite honestly.
And they began to leverage that little statement to then kick churches out of communion and kick leaders out of churches. So that was 2017. Am I right there? Did I get that right?
Gail Song Bantum: I’m not sure exactly on the date, but it is around that time when the president at the [00:14:00] time, right. This, I mean, the, the thing about the covenant that makes it so unique is their value of freedom in Christ.
Right? That yes, that a resolutions, which is the paper you’re talking about, resolutions are non-binding. And there’s this, there’s this
Lisa Sharon Harper: Say that again!
Gail Song Bantum: understanding, right. There’s this understanding that we, we can hold difference mm-hmm. And be unified in the non-essentials of faith, which human sexuality is a non-essential of faith.
And up until that point…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Unless, unless people literally wanna say that how you have sex or whether you have sex or who you have sex with, is literally going to determine whether, whether you, whether Jesus recognizes you when you get to the gates of heaven. Like, like that’s, that’s really what this comes down to.
Gail Song Bantum:And that’s, that was my frustration.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: I value integrity and honesty. And when we came into this denomination, [00:15:00] when I joined this denomination, that’s something that I valued. Even the fact that the covenant says that all clergy credentialed clergy you, you should be open to baptizing both infants and believers.
Now, I didn’t grow up in that tradition, but because they’re saying that this is historically what the big “C” Church has practiced, we’re not gonna divide over this. Now baptism is something that split denominations.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes. Right. Literally.
Gail Song Bantum: And so it’s that kind of value where it’s open handed on the non-essentials that I thought was beautiful. Hard like, is it even possible? But I thought was beautiful. And so for me, I never, from the jump of leading Quest in this direction, asked the denomination or expected the denomination to change their views or their position on same sex marriage.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: Or inclusion. It was simply, am I allowed to actually [00:16:00] live into the value you say we hold as a denomination.
If not, if you feel like human sexuality is an essential of faith, please let me know because then we do not agree with that and we will leave,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Be clear!
Gail Song Bantum: because that’s not why we joined.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Yeah, right.
Gail Song Bantum: It’s a value in the same way that they value racial, what’d you say?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Racial healing.
Gail Song Bantum: Racial healing and gender equity.But are they perfect? No, but we’re not kicking churches out because of that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. And honestly I could make a case that that is essential is isn’t that what they said back in the 19th century when they invented the altar call and they said, the reason why we’re doing this is because how can you say that you are under the rule of the king of the kingdom of God [00:17:00] and yet crush the image of God?
Yet be about the business of crushing the, you just can’t do, you can’t hold both. So, so I actually would argue that this race thing, and you could also argue gender thing is actually critical to the gospel. Exactly. And yet they’re not taking people out for that.
Gail Song Bantum: Well, it’s like what James Baldwin says, right. We can, we can hold difference as long as your difference diminishes another’s humanity.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. Doesn’t do that. Right. Exactly. Right. Exactly. So, so Quest Church. Recently made this decision to leave. And was there a process with the church that led to that decision? Or, or was it, was it more of an internal thing that you then just let the denomination know?
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah, so it, going back to my call to be the lead pastor, I actually led my candidating saying [00:18:00] that I’m fully affirming that because we’re congregational polity the membership, you’re gonna have to vote, but I want you to be clear who you’re voting in. And if you vote me in, I cannot lead a church if I can’t be fully authentic, and walk in integrity. And so it wouldn’t be a matter of if we shift, but when and how. And so that was the beginning of our church saying yes. And me gauging, oh, our church is actually ready. It only required a two-thirds vote, 66%. But I actually told myself, I’m not gonna take it unless it’s over 85% because I don’t believe the church can survive if we lose more than 15%.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s smart.
Gail Song Bantum: And it came back 87%. And so when that came back, I was like, okay, this church is ready. I’m gonna take my time and care and how we do this pandemic hit. Right? And so it’s been a lot of realities that have led to this decision, [00:19:00] but it’s not a surprising decision. It was really about timing and making sure we can get as many people on board, including our elders in this decision as we disaffiliated with the denomination.
Lisa Sharon Harper: These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road Podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.
