Maxwell Institute Podcast #149: Healing Our Racial Divide, with Derwin and Vicki Gray
Listen to Pastor Derwin Gray and Vicki Gray speak on Derwin’s new book, Healing Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation!
Link to book: Amazon
Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Joseph Stuart. Derwin Gray, a BYU alumni and pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina says that, “Part of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that the Savior has a lot to say about how to heal our persistent racial divides.” In his new book, How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What The Bible Says, The First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation. Pastor Gray shows us how knowing the heart of God helps us to see each person as a creation of a loving God. And from the beginning, God envisioned a reconciled multi ethnic family in loving communities, reflecting God’s beauty and healing presence in the world. “The message is central to the Gospel itself,” he argues. Here are Pastor Derwin Gray and Vicki Gray.
Joseph Stuart: Vicki and Derwin Gray, welcome to the Maxwell Institute podcast.
Derwin Gray: Thank you. It’s an honor for us to be here.
Vicki Gray: Thank you.
Joseph Stuart: The pleasure is all ours, as is the honor. And love that you all are here, especially talking about Derwin’s new book, How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What The Bible Says, The First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation. And both of you are BYU alumni. I was curious, did you all meet here at BYU?
Derwin Gray: We did meet at BYU. And my wife is valedictorian here at Brigham Young University, so I think it’s very important for everybody to know. And she was on the track team. I want her to give her version of how we met, and then I’ll give the true version of how we met.
Vicki Gray: The true version, okay. Yeah, so it was my junior year, it was his freshman year, second semester, and I was in the athlete’s weight room, and I was doing an exercise called tricep extensions. And there was hardly anybody in the weight room, and I needed a spot. And so I spotted him, and asked him if he would give me a spot. And he said, sure. So he did. And then I bolted after that. Maybe a couple of weeks later, we were both playing basketball, it was actually Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. And a lot of the athletes would play pickup basketball on like off days just to get a workout in and have fun. And so we were playing basketball. And he asked one of his teammates on the football team to ask me if he could talk to me because he was so brave. And so I was like, sure because I thought it was cute. And so we sat up on the bleachers in the Smith Fieldhouse, and he asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said, I did, but I’d love to be friends, which I’m sure he was like, okay, yeah, great. But he was still very kind. And then it was probably a couple of weeks later, we ran into each other in the hallway in Smith Fieldhouse and he said, “You still got that boyfriend?” And I was like, nope. And so we exchanged numbers. And I think we went to a dance, at, it used to be called UVCC back in the day, we went to a dance there that night and we’ve been together ever since. And that was 1990.
Derwin Gray: You know, that was a very, very accurate portrayal of what happened. Let me just color in some of the missing spots. I saw her playing basketball, but what I was impressed with is that she was like throwing elbows at guys and dropping threes, playing defense, and I grew up as a compulsive stutterer. So I thought, you know, it’s better if I asked my teammate to ask her if I could talk to her. That’s how we met and we’ve been together like ever since. And when you think about it, for us to meet on Dr. King’s birthday in essence, January 15 1990. Two non-LDS student athletes, neither one of us were people of faith, like we really didn’t know. We didn’t go to church, we didn’t pray. But two non-LDS athletes, a black kid from San Antonio, white girl from Montana, and we meet at BYU on Dr. King’s birthday. And now we lead a church that is intentionally Jesus centered, and a multi-ethnic church. Like we are literally living out Dr. King’s dream. And all due respect to Dr. King, I am quite sure that he got his dream from the King of Kings, because King Jesus in Revelation 5:9 we see every nation, tribe, and tongue surrounding his throne saying, “Worthy is the Lamb of God.”
Joseph Stuart: Absolutely. And the creation of that beloved community, it’s beloved because it is led by the Beloved.
Derwin Gray: Amen.
Joseph Stuart: I am curious about is that both of you, as you said, were student athletes. What is it like being non Latter-day Saint, alumni of BYU, who are athletes? What sort of questions do you get asked by friends or community neighbors about BYU?
Derwin Gray: Oh, yeah. So we’re several years from when we were here, right? So a long, long time ago. I think what I get a lot of times is people will ask me, well, what do they believe in and why do they believe what they believe? And both my wife and I made a commitment in the early 2000s to really study LDS history in LDS theology, because my sister-in-law is a Latter-day Saint, Vicki’s dad is a Latter-day Saint and so many of my friends, so the better you understand people, the less fear. And so people ask us, well, what are you saying to them? Like, how are you setting them straight? And it’s one of these things is, I can love you without agreeing with everything. I can be present among you and say, this is who I am, why I am, and let’s find common ground. But early on, when I first started speaking like in 1999, I would speak at various youth events and church events around the country. And when people found out I went to BYU, they would go, are you Mormon? And I was like, well you do know non-Mormons can go to BYU, right?
