A Call to Repentance from Anti-Blackness & Gaslighting for the UMC

“They were asking for it,” I imagine at least one of those officers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge said, as they rode off with the blood of John Lewis and Amelia Boynton on their bully clubs. 

They were asking for it.

They wanted the club.

They wanted the fist. 

They wanted the teargas.

It is what an abuser says, whether that be a system or a person, when the abused try to reveal their cruelty in the light of day.

When we practice non-violent resistance that does not mean there is no violence. Non-violent resistance means that we position our bodies in such a way that we take the risk of receiving violence. At lunch counters in Greensboro, on buses in Alabama, in the streets of Ferguson, in front of the Waller County Jail. 

We do this for a reason. We do this because there are evil and oppressive forces in the world that knot nooses at night, that abuse their staff by day behind close doors, that interrupt the ability of elderly Black folk to vote, that hide immigrant children in internment camps and hotel rooms, that end the life of Black women in back rooms of back wood jails. 

We bring this violence into the view of the public.

As John Lewis said, we get in the way. In the way of abuse. In the way of violence. In the way of oppression. 

We invite the oppressor to wreak their violence on our bodies in broad daylight, or in images at night on television screens, in order to reveal to the complacent, the privileged, and the comfortable the true violence of the politician, the Sheriff, and the manager who sits beside them in the church pew on Sunday. We aim to deprive them of their ability to look away, to be silent and complicit. 

We get in the way of violence in order to reveal in the light of day the evil that is done behind closed doors and in dark alleyways.

They were asking for it.

They wanted the club.

They wanted the fist. 

They wanted the teargas.

“You will see the desire for tear gas on both sides.”

I made a grave mistake a couple years ago. 

My denomination, the United Methodist Church, had chosen a book written by – what I would call – a Conservative think-tank with ties to Brigham Young University, as The Book that would save this huge and fracturing global community. 

The book, The Anatomy of Peace, explains a theory of community in which we must have a “Heart of Peace,” rather than a “Heart at War.” The philosophy is taught through a semi-factual, semi-fictional story, although it only acknowledges the semi-fictional part in a small disclaimer in the foreword. The intent of the transfixing dialogue of the book is to draw the reader into the story in a way that makes the details feel intensely real, because many of them are.

The part that is fictional is the identities of the men who created and are teaching the philosophy. In real life, the creators and main teachers of the philosophy are White Mormon men with ties to Brigham Young University. Men who practice a religion that is firmly committed to traditional gender roles, a religion that does not permit women to hold authority, and which did not permit Black people to participate in church ordinances until 1978.

In the story, those identities are concealed behind the fictional characters of an “angry Palestinian man” and an “old, wise Black man.”

Thus, we arrive at my mistake. In the two pieces I have written previously about this framing for our denominational progress, I was able to articulate the “what” – literary blackface – yet, I failed to adequately articulate the “why” – resistance suppression. 

My denomination had encouraged, and in some cases required, every leader – clergy and laity – in the whole world to buy and read this book. We are the third largest denomination in the United States, after the Roman Catholics and Baptists, so that is a lot of books. 

Not only that, but we had invested millions to have a group of diverse leaders meet over the course of a few years, with the book as their guide, to try to find a way forward for our church. 

We had invested so deeply there was no turning back.

When I wrote about this initially, I did have a lot of support after I published a blog explaining the problems of having an oppressive philosophy created by White men presented by fictional People of Color, but all I could feel was the danger and the anger. The Bishop who called me out by name in a response posted to her Conference website. The colleague who invited me to a “dinner for friends” only to blindside me with an angry diatribe. The longterm mentor who never spoke to me again. 

I was a young Queer woman, going through the process of coming out in a church that denies my right to exist, still in the process of recovering from two years of having my life under threat during the movement for Justice for Sandra Bland. I felt and was vulnerable to their power and their anger. I let their aggression make me smaller, quieter. I lived with wings clipped. 

As I watched the funeral of John Lewis today, I realized that the world needs more courage than that, so let me try one more time to right my wrong and give you the “why” and not just the “what” of the “how” our denomination needs to redirect its gaze in the future. 

The book itself, The Anatomy of Peace, tells us clearly the “Why” – the root of its inception – if we are able to wade through all the dialogue to sort reality from fiction. 

The book portrays a scene in which a diverse group of parents have come to drop their kids off at a recovery camp, and as part of that process must sit through some teaching themselves. 

When it comes time for the main teacher to tell his story, he finally explains that the philosophy he teaches came from some formative experiences in the late 1960’s that were defining moments for his life – those being the “race riots” near the campus of Yale University in 1967, and the Black Panther Trials that followed. 

