Racial Justice / Theology resources


Our Epiphany series on race is the start, not the end, of the conversation on race. There is still so much to learn and discuss and do. If you'd like to get more involved in racial justice initiatives at Forefront, email us!

To dig in more, here is a list of resources recommended by last Sunday's panelists:

Theology Books

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

America's Original Sin by Jim Wallis

A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez

Introducing Asian Feminist Theology by Kwok Pui-Lan

Womanist Midrash by Rev. Wilda Gafney

Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit by Patrick S. Cheng

History / nonfiction books

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The Color of Success by Ellen Wu

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev

Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving


"13" (Netflix)

“Who Killed Vincent Chin" documentary 


Model Minority and the Wedge between Black and White America by Kenji Kiramatus

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Three Pillars of White Supremacy by Andrea Smith 

The History of the Idea of Race and Why it Matters by Audrey Smedley 

"The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack 

Why We Never Talk about Black on Black Crime by Michael Harriot

How America Spreads the Disease that is Racism by not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends by April Harter

Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice

On Whiteness (Interview)

Interview of Ashley Putnam conducted by Sarah Ngu

Q. You’re appearing on panel in February 4th for church to talk about race and your grappling with whiteness. When did you start being conscious about race? 

I think I first starting grappling with race and privilege when I started working in social services in NYC. I grew up in Texas, I went to Barnard College in NYC and then moved away. But when I moved back to NYC in 2008, I found Forefront and got a job working in frontline social services in a “Welfare-to-Work” type program, serving low-income New Yorkers who were looking for a job.

The first thing that surprised me in my work was really me coming to terms with my own bias. The people I saw, the people living on public assistance, included college-educated people, middle-class white people. I didn’t realize I had a preconceived notion of welfare, very much influenced by stories we hear in the media.

The work itself also brought me to grapple with racism in ways I had not expected. I began to see the systems of discrimination that impacted my clients. For example, who was perceived as qualified for a job? Having dreadlocks, for example, might make someone “not a good fit” for an employer. At the end of the day, people tend to hire those who look like them, talk like them. We have decided that a certain group of people are less qualified for a job based on implicit and sometimes even explicit bias.

I really struggled to come to terms with how unfair this was, and also how it benefitted me without my even being aware.

But I don’t think I thought about structural inequality until more recently.

Q. How did that begin?

 During my time in policy school in NYU, I was really interested in welfare policy. This narrative of people being lazy and “living off the system” was really pervasive in how people understood what I was doing for a living. When I started to research, I learned that welfare in the 1930’s was initially only intended to benefit white widows, and local policies made it difficult for women of color to participate. The policy itself was discriminatory, even before the Ronald Reagan stereotype of the welfare Queen and all the implicit ideas we have now. And yet, in the country at large, there are way more white people on social services than people of color.

We have a racialized idea of poverty. I didn’t realize that I assumed all of the same things until I was sitting down with a family after the recession that could have been my mom and dad. I thought, “Ok this can happen to anyone.” These are human beings making difficult economic decisions. Policies have put all these parameters on how they can live their lives because we make assumptions based on this same narrative of “laziness” or “working the system.” We now regulate people’s lives so intensely, we have more or less criminalized poverty.

I started working for the City after grad school, about two years ago. At work I was offered the opportunity to go through a training called “Undoing Racism.” It was perhaps one of the most difficult and game-changing experiences I have had in both my personal and professional journey.

It was a 2.5 day course — I recommend it highly — and it really talks about our mainstream American definition of racism and how to start to think differently about race, structures, inequality.

Q. What is the mainstream American definition of racism? 

Coming from Texas, the response might be, ‘I don’t use the N-word, so I can’t be racist.” Or it’s, “Sometimes I think all the taxi drivers are from this one country, and I’m not racist —it’s just a presumption.” Racism is often defined as explicit prejudice or bias. In our post-Civil Rights era America, we define “racism” is this individual choice we all make to not be explicitly offensive to someone. But racism isn’t just prejudices and biases.

The Undoing Racism training focuses on structures of privilege and power. For instance, although my work in social services was in cities where there are primarily communities of color, one of the questions that I’d never asked was, “Why do people of color primarily live in cities?”

As one point in our country’s history, they didn’t. This shift to cities was a result of racism in rural areas and discriminatory housing policies. We basically forced people of color into certain areas, refused to give loans to people in their neighborhoods (redlining) and now we say, “Look at those people in the ‘ghetto.’ Stop being lazy and go find a job.” We don’t even realize that we created those “ghettos.”