Joseph Stuart: Folks do not know that.
Derwin Gray: And then the next question, they go, did you go on a mission? I’m like, well, no, I did not go on a mission. And so I would explain LDS culture and what a missionary was, and those types of things. And so you know, I think for the most part, people are curious and they want to know like, man, you guys could, so you’re not Latter-day Saints, but yet you get to do all this stuff there. Why is that? I said, well I think it is because people see that we genuinely love Christ, we genuinely love people and the school has been good to us.
Vicki Gray: I would say, one of the things that’s different is because so growing up in Montana, and then living in Utah for six years, I’m obviously more rooted historically in a western culture. And we know the intermountain west, the Northwest, even like Arizona, Southern California, there’s like a heavy LDS population. So it was very normative. Even growing up in Montana, I had more friends probably who were Mormon than who weren’t. In the South East, what we have found is that there’s actually a lot of people that really aren’t as familiar with the LDS faith. A lot of them won’t even think anything of it. They’ll be like, what’s BYU? You know? And so we do get a broad spectrum of responses. You have some people who as Derwin said, are a little bit, maybe harsh. Like well why would you go there? Like, why would you talk to them? You know, almost in a fearful, almost like Christ against the culture approach. Like almost like attacking. And we also have people that sometimes when they go on to our website for our church, it says that we went to BYU, who will occasionally get an email, or someone will ask like, hey, before I get serious about your church, I need to know, are you Mormon? Did you go to BYU? Why did you go to BYU? What are your beliefs? And so if anything, it’s strengthened our faith. It’s also strengthened and encouraged our love and passion to love people of the Mormon faith, you know? And that it’s so important that we just exhibit love, because it’s God’s love that changes you no matter what faith tradition you claim.
Joseph Stuart: Amen.
Derwin Gray: Well, and I was just going to add to that, and I love when she does that. She just riffs. It’s awesome. The idea is that I have to agree with everything for me to love you is foreign to the New Testament. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, love your neighbor as you love yourself. You agreeing with me on everything is not a requirement for me to love you with everything in me. And so we actually love the engagement. There’s a lot that we love about LDS culture. And so in studying LDS theology and culture, it’s actually helped me grow in my faith, as a Protestant. People go, well, what are you? I go, well, we are a New Testament Church that is rooted in Jesus, shaped by his gospel that adheres to the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed is that we don’t want to be an institution, we want to be a movement. And we believe that the “church” is individuals who say Jesus is Lord, they’ve been blood washed.
Vicki Gray: I think the other thing that’s really important, and you know the last four to six years just culturally in America it’s become much more, maybe the word is rare, to have respectful dialogue with people you disagree with. And of course, I’m referring more to the political spectrum. But I think even the way we operate, we want to model that you still love people who are different than you. And that loving someone doesn’t mean you agree with everything they think, everything they do. I mean, that would almost be impossible, right? And so I think even us coming to BYU regularly, it’s an opportunity for us to model like, this is how you love people that believe differently than you.
Joseph Stuart: Well, I love that. It’s something also that struck me in diving into your book, which again, is called How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What The Bible Says, The First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation. You mentioned that neither one of you really attended church while you were at BYU. You didn’t necessarily identify as strong Christians. Derwin, when did that change for you?