There is great specificity in the storytelling that follows from pages 186-194. The narrator who explains the story tells how he came to be convinced that those who protested injustice were in the wrong, because they had a “Heart at War” and were not starting from a place of empathy for “those they railed against” or concern for the well being of those they felt were oppressing them. 

The reader accepts this because the teacher and the student of this philosophy are presented as a “wise old Black man” and an “angry young Palestinian man.” Rather than the truth of White men reacting to Black outrage, it is presented as a difference of opinion within the Black community about what the appropriate way of handling anger is. What those who believe in resisting injustice-  as Jesus did in the Temple – would call ‘righteous indignation,’ the “wise old Black man’ reframes as a “Heart at War.” 

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Images of police brutality from protests on the New Haven Green, referred to in The Anatomy of Peace, scenes that were formative to Warner’s philosophy. The Anatomy of Peace explains that the “riots” caused the observer to understand how selfish the Black protestors were. (File Photo of Hartford Courant)

All of this makes more sense, when we understand that while that scene of Black protest in 1967 did motivate the creator of this philosophy, he was neither an “old wise Black man” nor a “young angry Palestinian man.” Rather, Dr. C. Terry Warner, the Founder of the Arbinger Institute, and the creator of the philosophy, was the one who was just finishing his PhD at Yale University in 1967, before moving to Brigham Young University where he would eventually form the likes of James Ferrell… who would later join the staff at the Arbinger Institute Warner founded, and become the man behind The Anatomy of Peace.

The Arbinger Institute does not put any names of authors on its book. It says it does this to keep the authors from ego temptation. In reality, it makes it much harder for the reader to sort through fact from fiction, and to see to the truth of the “why” of “what” they are reading. 

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Dr. C. Terry Warner

A White man from a Conservative faith tradition, was upset by the behavior of Black protestors and created a philosophy that would shame their behavior, and form Institutional work spaces in which those who exhibited the behavior of resistance would be gaslit and labeled as having a “Heart at War.”

Years later, racial tension would again form the framework for the advancing of the philosophy when James Ferrell would himself have formative experiences surrounding race at Yale when following in his teacher’s footsteps and becoming a student there.

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James Ferrell

As an article in BYU Magazine in 2007 explained, “As [James Ferrell] studied legal cases having to do with race relations, it occurred to him that the hallmarks of self-deception are everywhere. His thoughts led to a year-long writing project on how self-deception can explain current and historical problems between races. The resulting paper crystallized Ferrell’s passion for the ideas he had learned from Warner.”

Warner and Ferrell in observing the behavior of Black people during both of their times of study at Yale, concluded that “self-deception” was the root of racial tensions – rather than actual injustice that must be faced and dismantled with all haste and urgency in a way that will diminish the privilege White people hold over others.

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The New Haven Chapter of the Black Panther Party, who The Anatomy of Peace mentions as having such a formative impact on the creation of the philosophy that would help people understand the selfishness of Black protestors. (Photo by David Fenton/AP from Hartford Courant)

It is easy to see why such a philosophy would be attractive to Institutional leaders and those responsible for the survival of Institutions, and those who may not like to see their authority challenged. That, thus, set Dr. C. Terry Warner and the Arbinger Institute up to create a thriving and profitable industry of “peace-making” as everyone from Nike to Boeing to the United Methodist Church would seek to implement their philosophy as Institutional culture, and employ the diverse group of teachers that they hired to be the face of the philosophy.

For those who are, at this point, feeling confused, let’s dive into the story a bit. 

After, setting the scene and having nearly two hundred pages of dialogue between parents at this camp orientation – dialogue that is likely drawn from multiple real encounters – the main teacher begins to explain the origin of having a “Heart at Peace” rather than a “Heart at War.” He describes how when he arrived to the United States as “an angry Palestinian immigrant” he found himself (who knows why) in New Haven, Connecticut observing a “race riot” on the New Haven Green. He is gratified to see Black folxs resisting their oppressors, it reminds him of how he’d like to fight back against the Israelis. 

(I must remind you that the lens is made up, it was Dr. C. Terry Warner who would have been at or attentive to Yale in 1967 to observe the “race riots” that took place there.)

As he is watching, the “angry Palestinian man” starts up a conversation with an “old wise Black man” because he assumes he will agree with the protestors (the authors of The Anatomy of Peace know that you also will assume this, and so they are intentional in using a Black man instead of the real person – a White man – because they know you will not receive anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric from a White man. Yet, they know that we will accept and promote it, if in our minds we are picturing a Black man saying it). 