Okay. So Gail, your decision came down to leave and it was actually, you knew when you were anointed really to, to take the leadership of Quest Church. It was a question of when not weather, and you knew that 87% of the people on that had something to do with the voting you in were good with it. So the church is ready.
I wanna know, let me ask you this. Going back on something that you said in the last segment when you were talking about whether or not you protect [00:20:00] God or God protects you. That’s just I, that did strike me. Actually, we were talking on the break with my producer and he said, oh, that struck him too.
And I, I wanna just talk a little bit more about that because I think that that does set. It draws a line in the way that we respond to change.
Gail Song Bantum: Absolutely.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And the way that we respond to the challenges that are coming, they are just coming like left, right, and center to the things that the church has traditionally, the White Western Church has traditionally held as orthodoxy, and so there’s a lot of questions that are coming now because there’s a decolonization of the faith that are happening, but yet you said God protects you, you don’t protect God.
Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. It comes from this feeling that you only protect something that you feel like you own or you only protect something that you feel like you have a [00:21:00] right to.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Wow.
Gail Song Bantum: And that’s yours and right? That’s colonialism. But when you. When you are a person who’s lived her life, always on the margin, and just waiting to belong, waiting to be invited into places.
And you’re always on the edges of society and church and whatever the case may be, given your respective intersections, it really is. Your prayer is often more, God defend me. God, be my advocate. So your vision of God, your lens in which you walk in the world as God, as defender. And I think that’s the faith of the underside, that’s the faith from the ground.
Faith of the margins of the edges. And in that sense…
Lisa Sharon Harper: The faith of brown Jesus. Right? Like the faith of colonized Jesus.
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. Yep. And I think that’s, that’s just a different posture that I think we see God, we know [00:22:00] God, and who God to be in the world.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It’s funny because the reason why I really resonated with that is just yesterday I was on the line on a Zoom call that was a kind of a community conversation within a group called Evangelicals for Justice that I helped to, to start a little over a decade ago now.
And we were having a really critical conversation about why be evangelical today? Like what is, why be evangelical today? And the principal people presenting were myself and Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. And Dr. Rah said something that really, really struck me. He said that, and he gave the history cause that’s actually the next book that he has coming out the history of, of evangelicalism with regard to race and all of the things, right?
So he said that there’s a sense within the evangelical world, a lot of the fear is rising because there is a deep sense of having been [00:23:00] given by God the authority and role of stewarding the faith.
Gail Song Bantum: Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So evangelicals do actually approach the faith, maybe even God to some degree, as something that they are called to protect.
So do, is that your, do you resonate with that?
Gail Song Bantum: I do. And just, just for as a qualifier, I’m new to evangelicalism actually, cuz I grew up Pentecostal Holiness and Quest is my first experience in the evangelical world and meeting more evangelical people. And it’s a wonder, and as I’ve been inside of this space for a little while now, I can 100% agree with what Dr. Soong-Chan Rah said even to the extent that I’m finding that white evangelical institutions and churches are [00:24:00] willing to die.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. Literally
Gail Song Bantum: By inflicting pain on others, even as they know it’s going to harm themselves. Right. That’s, that’s exactly what’s happening. Even with Quest right now and the Covenant Church, and we’re in a city here right now in real time.
There is a private Christian academic institution, Seattle Pacific University that is going through this where their board is literally said, we will let this school die on the hill of human sexuality.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Holy God.
Gail Song Bantum: That it is wild.
Lisa Sharon Harper: My God. Wow. So can I ask you, what have you learned, what have you learned about the state of the Evangelical church in the US from this experience?
Gail Song Bantum: I think it’s just that I, I feel like I noticed two things. It’s this maintaining of power and an underlying fear. [00:25:00] And that fear is dangerous. And we’ve seen that in the political realm too, right? This white evangelical ethos presumes that it should be in power, but then you, you see how much fear is operating underneath the surface, right? Even to the extent that they’re willing to die in the hope for it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. I’m, I’m, you may know this, I’ve announced it on, on the socials that I’m in the middle right now of a PhD program. And I’m getting my PhD in Christian social ethics and I’m in the middle right now of the first year, which of is all classwork.
