The Race Project: Bill Randolph And Rick Incorvati
Malcolm X once said that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. In this episode of The Race Project, a conversation on race between two Miami Valley clergymen, Bill Randolph of First Baptist Church in Yellow Springs and Rick Incorvoti of Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield.
Transcript (lightly edited for length and clarity)
Rick Incorvati: I'm Rick Incorvati, I'm a middle aged, middle class white man and I'm a deacon at Christ Episcopal Church. Christ Church is a predominantly white congregation, like a lot of mainline Protestant traditions.
Bill Randolph: My name is Bill Randolph, I am the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church. I am an African-American, having been married for 45 years, grandfather to 15 and great-grandfather to three.
Rick Incorvati: Bill, could you tell us about your most optimistic experience concerning race relations, whether it be personal or cultural?
Bill Randolph: I used to work at Cedarville University, where one of the gentlemen in my department, he was white, he passed away a few years ago. Mark was the kind of person who, if he heard somebody talking in in a negative fashion about race, he would speak up on it. We could talk about race and we could be honest and truthful with each other. I can honestly say that. And if he were still here alive today, he would say the same thing. He is one, he was one of my best friends in all the world. Rick, what do you want people to understand about your personal feelings on race?
Rick Incorvati: My big concern is that people who are Black know more about white people than white people know about Black people. To say that white supremacy is at work in our politics has some evidence behind it, and the reluctance to kind of give up power that you may have is just human. Some of the behavior that we've been seeing care of social media, conduct that's captured on our our cell phones and shared widely, I would want people who come from a minority experience to know that that is offensive to a fair number of white people who may not be expressing that openly.
Bill Randolph: I would like to to see the church be more vocal in that regard, particularly those whom we would term as a white evangelical leaders. Like some have said, if you vote Democratic, you're not a Christian, you have to vote Republican. God is not concerned with Democrats or Republicans. In Ezekiel 43, God becomes upset because a man has placed his throne next to God's throne thinking that they're both equal. The church ought to be the visible, the ocular demonstration of what it's like to not play favorites.
Rick Incorvati: I think our involvement in the Christian tradition links us to that, that God is just. In the building where I worship, there are certainly marks of what you would see in a lot of mainline Protestant worship spaces. There's the marks of the European Jesus who's there. And I think we can kind of put that in its own historical moment and make decisions going forward that are going to represent the globe as a kind of a universal presence of God's love in the world. At our church, Christ Episcopal Church, we've been having those conversations about what is our space look like? What message is that sending to us and what message is that sending to guests?
Bill Randolph: Well, the portrait of Jesus as he's sitting around with his disciples is actually not really Jesus as we know, it's really a portrait that was done by Michelangelo. Sometimes in church and particularly the African-American church, if you move something in the church, you may get voted out. You know, it'll be a major uproar because they are more attached to the tradition of a thing rather than the truth that's behind that thing.
Rick Incorvati: If you move a painting from one spot in the sanctuary to another spot in the sanctuary you've created, you know, that's an act of blasphemy [laughs]. So there is going to be rocky waves, and some of that comes from people who are linked to the traditions in ways that others of us aren't. And so they know the stories behind why those things are in their place. I don't think there's anyone, and I could be wrong, but I don't think there's anyone in our in our congregation who's devoted to the white Jesus. I don't think that's there. But there is devotion to this historic sanctuary. And you can't remove the two, the stories we tell ourselves about our space and what we do to change that space. There's going to be a collision. So, Bill, what's the biggest lie we as Americans tell each other about race?
Bill Randolph: That racism does not exist, and that particularly from those who are white, who don't really see it, it does not exist. Well, it does not exist in your neighborhood, but it certainly does exist in mine.
There was a book that was written a few years ago called Lies My Teacher Told Me. And in that book, the author talked about how even in what we just celebrated with Columbus - even how with Christopher Columbus that he discovered America. Well, how can you discover a place that has already been occupied? The other part of it is when the mapmakers from England would make maps, they would say that the world was flat because they would put dragons at the end of the map and say, if you go beyond that map, then you're going to fall off the earth. But it's been documented that the Dogon people from West Africa were the ones who discovered that the world was not flat, but that the world was round. And also a part of a book that was written a number of years ago by the name gentleman, by the name of Ivan Van Sertima, who passed a few years ago, and he was a tenured professor at Rutgers University. And he talked about the African presence in America long before those who were white actually hit the shores of America.
So for me, it is the idea of making sure that the truth that is there, that it's out there, that people understand the contributions that African-Americans have made. Unfortunately, those contributions are often only seen in the areas of sports and entertainment and not in the field of science, literature, engineering, etc..
Let me let me ask you this, what do you see how race relations will at some point come to be? How do you see that?
Rick Incorvati: I would hope the church would be a leading voice. But even if it's not a leading voice, I hope the church would know when the example of justice is out there to follow and to support and to amplify.
Bill Randolph: But I want to say to Rick, I appreciate sharing this this moment in history with you. You're someone I can sit down just dialog with. And I'm going to continue to pray that God will continue to bless you in your travels and things that you that you do as you represent Jesus Christ.
Rick Incorvati: Thank you, Pastor Randolph. It has been just a gift to be able to spend time with you today to feel the spirit in your spirit. Bless you for the work that you're doing. Bless your family.
Additional production support from David Seitz, Angela Moore, Jack Long and Meghan Malas. This story was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.