Derwin Gray: Do Politics Belong in Sports?
Derwin Gray: I'm Derwin Gray and I choose truth over tribe.
Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 3: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 4: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
Speaker 5: If they don't like it here, they can leave.
Speaker 6: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 7: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? And the answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 8: From certainly a biblical standpoint Christians could not vote Democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.
Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.
Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon and we choose truth over tribe.
Patrick Miller: Do you?
Keith Simon: Do you think sports is the right place to talk about social justice issues or should we keep those issues out of sports? I think a lot of us think that question was first raised back when Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee to a protest police brutality against black people, but the intersection of sports and social goes back a lot further than that. I asked Derwin Gray his opinion. He's got a unique background as a former defensive back in the NFL, and now the pastor of the multiethnic Transformation Church in Charlotte. But before we get into that, Derwin gets personal, opening up about his father abandoning his family and the impact that had on him growing up and eventually on his prayer life. And by the way Derwin Gray gets what we're about on this podcast, he showed up for our conversation in a t- shirt that said the lamb is greater than the donkey and the elephant. Derwin Gray welcome to Truth Over Tribe.
Derwin Gray: Thank you so much, it's an honor and privilege to be with you.
Keith Simon: Now you're sitting there in your home office and I'm noticing some of the collectibles that you have behind you, Colt's helmet and you got your BYU helmet there, so you're a pastor now of Transformation Church right outside of Charlotte, but before you were a pastor you played in the NFL and before that you were at BYU. Now, were you part of the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, a Mormon, when you went to BYU or no?
Derwin Gray: No, I was not a Mormon. I was trying to be more man, but no, not Mormon. So the reason why I went to BYU, so I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and I love my family, but it was a chaotic difficult background. And so my goal was to get a football scholarship and get as far away from San Antonio as possible. So senior year had three scholarship opportunities, Kansas State, TCU, BYU and I had no intention of really going to BYU until I went on a recruiting trip. And they put a brother on a snowmobile, these beautiful mountains, it was gorgeous, it was far from Texas, LaVell Edwards was the head coach. And so I was like this is where I'm going to come to school because one I knew I was going to play early, two, I was going to get a world class education and three, it was absolutely beautiful. But at that time I wasn't anything, I had no idea what the gospel was, I was not interested in what the Mormons were saying. You do have to take 15 hours of religion classes from a Mormon perspective, but for me that was more just to stay eligible, so no, I'm not Mormon or was Mormon my wife I met her second semester of my freshman year, so we've been together 32 years, married 29 years, she also was non- Mormon. So she was from Montana, she was on an academic athletic scholarship, she was on a track team. So two non- Mormons at a Mormon school, black kid from the hood in San Antonio, white girl from the mountains of Montana, we meet at a Mormon school. Now, check this out January 15th now, 1990, Dr. King's birthday is when we connected and now we lead a multiethnic church together.
Keith Simon: I love that story. So you meet your wife there and then you guys have been together like you said for 32 years. How did you end up coming to faith in Christ, because you said you weren't a Christian while you were at BYU?
Derwin Gray: So basically at BYU everything went great, both of us were dearly loved. She was valedictorian, she was incredible on the track team, I had a great career there, it was awesome. But when we got to the NFL that's when the bottom fell out because my whole life was this quest of," Okay. If I get money I can send it back home to help my family, but financial help doesn't fix heart help or mind help." And so after about three years in the NFL, it was just like," I've been set up, man. I'm the poster child of the American dream."
Keith Simon: But you're not happy.
Derwin Gray: No. And so after my third year in the NFL, I recognized this, I didn't love my wife the way she deserved to be loved because if people got close to me, they could hurt me, that was my whole life experience, so I kept her at arms length. I couldn't forgive my dad for abandoning me, there were family issues that I couldn't forgive. I couldn't forgive myself for things that I had done, and then I also knew that at the NFL stands for not for long.
Keith Simon: You made it five years, right?
Derwin Gray: I made it six.
Keith Simon: Six years, I'm sorry to undersell it.
Derwin Gray: Yeah. Which is twice the average, but still then, you're still a very, very young man. And so that was fear of who would I be without the NFL, but I had a teammate his name was Steve Grant, but his nickname was the naked preacher because every day after practice he would take a shower, dry off, wrap a towel around his waist and he'd ask my teammates," Do you love Jesus? Do you know Jesus?" And in my mind, I'm like," Bro, do you're half naked?" It was strange. But one day in the locker room, he asked me, he said," Rookie D. Gray, do you know Jesus?" And that conversation changed the trajectory of my life because over the next several years he embodied the gospel as best he could, he always continued to pepper the gospel. But the thing that I noticed when teammates needed advice, they were at his locker. And so on August 2nd, 1997, fifth year in the NFL training camp, we were in Anderson Indiana at Anderson University, it was right after lunchtime, I was walking back to my dorm and the best way I could describe it is there was this chasm in my soul, it was a deep sadness, a deep longing. And I got back to my dorm room and I called my wife on the phone and I said," I want to be more committed to you and I want to be committed to Jesus." And that's when I was born again, like I tangibly, physically felt the love of God. I felt myself become a new creation and I realized for the first time someone loved me for me. As a football player, everything is conditional. How big are you? How fast are you? How much can you accomplish? And Jesus is like," I've seen your game film of life and you fail at every level and I love you anyway, but I love you enough not to leave you the same. I'm going to draft you on my team not because you're good, but because I'm good, but I'm going to make you better through my spirit, through my life." And so for three nights after that, I just cried myself to sleep at training camp. I was just mesmerized with how can someone love me like this? And so that's how I got saved. My wife came to faith through a woman at her job over a cup of coffee.
