Quick to Listen/Episode 156 |1hr13min

Valuing Women of Color at Christian Conferences

How evangelical institutions can concretely support their time, intellect, and labor.

Several weeks ago, theologian Ekemini Uwan was interviewed on stage at the Sparrow Conference for Women. But when Uwan, a Nigerian American who frequently speaks out against racism and white supremacy, began doing so at the conference, people in the audience began walking out, according to a report from The Witness. Uwan later tweeted that she had to hire an attorney to force the conference to send her photos and video of her interview. YouTube also removed a video of her remarks at the request of Sparrow, and the conference’s social media did not include her images or quotes, in contrast to those of other speakers.

Earlier this year, author Kathy Khang preached at chapel at Baylor University. Khang, a veteran speaker, included an anecdote mentioning an 11-year-old boy who was arrested after not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. In the middle of Khang’s talk, a Baylor student stood up and said, “That’s not what happened. He was making terroristic threats to his teacher.”

The event deeply rattled Khang, both for her personal safety in the moment and also when the same student who attended the event posted a video slamming her.

It’s important that the conference organizers who invite women of color to speak—especially when the speakers are delivering a message that may challenge the audience—ensure the audience is prepared to hear their message, says Khang.

“If you’re asking me to talk about the church, what are the ways you’ve already prepared your audience to hear this message?” said Khang. “What are the books you’ve had them read? Who are the other speakers who have come in? What is the reception like for them? What is the follow-up you have planned for the event you’re inviting me to?”

When attendees find themselves uncomfortable by the remarks of a particular speaker, that can be a good time for their own personal reflection, says author Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, who also frequently teaches at Christian conferences.

“We don’t always have to agree, but what is going on here? What are the blind spots?” said Sistrunk Robinson. “Have you been stretched and challenged by this in a good way?”

Sistrunk Robinson and Khang joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and theology editor Caleb Lindgren on Quick to Listen, to discuss how Christian conferences and institutions can do a better job supporting the women of color that they invite to address their audiences.

This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you in part by Bloodline, the new book by Skip Heitzig, gives you an up-close view of the cross that reveals God’s ultimate mission to save you from sin’s destruction. Bloodline is available wherever books are sold.

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Read Religion News Service’s coverage of the Sparrow Conference

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Quick to Listen is produced by Morgan Lee, Richard Clark, and Cray Allred

April 17, 2019 transcription

Caleb Lindgren: Sure. I'm really excited to have both of these guests. We have Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, who is an author. Her most recent book is A Sojourner's Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, published by IVP; it's new out, so go out and get that. She's also the visionary founder of Leadership LINKS, Inc. and co-founder of Call and Response Ministries. Natasha, welcome to the show.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: Thank you for having me glad to be here.

Caleb Lindgren: Yeah, great to talk with you, can't wait. Also on the show today, we have Kathy Khang. She is also an author with IVP. Her most recent book is Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up. She's a writer, speaker and a yoga teacher

Kathy Khang: Hey, thanks for having me on the show.

Morgan Lee: We are glad to have you on here. So, I'm going to give everyone a little bit of background about why you guys are joining us today.

So several weeks ago theologian Ekemini Uwan was interviewed on stage at the Sparrow Conference for Women. Uwan, who is a Nigerian-American woman who frequently speaks out against racism and white supremacy, addressed similar topics in her remarks. So, I'm just going to read some of the stuff that she said and this Q&A. She said

We have to not only just come to these conferences but then apply what you are learning and hearing - if what I am saying is making you uncomfortable you have to ask yourself why - race is an idol. Whiteness is an idol, there are benefits conferred to that but our idols mean to kill us which means whiteness will kill white people too.

In a piece by DeeDee Roe at The Witness, a Black Christian Collective, DeeDee recounts and analyzes the conference and she noted that over the course of Uwan's remarks some attendees walked out. In the aftermath of the conference, Uwan's images and quotes were not utilized by the conference on its social media feed in contrast to those of other speakers. A video of her remarks that had been uploaded to YouTube was also taken down at the request of the Sparrow Conference. And Uwan also told Religion News Service that she had to hire an attorney to force Sparrow Women to send her photos and video of the interview. The organization later released a statement. It said, "We publicly apologize to both Ekemini Uwan and the conference participants for not handling such a complex subject with more care and therefore putting everyone involved in such a difficult place."

So, I'm also going to bring up something that also happened to Kathy a couple of months ago. So, Kathy was also actually speaking at, or preaching at chapel at Baylor University earlier this year, and as she recounted on her blog and the student newspaper at Baylor also reported, she included an anecdote that mentioned an 11-year-old boy who was arrested after not standing during in the pledge of allegiance. In the middle of her talk, a Baylor student stood up and said, that’s not what happened. He was making terrorist threats to his teacher." So, I'm going to read what Kathy wrote on her blog here. She said, "In a split second I had to decide if I would respond to the man. I did not. I paused caught myself and went on to decide if I felt safe enough to stay on stage or trust the school would remove me from the stage of someone else felt like I was in danger. I stayed but learned someone had moved quickly to get me just in case."

So, this week on Quick to Listen, we'd like to broaden the conversation beyond the particularities of these two incidences—that we're going to provide links in the show notes to give you more background about them, if you want to read more about them—and we want to discuss how Christian conferences and institutions can do a better job supporting the women of color they invite to address their audiences. Alright, so Caleb, you probably read some of this news as it was playing out and I just want to do a gut check for both of us about kind of your initial reactions to these particular stories.

