Steven Furtick - Become The Bridge (with John Gray)
We have a very important message. Those who are here, you can take a seat right where you are. In your home, I want you to do your best to clear out distractions, because I think this is going to be a very, very significant message today. I asked them, instead of bringing out my pulpit today, to bring out two chairs, because I'm not doing this alone today. This is a very strategic moment, and I've asked my friend Pastor John Gray to come and help me bring this message today. The reason I wanted two chairs to be up here is because I was noticing one time in Scripture how Jesus stood for people others didn't stand for, and he stood by people others didn't stand with.
In a moment where our nation is collectively reeling from the atrocity of the murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in this nation at the hands of a law enforcement officer, I thought it was time for us… In fact, I knew it was time because the Holy Spirit spoke to me that it was time for us to sit down, sit down and have a conversation. Today's message will feel a little different than the typical message because there comes a time where in order to take a stand, first you have to take a seat. I think the reason Jesus was able to stand with people and stand for things that mattered to the heart of his Father is because he sat with people to understand situations.
Today I wanted to bring Pastor John, who I could tell you a lot of things about. I could tell you what he means to our family. I could tell you what he has meant to our church in these last few years, but the reason I wanted to bring him is because we both felt like it was time for a conversation… a conversation not only about race and racism in America but about the heart of God and a way forward. So I want our global Elevation Church family and even Relentless Church family that spans over the great state of North Carolina to South Carolina together… Help me welcome right now one of the greatest gifts of God on the earth today, Pastor John Gray. We were saying how nervous we are because we're going to talk about things today that normally get sometimes passed over because they're difficult to talk about, but we were also nervous about whether to hug each other, because people are going to say more about the fact that we un-social-distanced for our hug than the things we'll talk about today.
John Gray: But they didn't see all the hand sanitizer in the back and all of the social distancing.
Steven Furtick: Right. Like, we took hand sanitizer baths before we came out.
John Gray: Exactly.
Steven Furtick: Hey, the last time you were at Elevation Church there were actually people in the room.
John Gray: There were human beings here. You still have… I guess these are your leaders, some of your leaders.
Steven Furtick: Yeah. We tested all of the staff of Elevation Church to find out who were the most spiritual, who were the most mature. These are the elites. So it's just a few. We're not able to open physically. How has it been for you pastoring in a pandemic?
John Gray: There's no definition for this. You know where Scripture says, "You have not been this way before". None of us who are alive have experienced anything like this. Our church has stepped up in a supernatural way. Our team Relentless has been just unbelievable and remarkable in their creativity to be globally honoring of what I believe our position is in the kingdom but still meeting the needs of our local community. I see you all doing the same thing. You are a global pastor, but this region and all of the campuses of Elevation have still maintained their commitment to the local church. That is the power of these buildings being closed but the church still being open. I want to shout-out all of our Relentless family, because this is a dual moment.
Steven Furtick: Tag team.
John Gray: Yeah, this is a tag team. It's chocolate and vanilla. Let's get it going. It's the swirl. I'm grateful, man.
Steven Furtick: Is that our tag team name? The Swirl?
John Gray: The Swirl. I don't know. We can think about it. Let's think about it.
Steven Furtick: We might do a revision or a second draft.
John Gray: Mocha-Vanilla. I don't know. We'll figure it out.
Steven Furtick: I want to say thank you for a few things. First, for all of the times you've blessed our church through the years. You've been one of the greatest blessings God has given our church family just as a man of God, but also for reaching out to me, not just this week, but you reached out to me a few years ago, and you began to say, "We need to have conversations about what's going on in our nation, in our world, and specifically, as it relates to race". I'll be honest with you, if I can just have a minute to set up the background for how this happened. You texted me on Wednesday, and all you said was, "Hey". I sent you back a heart emoji because I knew you would take it the right way. It was my way of saying, "I'm here", because I think we were all processing the images of seeing another black man murdered in the street.
For me this time, my 12-year-old son Graham saw it before I did, so he was telling me, "Don't watch it, Dad". I had had my phone off all day, and that's why I didn't see it. It took me until Wednesday to be able to type some thoughts about that that I posted on social media. Right after I posted it, I had that empty feeling that although I had said everything I knew to say in the moment, it felt so empty. In the moment I was thinking, "This isn't enough", like, "How many times are we going to post and then feel better because we posted and then just move on and accept this"? Your text came through, "Hey", and then I sent you that heart.
What I didn't tell you until this moment is I had just been praying, somewhere between crying and praying, and asking God to show me what to do that would be more than a post, and you reached out and sent me a video after that first text. When I saw your face on my computer screen… The message came through the computer. I saw how hurt you were in your eyes, and I saw how tired you were on your face, and I saw how angry you were all at the same time. You said, "I think it might be time for us to continue our conversation that we started in 2018 when we had the Bridge event". About that time, my oldest son Elijah (14) walked in, and he said, "Is that Uncle John"? I said, "Yeah". He said, "You're listening to him preach"? I said, "No, he sent me this message, and we're talking about the murder of George Floyd and what we can do as the church".