Keith Simon: I love that story. I love how God works differently in people's lives. And this teammate does something that you would probably say is unconventional. He's just being very aggressive in how he's talking to people about Jesus and maybe we'd tell people," Hey, be careful how you talk about Jesus maybe build a relationship first." but it sounds like his willingness to talk about his faith, but also to live it out is what drew you to Christ.
Derwin Gray: And what I would say too is he was not aggressive in the negative sense. What I would say is he was very tactical and intentional because he understood that he was a missionary in the NFL locker room. And so he was never a nuisance or annoying or kind of the guy with the bullhorn. He was very tactical and prayerful and specific and intentional about how he communicated. But one thing that he knew is that he was a missionary, when he got drafted, well, before he got drafted he said to God," There are two teams I don't want to play for The Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts." And when the Colts had drafted him, he said," Lord, I don't want to be here, but you want me here and I'm going to be a missionary and I'm going to win as many of my teammates and management to possible to Jesus." And several of us on that team are now in full- time vocational ministry because of his influence.
Keith Simon: It was kind of like Jonah going to Nineveh, he didn't want to go there, but your teammate decided he'd have a better attitude than Jonah did I guess. Hey, you've written several books and the most recent book that is out is called God, Do You Hear Me? And it's a book on prayer and we all need help in prayer, I need help in prayer, every Christian I talk to needs help in prayer. But this book isn't just a general book about prayer, it's a book that walks you through the Lord's prayer. And that's why it makes sense out of your subtitle is that this is the prayer that God always answers. And at the very beginning of the Lord's prayer, of course, Jesus teaches us to address God as our father. And you mentioned just now, you mentioned also in the book that you had a rough relationship with your dad. My dad walked out on my mom and I when I was very young, and so when you people like you and me, we address God as father, sometimes that can create a barrier. What was your relationship with your dad like or is it like, do you have one and how did that affect your relationship with God?
Derwin Gray: So my dad was one of 17 children and he and my mom were together until I was about the age of six. And yellow is my favorite color and for years I didn't know why yellow was my favorite color, I literally owned nothing that was yellow. And it hit me at six years old, he bought me a yellow bike. And so that memory of him buying me that bike stuck with me. My dad had mental health issues, substance abuse issues and so now I have pity, I have compassion for him, I have forgiveness for him. When I was in 8th grade he showed up to a basketball game and I hadn't seen him in a while and I was angry that he was there and I played really bad. But at the end of the game, he came into the locker room to talk to the coach. And I just remember him putting his arm up on the wall, his sleeve rolled down and heroin tracks were all up and down his arms, and the coach and I made eye contact and we both acted like we didn't see what we saw. And at that point I was like," I can do life without you. I don't need you." Which of course is a lie. When you bury pain, pain buries you. And typically how we try to heal our pain is through our accomplishments. And what happens is is we have a mountain of accomplishments buried underneath past trauma and pain. Forgiveness is not for the person that you give forgiveness to, forgiveness is for us because when we stay on unforgiven, we stay stuck in a dungeon. And so just over the years, I just was like," He doesn't exist. I'm going to do my thing." But I came to faith and one day in the late 90s, I was writing letters to all my family and friends about how great Jesus is. And I heard a voice that said," Find your father." And I literally stood up in my room by myself start cussing and crying saying," No." And it was almost like God let me have a pity party because one of the things I said is," My father doesn't deserve me finding him." And I sensed the Holy Spirit say," Well, you didn't deserve Jesus finding you, but that's what grace does." And I didn't want to do it, but I knew it was right. And so anyway, I found him, he was in prison and I still have the letter that he wrote me and I wrote him and just said," Dad, I love you. I want to forgive you. I want you to know me. I want you to know your grandkids." And he wrote me back. Actually someone wrote it for him because he couldn't write or read and we restored our relationship and was it perfect? No. But I was no longer held hostage to the pain of my past and I think it liberated him. And so we were able to say," Hey, I love you." He would say to me," I love you." But now I have incredible compassion for him. So a lot of people are in our boat, hurt people, hurt people. And so when you hear God is a father, the first time I heard that, I'm like," Wait a minute, come on. The one I can see physically I got issues with, now you're telling me there's this invisible one." And so what I would say to those who are listening and as you read the book, this is not merely human intervention to get know God. God comes to get to know us. The very fact that you're listening to this podcast means that God is tuning you in to his fatherness. He's tuning us in to who he is and when we pray, we're praying to a father that is listening, we're praying to a father that's present. And one of the things that I try to do throughout the book, particularly the first part of the book is you need to know who your dad is. So often we deduce God to father to human terms, when in reality, God heard my cry and your cry and everyone's cry before we were even born. God was on his way to the rescue before we even knew we had a need, as a matter of fact, before our moms thought our dads looked cute, God was already on the way. And so the Lord's prayer is actually an invitation into intimacy, intimacy means into me you see. Prayer is not about getting, prayer is about becoming who God has created us to be because we learn how to commune with him.
