Race - A Uniquely Christian Conversation on a Tough Issue

Bruce Becker (Jackson, Wisconsin, USA)
Mike Westendorf (Muskego, Wisconsin, USA)
Nhia Yang (Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenters

A 1982 seminary graduate, Bruce Becker was a pastor in Springville, New York, and Brillion, Wisconsin. From 1995-2009, he served as administrator for WELS Parish Services. In 2009, he joined Time of Grace Ministry and serves as Executive Vice President. A respected and well-known ministry coach, presenter, advisor, and author, he has served on the Board of Regents for Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Center for Church and Change, WELS Synodical Council, and the Board of Directors for The Lutheran Home Association. In 2012, he completed his Doctorate in Leadership and Ministry Management from Trinity International University. He and his wife of 40 years, Linda, live in Jackson, Wisconsin.
God has given Mike Westendorf – Christian artist, meteorologist, staff minister, husband, and father – a passion for walking with 18-25 year olds. In 2007, he began working with young adults in both secular and Christian environments. He has run UW-Milwaukee's Innovative Weather program, led campus ministry through "The Point of Grace,” is the founder and director of Awake and Alive, and hosts Time of Grace’s "Mile Markers" video ministry for young adults. Hailing from Milwaukee, Mike is a staff minister at St. Paul’s Muskego. He and his wife, Melissa, have three children.
Nhia Yang has been the Creative Media Director for Time of Grace since April 2017. She knows she is blessed to be able to use her God-given video production skills to share the Gospel. Nhia worked for more than 11 years in media, 2 years in higher ed marketing, and 2 years in communications consulting. When not at Time of Grace, Nhia and her husband, John, live in Sheboygan and are busy chauffeuring their three kids to practices, games, and school activities while also loving on their adorable shih tzu, Stewey.

Christians need to talk about race. Historically, we haven't done a great job of having those hard conversations. In light of the George Floyd tragedy and the ensuing wave of protests that have swept our country, Time of Grace – a media ministry based in Milwaukee – produced a series of videos doing just that through our young adults video series, Mile Markers. With a goal of listening and learning, Mile Markers host Mike Westendorf sat down in two different sessions with a diverse group of voices, starting the conversation, asking the hard questions and learning to listen.

In this 25-minute conversation with Time of Grace's the Rev. Dr. Bruce Becker, Creative Media Director Nhia Yang and Mike Westendorf, they discuss how the Race series was conceived, produced and the reception from Christians on this tough topic.

One hard issue we need to address right off the bat: Time of Grace supports the fact that Black lives indeed matter but does not support the BLM organization many of whose tenets are against Christianity.

You can watch the 4-part Race series here.

[Conference host's note: be aware that each of these parts runs just under an hour. Please set aside the time to watch them, maybe one or two a day. It is worth it!]

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Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2020-10-23 4:27:37am
I think these efforts to increase understanding among us are extremely important. Have you been able to track viewership of the four videos? Have you made efforts to grow viewership, to publicize them? I would think that they would make an excellent unit in any number of courses in our schools. Have they been promoted there? I realize that watching all four videos represents a significant time commitment, but while they appear to move a little slowly at times (understandable, since these are issues that we have not been comfortable exploring before this), the insights that emerge are valuable, potentially mind-changing if not life-changing. How can we get everyone to see them?
Bruce Becker (Time of Grace) 2020-10-23 1:42:38pm

Thanks for your questions. Here are the viewership numbers and new subscribers as the result of each video:

Race: A Christian Conversation (Part 1)
75 new subscribers

Race: A Christian Conversation (Part 2)
16 new subscribers

Race: A Christian Conversation (Part 3)
7 new subscribers

Race: A Christian Conversation (Part 4)
4 new subscribers

Race: A Message from Pastor Mike
13 new subscribers

We did use the first video as a YouTube ad. We spent $3,700 of grant money to promote that video. We achieved 503,383 views.