Derwin Gray: When I was here, football was my God. And idolatry is finding your mission and purpose and significance and identity and anything other than Jesus. And so for me, that’s what football done for me. And so everything was going great. I mean, I came here, I became a superstar. My sophomore year, people love me. I met my dream. I mean, it was just great. I mean, every list of accomplishment it was check, check, check, check. Then in 1993, I get to the NFL and this is like, okay this is it. I’m going to be able to get rich. I’m about to help my family in Texas, all my dreams are going to come true. And then three years in, I’m a team captain, it’s 1995 and it’s like this existential crisis. It’s like, wait a minute, despite the nice clothes that you can buy now, your soul is still dressed shabby. You live with bitterness. You live with anger. You can’t forgive your dad. You’ve got family trauma, even though I couldn’t say it then, but literally, when I would fly home to Texas the pilot would announce that we’re getting ready to land, my face would start to twitch. I mean, it was just a trauma response. And I didn’t even know that that’s what it was. I knew there were things I needed forgiveness for and no matter how many good things I did, it wasn’t enough. I tried. It wasn’t enough. And then the last straw was who would I be after playing in the NFL? Because the NFL stands for not for long. So who are you when you can’t do what you build your life on? And so I had a teammate named Steve Grant. His nickname was the naked preacher. And so every day after practice, he would take a shower, dry off, wrap a towel around his waist. Steve was 6’2, 240 pounds, white towel wrapped around his waist and he’d get his Bible. And he’d go to my teammates, and he’d ask them this. He’d say, “Do you know Jesus?” And in my mind, I’m like, do you know you’re half-naked? I mean, it was just strange. So ask the veterans on the team and I was like, what’s up with the half-naked black man walking around talking about do you know Jesus? And they said, don’t pay no attention to him. That’s the naked preacher. Well, one day in 1993, I’m sitting in my locker, and he comes to me and he asked me a question that would change my life. He said, “Do you know Jesus?” And like most people who don’t know Jesus my response was, “Well, I’m a good person.” And he said, “Compared to who?”
Joseph Stuart: That’s a question with a lot of weight.
Derwin Gray: Yeah, like he said compared to who because he goes, well the Bible says that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, while Jesus Himself is the glory of God. So Jesus is the standard by which we judge and based on that standard, no one is good, Romans 3:10. And that began to get the wheel spinning because I prided myself on, I’m the first person to graduate in my family. I don’t have children outside of wedlock. I’m getting my education. I was very prideful in Derwin Gray. And grace, grace eradicates any sense of accomplishment, or earning or worthiness. But it was a five year process that ultimately, I started getting injured. I started recognizing that I didn’t know how to love her because I didn’t know how to love myself. And on August 2, 1997, it was training camp, fifth year with the Colts. We were in Anderson, Indiana at Anderson University. It was after lunchtime, I was walking back to my dorm. And I just sensed like, just this chasm in my soul. That’s the best way I could— it was like my soul was divided. I went back to my dorm room, and I called her on the phone and I said, I want to be more committed to you and I want to be committed to Jesus. And I knew when I was born again, like, it was like the Divine Love of Jesus, just in buckets and buckets of grace just fell on me. And for three nights I just, I just cried. I was overwhelmed with this thought, how could someone like Jesus love somebody like me? Now I understand Jesus loved somebody like me, is because somebody like me is all that Jesus has to love. That we’re all in the same boat, and we all need grace. And so that’s when I fell in love with Jesus, and the symptoms of His love have only increased.
Joseph Stuart: So Vicki, I’m curious. How did you react when you received that phone call? And how did you come to receive your own Christian witness?
Vicki Gray: Yeah. So I’ll start with how did I receive that phone call. I was happy and I was encouraged, not in the sense that I fully understood what was happening, but I was probably about six months ahead of him on my journey. It’s kind of funny looking back now because all I was praying was for him to feel what I felt. I didn’t have words for it. So when I was at BYU, he will say his God, his idol, was football and mine was performance and achievement. And so growing up, my parents divorced when I was young, and my dad, when he got remarried he married a woman in the LDS faith. And so, I was exposed to the LDS faith at a very early age. But when I came to BYU, I was really only interested in one thing and that was in being the best at everything I did. Because my value, my purpose, my significance, my identity, everything was found in what I could accomplish. And so I really wasn’t interested, not just in the LDS faith, I wasn’t really interested in any faith. My faith was in me, Vicki Ensign. That’s what my faith was in. Which now I laugh about when you think about how fallible we are as humans, right? But I had achieved a lot before I got to BYU. And so that’s where I got my affirmation. And so when we got to BYU, well I