Keith Simon: I love that. What I especially love is how you said that when you understood the grace that God gave you in Jesus, you were able to extend that grace to your dad, and to have a little compassion on him and to break this cycle of... I don't know if it's a cycle necessarily of abuse, but it's this cycle that we're going to have a division in our relationship and you're able to love him for who he is. I think it's hard to get past some of those hurts. I think for me, sometimes I just realize I learn from negative examples and sometimes I just look at my life and think those longings I have for a father, those are meant for my true heavenly father. And that those longings are real and good and I want to look through the human to the divine. And then as a father myself, I know all the ways I fall short, so I'd hate it if my kids held me to a standard I could never achieve.
Derwin Gray: Exactly. Probably when my kids were in their teenage years, it dawned on me the best way I can be a father is to point them to the heavenly father who's revealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit, that even the best father is just a shadow. Like we have these longings that let us know we're actually not made for this world. That there's a new world that's going to come and invade this world and no matter how great our mom is, our dad is, and God brought so many great men into my life to fill that void. But at the end of the day, even they are just shadows to the intimacy that our father in heaven wants us to have through Christ. And that's the beauty of the Lord's prayer. It's like our father, now notice it doesn't say my father but it says our father, there's this solidarity that all of us in one way or another are orphans and God the father sends Jesus his eternal son to say," I want you to go sign adoption papers to bring them into the family. But the papers you're going to sign is not going to be paper you write on, but it's going to be wood that you hang on and your ink is not going to be black, it's going to be your blood." And the notary signature is not going to be a stamp, it's going to be the Holy Spirit that seals. And with your nail pierced hands you extend my invitation into the family to them and they have a choice to come in. And so the Lord's prayer is diving deeper into this mysterious beautiful reality that we have a father who adopts us, that he comes to the orphanage called earth and says," I want them all." And all we need to do is walk in by faith.
Keith Simon: When I pick up a book on the Lord's prayer, I tend to turn to the section on the kingdom, that's the first part I read. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And I think that's partly because I became a Christian in college and I had a escapist theology, like I'm trying to get out of here and get up to heaven. And obviously that runs contrary to what Jesus is teaching us in this prayer, help us understand what Jesus means when he wants us to pray for heaven to come to earth. His will be done on earth that is in heaven, help us understand that.
Derwin Gray: So let me add some color and some context, because what you're saying is so important and it can revolutionize our prayer life. When we look at the Lord's prayer itself, the structure, it's actually a mini teaching on the life and purpose of Jesus himself. Think about this, our father, who did the father love the most, Jesus. Okay. Holy is your name, Jesus honored God, his allegiance was to his dad. Your kingdom come Jesus himself is what the kingdom of God is. If you want to know what God's kingdom looks like, it looks like Jesus. Give us today our daily bread, Jesus is the bread of life. Forgive us of our sins, as we forget those who send against us. Jesus is the one who opens the door for forgiveness and reconciliation. Deliver us from evil, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Jesus is the one who defeats the enemy through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He defeated the works of the devil, so the Lord's prayer is actually a little catechism or teaching on the life and purpose of Jesus, that's number one. So if you want to teach someone about who Christ is, take them through the Lord's prayer. Number two, the Lord's prayer is also a portrait of how God wants to shape our lives, to love the father, to have allegiance to Jesus, to embody the kingdom, to depend on God for everything and to be people of forgiveness, but also to walk into power over sin, death, and evil. Now we put it in context and we look at the kingdom. American theology starting probably in the early 1900s, really turned into a escapism like God's goal is to get us out of earth. Where you read Christ, Christ is like," Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." When you look at the beginning of the Bible, God walked with Adam and Eve. God says," Make me a tabernacle. I want to be with you. Make me a temple, I want to be with you." God and Jesus comes and says,"I want to be with you." Then Jesus is ascends and the Holy Spirit says," God is in you." And then when we read Revelation 21, a new heavens, a new earth comes to earth that we're going to have glorified resurrected bodies. I'm going to be this beautiful brown coco chocolatey, you're going to be your color as well. Our ethnicities, our colors, our cultures, every nation tribe and tongue. God's goal is not to get us out of earth, God's goal is to get heaven on earth through his people. And if you want to know what the kingdom of God looks like, it looks like Jesus telling a woman caught in adultery," Where are your accusers?" They all drop their rocks," Go and sin no more." It looks like Jesus telling the Pharisees," You are whitewashed sepulchers, dead man's bones." It looks like Jesus touching a leper. It looks like Jesus telling a Samaritan woman," Yeah, I'm the Messiah." It looks like Jesus saying," The gates of hell will not prevail against my kingdom." It looks like Jesus dying on a cross in a cruciform, sacrificial way. It looks like Jesus. The kingdom of God is Jesus. And when we say yes to Jesus, we enter his kingdom and then we begin what theologians call the cruciform process. That's a big word for saying this, God the father's greatest goal is to make us like Jesus because that's what the kingdom is. And one of the words that I want people to grab ahold to and as Protestants people of the gospel, this should be really clear to us, every follower of Jesus is a royal priest, so let me pause here. Jesus was the high priest, he's the king because of our affiliation and association and relation to him, his royal blood is enough and we too now are royal priests. Every believer is a royal priest. Well, what does a priest do? A priest stands between God and man. In other words, a royal priest is the one who God does his bidding on earth through. A priest the Latin word means bridge, so we are a bridge that our lives become bridges that people walk across to experience God's kingdom. A royal priest is a missionary, a royal priest is a minister. And so one of the things that people are going to learn through reading this book is that God is calling you to mission. God is calling you to see your work as sacred. God is calling you to see your parenting and dating and relationship as sacred. All of life begins to bristle and bubble with anticipation of the kingdom of God.