Caleb Lindgren: Yeah, that's a tough one. I think I didn't hear about what happened to Kathy until we heard what happened to Ekemini, and I think it sort of, all of those things sort of came together in a larger conversation. But my initial reaction was, I guess like man, we still have such a long way to go. And I probably would have made some of the same mistakes without realizing it. And so it was kind of a—gut check is a good word for it because I was like, boy. I guess the other thing that's really struck me was, at the least regarding the Sparrow thing, was like boy, they really put on a really good face. That given the way that they present themselves, I was surprised that they mishandled that the way that they did. And that sort of indicated, that was one of the reasons why I was like sort of thinking about like boy, I probably would have made some of those same mistakes because I think there's a well-meaning-ness that masks a lot of mistaken assumptions. And I think unless you're in a situation, it's really hard to see the sort of dangers that I think were felt in these scenarios in a way that even as a conference organizer with so many different like details on your mind, it might not occur to you and even if it does, there might be a lot of other things, other voices in your head to consider. And so I was like boy, this is just so complex and I just do not see most of the different sides of this, so I was really curious to have this conversation because I want to know more.

Morgan Lee: Yeah, my gut check I would say was when I was kind of watching the Sparrow event to play out in real time, I think I was most struck by just how far this conference seemed to kind of distance itself. I mean it was like shocking to me I guess that they would like not include someone's images or quotes of like one of their speakers.

Caleb Lindgren: Yeah, that was a surprise.

Morgan Lee: Especially after like, you know what the speakers going to say. I guess that what the thing is about this is that like both Ekemini and Kathy have, they’re on social media, they write blogs, they're on podcasts. Like, you know what they're going to be talking about and saying, and so there seemed to be this sense that both of these institutions were a little bit caught off guard or not prepared for that. And I'm like, wait, what? Like these people, it's not like some sort of surprise about what's going to happen here. And how are you kind of like trying to help the audience be the best audience it can be, and not walk out. And then, especially in the case of Sparrow to watch them like the distance themselves from again someone who is not saying things that are very dissimilar from what is already on their podcast that they do.

So Kathy, I know it's probably interesting to have a talk about you and third person—hi, I know you’re there—and Natasha. I'm just curious, you know, I'm sure you guys get speaking request and conference requests frequently, and I'm wondering what is the first type of research that you're doing when an institution is making a request of you. What's going through your head?

Kathy Khang: Oh goodness. Well, I actually have a form that I send to the inviting party or whoever's been charged to contact me. And it asks questions around attendance, leadership, diversity. It asks around fees, around expectations, what they're expecting, are they familiar with me and my work. And I give them some information as well, some links to my social media, just in case the poor person who has to send the email is not familiar or isn't part of the deciding decision-makers. So sometimes that happens as well. So it's a back and forth. But then once the invitation comes in, I'm looking up. I'm going on their website. I'm looking at who are the decision-makers, who have they invited in the past, do I know any of those people so that I can contact them? I ask about the purpose of the gathering or the conference or the talk, and I do specifically asked are you familiar with my work because as you mentioned Morgan, I'm on social media so it should not be a surprise at all that I'm referencing current events, that I'm watching headlines, that I'm talking about racism, that I'm calling out white supremacy. It shouldn't be a surprise.

Morgan Lee: Natasha, you want to jump in here?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: Sure. Similar to what Kathy said, I have a speaker form on my website—NatashaSRobinson.com—and so whenever someone tries to reach out to me for speaking, and they do that, right? They'll send an e-mail, they'll send it on social media. I'm like, go to the form, because I don't answer emails for people I don't know in that regard, I'm not going to respond on social media. Because what I found early in my career is that I can invest so much time having conversations and chitter chatter back and forth and never get a contract and it ends up being a waste of my time. And my first thing is to go to the form, do the form, and the beautiful thing about having a form of my website is you can find all my other stuff there on the website. There are reading materials there, there are all my writing stuff is there, a link to my blog is there, you can download a press kit there to read all about my background bio. So, you can do all of that. And I think it's important to say here that the responsibility is on the organizer or the organization to vet me. Right? And to decide if they want me. That's their responsibility. My responsibility as a speaker is to decide whether I want to partner with them or not. Right? And so that's something I have to decide. And so in the same way that Kathy is asking those questions—about size and diversity, and how did you hear about me, all those things, if someone referred them, you know—it's important to know. Obviously, there's some practical things that go through that as well. Both Kathy and I are not just a minority, or people say minority ethnic, you know different from the dominant group, but we are also women and mothers. And so there's a practical, logistical side of this that we have to take into consideration to plan around our families, and our husbands, and our other work and this is not my primary work. And so I have to take those things into consideration too. And so that's how I kind of prayerfully discern whether or not this is something I say yes or no to, and what conditions might be.