was here two years before him and, and I really struggled my first couple of years here. And I think part of it was because coming to BYU, you know you’re an institution with, I think at the time it was maybe 30,000 full time students. And you don’t get into BYU by being a slouch. So now all of a sudden, I’m the little fish in the big pond. And that proposes a big challenge when you find your value and your significance in your achievements. And so it took me a couple years to get my footing. And by my junior year, which was the year we met, I had a really good year in track and field, so I threw the javelin. And that year, I was 18th in the nation. And I was disappointed because only the top 12 at that time went to Nationals. And I was 18th. And so I missed it by six, and that was my goal. And so now I look back, and I’m like, that’s amazing that I did that! But at that time, I viewed it as failure. You know, I didn’t achieve. But by that point I had met, I’ll call him Dewey because that’s what a lot of people here know him as. I met Dewey and we just became best friends, like immediately. And so I think for a time, you know, that was sort of— I don’t want to use the word distraction in a negative sense, but I wasn’t as concerned about the achievement, or even kind of the inner turmoil that was going on in my own soul. Because it was, I think, probably before him I had started on this path. And it was probably more after we got married, because we did get married here at BYU while we both still had a year of school left. And there was something going on inside me that I knew that there had to be a reckoning. I can’t explain why, other than the Bible says that it’s written on our hearts that we know. And I just knew that I had done things I needed to be forgiven of, that there were things that were done to me that I needed healing from. And I was seeking. I wouldn’t have probably used that term then. So fast forward, we get to the NFL and I think I like to say God set us up because we thought that would be like the pinnacle. Like we thought, yes! When we get there like I don’t know, you suddenly think everything’s gonna be great, you know? And we were really disappointed. We wanted to come back to BYU. We’re like let’s go home. And so I think in his love for us, God let us experience this is what you thought was gonna give you joy and purpose and happiness and it’s empty, isn’t it? And I probably hit that bump, six months to a year before he did. I was working as a registered dietician in an inner city health clinic in downtown Indianapolis. And I was struggling again with, now I’m not even known as Vicki Ensign the javelin thrower, the girl that’s number one in the class or whatever. Now I’m known as that’s Derwin Gray’s wife. Well at the time, that was hard for me because again, my god was my achievement. And so my achievement is I’m his wife? Now like, that’s an honor to me right? Then I was like, but I’m more than that! And so during that time, while I was working at that health clinic, there was another dietician that I worked with. Her name was Karen. And I used to come home and tell Dewey, I’d be like, there’s this lady at work and she’s a really good Christian. Because and the reason I would say that is because I thought I was a Christian. But that’s because I wasn’t Mormon, or I wasn’t Buddhist, or I wasn’t Hindu, and I’m an American so I believed in God. And I would say to him, she’s a really good Christian because she doesn’t cuss and she doesn’t drink. But what’s interesting is, she graciously just befriended me. And she saw that there was something going on inside me. She saw God working on me. And one day I asked her a question over coffee. We were sitting there and I said, “So do you believe in demons?” And I know, that’s kind of a scary thing to ask. But you know, when you’re completely lost, you’re kind of wrestling with what does this look like. I asked her that. And she, you know, she said, “Yes. Demons are real.” And then she said, “Are you a Christian?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m a Christian! I believe in God.” And she just very lovingly, patiently and kindly said, “Well, being a Christian is more than believing in God. Being a Christian means that you understand that Jesus died for your sins because you can’t be perfect. And your righteousness can’t match the righteousness of a Holy God. So Jesus, he substitutes himself for you.” And I remember her saying that, and I probably just had a glazed-over look because I was like, that’s interesting, but I mean, I don’t really understand. So she said, she wrote down some scriptures, and she said, “Go home and read these and just spend some time talking to God about them.” And that was really the beginning part of my understanding of what it meant to walk with Christ. And so like I said, I was about six months ahead of him when that process started.
Joseph Stuart: I just love these examples that you both shared, that it’s God’s leading you that is helping you to reprioritize. It’s not just changing your life, it’s recognizing the things that matter most and recognizing that grace that’s come into your life. I think that many listeners will recognize that time when you realize, I cannot do this by myself. I cannot heal myself. I need to rely on the Savior to do that. Something I love in your book is that you write about race and reconciliation as a Jesus issue.
Derwin Gray: Absolutely.
Joseph Stuart: And you live and you see race and reconciliation, especially in the story of Abraham.