Keith Simon: So when you have an escapist theology like you talked about and I for sure had for a long time in my faith, after I became a Christian in college. There's this sense that I want to get out of here and go to heaven, then I don't care about this world because it's all going to burn, it's the Titanic and it's sinking. And so whatever you do here in this world is like polishing the brass or rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. And what you're saying is," No, that's American theology and it's relatively new and recent. If you go back to biblical theology in Jesus, you see this prayer of God's kingdom coming, God establishes his kingdom in the book of Revelation." I love that. So all of a sudden now we have to start carrying about this world. We have to start seeking the welfare of the city, like the prophet Jeremiah tells us. And so when we look around at our world right now, we see all kinds of division. We see division over politics and people giving their allegiance to political candidates or political parties. We see arguments about masks and vaccines, racial justice, LGBTQ issues. So as a pastor of a church who believes in the Lord's prayer, what Jesus is teaching, that we're praying for his will to be done. I'm sure you pray for it to be done in Charlotte as it is in heaven. So how do you help your church think through these issues? How does God's kingdom coming to earth address some of the hot topics today?
Derwin Gray: I don't know if you can see the shirt that I'm wearing.
Keith Simon: I do. I love it.
Derwin Gray: But it basically says that the lamb is greater than the elephant and donkey. One of the plumb lines of Transformation Church is that we're the party of the lamb, not the elephant or the donkey. Now you may vote elephant, you may vote donkey, but your allegiance is to Jesus. And so it's important for American Christians to understand that the gospel has been flourishing around the world, long before America was a country. There was no Democrats in Jesus' day, there were no Republicans, Libertarians, there was a ruling iron fist of Rome and these early Christians flip the Roman government on its ear. So before we can diagnose the problem, we have to look at how we got here. And so in the late 60s and seventies, political strategists, as well as some Christians began to say," Hey, well, Christians we're called to really bring in a Christian society and the way to do it is through politics." At one point in time evangelical Christians and you can read this from Christianity today, from those days, did not believe that abortion was an issue that Christians should get into because they're not sure when a baby is a human being. Now we know scientifically at conception you are a human being. But what happened was is to get evangelical Christians to care about abortion, segregation was being broken in schools. And so in the early 70s, you see a proliferation of private Christian schools, which was code for this is where we send our white children to not be contaminated by the minorities, which at that time was primarily black. And so you tie in ethnic demographics are changing, you tie in abortion and all of a sudden you have what was known as the religious right. And so people became more obsessed with having political domination, and then on the progressive left they hitched their wagon to the quote unquote Democrats. And so by the time we get to Donald Trump and for whatever people say about Donald Trump, this is one thing that I will say he understood a populous message of fear. He understood how to use media. He understood how to say what a lot of people wanted to say. Now, I don't agree with him. He done some good things. He done some bad things, but Donald Trump was the genesis of this long 40 year road to get us to where we were. And so what I've done as a pastor is number one, we are not going to avoid hard issues. There are things that we can disagree upon secondarily, but what unifies us is the main things. I'm never going to be pro- choice, I'm pro- life but my pro- life is from the womb all the way to the tomb. I want to protect babies in the womb, I want them to come to life. But I want to protect babies at the border, I want to protect Afghanistinian people who work with America to become set free. And so we have to expand our capacity of what pro- life means, also, we need to work on making adoption cheaper. We need to work on facilitating and helping young people when they do have children. And so our pro- life has to move beyond just in the womb but outside of the womb. And then America's original sin has never ever been dealt with, we have never dealt with the reality of slavery, we've never dealt with the reality of those issues. And so when you see NFL players taking a knee for the flag and you see the George Floyd and you see all this stuff, it's because we've put band- aids on it. But sadly, the church has not been the church at the civil rights issues, which is simply black people just wanted to be American citizens. So let me pause here. My great, great, great, great grandfather's name is Moses Davis. He's from Virginia. He fought with the Virginia Calvary for the United States of America, the union and the colored regiment against the Confederacy. The Confederacy stood for four years and its main thing was we want to keep black people enslaved, we don't want to be a part of America, they were treasonists. Well, in my blood is patriotism because the American flag stands for Liberty and justice for all, not some, all, so this is as much my country as it is anyone else's. And so I have friends who say," Well, my granddad fought