Caleb Lindgren: I wonder, related to that, you guys talked about having a form, and it's probably a learned process where you're like, I need to develop a system to make this work. Where there particular situations or just a series of different things, where you're like I need I need a way to sort of develop a sort of a vetting system of my own to make sure that this is efficient. Were there particular things that keyed that, did somebody recommend hey, you might consider having a form?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I think, you know, we talked. And Kathy and I have been doing this for a while, so research is like any other thing. We research, we learn, and we get better. And so I referenced it before, just in restating, it's one of those things where you can go back and forth with people a lot of times and waste a lot of time and never get a contract. And I don't have that time to waste. And so my form, getting a form from you, it lets me know, do you have a budget for this? Because if you don't have a budget for it, and we're not friends then this is not even something I can really consider. It's something like that you know it kind of weeds out. Or is it something you just like have an idea of having me, or are you serious about whatever required for you to bring me to your event? And so that's what the form does for me. And then followed by the form, there's a contract. And so normally, I don't let people use my image or likeness or name or announce anything publicly until I get a contract. Now sometimes the organizations have their own contracts, which is fine, and I would read over that and see if that meets what I would consider like my bare minimum requirements, but if they don't then I have a contract ready to go.

Kathy Khang: Yeah, I think for me it was similar realizing that I didn't have honestly a clue how this business worked. And I think that's one thing for listeners to understand, is that we can talk about these being Christian events, but it's also a business. So Sparrow Conference, that's a business. Because at the end of the day that conference does not want to lose thousands of dollars. So this isn't about some local church doing a one-time small event, calling in the local moms for mom’s event. And even those events have people who are planning, there's a budget, there's an estimated number of people that they're hoping for. So, I think for me it was definitely learning that what I thought was part of ministry was also learning the business side of this, and having mentors who had been doing this long before I did. And so I had one of those mentors who just said, no Kathy, you cannot do this retreat for five hundred dollars, you need to have a fee. And I looked at him and was like, what is that? What do you mean by that? That sounds awful. We don't do that in church ministry settings. And he looked at me, and older white man, and he said oh, yes, we do.

Caleb Lindgren: It sounds very similar to my brother, who is a composer and he's had to figure out his fee structure in the same way. Because he does a lot of writing for churches, and arranging things for churches, and he's consistently frustrated by the fact that there are very few people that understand what you're talking about. That there is a business side of this that needs to be reckoned with, and it happens on both sides in a way that's very interesting, and that was something I was unaware of so, thank you for saying that.

Morgan Lee: So, I’m curious guys, if you can talk about things that conference organizers can do that immediately help to gain your trust and to let you know that your voice is going to be valued when you step onto campus or enter the conference.

Kathy Khang: My goodness, they can value my time by telling me right upfront what their budget is, what their expectations are, what their standard hosting procedure is. I mean, it doesn't take that much energy to be upfront and honest about what they are able to do and provide. In part because this is a job, and the assumption is that you are bringing in people who have a skill set and an expertise and a viewpoint that you want your audience—regardless if it's college students, or conference attendees, or a church—that you want them to be exposed to and learn from. And so in that, what is it that the inviting organization or institution is looking for? And it is also very helpful to have organizations and institutions that understand that for me, for us, as women of color, that is one of the things that I'm looking for. That if you're inviting me to talk about leadership, if you're asking me to talk about racism in the church, what are the ways in which you've already prepared your audience to hear this message? What are the things, you know, what are the books that you've had them read? Who are the other speakers who have come in? What was the reception like for them? What is the follow-up that you have planned for the event that you are inviting me to? That is one of the questions that I ask. So that would be wonderful, and usually those are not the things organizers are necessarily thinking about.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I think is important for questions about value. I don't question whether the value is there, I question whether people understand how to communicate that value in their actions. So one of the things that people will lead with, for any number of these things and conversations that we have about diversity—like anyone wants to talk about diversity, everyone needs diversity. Sometimes people don't know why right? So when I get an email that says, "We want diversity." Like no kidding, I understand that. And the same way I get an email that says, oh we value you. That's great. I value myself. And so it's one of those things where we say, what does that value look like in this space, right?

And so for me, as a woman of color at my age, like the value means paying me fair. Something we've learned, having done this for a few years, is that it is a business. And so when you look at a resume, you download my press kit on my website, you got a resume and you get a bio, and what someone has done. And I want you to then say if this was a white man, what would I pay you? That's what would communicate value. And it's not just about pay, but I think the pay is important because we have an inequity of people, women, all across the board in just about every field. And I always believed that in matters of Injustice the church to be better, right? The church should be better. And so one thing we should be intentionally thinking about is are we paying people fairly.

I think that's important to consider for women of color, to say, well if our budget doesn't allow us to pay Kathy what she's worth, for someone with her expertise and her experience, now what are some ways that we can offset that. So then you start saying, is there a sponsor that will be willing to cover her? Is there a way that we can sell tickets? Sometimes people want to have a free event. Well, maybe the thing is the sale of tickets. Another thing will be, maybe I can get with her publisher or someone to see if we can buy her book. I have 30 people, or 50 people, or 100 people there, and normally you go to these conferences and they give away gift bags, right? Why not buy 100 of her books and filling up with the gift bags. So now you have given her whatever fee could have given her, but you've always also got her book out there and her book is now able to influence wherever these 100 or 50 people are going.

And so I think people need to be more intentional and more thoughtful and mindful of how they are asking when the color to come to the team.