This training was also the first time I’d ever talked about what it meant to be white. Someone had asked me, “What do you like about being white?” I was stunned. I didn’t know how to answer that question.

The only answers I could come up with were more about privilege than they were about culture. It was about power, being treated a certain way in a situation as opposed to how someone else might be treated.

Q. What is whiteness? 

A lot of the training is about how race is a construct — we are all part of the human race and we’ve created these arbitrary lines in the sand. “Whiteness” is a kind of blanket term for “majority culture.” My heritage is Dutch, German, English and French, but I don’t know much about my family that settled or what their culture was or what foods I eat that are part of that culture. American-whiteness is about assimilation to that which is the “mainstream culture.”

One of books I’ve been looking at is How the Irish Became White, which is about what it takes to get the things that come with whiteness: Power, privilege and economic preference. Because when Irish people came here, or Catholics or Italians, the American majority culture didn’t like them either. This was probably true of my German ancestors when they settled in Texas. And in many ways, oppressing other people is how new groups get a step up on the economic ladder.

Q. What are some a-ha moments you’ve experienced when it comes to race?

I think coming to terms with racism and whiteness is a constant journey. It means struggling to undo what you’ve been taught your whole life: That society is fair and just and treats everyone equally.

When I first started dating Dart, I remember having a moment I really failed to listen and understand. I was waiting for him on the stoop of his apartment in East Harlem. I remember being angry because he had left me waiting for a while in a neighborhood I didn’t know very well.

 Ashley & Dart

Ashley & Dart

After waiting a while, I had given up and gone to a friends’ house when Dart called. He told me he had been stopped by a cop, harassed, and given a ticket for walking through the park near the house, because you’re not allowed to be in the park after 10pm.

I basically called him a liar – I assumed it was a bad excuse for blowing me off. I said, “That’s not true, I’ve been in that park at night. There are always people in the park at night. It’s fine.” He told me how the officers were really aggressive with him, even after he demonstrated that he lived down the street. He even pointed out a woman walking her dog through the park at the same time, asking the officers, “If the park is closed, why is she allowed to walk through the park?”

I was horrible to him after that conversation. I think I was trying to rationalize my own understanding of the world. I told him, “You’re just whining and complaining and being dramatic. You should’ve been nicer to the cop.”

Since I’ve lived in East Harlem, I’ve interacted with police in the neighborhood regularly, and my treatment is very different. It’s often, “Are you okay miss? Are you all right?” There is this mindset of, “I need to protect your innocence.” Especially as a white female, I realize how very differently I’m treated in certain spaces, especially in a neighborhood that is presumed to be a “bad” neighborhood. I see more police officers in my park in East Harlem on a Saturday than I ever did in Prospect Park where people were openly drinking without any concern for a ticket.

Q. If we define “racism” simply as saying offensive things, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of what happened to Dart…

Not at all. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how you may not harbor any racial animosity towards anyone or think anyone is less valuable, but we all participate in and perpetuate a system that encourages officers to stop someone who looks like Dart and not someone who looks like me.

He and I could be doing the exact same thing – being in the park after 10pm – but the presumption that I am innocent means the law is applied to him, not to me. It could be that the officer had other reasons he had to make that stop – a quota or something he needs to fulfill – but at the end of the day the outcome is still biased.

Dart was stopped and ticketed for nothing—he was literally carrying my takeout dinner through the park on his walk home.

It’s always been hard for me to understanding how traumatic and frustrating that must be for people. I would imagine thinking, “Am I less valuable as a member of this community? Why do I have less right to be here as that woman next to me with her dog?” It must have only made it worse that I refused to believe him.

I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because it hurt for me to see that my experience of the world was not true for everyone. So my way of not acknowledging it was to say you’re wrong, you did something wrong, as opposed to acknowledging that something is unfair or unequal. I think that’s the harder part of coming to terms with racism for people who don’t directly experience it – we need to listen, empathize and believe people, instead of saying, “I don’t see it so it can’t be true.”

Q. Where would you like to see Forefront grow when it comes to race?

When I worked in the social service sector, we never asked clients about what they wanted. We just assumed we were doing a good thing, that we understood their needs better than they did. Churches are in danger of doing the same thing: “We ran a soup kitchen and therefore we did good for the community.” And it’s a whole other thing to have difficult conversations about racism. It means we also have to talk about power, decision-making, and why we do what we do here.