in World War II and how dare you take a knee?" And I'll say," Well, I'm so glad that he fought for America, I love my country. But did you know that there were a lot of black GIs who fought for America against a racist like Hitler, but when they came back home to America they had to drink from water fountains that said colored only, they couldn't vote, they were second class citizens as well. So as you think about who fought for America remember that when the GI bill came millions of white GIs got money to build what we know as the suburbs now and blacks didn't. So please don't be so myopic that only your granddad fought in World War II. I've got lineage that fought not only in World War II, but in the great war of Americans." So we have to have eyes to be inclusive of everyone, but the gospel has to lead us and we have to be willing to have the conversation. Now I know right now for many years of having this thought that some of your listeners are going," Well, I shouldn't feel guilty to be white." And my thing to you is you're a 100% right. America is not your identity, Jesus Christ is. So therefore, because Jesus is your identity, you and I can look back at the past and go," Man, that was bad." We got to where we are because of the past, but now how do we link arms and say how do we as Christians create a better future? That's what the kingdom is, the kingdom is one of love and joy and justice.
Keith Simon: I love that answer and we got to go back and try to unpack some of that. But let me say this, if you're listening to Derwin and you're maybe challenged or you're not sure he's got his facts right about the abortion issue, he has his facts right. That at the beginning after Roe v. Wade most evangelicals were completely fine with abortion, they were saying things like life begins when a baby is born. W. A. Criswell at First Baptist Church in Dallas said that from the pulpit. That Christianity today was raising some objections to abortion, but they were seen as the outliers. And we even have people in the religious right, the leadership of that movement acknowledging that abortion was not the catalyst that drove evangelical Christians into politics, it was other issues. We have some episodes on the rise of the religious right and you might want to go back and listen to those because I think we've told ourself a different story about why we got involved in politics than we really did, but there's so much there that you said. Let's do this, you're talking about racial justice as part of this. And you lead a multiethnic church, you've written another book on multiethnic churches. Can you just tell us a little bit about what you've learned from that, that maybe America could benefit from? What have you learned from helping people of different races come together and worship and learn to work together, learn to compromise, learn to understand each other.
Derwin Gray: The first thing is I am a Bible guy by God's grace I have a doctorate New Testament in Context. And so what I'm communicating about multiethnic church, racial justice is a deeply, deeply gospel issue. So let me go back Genesis 11, God scatters the people with different languages. Genesis 12, God says," Abraham through you I'm going to give you a big family made up of all these different people." Acts chapter two what happens after Pentecost, Jewish people of Greek descent flood into Jerusalem and they hear the apostles speaking in their language, and all of a sudden the gospel goes from a predominantly Jewish religion to a multiethnic religion of Jews and Gentiles. And please understand this Jewish people for the most part did not like Gentiles. Remember Peter in Acts 10 is like," Hey Cornelius, I usually don't go into a Gentile's house because it's unlawful." And Gentiles didn't like Jews but here's Jesus saying,"I'm a savior for everyone."
Keith Simon: So if I can just jump in you're saying I think and correct me if I got it wrong, but at the Tower of Babel we see that sin has divided people and we see that primarily through the different languages they speak. But then at the coming of the spirit at Pentecost, after the resurrection of Jesus, now we see people who are of different ethnicities, different national backgrounds, understanding the apostles because what sin has divided, Christ in his spirit is wanting to unite. But that truth took a while, it took a while for Peter a disciple to understand it. It took a long time for the early church to understand it. When we read through the New Testament, we see ethnic divisions still playing out that we see today too, as well, right?
Derwin Gray: Every letter Paul writes is so that Jews and Gentiles could love each other and get along and be the people of God. Listen to this, Galatians 3: 8 says this," For the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham in this all the nations would be blessed." So I'm on a mission like you are, that the gospel is more than Jesus died for my sins, the gospel is that the saving king has come and he's lived a sinless life we couldn't live, he died a death we should have died. He rose again to defeat sin, death and evil, ascended to the right hand of his dad, the Holy Spirit came to create this beautiful family with black people, white people, yellow people, brown people, orange people, rich people, poor people, middle of class people, men and women. That's why the end of the book of Revelation says every nation tribe and tongue will be adoring Jesus, and so we have to jettison this simple individualistic gospel that, no, God is about saving a family and he puts us into a family to love each other and so the early church was multiethnic.