Caleb Lindgren: Yeah, that's helpful. I like the practicality of that. I think a lot of these discussions sort of focus on ideas and it's the practicality that I think gets lost. For me at least, I kind of get caught in the idea space, but I'm also a theologian, so it's sort of my fault I guess. But I wanted to sort of turn that question around that we were just talking about. And we were talking about what are the ways that they can make you feel valued, and what are things that you would definitely not do? That are not communicating that? That maybe sometimes conference organizers try to do, but that don't really work or aren't quite enough?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I want to be clear that I'm not speaking for all black women. I'm not speaking for all women of color. I'm just speaking from Natasha's experience the idea that, Oh, this is going to help your platform. That's a slap in the face. Definitely. And for me, when I started writing for publication—and that was in 2010, so I'm almost a decade into this—and platform doesn't pay my bills. And furthermore, I'm not all that interested in being a public Christian. I mean some people they thrive on that and that's what they want. That's not what I want. For me, my ministry is at home with my family. My ministry is in my nonprofit where I'm mentoring young girls. My ministry is to my local church. My ministry is to some other things I'm building, and the relationships I have and the people that I'm present with here. And so whenever I go out to be with you then I have to consider what I'm not getting done at home. And I also have to consider is the money that you're giving me out there, is that going to be a good investment for what I'm missing for what I'm doing here at home for free. And so if those things aren't aligning then it's not really, it's not beneficial for me to say yes to you. Because I say yes to you, then I'm saying no to something else.

Kathy Khang: I have to agree with that, and you know same with myself, I'm not speaking for all Asian American women. I would say that what's helpful is the idea of hospitality, and what it means to host someone. And how that looks different in different contexts and cross-culturally, for men, for women, all of that. But that an organization, an institution, would do some research and find out what does hospitality and hosting look like. Because yes, not every organization can afford necessarily the cash fee, but can come up with other creative ways to support, as well as let us know that we are welcome. And one of the things that I had written about in relationship to the Baylor incident—and again, when I wrote about that, I did not write about the university and that specific incident alone, it was really processing years, more than a decade of doing this kind of public work—is that traveling alone, as a woman of color, has changed dramatically in the last few years. Never mind the fact that getting on a plane is really gross and disgusting, and airlines are—it's just it's not fun, it's not glamorous. But then to travel alone, doing the type of work that we do, in the bodies we are in, is a different risk then it is for your average white male speaker, or even your average white female speaker.

And for me, that experience at Baylor crystallized something that I had been thinking about for a long time, but had only had two instances in the last few years where I literally had a moment of concern for my physical safety. And because I was traveling alone—and for years, I have put on my speaker request form not only about budget and fee, but whether or not the budget could include an extra plane ticket for someone to travel with me. And I think that's part of the hosting or hospitality, is that too often there is no one on the other end, in a city I have never been in, often times cities that are not necessarily safer welcoming to women of color—is there someone who will be meeting me? Or at least communicate I need to catch an Uber, and I can check into my hotel right away, and someone will pick you up from the hotel to take you to the venue. I think those are the ways in which an organization, institution, can communicate hospitality. Understanding that I am entering into a space that is not my own. And so just like I would expect to be greeted at the door, or told where to meet someone at a church, like here's the welcome booth right in front or there's a greeter at the front door, it's helpful to know when I enter into this space that is new to me and I don't necessarily have someone there at the conference that I know and trust, to at least say here's someone who's going to know your schedule, know where you're supposed to be, know that you're not there and follow up and make sure you get where you need to be. I think those are some really easy ways in which a conference, or a school, institution can make sure people feel welcome.

Morgan Lee: I'm assuming that both of you guys have been brought in to events where you're going to be kind of be in a place where you're going to be challenging the audience's beliefs or convictions in a particular way, which also obviously adds another dynamic to everything that's going on here. I'm wondering what are the ways that you've found institutions and conferences best support you in terms of being on the stage or talking with their audience members ahead of time. I know Kathy that you mentioned stuff about like reading books or so forth and kind of getting a better sense of like landscaping who the audience is, and truly that kind of gives you at least a heads up. But are there things that the MC can say that can kind of—I don't know what the best word is—put you in the best place to succeed and to be heard?

Kathy Khang: Yeah, absolutely. I think it is helping the audience know why they have trusted us. Right? So the MC is kind of the face of the event. I need or would appreciate the event, the face of the event, communicating their backing for me and their knowledge and trust in me. And maybe even communicating to the audience a way in which their posture should be. And perhaps even priming the pump for them. You know? Yes, this is going to be uncomfortable or you may hear some words and phrases that are new to you, but they are not new to the conference planners. And I think that's the other thing is, when everything lands on the shoulders of the person on stage or the speaker, the hired hand you've brought in, it is unfair. It is unfair and I would say it is unwise to expect that one speaker can deliver or carry the message of what you're hoping to achieve.

And so what is the commitment of the conference planners and how can they communicate that to their audience? Right. We saw it was Sparrow. It was gross. I mean the conference was around reconciliation. Hello! So, there were many opportunities to model that in the aftermath. And to do it publicly, just like they had publicly chosen to wipe Ekemini off their social media. What were some of the ways in which they could have done a better job? And it's not just on Sparrow. So many other conferences, so many other churches and organizations can do a better job of even the introduction of their speakers, and the buy-in that the institution has, so that it's not about this one person.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: When we're—and I'm talking specifically about conferences, cause I think that's the topic. So I'm not talking about churches or even some small organizations. I'm talking specifically about these national conferences that we get invited to. Because that's a very specific thing. And what's happening with these national conferences a lot of times is that you're not just doing a one and done, right? They're building a tribe of people. They have a following. Like if you go into their social media, they have people following them. And so I think it is important to prepare people, even using a social media tool like, you know, Kathy is on social media so share her social media so they can check it out beforehand and decide if they want to listen to Kathy when they get there or there's that's a session they're going to skip and go out and have coffee with your friends, which is totally fine. Right? So they can share Kathy social media in advance. They can share, you know, we have YouTube clips of us speaking right? So share one of our YouTube clips. You can do these type of things. We try to make the stuff available for free so people can, you know, really benefit for that.