We have many Lutheran schools using our video and print content. These are part of the Mile Markers (target audience = young adults) playlist on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA_56ra9pNtPbZc-aM6Borxr8OvHhvOKk) if anyone would like to use the videos in class or share them.

The way for more people to see them is through promotion, marketing, and word of mouth. GOWM is one way to get the word out! Thanks for including them in this year's conference.

Abigayle Koch (Martin Luther College) 2020-11-04 4:15:23am
Mr. Becker, Mr. Westendorf, and Mrs. Yang,

I appreciate your approach in acknowledging the tough subject of racial issues and supporting those of color. Listening to those who have been directly affected and give them the platform to speak about their feelings without engaging in political conversation is critical in today's world. As a Christian, it is important to come from a place of understanding and incorporate a biblical aspect. To hear this message is extremely important and encouraging as a younger individual immersed in the BLM movement's effects.

It is important to support the racial equalities of those of color. Although supporting the Black Lives Matter organization goes against what I believe. Is there a goal to support individuals of color in the church but don’t support the Black Lives Matter organization? I understand that the national conversion needs to play out, but are there any ideas that have come about throughout the conversation? To unite in Christ and react to this subject most kindly and lovingly is of utmost importance to show our Godly love to others. I agree that it is essential to have a Christian conversation that begins with the foundation of God’s word.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic and incorporating the importance of God’s comforting words regarding this touchy subject.
Bruce Becker (Time of Grace) 2020-11-07 10:38:27pm
Thank you, Abigayle, for your comments. Supporting people is always a desirable thing. Supporting organizations depends on what they believe and do. BLM has a mission that is not in alignment with God's Word.
Nhia Yang (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 2:32:40am
Abigayle, thank you for your thoughtful response and question. This topic you bring up, about supporting people of color in the church, others have asked us as well. Here's Pastor Aaron Robinson's response when I asked him to respond to a person who asked us, after viewing our videos, how a predominantly white church can form a relationship with a predominantly black church. From Pastor Robinson:

"It would be great to have someone contact the pastor that is serving a predominately Black congregation. He could then organize a luncheon after the service that would allow people to get to know one another. After that initial visit it could also work in reverse as the congregation that is predominately white might invite their friends to come and visit them."


Though this isn't the same question you asked, it is relevant in that it talks about forming genuine relationships with people of color. That's a good starting point.

Hope this helps!
Mike Westendorf (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 3:23:31am
Great thoughts Abigayle. I would add that when we say it begins with the foundation of God's word, it is important to know what we mean by that. For God so Loved the world. That was written by the Holy Spirit through the pen of John, likely one of the last books to be written. So let's put that into context. For God so loved the ,messed up, selfish, irresponsible, rebelious, sin sick, hateful, broken world... that he gave his one and only Son.

I wonder if this heart is something God is inviting "the church" to claim again. In my experience, we often think evangelism is really all about education and information. If people were just better informed they would change. Yes God's word is the power at work. The reality of it is, that many of us in the church are not very good at loving the messed up world that God loved when he gave. Programs to educate (that few people come to) are easier than developing trust by doing life with someone who doesn't know Jesus or is antagonistic against Christianity.

Having both/and in the plan is the key. Let our response to minorities and people in poverty flow out of the overflow of our experience with God's Grace. We start to see the rebellious nature of even the BLM movement as something that comes from a brokeness that God came to heal in their own heart. To understand it and speak into it means we've got to listen, even when we don't agree. Earning a persons trust requires us to understand their context, ask the why questions. When we start to look for things to argue about, we've stopped listening. God willing, that patience will be rewarded with the opportunity to share the healing of God's love and grace and the root of forgiveness, which is Christ for me.
Mara Klatt (Martin Luther College) 2020-11-04 7:07:10pm