Derwin Gray: Yeah. So I think looking at the big meta narrative, right? And one of the things that I say often to the congregation of Transformation Church is this: if you don’t know God’s story, you’re going to try to put God in your story. And Jesus does not play co-star to anyone. And so in God’s story we know in the Garden of Eden, there’s this epic fall where this horrible disease of sin and death and evil enter creation. God is a passionate father who pursues his children. We get to Genesis 11 and we find God’s children, God’s people building these temples in essence, and a pathway for the gods to come down. So once again, it’s idolatry. It’s oppression of those building the temples and God disperses them, Genesis 11. In Genesis 12, something beautiful takes place. God calls a man by the name of Abram, and in essence changes the name to Abraham, which means father of many, and he says, Abraham through you, I’m gonna make this covenant with you. This is one way love, all you got to do is trust me, I’m gonna do the heavy lifting, you just trust me. And in essence he says, I’m going to make you a great nation, of all the nations. And so there’s this vision, that God the Father loves all of His children, and he’s going to use Abraham to create this multi-ethnic family. So we get Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and ultimately, the nation of Israel. And as a book of Isaiah says, the nation of Israel existed to be a light to the Gentiles, to the Goneen, to the non Jews. And so the way they were to live, following Torah with their distinct way of festivals, and kosher and circumcision was to be a light to say, this is what it looks like with God. Well, Israel failed in that. But there’s whispers of a Hamashiach, a Messiah, a Christ to come. And this Christ, according to the book of Daniel, would be divine and eternal. And he would come and be a savior, and the book of Isaiah talks about what he would do. And eventually, Jesus of Nazareth comes. And Jesus of Nazareth, is in his humanity, the prototype of what Adam and Eve were to be, and what we were to be. He comes and he lives a sinless life, fulfilling all of the 10 commandments because we cannot. He becomes the sacrificial lamb and pass over. He liberates us from the power of sin, death, and evil, and forgives us and declares us righteous, substitutes himself. He raises again on the third day to vindicate that he is the Messiah. He ascends to the right hand of the Father and the Holy Spirit is set to indwell God’s people that instead of building quote-on-quote, “temples”, they would be the living temple housing his presence and his presence would be in every nation, tribe, and tongue. And so, the idea of racial reconciliation being an addition to our secular psychology or sociology, is formed. It is deeply, deeply rooted in the Bible. If you go to Ephesians 2:12 and it talks about the covenant of promise, and then you go to Ephesians 2:14-16 where it says a Christ is our peace, he tore down a dividing wall, he removed hostility, he took Jews and Gentiles and he made them one new humanity. And it’s this beautiful portrait, that Jesus not only comes to forgive our sins, but to create a family with different colored skins, and through the Spirit’s power as we love each other, the world will know that not only are we his disciples, but our unity will declare to the world that the father did indeed, send him. So this issue is at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And if I could add this, and it’s so important, and I’ve had to start doing this particularly about the last five to six years, is how would you live your faith if Republican and Democratic political categories didn’t exist? Because overwhelmingly, historically, that’s how followers of Jesus have lived. And the overwhelming followers of Jesus in the world are not limited by Democratic or Republican politics. And so what I’ve tried to do in the Bible is really draw people to the ancient reality of the early church, that this is not a CRT issue, this is not a social issue – no, this is a gospel issue. This is a gospel issue, that the good news is there is a new king, and in His Kingdom, he’s invited people of every nation, tribe and tongue by grace through faith in him to participate in this kingdom to be his hands and his feet, to be the body of Christ. So God’s greatest goal is not simply to get us to heaven when we die, but to bring his heavenly kingdom to earth as he expresses himself through his multicolored people.
Joseph Stuart: Absolutely. And I love that you focus on Jesus as a barrier breaker. He’s not only filling the breach that is left when we sin, that chasm between God and us, but he is also creating ways for us to break barriers between each other, that we can experience grace together. And I’m thinking especially in the book of Acts, when Peter receives the revelation that the gospel should go to all nations, kindred tongues, and people and that doesn’t seem to go over particularly well. I’m wondering if you’ve had some time to reflect on that and think about, it seems that Christians in all days, times and places have had problems with accepting all of God’s creatures as one of that realm. Would you say that’s fair?
Derwin Gray: Absolutely. It’s fair. Demonic powers love to divide. God’s power loves to unite. So in 2017, my final class for my doctoral work was we went to Israel. And so we’re going to Israel. And as a part of our trip, we were in Haifa. And there’s a big ol’ statue of a giant fish. And this is like Jonah, right? And I was talking to my professor, Scott McKnight. He is my doctoral advisor, world renowned New Testament scholar. And I said, this is interesting. Okay, so Joppa is where the prophet Jonah was, and he didn’t want to go to the Gentile Ninevites because he goes, you would be merciful to them. I don’t want to go. So Jonah was a nationalist, he wanted Israel first. He was ethnocentric. He didn’t want the godless to meet God, he didn’t want to go. So God had to throw him overboard, put him in a belly of a whale for him to get it right. But Joppa is also the same place that Peter was. And Peter is actually recapitulating or rewriting the story of Jonah. But Peter was also resistant. Three times the Lord had to tell him, kill and eat, and he’s rebuking God again. Peter had a bad habit of rebuking Jesus.