And, uh, I’m in the middle of a class right now on practical theology, and this week’s reading was on reflexivity. In other words, big PhD words, reflexivity. Basically what that means is that you reflect on yourself, right? Like you actually, you think about yourself in relationship to the other, and in relationship to, to the theology that you are spinning, right?
[00:26:00] And you begin to understand how much your own worldview and your own social position and your own, all of the things yourself actually brings to the subject, to the text. If you’re looking at a text or to the work, if you’re leading a church or in addition to all the things you’ve learned, right? But like, but nothing is done, nothing is done in a vacuum or out of a box, right? Like, it’s all rooted. And so the thing that really strikes me is that, yes, I guess, I guess the, the thing that strikes me out of today’s conversation, it was literally today, we had this conversation earlier today in the class is that reflexivity requires humility.
And I was, one of the things I said in the class was that it feels like, you know how like in the Catholic church they have patron saints and sometimes theologians will have core books that they always refer to. It seems to me that [00:27:00] theologians, and maybe even like church leaders, that the patron passage for church leaders really should be Philippians two.
It should be the call for to humility, to not see, grasping, to be equal with God as the goal, right? But rather to empty oneself. What would it look like? What, what could it look like if theologians actually experienced reflexivity or, you know, engaged in that? And, and if church leaders engaged in that. But the problem with humility is that it requires letting go of power.
Gail Song Bantum: Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Right? It does.
Gail Song Bantum: Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You cannot, you cannot hold power and be humble, humble enough to say, I don’t know all things. And so I wonder what have you learned about how power operates within the white Evangelical church in the us? And I think this is a critical question, so I really want you to think about this.[00:28:00]
Gail Song Bantum: My brain is going in multiple directions right now, right? Like a, what does it even look like for somebody who’s always had power to not to know what it’s like to not have power? I don’t even know if that’s even possible, but, um, I feel like in my own experience, I can only speak from what I’ve experienced, but I feel like power in.
In the white evangelical church that I’ve witnessed often will weaponize kind of the language or notions of kinship, of family, of community to maintain or control. Right? And they do this by using, um, I, I often hear in these circles, language of loyalty.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ooh
Gail Song Bantum: And community. And they use that then to police what, what could be seen as divisiveness or disloyalty or breaching trust.
There’s [00:29:00] actually a thread going on in our covenant, our ECC Facebook page that I’ve breached Trust.
Lisa Sharon Harper: What, what, what, right. So that you…
Gail Song Bantum: Yes. Right. That I’ve so power inside these spaces. Right. Also, it looks like what I found to be interesting. It looks like just getting to sit. And not do anything too.
People in power, they, they hem and haw about policy changes, procedural shifts, and they just fit there because they don’t wanna be seen as bigots and all in the name of holding the centrist line. Or like, we see both sides. We wanna come together, um, and then what happens? But you see all the change makers and typically POC exhaust themselves eventually having to make a decision whether or not we’re gonna save ourselves or change the institution. And that’s exactly where Quest has found itself. Right? Quest is a multi-church: multi-racial. [00:30:00] Most of our leadership are POC, our elder board POC, are we gonna keep doing this? You know?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. And keep going.
Gail Song Bantum: It’s a, not a lot of the nice white folk in the ECC are like, please can’t you just help us change the institution. You have the power to change. And right now I’m looking at Lisa just with this face. Like really?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. I, I got the stink face on me, on my face. I’m, it’s the stank face. Like what? So maybe lemme just say, I need to share this story. Can I share this story? So in, in 2017, I believe was my last year, and it was the mid-winter conference when all of this went down and
Gail Song Bantum: Oh yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Remember that? And, um, yep. And you had, you had LGBTQ people sitting out in the hallway like, like sitting there in sack cloth and ashes and just saying, come up to me, please ask my story. Remember that like it was a yes whole thing that happened at this mid-winter conference. And meanwhile, I’m literally there to take my very last class and it only [00:31:00] required one three page paper.
It was the easiest of all four classes. And it was actually about all the different ministries like the, the ECC. And um, and the thing that really blew my mind was that when it came down, like we, we, we had a private conversation by, and this I’m sure happens almost in every denomination when you have these gatherings.
