Latasha Morrison: The Church Is the ‘Only Place Equipped to Do Racial Reconciliation Well’
For years, Latasha Morrison attended a predominantly African American church in Atlanta that intersected with both black and white communities, including those affiliated with Rick Warren and John Maxwell. “I noticed that wasn’t true for all churches,” said Morrison. “A lot of churches stay in their racial bubble.”
When Morrison left her church, she left with a plan. “My strategy was to be a pioneer for reconciliation within the white church,” she said. “So I strategically applied for jobs at white churches.”
The transition from her Atlanta church to an Austin congregation (she now works at Gateway Church) was tough for Morrison, but she found her stride after she connected with IF:Gathering founder Jennie Allen, who invited her to share her vision at the IF conference in 2014. Morrison’s mission was to enable racial reconciliation within local churches and develop resources for Christians who want to build cross-racial relationships.
Since then, Be the Bridge has exploded in size and now serves the local church by providing curricula and other tools that encourage bridge builders to “[foster and develop] vision, skills, and heart for racial unity.” “I see glimmers of hope,” Morrison says of the white evangelical climate today. “Even if they don’t get it completely. People are at least trying to lean into the conversation and acknowledge that there is an issue.”
Morrison recently spoke with CT about why white Christians and Christians of color can’t leave when it gets uncomfortable, why the Be the Bridge vision has resonated with so many people, and why the church is the best place for racial reconciliation to flourish.
What inspired you to start Be the Bridge? How did your own personal journey factor in?
It was birthed out of my disappointment with the local church, which I felt was always bringing up the rear. We were always the taillights instead of the headlights. Seeing racial division at conferences and churches really broke my heart and gave me a holy discontent. As I came to the predominantly white church, I saw a blindness. [Most people] thought the issue was diversity—“If I have someone on staff who doesn’t look like me, then there is my racial reconciliation.”
In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, I realized that the reason we have such division [in the church and elsewhere] is because people are not in relationship with one another. We’re not in proximity. When you don’t have friendships, you assume things about people who are different than you culturally. You won’t have empathy, because you don’t know anyone who looks like that, or anyone that worships that way, or anyone that dresses that way.
How did the IF:Gathering intersect with the founding of Be the Bridge?
After the IF conference in 2014, a friend from my church who was really close to Jennie Allen connected us and we met for lunch. Jennie was completely open. She had had conversations with some Asian women about the lack of representation. I told her, “You know Jennie, it’s hard have diversity in your organization if there’s no diversity in your life.” We met several times and said, “Let’s get a diverse group of friends together and let’s talk about the hard things. Let’s do the work of reconciliation.”
That connection with Jennie turned into a [regular group]. Later that year, when the Michael Brown incident occurred, and all these things started happening in national news, we were already meeting. The women in this group were able to get a totally different perspective than they might have before. Jennie started writing about it, and people started [responding] by saying, “I want to do that. I need that. Austin’s so segregated. My church doesn’t have this.”
Jennie approached me that summer and encouraged me to form an organization and create a guide to give others some direction. Then she told me she wanted to model it at her conference. I knew the conference had about 2,500 in-person attendees, but I didn’t realize it was simulcast—throughout the world! So in 2015, we modeled the table, and then about 10,000 people downloaded the guide.
Where did the name “Be the Bridge” come from?
Ultimately the name for it came from a conversation I had with God on my way to attending the IF conference in 2014. In the middle of feelings homesick for Atlanta, I remember God telling me, “I brought you to Austin to be a bridge.” I used to say that phrase “be the bridge” to my staff, back when I was in the African American church in Atlanta. We were in-between: We weren’t traditionally an African American church, but we weren’t a white church, either. We knew how to fit in both worlds and be comfortable.
Be the Bridge has exploded in size. The Facebook group, for example, now has more than 8,000 members. What excites you about this growth?
We have more than 400 groups across America and Canada. I found out we have a group in Rwanda! I talked to a missionary who said they are trying to use the materials to help missionaries see their privilege and [better understand] how to operate in the country. There, they are treated by the Rwandans as privileged people because they are white.
Scripture plays an important role in the Be the Bridge curriculum. Is there a particular verse that’s personal to you and encapsulates your vision for racial reconciliation?
One of the foundational verses for Be the Bridge is John 17, which says that we should be one, so that the world will know who Jesus is. Jesus’ heart is not for him to see us be the same. We can be uniquely whom he created us to be and still be one, because unification doesn’t always look like agreement. It means putting the gospel of Jesus at the center of everything that we do. That’s what we try to do at Be the Bridge—center the conversation on Jesus.