Joseph Stuart: Three times.
Derwin Gray: Three times he did it. No, they’re not gonna crucify you. Nope. And he’s like, Well, homie, let me tell you something, you’re actually going to deny me. So here’s Peter again, telling God what God needs to do. And ultimately, he finally believes God, and he goes, and he enters Cornelius’s house and in essence in Acts 10:28-32 he tells Cornelius, he’s like, Yo, I’m not supposed to be in your house because it’s unlawful for us Jews to be with you Gentiles, but God has shown me there is no favoritism. At the foot of the cross and at the entrance of the empty tomb into God’s kingdom, all of God’s people stand in the supremacy of Christ in Christ alone. Now before I get to the example, I had laid a theology. So in Galatians, chapter two the same Peter who was like, man you Gentiles are equal, God’s grace, we’re family. He’s in a city called Antioch, and Antioch is going great. Jews and Gentiles, enemies, friends, foes, family. Jesus is doing this new thing. And Peter is eating with the Gentiles in the first century world, to eat with someone meant you accepted them. So Peter is eating with the Gentiles. He’s eaten bacon wrapped shrimp. He’s eaten hog maules. He’s eaten pork chops. I mean, this guy’s like, man you Gentiles can eat! But then Galatians 2:11 says, and a party of James came to town and Peter afraid of their criticism, gets up from the table with the Gentiles and goes with the Jews. Galatians 2:13 says something like this, Peter’s hypocrisy even made Barnabas get up. The name Barnabas, bar means son, abas. Barnabas is like the Son of Encouragement. Barnabas, I mean, like he’s always happy. Barnabas was the one who went and got the Apostle Paul and brought him to Antioch. So Paul could learn multi ethnic ministry. So my point in saying is this, in healing this racial divide through the gospel even those who have experienced God’s grace, are going to need patience. But they’re also going to need pushing. And that’s where this upstart, Paul stands up and says, Peter, what you’re doing is out of step with the gospel. If you’d give me a moment, and I want to bear down on this, I want to anchor down on this. Reconciliation flows into loving your neighbor as you love yourself. This is a gospel issue. One translation says you’re deviating from the gospel. And Paul, the former church persecutor, stands up to Peter and says, what you’re doing is wrong. Now lastly, where did Paul get the courage from? Galatians 2:20 says this. “I’ve been crucified with Christ and is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me. And I live in a body it’s by faith and a son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul’s power, to not be a racist, but to become a “gracist” was rooted in Christ in him. So we need more of Christ in us to stand up and say, that’s deviating from the gospel. And yes, we personally have experienced the emails. We’ve experienced people saying, why do you talk about race so much? And we go because the Bible does. You know, people will say every time pastor, you talk about race, I’m sure your wife must get tired of it when you pull out the race card. But that’s small potatoes compared to what like Jesus experienced and what the Apostle Paul experienced. So yeah, anyway.
Joseph Stuart: I think this brings up an interesting point, Vicki, which is that you are a white woman, and Derwin is an African American and interracial relationships is not something that have always been accepted in the United States and not in Christianity. As a Christian, what’s your response to the idea that you would be tired of someone pulling out their race card that you wouldn’t agree with what your husband is saying?