Pastor Becker, Mr. Westendorf and Mrs. Yang:
After watching the videos from this project I want to thank you all for taking the time to talk about these uncomfortable topics. As Christians we need to have open communication and loving conversations about the sinful parts of life. The topic of race in America has been one of the biggest conversations this year and I am glad that there are people in our church that are willing to have these open conversations.
These videos opened my eyes to the world that the minorities in America are living in. As our earthly church is part of this world I wonder what is the next step for our church as a whole? I may have a better understanding as an individual about how I can help but what should our churches and schools be instituting to make our churches a more welcoming place for the minorities in America?
Thank you once again for taking the time to talk about these topics. Seeing others who are willing to talk about these difficult things gives me an encouragement to do so as well.
Bruce Becker (Time of Grace) 2020-11-07 10:44:34pm
Mara, thanks for your comments and questions. When it comes to churches being more welcoming to minorities, it seems to me that it begins with serving and helping and supporting people who are not like the majority of the congregation. It means being proactive in showing Christian love. I would suggest meeting them where they are at. Does that make sense?
Nhia Yang (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 2:41:10am
Mara, thank you for your comment.

I agree with Dr. Becker's response: helping people who are not like the church, that goes a long way in earning trust and street cred.

When my family first came to the US (my parents were refugees after the Vietnam War; I was born in a refugee camp and came to the US as a 2-month-old newborn), it was the churches that sponsored us... 40-plus years later, though my parents are not Christians, my sisters and I are. And we have never forgotten the kindness shown to us by the churches. It has stayed with us all these years, and served as a real reminder of the selfless service of Jesus. Sometimes the loudest ways to help are with deliberate actions and service towards those who are unlike us.

Hope this helps!
Mike Westendorf (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 3:09:23am
There is a great simple reminder. "Awareness Drives our Discontent". I never wanted something I didn't know existed. In struggling with the conversation in our own church and in other places, I found that people's lake of awareness, including my own, was a major factor in whether or not I could even be open enough to listening to other perspectives. I hadn't considered other perspectives, so I was afraid of what they could mean. For example, read Psalm 94, but read it as if you were a Christian black person who loved Jesus, living in the inner city. I'll bet you would see these words and really mean them:
1 The Lord is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.
2 Rise up, Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.

Now imagine God shows up to my house where I have judged "those people" and God knocks on my door and say "I'm here to avenge some brothers of sisters and pay back your pride".

I always read those and think of myself as the victim. The reality is that in all too many circumstances, my pride is laid bare in God's eyes. The idea that the prayer of a fellow Christian could rouse the Living God to show me my pride is humbling. THAT is probably the biggest help to me in all this. Awareness has now driven my discontent. I'm not content to know my safe victim mindset.

The other quick thought is that "Relationship = Shared Experience" Direct or indirect. If Awareness drives our discontent, then it should drive action to share life with another human being who is not like us. To SERVE them as the Samaritan did. Not all of them, you'll kill yourself, but choose one. That shared experience, arising from awareness, will drive Relationship. Want a church to step into this new world, Awareness and Shared Experience rooted in God's word is the best way forward in my opinion.
Grant Gawrisch (Martin Luther College) 2020-11-05 7:47:43pm
Pastor Becker, Mr. Westendorf, and Mrs. Yang,