Keith Simon: If you're like me and you leave each episode with a lot to think about and wishing you could go just a little bit deeper, you should subscribe to the Truth over Tribe newsletter. Not only do we explore the topic further, but we also interact with people who disagree with us and tell you about upcoming episodes. Just go to choosetruthovertribe. com and sign up for the newsletter there. So I love what you said earlier that this isn't just a social issue, this is a gospel issue, it's a Jesus issue, it's a New Testament issue. So let's keep pressing and here's something that I've just wondered, I'm going to ask you, I asked Justin Giboney this in a previous conversation that I had with him. It's well known that white evangelicals for the last several election cycles including 2020 and 2016, but dating well before that, that white evangelicals have predominantly voted for the Republican candidate, like 75 to 80%, that kind of range. And when people bring that up, when you hear that in the media, that's usually intended as a criticism, see how the Republican party has co- opted the white evangelical church, something like that. But at the same time, black Christians have voted predominantly maybe even higher percentages for the Democratic candidate. And I don't hear the criticism of that, like," Hey, the democratic party has co- opted and corrupted the black church." It seems like that's normal and that's okay and that's good, but the white church shouldn't be... I'm just confused about why is it okay in one and not in the other, can you help me understand?
Derwin Gray: I agree with you 100% that The democratic party has co-opted the historic black church and the Republican party has co-opted evangelicals. But what I would say is this, first of all, 90% of black denominations exist because of racism within the white church from several hundred years ago. The reason why? Most black Christians love the Bible, they are evangelical, they are socially conservative, they are pro-life, they are pro traditional marriage. But where the breakdown comes is they feel like the Republican party does not enter into the understanding of the social realities of how we got to this place. Now for many white evangelicals, they're not going to vote Democrat because Democrats are very... the abortion issue is just shoved down people's throats, scientifically that is a baby. And here's the thing that baby is not that mother's life, that baby has its own life. And so we've got two parties that have co- opted two large sections of the church, but here's where I think we can move forward. What if there were more multiethnic churches and instead of talking about each other, we could actually talk to each other and say how do we as the people of God develop strategies to see babies be born, but also help parents. What are strategies that we can see to say," Hey, how do we raise minimum wage? How do we have taxes?" I don't understand how companies like Google and apple have billions parked over in Ireland and aren't paying taxes here. I don't understand how Amazon pays less money in federal tax than I do, but on flip side tax money can't be wasting. So that's why I wear this shirt is my hope is not in either one of these parties and best believe I do vote, I do vote because too many of my people, black brothers and sisters died so I could vote, they were lynched, they were bitten by dogs, their churches were blown up. So I do vote, but I recognize that my allegiance is to Jesus, but I believe that the Democrats have co-opted the black church and I do believe the Republicans have co- opted the evangelical church. And I think that's where we as Christians, regardless of ethnicity, have got to come together and be the kingdom of God.
Keith Simon: And when the parties, political parties, co- op the church, when we worship the donkey or the elephant instead of the lamb, we lose our prophetic voice, we lose the ability to speak truth to power, and we become nothing more than just another special interest group that is used for their votes. So I hate to see Jesus's church reduced to that, because Jesus has so much more war for his church than to be just another political interest group. You mentioned earlier about taking a knee at the national anthem and of course that was started by Colin Kaepernick and it became a big issue in the last few years. But politics and sports have intersected lots of places lately in the NBA, the women's soccer team, Major League All Star game was moved out of Atlanta and moved over to Denver this past season. And so I'm wondering as an athlete yourself, how do you think about sports and politics intersecting? It seems like we've come a long way since Michael Jordan made his comment, Republicans buy sneakers too. It seems like now we can't get enough politics in our sports and I'm not sure if people like that or not, what's your take on it?
Derwin Gray: So what I would say is let's go back a little bit in history of sports and politics. Because I remember a young black man named Jesse Owens from Ohio, and in 1936 he went to Berlin Germany and there was an author of a book called Mein Kampf. Adolf Hitler wanted to prove that the master Aryan race was the white man, the Germans. And through incredible adversity Jesse Owens goes and he just obliterates the Olympics and America's like," America, America." Jesse Owens comes back to America and he's going to a hotel where he's going to receive some recognition for what he did for America. But as he tries to walk through the front door, he's told," You can't come through the front door you have to go around the back through the kitchen." So on one hand politics and sports have gone hand to hand for a long time when the agenda fits a particular perspective. This is what I would say as a professional athlete, you go out and you play hard for your team and you want to win for your team, for the fans. But it was very disheartening when there were fans saying," Hey, I don't want you to protest." What we heard as athletes was number one, they were not protesting America, they were bringing awareness that the American flag which stands for liberty and justice for all is not being lived up to, and so they wanted to use their platform to bring awareness. A protest is never comfortable for people who benefit for the reason why you're protesting. And a lot of times people who protest and I'll just say black folks have been taught," You can't protest this way." So you don't want us to protest, tell us how we should and you won't like that either. At the end of the day athletes should use their platforms not to just get rich, but to make the world better for everyone. And it's interesting the same people who told LeBron James shut up and dribble a basketball were silent when Kanye West was pro Trump.
Keith Simon: Okay. So I've agreed with a lot of what you said, but let me push back a little bit there because when China was exterminating the Uighurs in genocide. And Daryl Morrey tweeted out free Hong Kong and some stuff that challenged China, LeBron didn't come out for it.
