Lennett J. Anderson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hammonds Plains, N.S., and the newly appointed lecturer in leadership and racial justice at Acadia Divinity College. He is a community activist known for his response to racial injustice in Atlantic Canada and beyond. He has served as a speaker for Promise Keepers Canada | Impactus and other organizations.
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Lennett Anderson spoke with Faith Today’s Karen Stiller about how the Church can step more fully into being antiracist and regain its prophetic voice.
Faith Today: You’ve just been appointed lecturer in leadership and racial justice at Acadia Divinity College where you did your own MDiv degree. Tell me what this appointment feels like and what it will look like for you. What are your plans?
Lennett J. Anderson: I’m ecstatic. My heart is overjoyed with the opportunity and the possibilities that are on the horizon. I just believe it’s a dynamic duo of seminary trained leaders and community engagement. And I think that’s the ideal. This is where the rubber hits the road. I am so humbled by the trust of the board, and by the college, to deem me a worthy candidate to come alongside students and just dream of the possibility of having church in community fully engaged as we seek to infuse culture and just address the social ills of our day.
I believe the Church has to regain its prophetic voice.
FT: We’re definitely in a moment where we’re talking about racial justice and injustice in a way that maybe we haven’t as much as we should have been in recent years. Tell me, as you’ve been watching things unfold as a church leader in Canada and specifically in Nova Scotia, what was your reaction? And what were you saying to your congregation on Sunday mornings about this?
LA: We are a mosaic in our fellowship. I think of the richness of ethnicities and cultures really representing the Kingdom of God. But they heard the pain in my voice and if I could be very honest, Karen, although some of the events took place in the United States of America, it sent shock waves. It was traumatic. Viewing such incidents was traumatic to people of colour, and when I watched even my children heard the pain in my voice. Just because many of us can identify that that’s a possible brother, an aunt, an uncle, you know.
It’s a sad reality that in 2020 we still have to address racial trauma, and then injustice and atrocities to humanity, the dehumanization of people of God. Dehumanization is a violation to our creative design. We are made in His image and His likeness. We are His children. This is the family of God, and yet we see our loved ones suffer and endure such harsh treatment.
In almost every interview I give, I say that race is not a card that I play. It’s a life that I live. As an African Nova Scotian, we felt it drew us together as a community to have this communal healing, I guess.
FT: You have said before, "Why have the Church in the community if the community isn’t in the Church?" What advice would you give to a church that is not yet seeing its community in its pews?
LA: I believe that we have to redefine the Church, and that we don’t think of the Church as a building with four walls, but as a people that are called for such a time as this to shine as lights, and that we need to be His representatives in the earth. I believe that we can occupy every space and place, and that’s why I always look for strategic partnerships with all levels of government. I believe in allyship. We are the Body of Christ, the hope to the world, salt in the earth and light in the darkness. This is our time, and I believe it’s detrimental when the Church loses its voice for justice and equity. Because at the end of the day, there’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
FT: You’ll be teaching on leadership and racial justice for future leaders of the Church. What powerful role can the Church play in the moment we’re in today?
LA: What an opportunity for the Church to be Christ’s representative. Jesus was always moved with compassion. He had eyes to see, and I think this may sound like a criticism of the Church, but my pain has come from the silence. To know that we’re the family of God, but not to hear the compassion Jesus gave voice to. He spoke truth to power.
And so, if we are His representatives in the earth, we need to speak. We need to speak righteousness. We will focus so much on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, and say nothing about the Great Requirement in Micah 6:8. "He has shown you, Oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?"
If we are His representatives in the earth, we need to do better. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. When some of these atrocities were being recorded and shown throughout the world, I remember saying to my wife, "I’ve heard from [fewer] than five pastors, you know, in our big convention." I don’t understand. If we are brothers and sisters, what was this silence? There is a fear of saying the wrong thing. So we remain silent.
I appreciate their compassion and their heart, but I want to challenge people to speak, because knowing that you’re not in this fight alone, that we stand with the Body of Christ, with those who mourn with us and those who love us back to life, that’s powerful.
There’s one thing to have sympathy and it’s another thing to have empathy. It’s not enough to say, "I’m not a racist." You need to be antiracist and say, "I will not tolerate. I will not participate. I will not hide and put my hands over my ears when something isn’t appropriate at work." When I hear a microaggression, I will say, "That is not appropriate." I will not just do that subtle laugh, like it was an awkward moment. So we are challenging people. Come on. Look for good trouble, like John Lewis said.
I’m asking the Body of Christ not just to be nonracist, but antiracist. Say this is something we will not tolerate because we will affirm one another.
I’m asking the Body of Christ not just to be nonracist, but antiracist. Say this is something we will not tolerate because we will affirm one another. We will affirm that greater is He that’s in us than he that is in the world. We will band together as one man’s children and so will fight for what is right. I don’t think that this is a Black and white issue. It’s a right and wrong issue.
FT: What should churches do right now in their communities?
LA: First and foremost, take a position of humility and listen. I know I’ve asked people to speak truth, but also assume the position of humility, and listen and learn. I encourage people to do that all the time. Have a lunch and learn. So many times our stories are not validated until there’s proof. You know, I could give my lived experience. I could tell you story after story, but some will just disregard that and say, "It’s paranoid. He’s sensitive. He always sees race."
And so I would ask people who want to seek to be an ally to seek to listen and seek to learn. And I would also say take responsibility for the energy you bring to your space, because not all of us are on the board of directors, but you know, it only takes one person. I don’t want you to devalue the role you can play as one person. You can take responsibility for the space you’re in at your dining room table, in your kitchen, right in your classroom.
I think as the Church we’ve become complacent in the places God has placed us. Paul said to stir up the fire that’s within you. And that’s my hope, even in the seminary, to stir up the fire and fan the flame.
When I heard people talk about ‘All lives matter,’ I thought, ‘You know, no one was saying that all lives did not matter. We’re just saying there’s a group of people that are suffering at this time.
FT: Sometimes in the evangelical subculture we definitely can get caught in that "me and Jesus" trap, that it’s such a personal faith and so on. It sounds like this needs to be shaken up.
LA: Very much. I would definitely affirm that, and I would say that we are our brother’s keeper. As iron sharpens iron, we sharpen one another. And we are family. We’re living in a day that is very self-centred and individualistic. We don’t have a concept of Body.
When I heard people talk about "All lives matter," I thought, "You know, no one was saying that all lives did not matter. We’re just saying there’s a group of people that are suffering at this time." Can we give voice and recognition? Can we address this? I don’t think when we had the atrocity of the mass shooting here in Nova Scotia and people said, "Nova Scotia strong," I did not hear New Brunswick say, "What about New Brunswick strong?" If someone is wearing a pink shirt because of bullying or breast cancer, I don’t say, "Well, I have prostate cancer. Why are you talking about breast cancer?"
I love the analogy that, you know, if I call 911 and say that my house is on fire, they don’t say, "There are all kinds of houses on your street. Why are you calling us?" Address the emergency, which it is for people of colour. It is time for us, the Body of Christ, to show unity in the family.
FT: Can you end us with a benediction?
LA: My prayer is that we would realize that we serve a God who Revelation said holds the keys and will open doors that no man will close. He will close doors that no man can open. And so I just believe we need to walk in His way. My blessing is that the blessing of the Lord will be upon you. The grace of the Lord will be upon you. And that He will just open doors of opportunities to you as you would go in His peace, and in His grace and let your light so shine.
FT: Thank you, Lennett.
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