Some people get together and say, y’all, what do you think about all that’s going down? And that’s what happened. We got together and said, yo, what, what do we think about what’s going down? And in this room you had a bunch of people of color who were leaders, and you had a bunch of people who are allies within the LGBTQ community and others who were LGBTQ.
And the thing that, that, that just struck me is that the people of color have a lot of power in this denomination actually because the denomination prides itself, at least at that point, like the number one flagship thing it’s said to the world is we are the fastest diversifying denomination in the [00:32:00] country.
And, and therefore, we are special. We are an amazing, even though we’re small, we are mighty because of our diversity. Right? And if the folks of color were to stand up now and actually say, no, no, no, no, we can’t go this direction. You realize why, da, da, da da, then, then it actually could have made a difference.
But what happened was, what had happened was, a lot of the folks of color said, well, and I don’t have any, I don’t look, I, this is all hearsay. This is hearsay. This part is hearsay. So I don’t know that this happened, but this is what I was told is that folks of color need money for their, for their programs and they need support for their programs.
And it was told to them that if they go along with, with, with the denomination, their programs will be supported. But if they, if they are disloyal, I didn’t, they didn’t use that language. But there it is. If they’re disloyal, if they push back against that, then their own programs [00:33:00] for Black folk and Latino folk and Asian folk would actually be vulnerable.
And so I thought, wow. You know, so they, this is savvy.
Gail Song Bantum: It is.
Lisa Sharon Harper: This is not, this is not like do di do di do we just believe in the scripture. This is power. This is using money and power to control.
Gail Song Bantum: Yes. And so this is, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this. My husband, Brian and I talk about this all the time, and we literally see it playing out in the covenant.
You know what, what’s unique about the covenant, and I’ll plug it for a second. Um, with its Swedish pietist roots, like while it’s evangelical, There’s something about their pietist roots that not only to value the centrality of the word, but also there’s this deep dependence on the Holy Spirit. And so back in the day, [00:34:00] it’s this movement back to the spirit, right?
From early on in our conversation, there’s this dependence on the spirit. Oh, this is what’s happening in the life of the church. We should, we should be inclusive, we should diversify. We should adopt in more people, right? Bring in, and then what happens. But white evangelicalism raises its head now, says, we not only believe in the centrality of the Bible or authority of scripture, which is evangelicals, and now racial justice and racial healing.
But understanding that it’s a kind of racial justice that’s palatable to white people.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello!
Gail Song Bantum: So if you, so if you notice though, yes. Yes. Because my circles of black folk. Are very different than the black folk in the covenant. Right?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. I mean it’s, I mean, well, let me just say very quickly the reason why I, I, well, maybe you should explain [00:35:00] what you mean by that.
Um, but how I hear what you just said is that your circles of black folk, generally speaking, are coming out of the, they are very rooted in the black community.
Gail Song Bantum: Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And therefore have a sense of empowerment to move in whatever direction they wanna move because they are not dependent on white dollars or white approval for their movement, for how they move in the world.
But when you were talking about black evangelicals that exist within a traditionally white institution, it’s different.
Gail Song Bantum: Because it’s a fight for proximity to white patriarchy.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello! Boy, you really said that. Go on, girl. Yep. It is.
Gail Song Bantum: It is approximation to white patriarchy. And that looks like holding onto all those things. But, and just enough affirmation of women, but not so much that it disrupts the patriarchy that exists in our own churches.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. Talk to us about that because one of the things, so … oh go on go on [00:36:00]
Gail Song Bantum: This is the thing: It’s, it’s effective, right? It’s effective and we’re seeing it in the covenant happening in real time.
Lisa Sharon Harper:Wow.
Gail Song Bantum: For white evangelical ethos. Because what happens then, you start, the last president was only able to do what he did and historically get the delegates to remove a church for the first time because we had an influx of people of color evangelicals.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Gail Song Bantum: And that, that became a block, a wedge, and was used to weaponize against more expansive notions of belonging.
Aka LGBTQ+ affirmation, and that got relegated then as a white people issue. So then if you think about white people just had to
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God.