And I think for me, it's important, I think when we get there. So when we talk about prepping, it’s important because I say stuff—I don't talk about race all the time, I talk about leadership and mentoring and discipleship. I mean, there's several things. Or justice, right?—there're several things that I talk about when I go out. And when I do that though, I tried to shape the conversation all the time, and I encourage the organizations and the conference planners to do this. To say to the audience, we are making an investment. When you invite a woman of color, they got to pay right? And so we're making an investment, and we done this for your spiritual formation. We've done this for your spiritual formation. So, I think is important to frame the conversation about that because it's not then us versus them, or political theme, it's just her opinion. It's like, no, no, no, this is something we're doing for your spiritual formation.

And just a quick example of that, I was at a conference just a few weeks ago. I was leading a pre-conference track on mentoring and discipleship for the kingdom of God. And so, I was talking about God's Kingdom mission, using a lot of language. And one of the languages I was using was some military language, and so there was a Mennonite pastor in the room, who was very uncomfortable with me using that language. And so you had Christians, about 40 of them from all different types of denominations, and so he was uncomfortable with me using the language but he was also uncomfortable some of the languages he was hearing in his group from Christians who love Jesus in the other denominations. And so he raised a hand—he wasn't combative at all, I didn't feel threatened—just to say that this is something that was a concern for him. And so, you know, we had a conversation about it right there in front of everyone. And I said to him, that has this been good for you to see how God is working and showing up in other places, among all the people who love Jesus and love the Book, and just might be doing things a little bit different or speaking in a way that's different what you used to? Have you been stretched and challenged by this in a good way? And the answer was yes. And so I think that's important for us to say two audiences, we don't always have to agree on things on, but what's going on here? What is my blind spot? To Ekemini's point, if you're uncomfortable, why? What was that thing that's making you uncomfortable? Dig deeper to see what's going on here and what do I need to take before the Lord, or take in prayer, or talk about with my people, my tribe, the people at my church when I go back home. That's really important to challenge them. And not just, oh Kathy's the speaker up on stage and I don't like that she has to say.

Caleb Lindgren: Can we hit on the audience point. I'm curious, we've been talking about conferences, we've been talking about conference organizers, I know a lot of our listeners are not going to fall into that category, but I bet you a lot of them go to conferences. How do audiences communicate support, communicate respect, communicate welcome, and how can maybe we do that better?

Kathy Khang: Well, you can sit and listen, instead of walking out because you hear something that's uncomfortable. You can stick around, if it's a Q&A have a question—not a statement, not an "I don't have a question, I just have a comment or an observation." No, you have a question. That's what a question-and-answer session is for. And you can also find out from folks who are answering questions about the conference, is there an opportunity to talk with the speaker after, is there a meet and greet, is there a book signing? Or conference directors, even churches, can throw up someone's social media handle and invite people to have dialogue. And it's much more difficult to do that on Twitter. It's much more difficult to do that via email. But sometimes that's what you have to do, right? You have to take that. Or you take the questions that you have and you have a dialogue partner. Hopefully. Someone that was at the conference, someone you know at the church. But showing that kind of respect for a speaker, for me is understanding the venue that you are in. And I fully expect questions and conversation when that is the understanding of the event. When it is a Q&A, when it is a smaller group, when I am asked to lead a discussion as opposed to sharing content for 20 minutes. But I do expect that if I'm, quite honestly, preaching at chapel or giving a talk at a conference, that is not an opportunity to shout at me from the audience. I just find that disrespectful. And it does not escape me that the two most recent incidences we're talking about were two women of color. Right? It wasn't some men of color, it wasn't two men, it wasn't two white women. It was to two women of color where audience members thought that they could walk out—which, okay is their prerogative, but then people are going to notice—or an audience member decides it's appropriate to interrupt and shout back. That does not communicate respect.

Morgan Lee: Natasha, did you want to chime in?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: What she said.

Morgan Lee: You know, I think we've touched on this a little bit when we were talking about social media. And I thought it was interesting to Tasha the ways that you were talking about how conferences can use social media at the beginning, or not even beginning, before the conference even starts, to kind of raise awareness and call attention to. I'm curious though, how has social media for you guys change public speaking? What are the ways that it's made it easier in some ways? And what are the things that are like uniquely challenging or more difficult about the nature of the work that you do because of social media?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I'm going to let you answer this Kathy. She pointed at me. We're doing a video conference. I'm going to let Kathy spend most of the time answering it, and I'm going to say that because to me social media is a much bigger cultural concern than what we're talking about here. And so for me, I don't eat media, sleep, breathe on social media. I mean literally I probably spend, I don't know, maybe 30 minutes on and off a day on social media. And that's like while I'm eating lunch, or standing in line, or waiting for somebody who's late for a meeting. So there's certain things I schedule on social media, but I don't have time to be on social media. I am not the person that has built a social media platform by having conversations and debates on social media. And some people do that and that's good on them, that's not how I choose to live my life. And so is very interesting, my daughter is 11, we had dinner together last night and this is one of the things we're talking about, and how I just don't understand why I would invest so much time with strangers. So, that's just kind of my philosophy.

