In celebration of the 50 years of the Office of Race Relations (ORR), we are featuring the stories of people in the CRC who have been actively demonstrating a passion for multicultural congregations and a commitment to antiracism. We call people who have been exemplifying these ideals, “Champions of Justice.” These “Champions” are the nominees for the Dante Venegas award that will be presented at Inspire 2022 in Chicago in August.
We are proud to introduce Kyle Brooks as one of these nominees.
Here’s a little more about Kyle and his work:
Kyle Brooks is a California native who moved to Oakland with his wife, Stephanie, in 2013. During his Mdiv and ThM studies at Calvin Seminary, God called them to church planting. After a two year residency at Christ Church East Bay, they started a church in their apartment in Oakland with a focus on racial justice and multicultural ministry.
That’s when they met Pastor Bernard Emerson. Kyle and Bernard worked for two years to bring their church plants—one predominantly white and new to town and one predominantly black locals—into one new church expression called Tapestry Church under Pastor Bernard’s leadership.
Kyle has also been active in gun violence prevention advocacy work, youth mentoring, and coaching soccer for asylee and refugee youth. He sits on the Community Advisory Board of the Oakland Roots professional soccer team. Most importantly, he is the grateful father of Micah Emerson Brooks.
Kyle shares his thoughts on his antiracism work:
The apostle John dreamed of a day when persons of every tribe, language, people and nation will stand together praising Jesus. Today, we have seen much of John’s vision realized. People of nearly every background under the sun gather each week worship Jesus. We’ve seen much of John’s vision realized—except the “together” part.
After five years of working to bring people of radically different racial, cultural and historical backgrounds together at Tapestry Church, I’m just beginning to understand why.
The power imbalance between people of different racial groups is the first reason our togetherness is so difficult. During the two years that Pastor Bernard Emerson and I were working to unite his mostly black, multigenerational church plant and my mostly white, young church plant, his members kept asking, “If we come together, will they let us be ourselves?”
Two things about that question kept us up at night.
First, the language of “will they let us.” His black congregants knew intuitively and from experience that spaces in America where people of different races get together tend to privilege white norms and culture. They worried that the white people would get to decide the new church’s way of life. This hinted at a deep tension about multicultural churches in America, a tension made explicit by the title of a podcast series done by the women of Truth’s Table: Multiethnic Churches: A Foretaste of Heaven or Bulwarks of White Supremacy?
In order for Tapestry Church to be a taste of the new heavens and earth and not an unintentional bulwark of white supremacy and privilege, we knew that we needed to upset the typical power balance of most multiethnic churches—70% of which are still led by white pastors. That’s why we decided that I would not be the lead pastor. We would not even co-pastor. Pastor Bernard would be the lead pastor, and I would submit to his leadership.
The second thing that kept us up at night? In the two years we spent preparing to merge, not one of my white congregants asked, “Will they let us be ourselves?” They asked a different question: “How will we deal with being so uncomfortable?” It’s a question that evokes the relative privilege and comfort that white people like me have come to expect in life and, yes, in church. And it’s a question that could sound shallow if we didn’t understand the deep human reality underneath it. In fact, this question too strikes at the heart of why John’s vision of “togetherness” is so difficult. It is so incredibly uncomfortable, lonely, and even painful sometimes.
We naturally gravitate toward sameness, especially at church. We want to be around people who have the same background as we do, who are in the same life stage, and who have had similar experiences. We gravitate to preachers and music that “resonate” with us. Can we actually build a community with very different kinds of people? That’s a real challenge. After one year of Tapestry Church’s existence, 80% of the people who started it had left.
But the good news is that God has made a way. He brought people who were willing to commit to becoming a foretaste of heaven together, even if that means discomfort and upsetting the ways we are used to navigating power. I believe that they’ve been drawn by the Body of Christ being a collective witness to Jesus: the One who emptied himself for the sake of his powerless people and considered his comfort and even his very life worth nothing compared with fellowship with the ones he died to save.