I said, "How do you feel about it"? He sat on the edge of my couch in my office, and his eyes just looked down at the ground, and he said, "I feel hopeless about it that this would ever change. This is always happening". I knew between seeing you on the screen and seeing my son on the couch that we had to do this right now, not plan an event for three months from now, not have an Instagram Live that may get buried in all the noise. Like, "Okay, God, here's the platform of our churches on a Sunday and all of the people we can speak to", and we need to offer this opportunity to speak not only into the pain and injustice of this moment but what God says to it. I wanted to thank you for being the answer to my prayer, because what was just a text message to you was an answer to prayer for me. I had no idea what I would do or what I would say, but I knew we needed to say something, and then here you are, and I'm really grateful for you.
John Gray: I want to say this. The fact that you had the courage to speak in the moment when many of our white pastors, brothers and sisters, normally have reserved their comments until they get all the facts… For you, with all of your influence, the anointing that's on your life and the global position of leadership you hold in the church, to step out and say, regardless of the facts, "What I saw is enough for me to say from a human standpoint 'This is wrong…'"
I want to thank you, because what it did is it broke something that has been quiet but very real for many of us as black pastors. In moments like this (and they've happened far too often), I'll always get texts to my phone, but they won't talk about it out loud. In this season, silence is agreement. I don't need you to quietly tell me you're praying. I need you to publicly say, "This is wrong". This is not just about race; this is about justice. The entire Bible is about justice. Throughout the Old Testament into the New Testament, God is very clear. Even with Israel, he said, "This is how you treat the alien and the stranger among you".
So this idea of a lack of humanity and, "Well, what did he do? Let's find out what he did first. I don't want to comment on the video until I know the backstory…" If I put my knee on the neck of a dog and it was caught on video, everyone would want me to go to jail and never want me to preach again because they have more compassion on a dog than we have for a man dying in the street. That's a problem. It's a heart problem. It's an empathy problem, and it is systemic, and it is spiritual at its root. So, I want to thank you for not being afraid to step out from the shadows and use your considerable influence to let the world know, "I stand with justice, and I stand with what is right". It means the world.
Steven Furtick: Well, to me, it would be hypocrisy to pastor a church that was diverse… And I don't just mean diverse racially, black and white; I mean diverse on every level, from different levels of education, different levels of income, young, old, "I grew up in vacation Bible school", "I don't know the book of Ruth from a Baby Ruth". You know, there's all kinds of diversity in our church. If I celebrate that diversity but never address the disparity, to me that's hypocrisy. Although we don't turn this pulpit into a reflection of the news cycle, because that would be lethal to our ability to teach God's Word and preach God's Word… I know when the Spirit of God speaks to me. That's the only way I can describe seeing your video. This is a moment in time where even though this is a global ministry and some may find this not as relevant based on where they live or what they think, what we're talking about today is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Gray: That's right.
Steven Furtick: This is not an issue we can relegate to one group. So, if I say, "Look at how beautifully diverse this church is", but I don't speak to the injustice or the pain of someone who is in my church, what am I really doing? Am I ministering or am I arranging the aesthetic to be pleasing? For me, I've watched you all over the world. We've been in Australia together. We've been in some interesting environments together. I've watched Pastor John… This is how anointed he is. I know our church family knows this and I'm not saying anything new, but he can walk into a room where everybody is white or everybody is black or there's any percentage… I've never seen somebody so effectively transcend cultures and mindsets like you do. Never. I'm saying, of everyone I've ever seen try, any name we want to put up here, I've never seen someone that effective at not only being inclusive but at speaking to the needs of everyone. I never really asked you where that came from. How did you become that way? How did God develop you to be so transcendent in your gift?
John Gray: I think, honestly, it started with my mother. She was in social work for close to 40 years. She got her degree in social work in the late 70s, 80s. She was often the only African-American woman in rooms filled with white people. I would see pictures from her professional retreats in all of these places, and my mother had this big ol' Afro, and she'd be this Afro in the middle of all this blond hair. My mother had to be able to live in a world that already saw her not only as black but as a black woman, so she had to doubly work as hard to be taken seriously. But she never brought bitterness home. She always brought hope home.
That was very fascinating to me. It was rooted in her understanding of who she was and what her calling was. She was always the person to build bridges, and she taught me to be the same. She told me that God told her I was going to be a world leader, and she was determined to raise me in a way that I would be able to converse with people from different backgrounds and empathize. I've always had a heart. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and born in '73, growing up, there was very real racial tension, but I was always the guy trying to build bridges before it was a thing, before it was popular. I always wondered, "How come if I go to that neighborhood, if I'm walking, I get called the N-word out the window (that actually happens) but if I stay in this neighborhood I'm good? If they get to know me, they'll know I'm not what they think". Oftentimes, we look at an image and not the substance.
So my mother taught me how to see people through the lens of grace. I extend the grace I want people to have toward me. I grew up honoring all cultures, even if I don't understand. I didn't understand while they were listening to Cyndi Lauper, I'm listening to Run-DMC, but then I started listening to Cyndi Lauper. Now I'm singing "Time After Time". You know what I'm saying? Because I'm willing to step into other people's reality so I can feel what it's like to be them. The challenge is I don't often see that coming the other way, because if there's ever empathy, then we wouldn't see this lack of humanity. So, when I think about what's so critical for us to understand in this moment, this idea of diversity versus inclusion…
There are a lot of white pastors who have black people on their worship teams, but they don't have them in their leadership. That's a challenge, because if you have 35 to 40 percent of a black congregation and you don't address this, what you're saying is, "Your presence is good and your culture is good and your tithe is good, but your pain is not". You have to be able to embrace the totality of me so I can trust you with my soul. I've been carrying this pain for too long for you to be silent about the blackness I have to experience every single day. Let me tell you something. I'm standing here, I believe, as a voice for those who will never have the opportunity to speak.