So when you asked me how that has helped or hindered, I don't know. I really honestly don't pay that much attention to it. And I think the challenge of that is, on this business side of things that people think that your social media following somehow communicates your worth. Or how many books you're going to sell or whatever. And there's really not a direct correlation between how many people you have following on social media and how well the books sell. Although, you can have exposure to more people if you have more social media numbers following. So, all that kind of place together, it goes into the whole platform building thing. But I guess my main thing is that I think it's important when people are talking about inviting speakers that you are inviting people because of the integrity of their work. Not because they're popular, not because it's cool, not because diversity is hip right now and you don't want people to cuss you out on social media because you don't have diversity on your stage. You should do it because it's the right thing to do, and because you done your homework, and you value the integrity of who the person is and what they burnt it.

Kathy Khang: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree with you. I think one of the ways how it's helped is for me—and I find this for folks on the margins, so to speak. People of color—it helps you find other like-minded people, right? So, you know you and I, Natasha, before we met in person we were able to follow each other's work and find each other and connect that way. And so I'm deeply grateful for the ways in which it has leveled or created a different playing field, so to speak, for me to connect with other people who are doing this work. And other people I want to partner with, other people I want to elevate. And so that's one of the great things that I've enjoyed about social media, is the opportunity to partner with other people, to elevate and promote other people's work. Because I have a following on Twitter or Instagram or whatever and to be able to share with folks who follow me, who normally would not be connected to those authors, speakers, whatever. So, I love that and I think it's changed a lot for me in that respect. It can be a very solitary thing to be a writer and to be a speaker, because your prep is alone with God. Which is a beautiful wonderful thing, but it also can be lonely. So I think social media has been a wonderful thing to create a community outside of my office.

I think what's made it harder is that then it opens up other channels of communication for, not just people who want to have a dialogue and ask you about your differing opinions, but to just be out right mean. You know, I have a blog and comments that come from people who have never interacted with me on my blog, those comments are put on hold until I can go through all of them. And my posture generally has been I let all comments through that are not vulgar, that are not spam, that are not dangerous or threatening physical harm. But with this last incident with Baylor, I let almost all of those comments through moderation, except for three. And those last three, I just decided you know what? I’ve already let about 30-40 comments questioning my mental health, questioning my ability to discern reality, questioning my faith, questioning every bit of my personal Integrity, I've let those through. I don't need to let any more of those through. But I think that has been part of the downside to social media. There is a student at Baylor who is backed by a university-approved, sanctioned organization. They created a YouTube video, posted it. They named me, and put out a challenge—not only to me but people who agreed with them and with this young man who interrupted me claiming that this 11-year-old had made terrorist threats, which he did not— and invited people to respond to me. And I think that is the downside to social media, is that there were many, many people, who call themselves Christians—and I think we're all going to be surprised what happens in the end—not inviting or asking for dialogue, they were just attacking. Just attacking. And I think that for me, as somebody who's doing this public work. That is the downside.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: To speak in the context of this conversation about conferences specifically, the role that social media plays in it, I just want to be clear because I think sometimes people have an illusion of what's happening here. And when you look at the speaking side of things not just as ministry—which it is, and it is also the business side of thing, which Kathy mentioned before—to some, in some ways, it works like every other business, right? And so you get opportunities and access a lot of times based on relationship. And whether or not you're invited to the table just to have a face of color on the website, on the social media platform—so again, so people not cussing you out on Twitter, right?—that's different than, oh, I have reached out to Kathy on social media to develop a relationship with her. And so when I get invited to speak or whatever, that Kathy's going to get paid the same thing that I get paid. And when we look around at a lot of these bigger conferences—just pay attention for a little while, it's not rocket science, this is not very difficult—the same people get invited to the same things because they are free. They are inviting their friends, they are paying their friends very well, and them and their friends, they're all selling a lot of books. And so there's no room outside of social media for people like Kathy or myself to get those opportunities, because we're not friends.

I think one thing that social media does, it does level the playing field. It does create access and opportunity to say, okay that's great if you want to invite me to that thing. But also for people like us, who are seeing—we're just kind of tired of waiting for you to figure this out after all of this time, and dialogue, and conversation, and work that we've done, and we're going to partner with other people who are like-minded, that care about the things that we care about, so we can do some things, because you're just not willing to put in the work.

Caleb Lindgren: Again thinking of my brother who's a composer, and I think there's a lot of artists that probably could have similar conversations about the value and the danger of social media that are probably you know saying amen listening to this—hopefully they listening to this—because I think there's a double-edged sword to that platform. Like you guys were talking about, building a platform is like one of the incentives, and so are both rolling your eyes at that, and I think not only is it not payment but it's also it's a double-edged sword. You got both sides and you get that direct attack that's dangerous, and then you also don't always get the connection that like buys access. And so I think that's an interesting facet, I'm really glad you mentioned that. Both Kathy and Natasha. I wanted to return actually to what you were talking about, Kathy, and I wanted to again sort of turn the question around. The Baylor situation is really awful in a lot of ways, and I wonder if there are examples of ways where that sort of disagreement or dialogue was done in a respectful way in your experience. Natasha, you talked about the Mennonite pastor and that was a great example. And one of the challenging things in a lot of these complex discussions is what does that look like? Like we have so many bad examples. What does a good example look like? How do we model this? How do we, what do we copy? Are there other examples of ways that respectful dialogue or disagreement happened that you felt like that was done well?

