There’s a big controversy going on over a recent Christian women’s conference in which some white women walked out of a session in which the concept of “whiteness” was being discussed.

Religion News Service has an article about the issue. Basically, the Sparrow Women’s conference had a racially diverse group of speakers. Sparrow Women say their mission is to “… catalyze a generation of peace-makers specifically across racial and socio-economic lines of division.” This indicates that racial issues are a primary focus.

At the conference, one speaker, Ekemini Uwan, a theologian with a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary who hosts a popular podcast called Truth’s Table, was interviewed about the concept of “whiteness,” and talked very bluntly about the harm she believes it’s caused and is still causing.

During her discussion, a number of white women walked out (I haven’t seen an exact number online yet). But what sparked the main controversy was that the video of her discussion was allegedly pulled down by the conference, and none of her comments were Tweeted out by the Sparrow Women’s Twitter account during the show.

Uwan Tweeted out her displeasure at her treatment by the conference:

“Rachel Joy, Director of Sparrow has chosen to withhold my pictures and video in violation of my contract. I had to hire an attorney to get what is mine. Release my photos and video to me, immediately. She nor her racist organization are sorry for their mistreatment”

A Twitter storm has followed, with people on both sides of the issue staking out their positions. Articles have been written. One of them, by Deedee Roe, was posted on the website “The Witness.” It describes her experience at the conference, and goes into detail on Uwan’s appearance and the subsequent reactions of the white women around her.

Roe’s article has prompted a host of comments underneath, which are instructive in themselves. I’d encourage you to read all of these sources to get a solid grasp on the controversy. It’s eye opening, especially for white people.

I’m not going to take a stance on the substance of Uwan’s and Roe’s comments. Frankly, I’m not yet conversant enough with their framework of “whiteness” as a construct to write anything worth reading, and I don’t want to speak out of ignorance. In other words, I want to understand their point of view better, to make sure I don’t misconstrue what they’re saying.

Q (and hopefully, A)

What I do feel comfortable doing is asking questions and fostering a dialogue. So I have some questions for those in the middle of this – the Sparrow Women’s conference, Uwan, Roe and others with a vested interest in these topics – that I hope can be answered, either here or somewhere else. (If you’d like to respond directly to me on this, hit me up at submit@blackpreacherinawhitetown.com).

  • Why did Sparrow Women take down the video of Uwan’s talk (if that is indeed what happened)? Was it for legal reasons? Were they afraid some portion of their audience would be offended?
  • Was there willful intent to not promote Uwan’s talk via Social Media channels for the conference? If so, what’s the reasoning behind it?
  • Were the organizers of the conference unaware of what Uwan might say, given that these issues are discussed regularly on her podcast?
  • Did Sparrow essentially confirm Uwan’s thesis of “whiteness” by silencing her via removal of the video?
  • Does Uwan sincerely believe that the conference is racist? Or merely ignorant of the issues she focused on? Racism implies very ugly motives, which seem to contradict the entire narrative Sparrow was pushing.
  • Did Uwan believe that immediately pursuing legal action against Sparrow was justified in light of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8? Was there a more low-key way to achieve these ends?
  • Verse 7 from that passage says: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” How would those who support Uwan’s post-conference commentary on Twitter respond to this verse?
  • Were you offended, enlightened, or encouraged by Roe’s article?
  • Do you agree or disagree with Roe’s characterization of the conference? With the reaction to Uwan’s talk? Why?
  • Are controversies like this helpful or harmful to Christian witness to the secular community?

LET ME BE CLEAR: I’m not saying I have answers to these questions, or am taking a position. I’m asking because I want to understand more clearly, so that any opinions I form on this are well-considered.

Finally, let me say to the women who were made uncomfortable or walked out: it’s good to have your views challenged. Mine have been seriously challenged throughout the course of writing my book, and launching this website. I’m learning much I didn’t know before. It has only brought me closer to those with whom I don’t share a heritage.

For me as a white man, agreement or disagreement on this isn’t even the point: It helps me understand viewpoints I didn’t understand before. That’s always a good thing.

If you’d like to weigh in with your thoughts, I encourage you to do so.