I have to deal with racial inequity and bigotry even in my own neighborhood where I live right now. There are neighbors who have said to me out of their mouths, "I don't like you, and I don't want to know you. And your kids are too loud in your backyard, and I need you to tell your kids to be quiet because they're disturbing my peace. Also, I don't like the way you park your car in your driveway". This is God's truth. They think because of their whiteness they have the ability to tell me how to live in the property that I pay for. We have a problem, and it has been emboldened because of the current systems and the current boldness of the spirit of this moment.
So I carry a pain that even now, as whoever I am… If I walk in the wrong place or go to the wrong place or drive the wrong way, I carry the fear that they won't know John Gray the bridge-builder who hangs out with Pastor Steven in Australia. They won't know the guy who wants to raise his son and daughter to be global citizens and respect people, not because of the color of their skin but, as Dr. King said, for the content of their character. Not as a husband to Aventer or a pastor to Relentless; they will see me as a big black man with a beard and a hoodie who might have a gun on his hip. And I felt threatened, so the… My blackness is weaponized before you know the character of my manhood. That's a problem.
I'm not just talking about the officers of the law. Even in church. There are people who are saved and who will sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", but at home I'm every N-word they can think of. That is the real issue. We're not going to be able to heal this at the legislative level. This is not a legislative thing. You can't pass a law to change someone's heart. That's why this conversation has to happen in the church. Only the Holy Spirit can change the heart and change their mind and change their perspective and change their perception and give people value. Every single human being God ever created has the same inherent value. Because of the blood of Jesus, I have the same right to live, the same right to pursue my dreams as you. I don't want special treatment, Steven. I want equal treatment.
I want my son to be able to hang out with Elijah, and I want both of them to feel like they can go home if they encounter a cop, but the truth is Elijah has a better chance of getting home than my son. It's not your fault, but the system, which has been here since 1619 until right now… 400 years of systemic oppression, 244 years of American chattel slavery that literally dismantled black families over and over again, and then after that, the grandfather clause of the Jim Crow era, and even into the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65 and Brown v. Board of Education in '54. We look at all of these things where they try to move the needle for separate but equal and equality, but we have never seen equality, because the truth is we're only three generations removed from humans owning other humans in this nation. We have to talk about it, and we can't talk about it politically. We have to talk about it from the church, because the church needs to reconcile the sins of silence and the sins of apathy.
Steven Furtick: The sin of indifference. The sin of indifference is for me to say, "Well, I'm not a racist". Do you see how innocent that sounds on the surface? But it becomes an excuse for me to say that just because I haven't experienced it in that way it doesn't exist. I don't get the luxury, pastoring this church and this church family, of getting to pastor a white church or a black church or any one type of church. What I love about that is it forces me not only to be able to say the clichés of Christianity or the clichés of equality, but when you lead people and you pastor people, it's not political; it's personal.
John Gray: Yes, sir.
Steven Furtick: The thing I was thinking about this moment is that I haven't talked to one person who was not appalled and disgusted by what happened to George Floyd. Should it take that? Should it take a knee on the neck of a man in the street for us to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters or should we be able to hear this through LJ, who plays behind me every weekend, when he says, "I don't feel safe walking in my neighborhood"? He put out a post that haunted me a few weeks ago after the death of Ahmed Aubrey. He said, "I realized that walking through my neighborhood with my kids was the only safe way for me to walk through my neighborhood, because without them I become that suspicious black man with a hood". Is that not enough, that he has my back every week in ministry and I'm going to let him have my back in ministry musically but I'm not going to hear his pain? Does it take an image that grotesque and flagrant to get our attention? To me, this moment that we're in is symbolic of the sickness we allowed, yet we'll give more attention to the symptom of it than the sickness beneath it.
John Gray: You bless me. I told you this. I say it publicly. You're the greatest preacher of our generation. There's nobody God is using like you. What you said speaks to the type of conversations we need to have in forums like this. It shouldn't take the image of a man's life that is ebbing away in front of us, and then after he's dead, he was still on his neck for three minutes. That is just cruelty. That's a lack of human empathy. I don't know what was in the mind of the officer at that time. There were four officers there. You tell me that you all couldn't figure out a way to pick him up and get him in the car?
I can already see them framing the narrative. They put out a preliminary autopsy report that says, "Well, he had some coronary issues. His arteries were clogged, and he had some hypertension, and there might have been some narcotics in his system". They're throwing that out there, as if in those nine minutes… You give me the proportional statistical possibility that he was going to die in those nine minutes in the back of a car versus having a knee on his neck, and I will tell you that's a valid argument, but it's not a valid argument. Stop dehumanizing him and criminalizing him.