I am thrilled that a Christian is being shared during tough times about even tougher topics. I am excited to see the good that comes from this conversation, a conversation which I believe may have started in the videos, but will continue into the world. Sharing our Christian perspective can be difficult because of how many different backgrounds and opinions we have within our synod, not to mention our wider faith. I was reminded by watching the unique look at how to talk about this topic about the power of Christian conversation. Last year, as a senior at St. Croix Lutheran Academy I attended Awake and Alive and saw how well Christian conversation can go. I’ve seen this work in student Bible Studies, casual conversations outside of class, and talking to teammates in club soccer. The tough topics do come up and having the means to talk about them for the benefit of many people is very important. It is exactly what these videos do. I do have one question that comes to mind. As a pastor-in-training, I have been thinking about my future congregation. How would you recommend having this kind of panel discussion if a congregation lacks the video equipment needed? Are there alternative methods besides YouTube? Another question I have is about feedback. You said it was hard to judge how people reacted because many of the statistics you could see were views and likes. Which stats were the most helpful between views, likes, dislikes, and comments? Thank you for having this talk and I look forward to applying some of these concepts to my ministry someday.
Bruce Becker (Time of Grace) 2020-11-07 11:00:55pm
Thanks for your thoughts and questions. Regarding video equipment . . . if you have a smartphone, you can produce videos for YouTube. Digital cameras are an option as well. When I started working at ToG, we bought HD cameras (which was cutting edge technology at the time). We paid $20K+ for one camera. Today you can purchase a DSLR camera for a few hundred bucks that will shoot great video even for broadcast.
In my opinion, YouTube is the best platform for distributing your content. The stats that we think are the most valuable are watch time and comments. Likes, etc. have little value. But, if someone watches 80% of your video, that's worth noting. If they respond with a comment, it tells you that they are engaged with the content. One more thought, YouTube and other platforms are pay to play. You can have great content, but if no one sees it, the impact is limited. That's why we buy ads on YT and FB.
Nhia Yang (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 2:50:02am
Grant, thank you for your comment and questions.

I'm the producer and director for Time of Grace. We've been blessed to be able to stay on top of the changing technology. We've also seen how technology and the video landscape has evolved – and I'm seeing more and more that not everything has to be highly produced (though a high production value is always nice, but I'm biased!). Many videos nowadays are produced simply with smart phones. But if you want to go a step higher, a nice DSLR with an affordable mic is also an affordable option. The church must be able to commit to a little technology to get these conversations started.

But don't overlook the resources around you, either! For instance, Time of Grace has helped some churches with their technological needs by simply providing insight and recommendations on how they can get started on video. I'm more than happy to help once you have your own congregation! :-) (God willing I am still with Time of Grace!). And you may be surprised at the talented people in your congregation with their complementary skill set to get video off the ground.

Hope this helps!
Mike Westendorf (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 3:00:25am
It's great to focus on the tech aspect of things. Bad tech often leads to a loss of interest. But remember that "content is king" and authentic conversation is the best content. We tried hard to frame this as a Conversation on race from a Christian or Biblical perspective. It didn't help everyone in our audience, but it helped give us a peace of mind when we were called out for something. We knew what we intended to do and since THAT was our focus, the content could be what it is and we could stand by it.
Aser AVa Seifu (EECMY School of Jazz Music, Film and Media, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) 2020-11-07 4:30:16pm
This topic is the most interesting topic, personally. I may be mistaken or I don’t this is just my idea, We, Ethiopian, deal this topics in a unique and different way comparing with the whole world, Our past narration is very unique, I grow up in the stories told by my grand mom, which is so unique and far from reality, which has its own impact in our nation, our racial problem is a unique and different comparing with other nation, We are one of the world leading high religions people, lots of language, culture. All make individual story to see one to the other in different ways, not Biblical, Specially with the Believers, it is time now for my country to open this topic right now in all platforms for all age groups. We have to learn and explore what really Bible teaches us who we can live together, and protecting the minority. Thank you so much.
Bruce Becker (Time of Grace) 2020-11-07 11:05:01pm
Aser Ava,
Thank you for insights on Ethiopian culture. The videos we produced are obviously reflective of our American culture. Your comment is a great reminder that with different cultures, there are different issues and opportunities. God's blessings to you as you seek to address minority issues in your country in a way that shows how God loves all people.
Mike Westendorf (Time of Grace) 2020-11-09 2:57:14am
I appreciate hearing your take from a different context than our American history. It's so important to understand that this challenge takes on so many different modes all the way to ancient times. To be reminded that the world also struggles with race, but in different contexts, is helpful. To me it makes it actually feel less daunting and more human (in a fallen world of course)