I think the other difficult ask is to talk about racism with people who aren’t here in our immediate community. Many of us moved here from places like Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, and, in my case, Texas.  We have a much deeper calling to take these difficult conversations home to our people. Imagine, you may be the only person a friend of yours or family member encounters who will speak about your own journey to understand racism in this country. We too often rely on people of color to do that work for us. I understand – it’s uncomfortable to talk about race, I certainly don’t feel like I have the answers – but these are OUR friends and families. If we don’t talk to them, who will?

I’ve been doing that informally with some Forefront members – almost like an accountability group. I often want to get mad when having these tough conversations, but that’s not productive. Talking about race requires a lot more thoughtfulness and empathy. It’s awesome to see how Forefront is approaching it. The next step is just to listen: Where should we go from here? What does it look like to have a group in the church that cares about racial justice? Where can we support communities of color that are already doing this work? I’d love to see ways our church can do that.

Institutional Racism and the church (sermon)

 Our attempt at visually demonstrating the difference between equity and equality.  See more here .

Our attempt at visually demonstrating the difference between equity and equality. See more here.

In August of 2014 modern day civil rights activist Lisa Sharon Harper went to Ferguson, MO. She’s an acquaintance at our church and was part of our FCQ series.  This time she went to Ferguson to bridge the gap between white and black people surrounding the death of Michael Brown.

If you remember from a couple of years ago, Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot dead by a white police officer. Brown’s body lay in the streets for 4 hours before anyone came to take Brown to the hospital.  The officer who shot Brown wrote out an incident report that conflicted greatly with the accounts of eyewitnesses and ultimately it was police officer Wilson’s reports that were backed up by Ferguson’s police chief. We’d later learn that even though there were inconsistencies and gross professional misconduct in officer Wilson’s actions, there’d be no punishment for the officer.

The ensuing protests in Ferguson turned violent. Many were arrested. Over 90 people were assaulted and seriously hurt. Reporters were also hurt and assaulted. Military grade vehicles occupied the streets of Ferguson and curfews enacted. Rightfully so the tension remained.

Harper found herself bothered by the fact that there were fewer white allies marching and protesting with Black people in Ferguson. In fact she didn’t understand why so many churches in the city, churches who considered themselves diverse and multicultural, refused to show up.

After convening predominantly white pastors, elders, and community leaders throughout Ferguson, Harper, along with Pastor Leroy Barber came and preached a message. The message was taken from a passage we love here at this church mainly because Jesus uses it in his first sermon. It’s Isaiah 61:1-4. For those in need of a reminder here’s what it says,

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. –Isaiah 61:1-4

The Reverend Barber spoke to the group and what he said had quite the impact. He said in effect that what Isaiah is telling us is that those who’ve been consistently oppressed, those that have been in pain, those who have witnessed the struggle first hand, they are the ones that will lead. They will be the oaks of righteousness. They will rebuild that which is broken.

And then Barber and Harper said to the pastors of all of these churches, they said, “What’s happening right now are fulfillment of Isaiah’s words today. The oppressed are working to lead the way to a new way of living. The broken are the strong ones who fight for injustice. They are working to bring the end to devastation. Do you believe that they can lead you? Do you believe that you can be led to peace by the people of color here in Ferguson Missouri?”

Finally a young pastor spoke up. He looked around the room and spoke a truth that I think is important for many of us to hear today. He said,

“As a white man I’ve implicitly been taught that I’m the one that leads everyone else.” Someone else spoke up. “It never occurred to me that I could be led to peace by a group like we have here in Ferguson.

As disheartening as that is, it comes as a product of America’s collective history. There is an institution that has long established the words in Isaiah as being implausible. They discount the fact that the oppressed should ever lead and in fact, laws throughout the years have been put in place to ensure that the oppressed aren’t ever given the opportunity to lead restoration. When I say institution I’m going to go back quite a ways but for the sake of time I actually have to leave a bunch of stuff out.

The philosopher Plato sets a ground work for western thought in the year 300 when he writes in his famous book, The Republic, that races should be treated like precious metals, with light skinned people being considered gold while those who are darker be treated as bronze, copper, and other common metals. Plato’s works became part of a predominant western thought, which manifested itself in the decisions of the learned popes.

Pope Nicholas the V began the West African slave trade by ordering European nations to enslave anyone who didn’t convert to Christianity.

Pope Alexander the VI “gifted” much of what we now know as America, Mexico, and Central America. Sociologists believe that the swath of landed gifted was inhabited by upwards of 100 million native people. The condition in which the pope gifted the land was that western Europeans settle there and convert everyone to Christianity. Those who don’t convert deserve death. Sociologists then say that after Europeans took over the land gifted by the Pope that the population of said area decreased by 80-90 percent. There is a quote from one of the conquistadors saying,

“When we became tired of the killing, God saw fit to give the savages smallpox” – Bernal Diaz Del Castillo.