Derwin Gray: He didn't, he was inconsistent.
Keith Simon: It seems like he's inconsistent and so maybe America has been inconsistent back to your Jesse Owens story about where it wants politics in sports and where it doesn't, maybe everybody's inconsistent.
Derwin Gray: So yes Jesus is not, we are. And so what I would say is I think Dr. King captured this point well. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And LeBron James should have been consistent, China is doing horrible things. As a matter of fact, if you and I looked at the label on our shirts it's probably going to say China.
Keith Simon: I'm torn I think that athletes just like anyone else should be able to say whatever they want to say. And I'm all for protesting injustice, it's the only way we can make real change in this world. I also think there have to be some places in our society where people who look different, think different can come together and just be fans. And there has been sports for a number of years and that's becoming more and more divisive, so I guess I'm torn, I wish we could have some sort of healing, but I think we'll have to wait until Jesus.
Derwin Gray: And I do think that the level of it has dropped down, but what I would say just a gentle pushback is-
Keith Simon: You don't have to be gentle, you can be as hard as you want.
Derwin Gray: The Bible says that an elder pastor is to be that, there's too much arguing in today's world. And what I would say is so my son at about age 15 was 6'1 about 195 pounds, he's one of the greatest human beings that I know. And one of the hardest days of my life is when he began to drive a car and I said to him, I said," Son, we have to have a talk." I said," Listen, you are a big man and people don't know that you're only 15 years old. As black men in America-" Even though he's half white, America still says he's black, but we say," No, you're made an image of God who happens to have biracial parents." But I said to him, I said, look," When you drive because of your size, there's some social things you need to be aware of. So you need to have your driver's license, insurance card, everything in a very accessible way so that when you're pulled over immediately you roll down the window you have all of your information you need, and your hands are above the steering wheel on the dashboard. When the officer comes, you say,'Yes, sir.' You say,'No, sir.' And you get home. There's no talking back. There's none of that. Okay." That's a very, very hard conversation to have with your son and having been pulled over... Think about this I'm an American citizen and I'm being pulled over saying," What are you doing in this neighborhood?"
Keith Simon: So this is called driving while black and you've experienced this.
Derwin Gray: You know what, I don't want to give it a title or buzzword. This is what I'll say you're always aware that you're black from being followed in stores. I was a team chaplain for the team that my son played for. We were playing a very good team and I told the story of David and Goliath, that we were David, they were Goliath because they really were, they were really good, I knew we were going to lose, so I had my slingshot in pre- game. We go back to the locker room, I go to the restroom, I put my slingshot in my back pocket. I use the restroom, wash my hands, I come out and two white police officers are there. Now the context is I'm a well known pastor by God's grace here, I've done TV, I've done radio, I'm a fixture in the community. And these two officers stop and they say," What are you doing with a weapon? Why do you have that?" I thought it was a joke like everybody knows me, I'm like," Well, I was telling the story of David in Goliath." And they're not laughing and they begin to speak to me so disrespectfully. And it reminds me of being a little kid when the police would violate our rights and in my mind I'm going," I pay your taxes, I've probably baptized your friends and you're going to speak to me an American citizen, a grown man, so disrespectfully." And I feel myself just getting so angry and right at that time another white police officer, a huge guy who's a part of our church comes up and he goes," Pastor Derwin." And he gives me a big old hug and he gives me a kiss and he senses like," Hey, is everything here fine?" And the two officers go," Oh, he's your pastor." He goes," Yeah." They go," Okay, well you're fine." And I walk away going how many times that happened and people don't have my privilege. And so when I talk about kneeling and injustice and those things, it's more than driving while black, it's a very personal thing. And I know people are going," Oh, well he doesn't like police officers." No, actually our church gets awards from the police department for the work that we do, the money we donate, the things that we do to help and partner with police. We can be pro- police and pro- police reform simultaneously. We love police officers. I've had so many police speak at our church, it's ridiculous.
Keith Simon: I appreciate you sharing those stories because that's not my story. I've heard those kind of stories, but building a relationship with you and hearing it from your perspective as a respected pastor and author of this book, we're talking about today and so many others. To hear that this is your life experience, it opens up our own eyes and makes us start looking for injustices that are maybe around us and praying like you teach us to do in this book. God we want your kingdom to come here, we want your will to be done here where there is no racial injustice or injustice of any other kind. COVID has been really hard on people and I think it's been hard on us in all kinds of ways, obviously, health, economics, all kinds of ways. But I find in our church that it's been hard on people spiritually, that they feel exhausted, they feel weary that... I don't find too many people who say they're doing better now in their faith than they were before. It's kept people from coming to in person worship or in person small groups, or it's created all kinds of division over masks and vaccines. Are you seeing that in your church, kind of a wariness? How are you addressing that? How are people handling it?