The people who say, "Well, what did he do…"? It wasn't enough to die for. Even if he did what they said, which is apparently maybe he forged a check. If he did, then serve the time for that after due process, but you don't die for writing a bad check. You handle whatever that is. But it takes an image like that, the same way it took the image of Emmett Till's open casket for our nation to be shocked by the brutality of what was happening in the southern states. All of us who understand the geo-religious construct of the different versions of Jesus, depending on what part of the country you live in…
We have a lot of devout folks in the South. They're really quiet about moments like this but really loud about their Jesus, but their Jesus is gun-toting and Republican, and black Jesus is Democrat and liberal. The truth is Jesus is neither because he wasn't political; he was monarchy. He was spiritual. So we need to deal with Jesus as he is. But it takes the image of a man who looks like me… Ahmed Aubrey shot with a shotgun jogging. Breonna Taylor in her house, asleep in her bed. "Sorry. Wrong house". Wrong house! If you listen, Steven, to the 911 call from her boyfriend, the cops left her there. They said, "Sorry. Wrong house". He had to call 911 to get people to come back. They killed her and left, and then he had to call 911 for help, and then they charged him with murder. This is the reality, and those images are the things that shock us from our apathy. Should it take that? No, it shouldn't. But it has.
Steven Furtick: I think we have a stewardship. When the national consciousness is pierced even for a moment, it gives us a window and it gives us an opportunity to speak to the horror people feel. My issue is that in a lot of these situations we have reduced Jesus and Christianity to the most comforting things he said. There are even people who have already logged off this service right now once they found out what the topic was going to be and that it wasn't going to be comfortable or that I wasn't going to tell them how to make it through the valley. The moment I mentioned something that made them feel like they were going to hear something either that challenged them or that they have become numb to… I think a lot of what happens is that we get overwhelmed.
When Elijah walked into my office, what scared me so much was he's already falling into despair that this can change, and he's white. Now, if my 14-year-old white son is already falling into despair that this is ever going to change… Despair is just as deadly as denial. I want to ask if you agree with me that we have to be so careful that we don't live in denial about what exists, but the despair that we can change it is just as dangerous. The moment I start to think, "Well, what can I do? I can't change this. I don't know the president. I'm not able to effect legislation. I don't really understand all of the surrounding issues. Nobody is going to listen to me…" The moment I start to give in to that, the moment I just accept it and tolerate it, I give up the possibility to change it.
That's why I said, "Let's get together". This may not be enough, and I knew when we walked into this today we won't say it right. For some people, I'll say it wrong, you'll say it wrong, we'll say too much, we won't say enough. I was telling my barber today… (It's legal to get haircuts again, right? Okay. I didn't want to get us in trouble.) He was cutting my hair, and we were talking. I asked him to be here for this conversation because he gave me so much love and perspective about what it's like to be a black man in America over the last three years. When we were talking, I told him, "You know you need to pray for me in tongues, because no matter what I say, no matter what John says, somebody is going to be there to dissect it".
One of the things I said this week was that I have never firsthand experienced the brutality of systemic and overt racism toward black men and women in America. I thought, "Maybe someone will criticize some of that", and somebody did. Somebody said, "You used the word overt, but it's really the covert racism we have to be more concerned about". Somebody said, "You used the phrase systemic racism. You're just a pawn for the mainstream media. You're just regurgitating terms". But what I didn't see coming… This is what I was telling you. It's not really funny, but it's funny, and it goes to show how we have to speak even though people may misunderstand. Somebody actually sent me a message, and what they took offense with was "men and women who are black". They crossed out men and women and said people, because by saying men and women I was not being gender inclusive enough. So here I am… follow the whole thought… talking about a man who is suffocating on the street, screaming for his mother, and the injustice of it, and somebody is correcting the typo, like it's a paper with a typo. I realized that if we wait for everyone to agree with it.
John Gray: That's right.
Steven Furtick: Or figure out how to say it just right… It might come out wrong, but at least we're speaking. I may say something stupid, but we have lost this art of conversation because we have replaced it with clicks and comments. We don't talk, so we don't empathize, and since we have no relationships with people who don't understand our perspective, we continue to use even religion as a system to confirm our biases. Because we go to church with people who think just like us, look just like us, vote just like us, grew up just like us, sang songs, clapped on the 2 and the 4, the 1 and the 3, clap just like us, move just like us, and because we never challenge ourselves and our perspectives, we stay stuck in states of spiritual immaturity and even regressive states where we can't stand with anyone because we've never stretched to understand anybody else's experience.
John Gray: I think we need to just give God a five-second praise break all over, eFam, Rock family. Come on. Let's bless Jesus. Pastor Steven, thank you. Thank you for saying what you're saying right now, because this is not about "Are we saying the perfect thing"? Allow us to have an emotional human moment. When you read Psalm 137, the writer says, "How can we sing in a strange land"? Then at the end of the psalm he says, "Lord, dash my enemies' children against the rocks". What a horrible thing to write. Why is it in the Bible? Because God allowed for the human emotion to be expressed without judgment. We don't want the truth. We want to feel good.
And I want to say this: this conversation is not the end; it's a beginning. What I also want to say is that if we only separate this by race, we're going to lose the necessary people who need to be involved in the conversation. Every white person is not a racist. This should not be a place where white people need to apologize for being white. "I'm sorry for what my ancestor did". That's great, but it wasn't you. Being a part of a system doesn't mean you overtly are committing horrific acts. I think each individual should be dealt with based on their character and what they're doing. So, white people should not be sitting around feeling guilty because they're white.