Gail Song Bantum: to sit there, they white people in power just sat there and let the POC fight amongst themselves. You know who policed me the most? The POC.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, yeah. No. Hey, [00:37:00] now the funny thing is, is that when I did a little survey back in 2017, I did just a, you know, I went to person, by person, by person, and I asked them, how do you feel about this?
What do you think about this? To the person, they all said, oh, personally, I, I’m not, I’m not really haven’t decided. Or, or, or, I mean, I’m, I’m much more progressive than this personally. But there was always a, but.
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. And that’s, that’s how POC gets used inside white evangelicals, churches and spaces: we get used as weapons.
And white evangelicalism, I believe, gets a power by POC Evangelicals.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Gail Song Bantum: And certain kinds of POC.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Girl, you are so hitting my buttons right now, cuz, I mean, I just had, Okay, y’all, so I just had a traumatizing experience working with another, like in a whole nother stream of the evangelical church, a very conservative stream of the Evangelical church.
Um, working with this white megachurch pastor [00:38:00] Southern, you know, has, has a reputation for being progressive in his ability to move between people groups. And he has, he has a stated value for racial reconciliation. And yet homeboy treated me with the ethics of the plantation. I mean, it was straight up plantation ethics.
I was like, what? And you know me, I didn’t let that sit. I just called it out. I wrote it. I wrote right. I wrote a letter, seven-page letter and CC’d some black pastors who he’s working with on this. And do you know that they sided with him? The only person and the other person I CC’d, a white woman, she was like, what? This is so obviously wrong. But they cited with him why? I believe because they have an interest in his success because their success is tied to his success.
Gail Song Bantum: There it is. There it is. And that’s what we’ve been experiencing. That’s what I’ve been [00:39:00] experiencing. And you know what’s really sad and time and history shows us that eventually all of us get exhausted and we’ll find out because, because whiteness is so powerful, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get sucked into that and you will die and they won’t care.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast.
So let’s come back. Let’s come back. I wanna ask you one last question. Out of those, what are you, what have you learned? Questions I wanna ask you, what have you learned about the movement of the Holy Spirit because of this experience?
Gail Song Bantum: That’s [00:40:00] such a great question.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And it’s not one that I gave you before, so,
Gail Song Bantum: No, I mean, I love this question because I think it’s, it’s ever present and I feel it even in this moment in everything that our church is going through, that the spirit, the Holy Spirit is always life giving. Hmm. Always life breathing.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Gail Song Bantum: The spirit is always expanding. Hmm.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Even in the middle of people trying to contract.
Gail Song Bantum: Exactly.
Lisa Sharon Harper: the spirit expands. Yeah.
Gail Song Bantum: When I think about Acts-two kind of spirit, it’s, we don’t know how people are hearing the language that we’re speaking, but it says that people are hearing the words we’re saying in their own native tongue and we don’t know.
So it’s this, it’s this posture of we don’t know. And yet God is moving [00:41:00] and it’s this releasing of certainty. It’s this releasing of control, right? And surrendering to the power and the life-giving healing and redemption that is present in the work of the Spirit. And that is humbling. That should be awe inspiring.
And that should make us, over and over again, recognize our, our humanity and our created-ness, and our creatureliness, and that we are not God at the end of the day.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hmm. So what is next for Quest Church?
Gail Song Bantum: Our theme right now is co-create. Mm. And that’s why we made this decision in this season. We had a theme of Making Room.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: And entered into a year of talking about how do we co-create something more beautiful together. I think for me, with three kids Who are in [00:42:00] their mid twenties, young twenties, late teens. Asking myself, what am I doing in my power? I have power, I have privilege as the lead pastor of this church.
And I recognize it and I own it. And the question I’m having to ask myself is, what am I gonna do with this power? I can no longer be in a place of complaining about the church, but I have power to do something about the church that will leave a legacy of abundance for the next generation. I want my children and their friends to feel like they have a place that the church is for them.