Vicki Gray: Well, it’s hard for me to not laugh about it in a way, because we’ve been married for 30 years, we’ve been together for 32 years, and I’m well aware of his skin color and my skin color. And so I think really, you know, what comes out of someone’s mouth reveals what’s in their heart. And so, in my mind it makes me think, well what’s your marriage like? If you know what I mean? Because I’m like, well, we’re on one accord with this. And the way somebody looks, their skin color, so like, in the first century, ethnicity was determined more by religious practice not skin color, right? America is very different in that, really, skin color is what we look at to judge ethnicity. And so we are very much on the same page as it relates to this to our theology. I’m getting my master’s now as well. And everything we do, we do on one accord. And I think, ultimately what’s most important, even in planting Transformation Church, that’s the church we lead, we always start theologically. We never start sociologically, okay? And so you have to start with the theology of who God is, and who we are as his creations. Right? And if you start sociologically, that’s when you start getting into political movements. And so that’s never going to last. And so we, from a very early beginning we were like we want Transformation Church to be built on theology. So Transformation Church, our vision is to be a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission shaped community that loves God completely upward, loves ourselves correctly inward, and loves our neighbors compassionately outward. And that vision comes directly from the mouth of Jesus, in the sense that comes from the great commandment and the Great Commission. The Great Commandment is, Jesus says, “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.” And so that’s where we get the upward, inward, outward. I grow in loving God, as I recognize how much he’s loved me, his love transforms me, and I learn to see myself correctly, I learned to love myself correctly. Not in a prideful way, but in a way that says, wow, he thinks I’m valuable, so valuable, He died for me. So I can treat myself as valuable. That doesn’t lead to conceit, it actually leads to humility and that overwhelming sense of His grace. Then learning to love yourself correctly, allows you and empowers you to love others compassionately. So that’s where we get that upward, inward, outward. The other component is from the Great Commission. Jesus says, go and make disciples of all nations. The word nations there is actually comes from the word ethnos, which means ethnic groups. So it doesn’t mean make disciples of all countries, it’s make disciples of all people from every ethnicity. So not just across the sea, but across the street. And so that’s where we get the vision of Transformation Church. And this is something we do on one accord, and you best believe God has taken us through some things in 30 years to make sure we are on one page with what he wants to do in our lives.
Derwin Gray: Yeah. And also what— and my wife eloquently rolled it out, which is awesome.
Vicki Gray: I have a justice streak that runs so deep within me, and growing up in Montana around Native American reservations and just, I get very passionate when I see injustice done against anybody.
Derwin Gray: Yeah, I’m the teddy bear of us two. So back in when I was playing with the Colts, this is about 1996-1997 ish, there was a racial incident that took place at the University of Indiana. So they asked some of the black Colt players to come up and speak. So anyway, on our way back, one of my teammates who loves the Lord, he’s African American, and we’re just having casual conversation about life and he was like, yeah man, he goes, “man, when when I first met you, I was like, why is he married to this white girl? Like, what’s up with that?” And I was in the backseat. And I literally said, “huh, Vicki is white, isn’t she?” And he just got really quiet. And he goes, man, I repent. He goes man, “I’m, I’m sorry. Like, I repent.” I mean, I had no idea. I just said, oh she is white. Because it was never like, oh, I like her because she’s white. I was attracted to everything about her. I mean the woman taught me how to study, right across the street of the campus here at BYU, she taught me as a freshman. She said, “hey, come over here. We’re gonna go to Exxon, we’re gonna get your gas card, we’re gonna build your credit, because every month you’re gonna get gas, you’re gonna pay it off.” She was so organized, detailed and strong and focused. And I was attracted to that. And she’s 10 times even that now. And so we’re very much well aware of our ethnicity’s— is one thing that I want to be biblical about right is there’s only one race, the human race. But the human race is comprised of multiple ethnicities, which deals with culture and language and symbols and time and shared story. So we’re not in a interracial marriage. We’re in a interethnic marriage. But our ethnicities don’t drive us. Christ drives us through our ethnicities. Like we’ve learned so much from each other. And like going to Montana, like my eyes were opened to the suffering of Native Americans. I had no idea. I had no idea. I thought I grew up poor. And so there’s some things that my daughter and I do on July 4, when we’re in Montana. We go up to Arlee and we celebrate an epic powwow with the Salish and Kootenai people up there and it’s utterly beautiful, like we appreciate their culture. And so the Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he said, go make disciples of all nations. He was telling Jewish people, go to the Gentiles. By the way, the Gentiles for 400 years in Egypt held you as slaves, the Canaanites, the Hittites, all of them tried to destroy you. The Babylonians, Haman tried to eradicate, now the Romans are pressing you. So I want you to go to your enemy and I want you to love them unto me through you. And so this says what discipleship is. Discipleship isn’t I’ve learned more information about scripture. Because in John 5:39, the Pharisees. To be a Pharisee, by the age of 12 you had to know the Tanakh, from Genesis to Revelation, not word for word, but you had to be grounded in it. So Jesus tells the Pharisees, he goes, in John 5:39, you pour over the scriptures daily because you think in them is eternal life. But the scriptures point to me. And it’s sad, you could be so religious that Jesus is staring you right in the face, and you miss him.