People who say things like this really scare me: "God doesn't see color. I've never seen color. I'm color-blind". Well, then you have a problem, because God is not color-blind or culture blind. He created color and culture because he wanted diversity, which is in John 17. "Father, make them one as you and I are one". Which means diversity was the seed to see if we would lay down our culture and pick up the kingdom, and that's why this conversation is important. All white people aren't bad any more than all black people are good and altruistic. You have individuals who are broken in every race and every culture and subsection, but this is a necessary conversation, and it should not be approached from a judgmental perspective. I don't want people feeling like they are already being judged as wrong or judged as unworthy of change because of the pain of the moment.
On the other side, I shouldn't have to temper my emotions to quell to your discomfort. I'm enraged. I'm also scared because it could be me. It's enough that there's a virus that's killing people who look like me at a disproportionate rate. I have a virus I have to fight, and there's a virus called racism that I've been fighting. The pressure of both is a lot. I think we need to be able to be okay with the conversation without shredding each other's humanity. We're not monolithic. All African-Americans don't think the same. All white people don't think the same. I went to the White House, and black people were finished with me. "Oh no he didn't! I know he wasn't up there with him".
Black people have been in so much pain that what they saw was someone who identifies with who has now become, to many of them, the picture of systemic oppression. They saw an image, but they didn't see the substance. When I went to the White House, I went because I wanted to talk about prison reform. I don't work for that administration. I've not received anything, but I needed to sit at the table. I thought it was important. It turns out that legislation I went to speak about was one of the few bipartisan pieces of legislation that help black and brown people to get out of the prison industrial complex. But people didn't see that, and I understand why. Because when I'm in pain, the first thing I see is the thing I remember the most. I have to understand that even though my heart was pure, so was their pain. I have to understand that we're at a very sensitive place. When it comes to what I believe is the role of the church in this conversation, we need to talk about the fact that we're dealing with two different versions of Jesus.
Steven Furtick: I think so. I think there's the Jesus that… Did you ever have the toy where you pull the string and it says five things or seven things over and over again? What's that called? Do you know what I mean?
John Gray: Yeah, I know. My kid has one. It has different sayings.
Steven Furtick: That's what we've done to Jesus. We've programmed him to the five to seven things we like him to say. Some of the things he said were so controversial they got him killed… killed… because he threatened the power structure and because what he represented for the marginalized was so threatening for those who were in power. At the same time, I wanted to tell you this story that I never told you before about Elevation, how people get locked into one view of Jesus and one view of church, and it's very difficult to break that once it has been established.
My view of church was kind of informed by Santee Circle Baptist Mission where Pastor Mickey let me come be the youth pastor, kind of informed by Moncks Corner United Methodist where I grew up, and then kind of informed by Voices of Unity, the gospel choir that Chris Dixon invited and recruited me to sing in. I went to go see the spring concert for Voices of Unity, and I loved it so much. I was looking for new music because I was trying to burn all my secular music, you know, my secular CDs. I was having a bonfire for my Green Day CDs and all that. Somebody had slipped me a Kirk Franklin tape and a John P. Kee tape, and I liked it enough to ask Chris Dixon when the spring concert was.
I came to the concert, and then he asked me to join the choir the next year. I said, "You don't really want me to join. I'd be the only white person in the Voices of Unity choir". He said, "I'd love for you to join. I want you to join". I blew him off. I was kind of thinking he was just being polite, but he kept chasing me down. He said, "Our first rehearsal is Wednesday in the band room. I want you there. I need you in my tenor section". His mom, Martha Dixon, was the sponsor of the choir. I spent that year, my senior year of high school, singing with that choir and being welcomed being the only white person in every church we went into to sing. It shaped so much of who I was that when I went to college… They had a gospel choir called Black Student Fellowship. I joined that one too.
John Gray: I love this. This explains so much about you.
Steven Furtick: BSF was Black Student Fellowship, but then it was Brothers and Sisters Fellowship for the two years I was there.
John Gray: You messed up the name.
Steven Furtick: I was so determined to be in the choir. That's not to say I've always been down. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying so much of me was shaped… When Elevation Church was born, it was mostly white people. I never saw that. I never saw that this would just be a white church, black church, brown church. I never saw that it would just be for the people who believe in predestination or who believe in pre-tribulation rapture. I never saw that. I just saw that it would probably encompass a lot of different backgrounds. I always saw it that way.
I was telling this guy… "TJ" I'll say for short. I told him, "I'm going to start a church, and I believe it's going to be really diverse, and I believe it's going to have all kinds of people… black people, white people, young people, old". He goes, "Not in the South you won't". Well, in the South we did. Please don't limit my God to your experience. Please don't bring my God down to the level of your frame of reference. I never got to bring that guy to Elevation. I really wish he could come and I could show him what God did. But it wasn't a strategy. It wasn't, you know, "Oh, if we'll get a black singer and a white singer and a female singer…" There was never any of that. It was invested in me from the people who welcomed me. So it's impossible for me now to not want to sit down with you and say… I can't receive from a culture, I can't receive from a community, and then not share in the pain of the people who make up that community.
John Gray: That's right.
Steven Furtick: To me that's sin. To me that's missing the mark, and to me that's falling short of the standard God has given the church. So when people ask, "How do you diversify Elevation Church"? I'm like, "Well, first you have to go to the Voices of Unity concert and realize that Martha Dixon does not sing 'Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior' the same way they sang it in Moncks Corner United Methodist. It's a completely different rhythm, a completely different cadence. It's a completely different thing. First you are going to have to expose yourself". I think exposure is so critical.