I do believe that the body of Christ is the only place that is equipped to do this well and do this right. Our goal with Be the Bridge is to be who God created us to be—that credible witness for his glory as it relates to racial reconciliation. We are all created in his image. We’re called to love our neighbor regardless of who they are or who they look like. This is something that’s become cliché, but at Be the Bridge, we want the church to be just that.
Most people who participate in Be the Bridge are a self-selecting group, many of whom are already aware of racism and interested in racial reconciliation. Do you see that as an asset or a liability?
It can be both. You can have a lot of people with a heart, but they have no idea where to start or where to begin or they haven’t been educated on it. Be the Bridge is an on-ramp. With this type of work, you have to remember that it’s the Holy Spirit who transforms us, but [the work of the Holy Spirit] can be spurred by a sermon you heard or a book that you read or a conversation that you’ve had. Be the Bridge is a 101 class to help on-ramp people into doing this work for themselves. People will say, “What is white supremacy? What is white fragility? What is gaslighting?” So we do have to come alongside and help them, but we can’t do the work for them.
In your opinion, has the evangelical world shifted on racial issues in the last few years?
I think there’s more awareness, there’s been some slight movement, but perhaps not as much movement as I’d like to see. There are still a lot of blinders, and we’ve seen those in 2016. But I think there has been a shift. We’re not in the same place that we were in in the ’60s, ’50s, or ’40s.
For example, a lot of people participating in Be the Bridge have adopted kids and have a transracial family. Their eyes are opened, and they experience life through the eyes of their children. They notice how their child is treated differently, how assumptions are made about them, how their kids may not be given the benefit of the doubt, or how they’re accused of stealing just because they are black. These families are seeing the dynamics of our culture prejudices played out, and they see it in their families.
In the Be the Bridge groups, we’re having these conversations. It’s a safe place for white people and a safe place for people of color where we can communicate and share our hearts.
Part of your ministry involves gathering groups of people of different ethnic backgrounds who are interested in pursuing greater healing and unity within the Body of Christ. What does that actually look like in terms of attainable, concrete goals? In other words, how do you track success, if at all?
We have a clear mission and objective in the curriculum, so that each group has a guided conversation. We also have specific book recommendations. One of the first parts of our process is building awareness. We try to give people next steps. We always say, “be the bridge moving toward racial reconciliation.” Just because you start these steps and just because you have diversity in your life doesn’t mean that you arrive at racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation means we’re embracing all truth, historical truth, and biblical truth. The second part of that is biblical justice. Reconciliation is turning away and settings things right. You have to understand what are we setting right: What is the system that’s broken? And how do our systems operate?
The ultimate goal is to build relationships and have proximity, because a lot of racism is caused by the fact that we live in separate bubbles. These bubbles breed prejudices, and these prejudices breed racism. However, when you start building relationships, you start realizing, “I know Tasha, and Tasha’s not like that.” When we cross that line and get up close and personal with one another, that’s where those assumptions and stereotypes die.
In recent articles and social media posts, a number of people of color seem to be speaking out against the idea that they should be the ones to educate or inform white people about how to understand racism in America. In other words, there’s a theme of “do your own homework.” What’s your opinion? How can people bridge the divide, and who should take initiative?
People of color are tired. They are disappointed in the church, they are disappointed in their white brothers and sisters, and they do feel hopeless. They feel like, “You made the mess, you clean it up.” But for Christians, the response has to be different. I just had to talk with an African American woman in the Facebook group who feels like leaving. She said, “I’m going to go back to my circle because you hurt me so much that I don’t want anything to do with you.” But that is not the Body of Christ. That does not represent Christ. Although in our flesh, we feel [hurt and defensive], I don’t think that’s what Jesus wants. This is how the enemy works. He wants to divide us. He wants to set us against each other. The only thing that’s going to change someone’s heart and mind is Jesus. When I come in and talk, my words can be used, but their power comes from the Holy Spirit.
In the Be the Bridge Facebook group, we tell people that you have to do the work and when we say do the work, that means the books that we tell you to read, read. When we tell you to read articles, read the articles. The role of those in majority culture is to listen, learn, and then teach your people. Your call is to be a good ally who lifts up the arms of those that are weary.
You refer to Be the Bridge as “a racial unity and reconciliation ministry.” One of its goals is for “the church to be a credible witness to God's transforming power.” In your opinion, why is the Body of Christ an important part of racial reconciliation ministry?
What Jesus did by dying on the Cross reconciled us to God, and he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. As Christians then, we are benefactors of reconciliation and we should want to live reconciled lives. Reconciliation is also the essence of who God is. He is the God of justice. He is the God of righteousness. If we are the outward expression of his character, his heart, and his words, then we have to reflect this reconciling part of who he is. But the thing that brings us together and unites us as the body of Christ is the message of Jesus. Racial reconciliation is not some kind of agenda—it’s a gospel message. It’s discipleship.