Vicki Gray: Yes. I think one of the things that, because I oversee discipleship at our church, and one of the things that we talk about is, often you can see somebody’s spiritual maturity by how they identify first. So before I’m a white female, I am a Christian. I belong to Jesus. Before I am anything else, before I’m a wife, before I’m a mother, I am of the Christian race. It’s a new race of grace, and I belong to that race. And so often, and Dewey as our lead pastor, he will often get emails when people will say, you know, why are you why are you talking about race so much? But what he challenges our people to understand is just what he would say about himself before he’s a black man, he is a Christian. So before you’re Republican or Democrat, or wherever you are, your primary identity is going to determine how you see yourself and how you see and treat other people. And so if we see ourselves first, as anything other than Christ’s followers, that’s going to impact the way we see people and the way we treat people.
Joseph Stuart: Let the church say amen. So Dewey, I really appreciate it in the Op Ed that you wrote for the Deseret News a few weeks ago, you wrote, “People of faith in particular should be held to a higher standard when it comes to fighting racism and prejudice. Anyone who says I love God and yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. The first epistle of John says that a person who does not love his brother or sister, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” That to me requires a lot of courage, the courage to love, as Dr. King wrote about so eloquently. How can Christians broadly and maybe Latter-day Saints in particular, show that courage in leading out in rooting out racism?
Derwin Gray: Yeah, let’s lay the foundation. Let’s work with definitions. Okay? Prejudice is individual. So prejudice can affect any type of people, right? I could be prejudiced. And you could be it. It is a very individual listing. Racism deals more, with one particular group having the most power and shaping that culture to its own ends. So for example, growing up as a kid, when I went to elementary school, I had no problem writing because all of the desks were made for right handed people. Well I had friends who were left handed, and it was really hard for them to write. But I didn’t really think about it, because I like it ain’t a problem for me. Well, it wasn’t a problem, because the desk was for right handed people. People who were left handed, still were able to write, but it was harder for them. Racism deals with creating a society for only right handed people, but there’s left handed people. So it’s like you have right privilege. And when you’re right handed, if you don’t think about well man, that’s hard for them to write. Why don’t we get desks for left-handed people too? Now it’s not my problem, but that is my brother, that is my sister. That is someone made an image of God, therefore, I want to see them flourish. So let’s get some left handed desks, right? So racism deals more with power structures. The harder, individual prejudice is easier to see than systemic. And theologically, every human being that’s born, is born broken. We need to be saved or there will be no need for Jesus. We need to be made to be born again. As Christians, we should care about human flourishing at every single level, the way that we show courage, number one is this, particularly for my Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters, be passionate about Jesus and His grace. That love transforms you and when you taste that kind of grace, you want to look and go okay, if there is injustice, Jesus cares about justice. That’s why he fed hungry people. That’s why he was around the outcasts, and Jesus was also ostracized; he was called a drunkard and a glutton. Those are some fighting words in the first century to be called a drunkard and a glutton. But notice it was the religious establishment that called him those things. Jesus displayed courageous love. I mean, are you kidding me? He took His disciples to Samaria. There was a 700 year ethnic feud between Jews and Samaritans. So it starts with the deeper I know the love of Christ, the more courageous I am to advocate for people, but you have to get in relationship with people. Proximity breeds intimacy. One of the things that we found that our church— so our church is probably 55%, white, maybe a tad bit higher. But at times white people will adopt black kids. And that’s awesome and it’s beautiful. One of the things that they’ll say is, when our boys were small, everybody thought they were cute. But when they hit about 16 and 17, the way they got treated was vastly different. They went from cute to a threat and they’ll say things like, “Pastor, we just, we had no idea that it was this bad. Of course, I pastor them, we love them.” And then I have to challenge them and say, “how did you not know? Black Christians have been telling you this for decades.” The reason why you didn’t know is because the problem wasn’t at your doorstep. Don’t wait to care about justice until the problem is at your doorstep. Think about it. Jesus, in the Eternal Counsel of the Father and the Spirit didn’t say listen, I had none to do with their sin. We gave them a perfect world and they messed it up. Ain’t my problem! I’m not going for them, but no. The Bible says in Romans 5:8, but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Love demands, commands, and empowers us to be courageous. Love isn’t sentimental. Love actually looks like the cross.
Joseph Stuart: I think that’s a perfect place for us to end today. The name of the book is How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What The Bible Says, The First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation by Dewey Gray. Thank you, Dewey and Vicki, for joining us on the Maxwell Institute podcast.
Derwin Gray: Thank you.
Vicki Gray: Thank you so much.
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