Listen. If I were taking my view of people who don't look like me from what I see in headlines and what I see that is presented to me from CNN or Fox News… If I were to reduce it down to that, it would kill my ability to empathize with the humanity of that person. The only reason I know to have this conversation with you is because of your friendship to me. If you didn't give me the gift of your lens to let me know what actually happens in your neighborhood… See, I can't have a black couple that sits on the front row of my Sunday 9:30 every week email me and say, "Pray for us. It's been a hard week. My husband had the police called on him for taking out the trash too late at night in our neighborhood" and refuse to feel that and celebrate "We're a diverse church", "Blessed are the peacemakers", pull the string and let Jesus say something, ignoring the issue that is really beneath.
To me, that would be the essence of hypocrisy, but a lot of people don't get to have conversations like this or they won't or they're scared they'll say it wrong or they don't want to take the time or they don't want to know. Or they'll just say, "Well, I could never understand". Well, you need to start understanding, because it's real, and avoiding it won't make it go away. We have to start understanding. We have to start reading. We have to start learning some things, exposing some things. You know, the light of the world. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world". I always thought that meant "Quote Scriptures and witness to people". It means don't be ignorant. It means we have to shine light on ignorance. We have to have revelation about things we don't understand. Just because I haven't experienced it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
John Gray: That's it. Steven, your experience with the BSF choir, Brothers and Sisters Fellowship, Black Student Fellowship, whatever the name was that had to change because you showed up… That's a beautiful thing, because your presence changed the system. Your presence changes the system, and it's why God had you in those places. He knew you were going to need to sit in that chair in 2020, and you're not pandering; you've lived it.
This is the power of the moment. I didn't try to be someone who's trying to build bridges. I've had to build them. The problem with people who build bridges is when you lay yourself down, they walk all over you. They often don't see your value until it's over. I told you personally… I said, "I don't really think things will change either until somebody like me gets killed". I said it to my wife. I hope it doesn't happen. I want to live. I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. But it takes somebody like that to die so somebody says, "This can't keep going". But it was organic. Your connection to the communities you would end up pastoring was organic, and then it became intentional. I do believe there is an intentionality to continuing the conversations around diversity. In the church, we have run the other way.
After Brown vs. Topeka, the proliferation of Christian schools, which was a nice way of saying, "I don't want my white kids going to school with black kids, so I'm going to put Jesus in front of it and call it a Christian school, put a tuition on it, and not let my kids go to school with these black kids". That's where that happened. The Baptists and Southern Baptists. The issue that separated them was the Southern Baptists wanted to keep their slaves. Southern Baptist. Southern Christian. "We see Jesus is okay with us owning other humans, so let's keep singing, 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' while owning people". When you think about the silence of the church…
Somebody asked me, "How come you think more white pastors don't speak out"? and I said, "Because it'll mess up their money". It'll mess up their tithe, because they have too many people who think opposite of justice… not race… just justice, just humanity, and they're afraid. I think that's why God wants to tear it all down. The first thing Jesus did in the last week of his life was turn over the table of the moneychangers. He said, "This is not about money". If you're afraid you're going to lose tithes because you speak out against injustice, maybe you shouldn't be pastoring right now. If you don't care about the humanity of somebody dying on the street…
Here's the thing. If it was a white woman with a black cop on her neck I'd still be on this stage, because that is as wrong as Big Floyd dying. This is not about color for me; this is about systemic oppression of people in power who are supposed to protect and serve, and that's years in the making. Again, this is the silence of the church that must be addressed. This conversation is the beginning of something that I think more churches need to have. There's so much I want to say, but I know this…
Steven Furtick: I was thinking before we came, "I wish the church could be full. I wish we could be together, because this week has been so lonely for so many people, and to process in church together would be beautiful". But then I shifted and I thought, "I'm glad the conversation will be happening in homes, that hundreds of thousands of people will be experiencing this conversation in their home, because if the conversation happens in the home…"
John Gray: Steven Furtick, you'd better preach.
Steven Furtick: I looked at Elijah when he said, "It's hopeless". I said, "If I gave in to that, I'd be sacrificing an entire generation, and I would have no reason to ever stand up and preach again". So I refuse to submit to that. I refuse to surrender to darkness. I'm not ready to do that yet. At the same time, to think that one person's life, mind, heart would change, not just feel guilty… I think that's stopping well short of what's really going to bring about any change. Guilt is not a strategy. You know, "Oh, I feel so bad about that, and I'm white. I don't know what it's like to be black, and I feel so bad". Broken heart emoji. "I feel horrible".
Guilt is not a strategy, but maybe we don't know the difference between guilt and repentance. I've never talked to a black friend or someone who goes to church here who is black who said, "What I want you to do is feel bad. Would you just feel bad for me? Would you just feel bad about things"? Feeling bad doesn't change anything. But repentance is different than guilt. Repentance means change direction in the Old Testament and change your mind in the New Testament. So it means we change direction. We do it differently. We have to do it differently. We have to do this differently than we've been doing it or we're going to continue to see this, and then we're going to feel bad, and then we're going to see it, and then we're going to feel bad. The only way to break the cycle is to repent.
