Michelle Higgins: Continuing the Activism of Jesus

My time in the PCA church definitely shaped the way I saw and thought about ministry. It was a sacrifice for us to be there (not the least of which was the loss of worship music which I was so used to in the black church). But my father became ordained in the PCA church, and one of the founders of the church said at his ordination, “I can die now – I have a witness.” It was a beautiful moment. 

 

Michelle Higgins drew national attention when she spoke at InterVarsity’s Urbana Conference on December 28, 2015. InterVarsity publically affirmed the Black Lives Matter movement, which was seen by many as a bold step for the evangelical campus ministry. Michelle’s talk is challenging and empowering, and confronts the racism in our evangelical churches (watch below). We interviewed Michelle on January 8, 2016.

Could you talk about your work as a Worship Leader and as Director of Faith for Justice? How do you understand the intersection of those two?

I grew up in a black church, and most black churches don’t use the term “evangelical.” Later, when my dad accepted a call to be pastor in the PCA church, it was like becoming a missionary. It was the 1990’s when my family moved and became a part of this majority white denomination during a time when race relations were hot in this country. At this time, racial reconciliation did not include any talk of justice for people of color.

My time in the PCA church definitely shaped the way I saw and thought about ministry. It was a sacrifice for us to be there (not the least of which was the loss of worship music which I was so used to in the black church). But my father became ordained in the PCA church, and one of the founders of the church said at his ordination, “I can die now – I have a witness.” It was a beautiful moment.

My family was invited into a reshaping of the system.

Now my dad and I co-labor at South City Church together. My dad is the head pastor and we are the minority face among a people who long to be intercultural. So in many ways, we are still living missionally.

We’ve come to recognize that though diversity takes a long time, racial reconciliation is what you can have along the way. Your discomfort is what will mature you.

Faith for Justice was founded in order to find entry points for my evangelical friends into justice work. After Mike Brown’s death, they seemed so much more hesitant to get involved. At the same time I was watching my Mainline brothers and sisters walk into tear gas, and a Pastor from an AME church have huge welts on her skin from the pellets blasted into the crowd, all the while my evangelical friends were questioning the basis of our activism. A few other evangelicals and I wanted to bring in evangelicals at large, so we started encouraging them: “We love Jesus and Jesus loves justice.”

Of course, Jesus is everywhere in the Gospels crossing lines: literally touching lepers, directly going through Samaria and not avoiding the conflict. Even more so, in the letters of Paul we’re told that we are all grafted in – we are all Gentiles and welcomed into the family of God. Faith for Justice speaks the truth in love. We believe truth telling is love.  So we speak to those wanting to learn, and we speak against those places of injustice in the church.

We are simply continuing the Biblical Activism that we have read about. We testify to God’s truth and condemn the lies of fleeing from that truth. We hope that those who know the truth will stop the fear and shaming of others who live into the truth.

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