Derwin Gray: People are handling it in various ways because we've never experienced this. I think of young mom and dads trying to work and then the homeschool, I think of the mental health stresses on high school and college students. My son and daughter who were both in college during this time and it was very difficult, it has been incredibly hard upon us all. And then you have over 600,000 Americans dying and then you get into all the various conspiracy theories and it's like," Well, if you wear a mask you're a Democrat. If you don't wear mask, you're Republican and the virus isn't real." And all these things and it has just created so much stress and the best thing that we can do is keep people in communion with Jesus. And I think what COVID has done is it's showed us a lot of the idols that we've been holding onto.
Keith Simon: I like that.
Derwin Gray: It has really showed us how busy we've been, how overworked we've been, how concerned we are with status and prestige, it showed us the fragility of our immortality. We've had several people at our church die. We have a young woman right now who's been in ICU for over a month. Had a baby has been in induced coma and talking to the young dad, who's going," Pastor, how in the world am I going to be a father to three children? How am I going to do this?" And so this is really teaching us, how do we love? What does it really actually look like to love? But also not picking tribes, I've been vaccinated, my family's been vaccinated, we wear masks, we social distance. Does that mean," Oh, you're living in fear." Well, this is one thing that I do know. When I went to India, I had a bunch of band- aids for all the immunization shots I had to get to enter their country. I had to take malaria pills. That doesn't mean I'm afraid, it means I'm wise. When I wear a seatbelt to drive a car, doesn't mean I'm afraid, it means I'm wise. And we've had people leave our church because we've had to wear masks again as Delta has surged and people that we have buried their family members, people we've baptized them. People who've said," Man, the way you preach the gospel and teach the gospel, I've grown here," have left over a mask. You're telling me you can't wear a mask for an hour and 10 minutes, so it almost becomes this statement of," Well, my tribe doesn't wear masks."
Keith Simon: I completely agree. And it is insane to me that people who have met Jesus and grown up in Jesus and love the church and like you said, have had family members get married or die, memorials and then to leave over things like this. And yet that's what we're finding igs that Christians used to argue about doctrine and theology. Are you a charismatic or not? Or what's your position on baptism or Calvinism? Now they argue over cultural issues, that don't have anything to do with the Bible because like you said they've put their tribe over the truth. So last question here have you been listening to the The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill? This is the podcast for those who aren't familiar with it they're put out by Christianity Today and it tells the story of, well, what the title says the rise and fall of this church pastored by Mark Driscoll. A lot of people are listening to it, I think it's very high on the podcast charts right now. If you have listened to it, what are your thoughts? I seem to see that it's causing people to be more cynical, even my own heart has grown a little bit more cynical. What's your take on it? What could we learn from it, anything?
Derwin Gray: So I listen to the first five episodes and after number four or five, I was literally physically nauseated and just spiritually bothered and I said," This is not good for my soul." And so I personally have stopped listening to it. Being in ministry now for a while, I remember the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement and I watched a lot of that. I watched a lot of my friends get caught up in it and I just personally never bought into that, it just never resonated with me. We are a celebrity obsessed culture and so I think there are indeed a lot of unhealthy things. My concern is it feels kind of like a Christian TMZ and I'm going," If people are spiritually immature, they're not going to be able to handle this well," but that's not my role to decide that. I just know for me personally, I opted out. We are living in an era of deconstructing everything and we're living in an era where everybody wants to be the leader. If everybody's a leader then we've actually hit this aspect of what I call post post modernity. Post modernity was everybody has their own truth, there's no ultimate truth. Post post modernity is every tribe has their own truth, not does it correspond to reality, it corresponds to my tribe and my feelings and my emotions. So I don't have anything negative against the podcast, I just chose to opt out. When I feel like I'm about to throw up, I'm done.
Keith Simon: Sounds like it wasn't good for your soul and I identify maybe that's the choice that I need to make, because I'm not sure it's good for my soul either. Derwin I appreciate your time with this, God, Do you Hear Me? Discover the prayer that God always answers. Where do people find you, your sermons or are you active on social media? How do people find out more about the resources you offer?
Derwin Gray: Yeah. Yeah. Just go to derwinlgray.com, derwinlgray. com. Gray with an A, derwinlgray. com and that'll take you to Transformation Church, you'll learn about this brand new book, God Do you Hear Me? I'm on Instagram, I'm on Twitter, I'm on Facebook and it's @ derwinlgray. I really appreciate your voice. I appreciate the way you are engaging these issues because we have to re- disciple and entire generation out of tribalism and into biblical Christianity.
Keith Simon: Thanks so much Derwin. Have a great day.
Derwin Gray: You too. Thank you.
Keith Simon: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.
Keith Simon: Stop. No. Just be honest reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Okay. At the very least you can share today's episode maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome, tell us why you disagree on Twitter at truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
This week on Truth Over Tribe, Derwin Gray joins the show to answer the question: Do politics and social justice issues belong in sports? Derwin is a former NFL player, current author, and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community in North Carolina. Today, he shares how and why social justice issues can be part of an athlete's platform. We also learn about Derwin's childhood and how that has shaped him today. Plus, Derwin shares how he found his faith in God from a fellow football player. Listen now!
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