That the church is not something of the past, but there is something redeeming and healing in the body of Christ. And what am, what am I called? What are we called? As a church to do one local church to create space, to make room, to, to to proclaim a gospel of an expansive kin-dom [00:43:00] that is for everyone.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I love that. And it’s funny because I was at this retreat over the weekend actually, not a retreat. It was, well, it was, it was a retreat for a board, like a board retreat. And my role was to give the talk at, on Sunday. And at the end of it, I served communion even though I am not ordained because I walked away from the ECC three, you know, uh, three pages away from ordination, three page paper away from ordination. But I felt, I felt the Holy Spirit with me in the serving of that communion. And I’ve never done it before. And these were the words that came out as I was serving the cranberry juice and wonder bread. Cause that’s what we had at our retreat center.
It was, this is the broken body of brown Jesus.
Gail Song Bantum: Hmm.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Killed by empire, killed by [00:44:00] colonizers, and those who had an interest in protecting empire. Hmm. Take, eat and remember.
Gail Song Bantum: Oof. Amen.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And it hit me. It struck me. I was like, that’s, that is church. That’s the actual church. When we can take and eat that and remember, and I wonder how many young people who are streaming from the church now because it’s become, the Church of Empire, would be attracted to that church.
Gail Song Bantum: Hmm. I think that’s what’s motivating me. Mm-hmm. We’re finding at Quest, influx of young people, young people of color. A lot of our LGBTQ+ siblings are from communities of color by just desperate for a place that can redeem the narrative [00:45:00] that they grew up with. And even as they walk through the door, many of them telling me to my face, this is the last chance I’m giving God and the church.
And then them telling us and testifying to the fact that this feels like home for them. That I, as a pastor, my heart goes out to people who’ve been wounded by people
Lisa Sharon Harper: mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: That represent God in the world.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: And oh, I, I find it a beautiful work and a deeply honoring and privileged space to be able to proclaim good news each and every week.
And when these young people, and we do communion every week, Lisa.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, we do in my, my church too. I, I, I attend St. Thomas Episcopal Church here in Philly. It was the first black Episcopal church speaking of expansive moves of the Holy Spirit [00:46:00] back in 1792 when it was established out of that very first walkout that created the black church in America, when the white church thought that black folk should not be able to pray at the same altar as white people, which was how the black church was born.
And the Holy Spirit said, get thee up from thine seats and walk the hell out.
Cut the ties, cut the ties, and look, look what was born.
Gail Song Bantum: Wow.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Look what was born. Can I ask you, what is your prayer for the ECC?
Gail Song Bantum: I pray two things. A deep sense of humility and in that a hope that they would return back to their roots of pietism, of depending on the Holy Spirit. [00:47:00] And again, that’s one of those things where the spirit can’t be controlled, but we follow. My prayer is that they might walk a little more like Jesus and less like the disciples.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ooh.
And what is your prayer for the evangelical church in the US at large?
Gail Song Bantum: That’s a hard one for me.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-hmm.
Gail Song Bantum: That they would allow God to be God. And trust that our task. As followers of Jesus is to love and to serve and to abide with people. I pray for a spirit of generosity and abundance instead of scarcity.
And a belief that God’s kingdom is expansive and enough.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And what is your prayer for the LGBTQIA+ Two-Spirit [00:48:00] community?
Gail Song Bantum: Yeah. That they would know that their belovedness in God and that they’re valued, that the church that has harmed them is not everybody’s witness. That there are people and churches in the world and in America and in their city and in their neighborhood that see them and that love them and welcome them.
Um, and that they wouldn’t lose hope in God because of the people who speak in the name of God.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s good. Yeah. Mm-hmm. And what is your prayer for the world? For our world?
Gail Song Bantum: My prayer for our world is very simple, I think. Just for a greater sense of our collective humanity, that what affects one inevitably affects another. [00:49:00] And with the access of the internet and you know that the world has become smaller to us. Has become closer and that ought means something. Yeah. So that’s my prayer for a collective sense of our humanity.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road podcast. Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and wherever our guests lay their head at night. This episode was engineered and edited and produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media and Freedom Road Podcast is executive produced by Freedom Road, LLC.
We consult coach, train and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and lead to common action. You can find out more about our work at our website, freedomroad.us. [00:50:00] Stay in a note by signing up for our updates, which is on Substack. So everybody stay with me one Substack. That’s where you can actually reach out and where you can get every month.
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