We were talking on the phone about how we can't just come out, sit down, wash each other's feet, and sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Pass It On", light candles, and kumbaya, because at the end of the day, that would be nothing but an anesthetic. But to really repent in your heart and say, "Have I changed my mind? Do I see things like God sees them or do I still allow in my heart these corners of darkness that I make assumptions and that I allow prejudice and I excuse it? Do I allow those conversations? Do I participate in them? Do I advocate them? Do I cosign them by my silence"? That's repentance. Repentance is changing direction. Repentance is moving differently, thinking differently, speaking differently, refusing to contribute by indifference. So I think the better biblical response to this is repentance, which isn't lay on the floor and just cry; it's to get up and walk in a different direction.
John Gray: Yes, sir. When we talk about changing direction, the questions I think white people need to be asking themselves in this moment… "What is in my heart about black people, and how did it get there"? Because there are people who say, "I'm cool with everybody". How cool are you? Are you cool enough to let your white daughter marry a black man? "Oh yeah. That's no problem". What about your mom? Would she be okay with it? Aunts and uncles. I know Abbey and John, my son, your daughter, are about a year apart. I hope they grow up together worshiping God with the amazing Graves Into Gardens box set. First of all, I'm so sick of you writing bangers. I'm really tired of it, and I want to sit in the writing room with you, but enough about that. Would they be okay…?
In Charlotte they'd probably be cool, but if they were walking down the street in Moncks Corner just as friends, would somebody have a problem? If they were sitting in a diner, would your family be okay with that? We need to start asking those questions. That's why this conversation needs to be at home. It's one thing to be nice to me here, but how many N-words am I at your house? How many H-words are white people in my house? It goes both ways. What we can't do here is absolve any community from responsibility. If we're going to really have healing, then we need to deal with the anger and the pain on the one side and the indifference and apathy on the other. There is responsibility. I don't get to use my pain as a pulpit to get angry at every white person when there are some areas of collective responsibility that I need to take, but on the other side, if we're really going to change our minds, we need to be honest about what's in there in the first place and how it got there.
Steven Furtick: And how it got there. And we get to effect that. That's the idea I have. If God changes one person's heart and mind through this conversation today or even if we can model… This needs to happen at the kitchen table. This needs to happen not only as a token conversation in a moment that is as flagrant as the moment we're in, but it should be a course of conversation for followers of Christ that permeates our lives. Somebody will always say, "That's fine you're talking, but what are you doing about it"? I've given my life to try to build something that represented more than just one group of people. At the same time, John, there has to be more than just words. So, if we say this conversation is a start but it's not a solution, what's in your heart that you want to see people do from watching us talk today? Do, not just say. Do, not just think. Do, not just post. What do you really want to see people do?
John Gray: I want this conversation to be the tipping point for the church to have the necessary conversations around true reconciliation one to another according to John 17, because if we don't have the presence of God in the conversation and in our hearts, then empathy and compassion and activism won't matter. What I want is for this to begin the necessary dialogue we need to have with one another, and then we need to have real-world application in real time. When we see injustice and systemic injustice on the local, regional, and national levels, to mobilize and everybody move in that direction toward that. Once that's done, then let's go in another direction.
We've been talking about the bridge since 2018. There that's live right now as of this moment called Become the Bridge. All I'm saying is if everybody would go there… Just go to Become the Bridge, and if you want to be a part of the solution, we're going to have… Here's the thing. We're going to teach people, because there are a lot of people who genuinely don't know what has been going on. It's one thing to be angry or prejudiced. It's another thing to be apathetic because you don't know. So let's talk about what's really going on, and let's have conversation. I need to know your experience as well, because that helps me to understand how you arrived at your conclusions about people, and you need to know where I come from. Strangest thing.
In Greenville, South Carolina, I pastor a multicultural, multigenerational church. I can see why black people would follow you. It's organic. It's also ingrained in the system that black people connect to white leaders in a different way than white people connect to black leaders. So it's a miracle that any white person goes to my church in the middle of the South, and that's a testimony to God. The conversation needs to be, "How do we all meet on this bridge, and what is the purpose of unity"? Unity is not uniformity. We're not going to agree on everything, but I'm going to fight for you until I die. Elijah, Graham, and Abbey are going to have an uncle in me, and it doesn't mean I have the same bloodline as you, but I do have the same spiritual lineage as you, and I'm going to fight for them to have the same level of quality of life that I want for my own children.
So, us having this conversation is coming from our safe zone, stepping onto the bridge, and saying, "Let's have the uncomfortable initial conversation, and let's invite family in, but then let's start having the ability to talk online, and then here's a worksheet so you can talk through some of these areas". Then later, let's get some systemic issues, like redlining and credit worthiness and the ability to get a small business loan, which is easier for some than others. Let's talk about that, because it's not just about, "You don't like me because I'm black, and I don't like you because you're white". I'm hurting because I can't get a loan and you can with the same credit score and the same tax returns, but because of the color of my skin, I don't have access to credit or capital. Some of this is systemic, some of it is monetary, but all of it is rooted spiritually.