The “old wise Black man”, instead of supporting the protests, teaches “the angry young Palestinian man” about how the protestors are wrong:

“So the oppressed are fighting back,” I commented almost nonchalantly…

“Yes,” The man responded, without moving his eyes from he scene, “on both sides.”

“Both sides?” I repeated in surprise.

“Yes.”

“How so?” I challenged. “I only see tear gas on one side.”

“If you look closely,” he answered, “you will see the desire for tear gas on both sides.”

(The Anatomy of Peace, pg. 187)

We are to understand that the ones receiving the tear-gas are just as in the wrong because they want the tear gas. They are just as responsible for it as those firing it. They were not being loving to the ones firing it. They asked for it. They made them do it. The philosophy of an abuser – that the responsibility for the conflict lies at the feet of those who raise it to visibility, not at the pervasive and persistent oppression that caused it. 

The oppressed must be taught to have a “Heart of Peace” – to be docile, forgiving, malleable. 

Our angers are equal. We are both in the wrong. If you did not mouth off, I would not have had to slap you. 

We accept the narrative that follows only because our analysis is so lackadaisical that we will swallow down the musings of a White man on the actions of Black people as wisdom because we are told it is an “old wise Black man” saying them. 

If this fictional “old wise Black man” took on flesh he would be a Herman Cain talking about a John Lewis – God rest both their souls. Whose legacy do you want to be following? 

With the help of the “old wise Black man”, the “angry Palestinian” soon sees the error of his ways. He realizes how wrong it is for the protestors to not be considering the feelings of those whose abuse they are protesting against.

“The people Ben and I witnessed that day on the New Haven Green appeared more concerned with their own burdens than with others’. I can’t tell for sure as I wasn’t in their skin, but it didn’t appear that they were considering the burdens of those who they were railing against, for example, or those whose lives they were putting in danger. It would have been well for them and their cause if they had begun to think as carefully about others as they did about themselves.”

(The Anatomy of Peace, pg. 190)

The Black protestors are portrayed as selfish for not thinking about how their protest might hurt the feelings of their oppressors, for not thinking of the burdens of their oppressors. The “angry Palestinian man” wonders why they weren’t asking themselves what might be the challenges and trials of the people they were protesting against, and how might they be adding to the trials and challenges of their oppressors. 

Only a White man would write that, and only a White dominated Institution would accept, purchase and promote it. 

The “angry Palestinian man” realizes how “wrong” he has been. He comes to regret the ways he has been insensitive to the Israelis by being angry at them for killing his father, without thinking about their feelings or the fact that they have bad days and emotional needs too. He decides he doesn’t want to be like the protestors. He wants to have a “Heart of Peace,” not a “Heart at War.”

(It is no coincidence that the Arbinger Institute has Policing Executives and former Israeli Government officials as their advisors and promoters, but not protestors or Palestinians. This is a resource for those who hold the power to use, not those who are on the underside of injustice.)

We, the readers, are only willing to accept those words and all the ones that follow because it is the stereotypical “old wise Black man” – played in our minds by Morgan Freeman – that is saying them, and it is the “angry Palestinian” who is receiving them and being “transformed” by them. 

We would never be willing to accept, purchase, promote and teach a philosophy that was built upon a desire to discredit the outrage of the Black Panthers, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Voting Rights Movement, the Farmworker’s Movement, etc. We would never be willing to knowingly accept into our minds a philosophy built with the intention to shame and gaslight those who protest and resist.

We would never knowingly allow White men talking about their opinions of Black protestors to be the foundation for the philosophy that would be our denomination’s salvation – but that is exactly what we did. We could claim that we do not see resistance and protest as a problem to be solved, but for Dr. C. Terry Warner and James Ferrell it was. They told us that themselves through the masks of Yusuf and Ben.  

We Progressives – especially we White Progressives, which is what we call White Moderates these days – are so very willing to drink that same cup of tea if you just throw a little racial artifice in there for us. Something to sweeten it, to cover the bitterness. 

I did not raise the alarm about this book two years ago because I am some snarky b*^#ch who just likes to point my finger when others falter. I use my voice when it matters. I raised the alarm because this philosophy is dangerous, because it promotes abusive gaslighting in the workplace and undermines movements for justice. 

You do not need me to tell you that. Yusuf, “the angry Palestinian”, and Ben, “the wise old Black man” tell you that, right there on page 187.

“See the desire for teargas on both sides.”

They wanted the teargas.

They were asking for it.

They wanted the club.

They wanted the fist. 

The Anatomy of Peace actually makes no secret of where and why it’s philosophy emerged. We just wanted so badly not to see it. Because we too are the oppressor, complicit regardless of our gender or race or orientation, in the oppressive systems that we uphold with our participation rather than dismantle with our resistance.

