Last week I had the privilege of being the chapel speaker at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was asked to present my “Status of the Gospel” presentation in which I use a number of Google Earth demographic maps, images, and statistics to talk about the global growth of Christianity. It was similar to the presentation that I used at the Story’08 conference this past December.
After I spoke I was having lunch with some of the students when a woman who was present for the presentation approached me. She wanted to speak with me privately for a moment, so we grabbed a table in the cafeteria and began to talk.
She asked me if anybody had ever said to me, “Your zipper is down.” By this I think she meant, “You want the information but it might be a bit embarrassing to hear it.” She went on to explain that during the course of my presentation I had offended her.
I used a picture of a tribal woman from Africa who held an AK-47 and an iPod in her hand. The picture is shocking, I will admit (I am not going to add insult to injury by reproducing it for you). However, to me it contains hints of globalization, money, war, tribalism, and poverty. These were all points in the talk. To her, it communicated something very different.
She was an African American and she told me that one reason that the African American church is not engaged much in global mission is because of images like that one, presented by mission agency leaders like me. I would have to agree with her that there are very few African Americans engaged in cross-cultural, global ministry.
To me, this image didn’t in any way relate to the African American community. I am, of course, an average, middle class, white American male and certainly no expert on how an African American might react to this sort of image. I simply can not fathom that a picture like that would be in any way offensive. That’s me and my limited worldview at work.
To her, not only was she embarrassed for me, but she also was certain that many in the audience were as well. I do a lot of public speaking and I am pretty good at reading a crowd. I didn’t pick up on any offense nor did any person I spoke with afterward feel any offense; but they were all white.
Many of us who work in mobilizing North Americans are unhappy with the lack of involvement by the African American community. Some say it is the support raising model, others feel that the problems in black communities simply outweigh global needs, and others are even more certain that it’s because of the white establishment that makes up most mission leadership (people like me, I guess). In any case, I don’t want to add to the hurdles that an African American needs to jump over as they make their way to the unreached in the world.
I apologized for offending her.
I am learning.
I would very much like any input you might send my way on this topic and you should always feel free to tell me when my zipper is down.