So, the website Become the Bridge is a place where we can have the first conversation. Then we're going to mobilize from there, and in every single region, we're going to lift up people who have empathy, compassion, and a heart for diversity. True inclusion, not this soft kumbaya. It doesn't work. I need to be able to feel your pain, and I need you to be able to feel my pain. That's the compassion Jesus spoke about. He was like, "You give them something to eat". They were like, "We don't have enough money". He said, "You feed them". He was exhausted after preaching all day. He had compassion and healed them all. He was always talking about compassion. That means I empathize with the hunger and the pain of the people who have no voice. They are lost. He was always compassionate. The prostitute at the Pharisee's house… he had compassion. The woman who was caught in adultery… he had compassion. He was always messing up systems. The Samaritan at the well… compassion. She didn't come from his background. He had compassion. Syrophoenician woman, the leper who you aren't supposed to touch… He had compassion.
If we're really going to be the church, then we need to be a church that has compassion on the modern-day lepers of systemic racism and the victims of systemic social injustice and the racism that has existed in the church and the prejudice and the pain it has produced on both sides. We need to meet in the middle, and then we all need to look up to the cross, because until that blood gets on our minds, it won't get in our hearts and it won't get in our hands and nothing will change.
Steven Furtick: I want us to pray. I would love it if you would pray, but I don't just want us to pray on this stage. I want everybody watching to take a moment and kind of create a little bit of a space and bow your head and close your eyes. If there's anything else you want to minister before you pray, it's great, but as we're getting set to pray, I want to thank you. It can't be easy to say these kinds of things when you know how many different perspectives there will be on what you've said, but you've never been afraid to say them. Thank you today for the gift of your perspective and your wisdom. I've never had a friend more brilliant than you, but also, I want to thank you for not being so brilliant you forget how to help us feel. I think sometimes we become so numb we don't feel anything anymore. I want you to pray for the people who feel overwhelmed and they feel like, "I can't do anything, so I don't want to do anything. I can't do everything, so I don't want to do anything". I want you to pray for the people who have been blind to this, that God would open their eyes, and also minister anything else you want to minister in these closing moments.
John Gray: I love you. I'm grateful for your life. I'm grateful for your heart. The texts that they will never see, the things I send you to just speak life into you, to let you know how important you are to the kingdom of God… I meant them then. I mean them now. I'm grateful that I get to live at the same time as you. I'm the biggest cheerleader of what God is doing at Elevation Church because it is breaking the back of the devil that has existed in this region of the country for hundreds of years. I hope to God that you live long enough to see the fruit through Graham and Elijah and Abbey and John and Theory.
I'm grateful for your encouragement to me and the Relentless family when many people walked away at the brokenness of moments that I knew were coming because I knew what was in me. God sent you to speak life to me at some of the most difficult and challenging moments of my life. I want to thank you for being a friend… not a white friend but my friend. Now we're having a conversation that most people would be afraid to have. You have a lot to lose if it goes wrong, and you cared enough about the voiceless and the nameless and the faceless and the black kids in the 'hood of Charlotte and all over where your campuses are and the global family in the shantytowns of South Africa… You cared enough to let them know "I see you, and you matter" and that their soul was more important than your platform.
I thank God for you. And for Big Floyd's family, and Ahmed Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and for so many black bodies that have died because of injustice and apathy and a lack of human empathy, I'm grateful that this moment has begun, and I pray that the church will not turn a blinded eye to this conversation. I was always the guy running to build bridges between the black church and the white church, hoping they would receive me, hoping they would understand who I was, and for a moment there I was so busy building bridges that a part of me forgot that I am black and if things go wrong, I'll die in the street and they won't care. I'll just be wet teddy bears and old flowers and melted candles on the side of a road.
But I'm more than a preacher; I'm a man. I'm a black man, and my life matters, and it is equal to the value of every other life in this nation and the world. Yes, all lives matter, but this black life matters, and George's life matters, and the people who didn't get an opportunity for justice… their lives matter as well. My prayer is that you will have compassion and empathy in this moment for the pain of people who have never had anyone to advocate for them. May the church be a voice to the voiceless, and may you feel something. Go back and look at the video, and if something doesn't move in your heart, ask the Holy Spirit to give you a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone, because if you can watch anyone die and feel nothing, then I'm certain the heartbeat of Jesus is not yet fully activated in you.
My prayer is that the black church and the white church will take black and white off the front and just become THE church, that we will live in community and fight for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord". May God touch our hearts, prick us to a heart of action. May unity in the body of Christ be a hill we are willing to die on. I've made my decision. I'm willing to step in front of a bullet so Steven can live, and I believe that if the same were happening to me, he'd do the same, because that's what it may cost to see true unity. But I pray that no more bodies have to be on the ground. I pray that no more cities have to burn. I pray that no more black mothers feel closer to Jesus because they lost their only begotten son too. My prayer is that the pain is enough for you to now effectuate change, but change is not your actions; change starts in your heart.
So, God, I pray right now by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus that you will take this initial conversation and prick our hearts. "And if my people who are called by my name…" That was an admonition to the church. "If the church will do what it needs to do, I'll heal the entirety of the land, but I'm reconciling this issue through the church", because true heart change comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit, found most perfectly in the person of Jesus. So may we have a relentless moment of elevated consciousness. Elevate us, God, and may we pursue justice relentlessly. May we celebrate our differences while attacking at its root the systems of oppression and the spirit of injustice that has ruled the day. May we change our hearts by seeing each other as equally valuable. God, give us hope and give us peace. Give us strength. Show us the pathway. This is my prayer, your brown son and your white son asking. In Jesus' name, amen.