Kathy Khang: Oh, gosh, I wish I had a bunch to call on off of memory, but I'm having a very difficult time coming up with any. And in part because—and we were kind of joking, and you your listeners can't see it, but Natasha and I are on video. So we're looking at each other kind of laughing—the whole idea of you know, a conference being called out because their platform is all white, that happens. That happens. And I know it happens because sometimes I'm that person who puts out, you know, the single tweet of like "Hey, wow, I saw this organization put out their platform, and I was like wow." And that's all that is. And I would say that in those instances, what has improved is that because of social media, there are ways in which an organization can reach out to people. Right? So, even before they mess up, they have access to different viewpoints, people who are not in their circles, people who are one or two degrees separated from their organization. I think that that's an amazing resource that social media is, that it can extend your reach and it can extend your ability to do research. And know ahead of time—because it is now 2019—and if you are having a national conference, whatever field it is, there is no excuse that it is all white. No, excuse at all.

But I have found what is helpful then is to have a phone conversation. To have people who will go offline, and have a very honest conversation with no expectation that there is some sort of public forgiveness from me if I'm the person who tweeted about a conference lineup that was all white. My job is not to fix your PR. Well that's called consulting, and you can pay me for that. I do that too. So that's one of those things where I just don't have a lot of great—

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I have one, I have one.

Kathy Khang: Good, good.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: So, I'm actually speaking this fall at the Apprentice Gathering. This will be my second time going to the Apprentice Gathering. James Bryan Smith—he's a white guy—he leads this conference, this gathering. And when they invited me for the first time in 2016, I had not met James. And so they invited me, they paid me a decent rate for me being a first-time author and just kind of getting started with things. I got there, and I had not realized that they had—they being the school and the institute—they have a fellowship program that's year-long. And so my book Mentor For Life was on the required reading list for that fellowship program. So, by the time I get to the conference to speak as a keynote speaker and a workshop presenter, several people—both men and women of multiple generations—had already read my book. So, I didn't realize that until I got there. So I got there, and the audience was already affirming because they were like, "oh my goodness, I hadn't thought about it in that way. I so appreciate what you wrote." And so it wasn't me trying to convince anybody, or be on the defensive, or feeling even unsafe. It was like, oh, these are my people. And I had never met those people, but that's what we talked about earlier about preparing the audience. So there was some expectation of, this is the person we're bringing and we've already expose you to them, so that when you come and hear Natasha's speak, you're not dealing with her for the first time.

And so I think that was very, very good. And so I was able to do a keynote there, and then there was a really short Q&A after my keynote. Not from the audience, but James had already decided on three questions, maybe four, that he's going to ask me because, guess what? As a conference organizer, he read my book before I got there. And so he was able to ask me thoughtful questions on stage in front of everyone. So he didn't have to say, hey, this is someone I affirm, and I think she has great things to say. He said, "Oh I loved her book, and when I read it Natasha, these are things I was thinking about, and because of that, let me ask you these questions." And so it was not just about Natasha or this one 30-minute experience you had with her, this is something this guy had been thinking about for years, and he let everyone know that. And they came probably because of their reputation and their trust of him more so than their knowledge of me. Right? And so that was a very, very positive thing.

So when they emailed me or come back this year, I mean it was not even one I had to really think about. I was like, Oh, this is certainly a place I would love to go on be. And I thoroughly enjoyed the time. And they understood that my work and my platform has grown significantly since we talked in 2016, and they compensated me well for that. So, that's a wonderful example of how that looks like, and that's in addition to whatever they're doing on social media. Like right now, they're putting clips up from my talk from 2016 to prep for a conference that's happening in September.

Caleb Lindgren: Yeah, and that's maybe a really great additional answer to the like how can audiences make conference speakers feel welcome, is that like do your homework. Like a lot of times you see those lineups and you're like, okay cool, I'm going to go just receive from these people. But, maybe you can you can do a little bit of research and have something to bring. Which I think is something actually, Kathy, you mentioned earlier as well. So I'm just repeating you basically.

Kathy Khang: You know, if you're going to make that investment, and these conferences are not cheap. And so, you know, I think of it as continuing ed—those who are in professions where you need to keep going for certification—and I think that that's part of discipleship for us as Christians, right? That we are learning, and that we're not just sitting there receiving from the fire hose. But then we are also processing and we're pouring into others. And so there's a mutuality there that I think is important, and folks who attend conferences or do the weekend thing at a church or a retreat, is you are making an investment. You are spending time and money. How do you prepare for investments? You do homework, you do a little research, you enter in trying to make that opportunity the best that it can be. Not only for yourself, but also for other participants. So that you have great questions instead of an observation or a statement.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: And that was with my one-liner on that. Is that if you're looking at this to my point as spiritual formation, the work did you do to prepare your heart and mind to receive when you get—the same way you go to church, so you're not driving to church arguing with your spouse and you get the church and then acting like you got everything together, right? So, you prepare your heart and mind before you enter into a sacred space. And more importantly, if you're going to invest in that space, the hope is that you're not just getting stuff in that space, and you're now going to take back what you got in that space to your community, to your local church, to your family, and your friends or whatever. And if you're not willing to do that work in advance, then you're certainly not going to do the work on the backend. So, I think it's important to set that expectation and standard up. You know, when you come here, yes we want to have a good time, we want you to meet new people, we want you to engage with new ideas, and to take that extra step to how you want to challenge yourself. And this is a challenge for this diversity thing, people think is good enough to show up for the conversation. It's not. You have to go and do the work.