The truth of the matter is that this scene on the New Haven Green did happen. There was an uprising on the New Haven Green in 1967. There was a young man who observed it, either in person or from a distance, and who built a philosophy rooted in his desire for people to understand that the abusive anger of racist White men – like Lou in the book – is equal to the righteous indignation of those they oppress.

If the oppressed will not get angry – if they will have a “Heart of Peace” – then the oppressor will not need to raise their voice either. There will be no need for the club, no need for the fist, no need for the tear gas. No need for episcopal censure, changing of appointments, or career suicide. We have more subtle ways of keeping things under control. 

Like the analogy of the Willie Lynch Letter, the book contains instructions for Institutions on how to keep the marginalized quiet and docile. By gaslighting them. By telling them that there is something wrong with their anger. 

By making sure that the one Black woman who they let into the workspace, who has enough self-respect not to endure their misogynoir in silence, will surely be seen after the Company does a training with this book as “crazy”, as “unstable” – and within the church, as “ungodly.”

We cannot abandon her to that fate designed by racist minds.

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Some of the Black Panther defendants that are referred to in The Anatomy of Peace, as having been formative in the creation of the philosophy that would teach people not to be like them. On the left is Frances Carter, and in the middle are Margaret Hutchins and Rose Marie Smith with her baby. (Photo by Robert Ficks / Hartford Courant)

To drive that point completely home, the book includes an “angry Black woman” who is revealed at the end of the book – suprise! – to be the daughter of the “wise old Black man.” The character who is created to be a stand-in for all the Black women who have frustrated the authors in their lives is named “Gwyn” and at the end she confesses that her father tried to teach her not to be angry about racial injustice, but she would not listen. The “angry Black woman” thanks the “formerly angry Palestinian man” for helping her finally hear the “wise old Black man” who is her father. 

“My ears have been closed to my dad’s ideas for years. ‘Don’t try to feed your philosophy to me,’ I used to tell him when he tried to suggest that I think of things a different way. He thought I should give up the hate I have for my former husband, forgive a sister who has wronged me, and rethink my opinions on race… Thanks for helping me to hear him, you’ve given me a lot to think about.”

(The Anatomy of Peace, pgs. 195-196)

 Please, tell me you understand why that is disturbing.

The White man created a fictional Black woman to be the daughter of the fictional Black man, to apologize to the White man in the mask of the Palestinian man, and say he’s been right all along. 

Then the White man convinces countless corporations, institutions, and my denomination to read and teach the book and humiliate and shame that Black woman in their institutions over and over again. 

When the consequences come, it will be easy to see that we were asking for it – those who resist, those who speak up, those who get in the way of injustice. Those that block bridges and roads and General Conferences with their bodies. 

They were asking for it.

They wanted the teargas.

They wanted the club.

They wanted the fist.

We who willingly stand beneath your blows, do so to reveal your violence – yet, it is you who create it. 

In this new awakening of consciousness about racism in our nation and institutions, may we finally have the courage to name *specifically* the ways that we suppress and gaslight the voices that cry out for justice. May we repent of our racism, turn away from the ways that it benefits us, and begin to do our utmost to get in the way of injustice.

“You must find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” –John Lewis

 

For further reading:

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious

Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes’ Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength

Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology

Dr. Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rageand this article on it.

Dr. Carol Anderson’s White Rage.

Dr. Obery M. Hendricks’ The Politics of Jesus

6 thoughts on “A Call to Repentance from Anti-Blackness & Gaslighting for the UMC”

  1. Bunnie Bryant’s essay should be entitled the Anatomy of the White Gaze upon Peace because she deconstructs how the White gaze operates. She exposes its dangers especially for the UMC. I do not have time to explain what constitutes the white gaze except to ask that the reader of this comment need not go any farther than what Toni Morrison says about the white gaze to understand it. It seems on some level Ms. Bryant has a sense of when it is doing its work! Kudos to her!

  2. infuriating. thank you for bringing this to my attention. it must be heartbreaking to see this institution miss the mark (sin) so brazenly.

  3. Thank you, Hannah, for this detailed & nuanced exploration & explanation. I’m glad I didn’t read that book, but I’m sure I know plenty of Methodists who did. This will help me in conversations with them.

  4. Thank you for your analysis. I was required by the UMC to read this book. It was at a time when I was in a challenging multicultural appointment. I ended up walking away from the oppressive North Georgia Conference in disagreement and refusal to allow them to mistreat me with their whimsical controls. I really don’t like the way they try to force black people to assimilate to white religious ideals that are not true Christianity.

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