The Third Place

A conversation with Latasha Morrison

Latasha Morrison sits across from me in the restaurant, long braids half pulled back, half draped over her shoulders. The TVs around us show snapshots of South Korea, athletes, and replays of Olympic competitions that had happened earlier that week. Tasha, as she prefers to be called, loves the games. “It’s a good escape,” she says, “I think about how the parents drive their kids to training and practice, how much effort—it’s like, ‘You better go to the Olympics. I’ve been driving you how long?’”

“When I became a Christian, my life became more segregated because the church is segregated.”

Her father, who was in the military, had tried to get her to play basketball because of her height, but she’d chosen clarinet instead. “I didn’t want to get hit,” she says, laughing. So growing up, she played in the school band instead of on a basketball court. And her family lived in a town that looked much different from the other neighborhoods in North Carolina.

“My school was diverse. My neighborhood was diverse,” she says. “I lived among everyone. We had Latino in my community, Native American, Asian, white, black. It was such a beautiful picture—just a lower-middle-class neighborhood.”

Morrison never gave race a second thought before college, where she found herself among the minority and chose to get involved in an
African-American Christian ministry that eventually led her to Christ.

“When I became a Christian, my life became more segregated because the church is segregated,” she says before taking a bite of her burger.

After college, when Morrison couldn’t find a congregation that looked like her family’s neighborhood, she called her ethnically diverse friends together and began having dinnertime conversations about race. That was the beginning of Be the Bridge—an organization founded to promote productive discussions between racial groups.

Since then, Be the Bridge has grown to include small groups all across the country. Morrison and her team provide curriculum, guidance, and a moderated Facebook group that boasts of almost 20,000 members who are asking questions and discussing race issues openly with each other.

 
Aline Mello:

In what ways do you think the American church has caused division between ethnicities and races?

Latasha Morrison:

Well, the church has been complicit in all of it. If we go back to slavery, it was the people who were escaping religious persecution who came to persecute other image-bearers because of the color of their skin. We have to be honest about that history. Christians were among those who brutally removed Native Americans from their homeland. They weren’t trying to live among—they wanted to take over.

Christianity shouldn’t cause us to segregate; it should bring us together, if we’re looking at the early church and Acts. But we did the opposite of that because we’ve let superiority, supremacy—something that has clothed itself in Christianity—take over.

When the Church (with a capital C) has been part of causing the brokenness, why would it sit back and say, “This is not a biblical issue?” That’s crazy to me. Sometimes doing the biblical thing is political. And sometimes the political thing is the biblical thing.

We make a mistake when we believe there are only two sides to any given issue. The church should have always been a third place—one that didn’t participate in slavery, a place of refuge for Latinos and Native Americans and Asian-Americans and African-Americans. But we as the church weren’t—so we have to unite as brothers and sisters to come together to resolve this divide.

AM:

When you introduce Be the Bridge, how do you answer someone who says, “Well, that’s not my ministry—I’m glad it’s happening, but racial unity and racial reconciliation are not part of my calling”?

LM:

I’m not here to convince anyone. This is what God has called me to and a conviction I have. But not everyone is going to follow suit. This is not a ministry of convincing. There are people of peace out there that want to hear. And I always tell people this work begins with prayer. If we’re rejecting truth, then that’s not my responsibility, because it becomes a heart issue and I can’t change anyone’s heart. That’s the Lord’s responsibility, not mine.

AM:

Sounds like good boundaries. Tell me more about Be the Bridge and how you started it.

I can’t change anyone’s heart. That’s the Lord’s responsibility, not mine.

LM:

Be the Bridge started with what I was trying to do in my personal life. I wanted to have conversation about race within the church and in predominantly white spaces. But how could we know each other if we weren’t talking to one another? If we’re segregated? And so, I noticed that in predominantly white spaces, there were a lot of misconceptions, stereotypes, biases. Just because people had never interacted, or lived, or built friendships among others. In order to thrive and survive as a minority in this country, you have to intersect with the majority culture. The majority culture doesn’t have to intersect with you. It wasn’t about creating an organization. The organization came based off a need. It was just me and my community creating space to have conversations. And it kind of took off.

We talk a lot about reconciliation, but we don’t understand what reconciliation means—or the cost of it. It’s different from forgiveness. Forgiveness takes one party. Reconciliation takes both parties. And the process of reconciliation involves justice, equality, and equity.

Often, when people become aware and start acknowledging brokenness—not just in their personal lives but in our country—they’ll say, “Well, I wasn’t responsible for it. These people came before me.” It’s true, it’s not your fault, but it is everyone’s problem. No one gets to escape this. We’ve inherited a broken mess, and it’s our responsibility to repair and restore. And that’s what reconciliation is about. It’s about restoration. To make things right. To turn things around and make them straight again. It’s not about shame and guilt—if that’s a part of what we’re going to feel, we should feel it and move beyond that. It’s about collective conviction and should move us toward justice, toward confession, toward repentance and forgiveness.

What does it look like for the church to be a conduit for healing and restoration? I believe God can’t heal what we conceal. A friend of mine always says, “God can’t reconcile what we don’t recognize.” It’s going to be hard. And Be the Bridge was designed so the church can have a distinct and transformative conversation on racial reconciliation.

AM:

Do you ever feel disappointed or discouraged? Do you ever just want to ignore all of the brokenness? What keeps you going?

LM:

It’s so hard. Sometimes I want to live in a little bubble, but I can’t. I think about Nehemiah—how he’d never visited Jerusalem but he was discontent with the walls. He’d only heard of it. And so I want us to be better. I love the local church. I love the body of Christ. I want us to be a true example of who God is. And I don’t want our disunity to block someone from knowing the true Jesus. Our sin, racism, injustices—nothing should override people. We need to ask ourselves, “What are we ingesting? What are we idolizing?”

Because I love Jesus, I’m going to do my part, whatever that is. I just want to be on the right side of history and to be a part of the remnant that God uses. So I will continue to hold my hands open. I will continue to love my brother even when my brother’s not lovable. And I will continue to have hope even in the midst of turmoil and so many disappointments. I have to remain hopeful.

I want to see the local church be the headlights in this conversation. I want us to be proactive and not reactive. Not waiting until stuff like Charleston happens, or waiting for Charlottesville. I want us to acknowledge and be repentant of our history and our complicity. I want to see the church working just as hard as I am to bring ethnicities together. I want the church to be the third place.

AM:

Do you think that’s attainable?

LM:

You know what? I do feel it’s attainable. Slavery ended—and think of the things we thought were impossible—that wall in Berlin came down in my lifetime. My grandparents saw Jim Crow in some areas come to an end. They saw schools integrated. So I have to believe the church can be better. I may not be able to see it with my own eyes. The work I’m doing now may not be for my benefit, but it may be for those who come after me. And that’s the same thing as others who have done this work before me. I’m reaping the benefits of someone else’s perseverance.

I want to see the church working just as hard as I am to bring ethnicities together.

In the history attached to my life, there’s someone who survived the transatlantic slave trade. Millions did not survive, and somebody had to endure that in order for me to be here. Someone had to endure slavery. Someone had to endure Jim Crow. So, yes, I remain hopeful because some of my ancestors I can’t even name had hope. And their hope was to see me free and to see others free.

I carry that with me. And I’ll continue to persevere so those after me can say, “Wow, she laid the foundation for us to follow.” I may never see unity and oneness. But just because I’m not going to see it doesn’t mean that I don’t persevere for it, or hope for it.

 

Photography by Audra Melton

Related Topics:  Community

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