Morgan Lee: So you guys have given so many just extremely interesting ideas, and suggestions. Super concrete ones. I know that one trap that people fall into is thinking that some of this change is just not going to cost them anything, or require any sacrifice, or be anything difficult, kind of that much more challenging than the status quo is, but obviously to break out of the status quo and always takes time, energy, resources, sacrifice. So I guess the question that I would want to just kind of ask you guys as we wrap is like, in order to really like support, sustain, encourage, boost the Christian woman of color these conferences are inviting, what do these conferences have to give up in order to make that a reality?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: It's a whole 'nother podcast. I'm not going to elaborate on it too much, but I think you know at the end of the day this is a conversation about power and privilege. Because you know, you have two women of color on this podcast because this is not—you know, white men aren't having this problem. Like generally, and not to say it never happens, but if you had a guy, a white male in particular, speaking at chapel at a university, people don't stand up and yell at him. And so that—I mean it's just a very basic thing. And so we said, what can we do? It's like, okay well, let's have a conversation—and not together and with us as people of color necessarily—but with yourself, with your team. What ways—this is very important, I'm taking an executive directors course right now, and we were talking about the power of influence. This is last week, a leadership class about influence. And so, I was using this example about why people need to be paid fairly in these types of spaces. And I said to them, to my class, I said, what's what's fair to them is not equitable to me. Right? What's fair to them is not equitable to me. So they said, “We pay everybody $500.” That's fine. But, for me like I don't have a full-time job. I have a child at home. You know, I have a husband who travels. I have two nonprofits I'm financially supported with my time and money. So, just because that's what you pay everyone, as a woman of color, number one, it costs me more emotionally and spiritually to show up in a predominately white space. Where I'm one of or only. You know, and I say a stranger, not that I don't want relationship, but if I don't have personal relationship yet. It costs me more spiritually, and it cost me more emotionally to do that.

And then, again, all those things I'm giving up to be in that space. If I have to pay out childcare, and do logistics and all that, that's in addition to praying, and studying, and doing research, and preparing my talk. Like that has to, that value has to show up in what you’re offering for income. So, the thought process of what is fair, that's the easy thing. The conversation really needs to be, if we want to be people that care about justice, what's equitable for women of color when you're asking us to come and do this work?

Kathy Khang: I don't know. Yeah. It's an issue of power. It's an issue of power. So on the very like easy end of it, if you're looking at attending any kind of conference, you know what? Click on the conference page, and click on and find out the leadership. Who are the leaders? And dig one level deeper. Not just you know, your board of directors, but who are the decision-makers, who's the visionary, who's the president, who's the founder of this? And therein you will see some of those friendships and connections between conferences, and friendships and who gets invited and all that crazy stuff. I think that that's what you can do. Any listener can do. It doesn't, it's not rocket science. It really isn't. It's like three clicks. That's all it takes. Three clicks, and you'll see who's got the power, and why is it that Natasha and I are the ones talking about this, right? We don't have our own conferences, and that's not something necessarily that I'm aspiring to, but I guarantee you two male speakers—one who came before me and one who came after me at Baylor—said things that students did not agree with, and neither of them were challenged publicly. Neither of them had someone stand up and yell back at them. Neither of them had a video created calling them out and inviting others to, you know, get on their websites and call them out. Neither of them. So, there is a cost and if organizations, institutions, are committed to this work of Kingdom diversity, the beauty of God's kingdom, fully, holy, that has to happen not just on stage. It can't, and we know it. We're watching.

Morgan Lee: Well, thank you guys both for all the really extremely rich discussion and stuff to think about here. Caleb and I have been passing notes. I know you guys are like looking at each other. We're passing notes about like that was really good.

Caleb Lindgren: I do wish you could see us. It would be nice to be able to wave and like wink.

Morgan Lee: But for people who do have feedback, send us your feedback. You can send us an email. We'll pass it on if we feel like it.

Caleb Lindgren: It might get through that moderation.

Morgan Lee: You can do that. We're at podcast@christianitytoday.com. We're on Twitter @CTpodcasts. And we do appreciate hearing from everyone. We'll say for the most part, the feedback that we get is extremely thoughtful. So thank you for everyone who really works to be thoughtful and how they do that. And a challenge for you to continue to do that in every one that you're addressing and talking to. And not just the institutions you already feel like you respect, or deserve it.

Caleb Lindgren: And see if you can practice doing that for the people that respond knee-jerk, the people that just are attacking, if you can respond with respect there. Just a little challenge for you.

Morgan Lee: Yes, so listeners. Sorry to lecture you this week. But hey, that's what you signed up for.

June
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