In 1751 beloved American figure, Benjamin Franklin lamented the declining Anglo-Saxon population and declared that America should protect the White population by becoming an Anglo-Saxon only colony. He made his argument before the British Parliament.

When the Declaration of Independence came to in 1776 Thomas Jefferson declares that all men are created equal, which we like to celebrate. Just a few paragraphs later Jefferson has these words to say about Native Americans,

The last of these complaints, however, is one that reads: (King George) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In some ways Ben Franklin, with the help of Jefferson got his wish. Upon the United State’s first ever census people of color residing the US were listed as Chattel. That means, any property deemed necessary for production of goods and livelihood. Other things considered chattel at the time included pitchforks and horses. That’s what non-white human beings were reduced to here in this country less than 300 years ago.

Also in 1790 came the Citizen Naturalization Act, which said that only white men had the right to vote, which as we know, is of profound importance when shaping a new nation, or even an old one. The naturalization act in so many words proclaimed that immigrants to the US could be categorized as white. We have Irish, Germans, Scandinavian, and others across Europe forsaking their own culture to legally be seen as white and procuring their right to vote. This law remained in effect for so long that in 1922, less than 100 years ago, a Japanese man named Takao Ozawa sued the US government for the chance at being categorized as white and thus considered a citizen of the US, capable of voting. The US census decided to count Mr. Ozawa as Chinese even though he was clearly not of Chinese descent. In fact, anyone with any semblance of appearing Asian were qualified as chinese, effectively minimizing their humanness, culture, and heritage, another reason that I think the idea of not seeing color is detrimental. At the end of the day there has only remained one constant on each US census from 1790 to 2010. That is the fact one category remains, it’s the category that refers to people simply as “White.”

What about the fact that the Japanese were interned, basically imprisoned during WW2 simply because they were Japanese! That’s in the lifetimes of some of our family members! Fear brought upon by our history is not reduced to the African American population.

Around the same time as the Naturalization act went down, Congress set into motion something called the 3/5 compromise, which decided that African slaves should count as 3/5 of a human being. This was just the beginning of institutionalizing racism amongst Africans living in the US. And continues to be perpetuated throughout our history.

Now I know that some of you might be thinking, “But this was so long ago. America has made great strides.” I think that’s a myth. Our racism might not be overt as it once was but laws set in place hundreds of years ago still have major consequences today.

African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.

  • The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
  • Mass incarceration. Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults.
  • Education - Look at the stats. 18 percent of minority students account of 50 percent of suspensions.
  • Racial wealth inequality - whites make 18x more and 10x more than blacks and Latinos respectively.

If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

I think it manifests itself in more informal ways.

Today we don’t say “black ppl” we say “we want to crack down on drugs” but why do police target black neighborhoods more if blacks and whites use drugs at same rates. In fact, during the crack epidemic of the 80’s, which greatly affected the African American populations, we called it the war on drugs and we incarcerated a record number of people.

Today we have another drug problem. We have the opioid crisis, which greatly affects white people. We don’t incarcerate them though. We don’t even call it a war. We run tv and internet commercials giving addicts and their families options to get help!

Today we shine giant spotlights right at all section 8 housing in the name of safety. Do the police shine giant spotlights in your neighborhood in the name of safety? They don’t in mine? Today we don’t say “black women” we say “welfare queens” and immediately an image of black women come to mind even though most welfare recipients are white.

In the past weeks and in the coming weeks we’ve asked you to take a look at the history of our country and its dealings with minorities in regards to housing, educational, and job discrimination. I encourage your groups to look at the disparities between white people and people of color in every one of these scenarios. Our disparities are set a part from the beginning of our country’s history.

So back to a couple of weeks ago when I talked about equity versus equality. Once again, equality says that all have the ability to see over the sheet. The sheet is set at a certain height. But we must acknowledge that some groups, from the get go, have been reduced to less than greatly hindering their ability to have equitable status. Church, if anyone of us has the mindset that everyone has an equal chance to succeed, the way that our country was inherently set up makes that line of thinking faulty and illogical. Let’s stop talking about pulling up by bootstraps when there were systems in place set up to stop that very thing from happening.

This manifests itself in a couple of ways within our own lives. The standards set from the beginning of North America’s existence creates within us a implicit bias against people of color. This isn’t just for white people, this is for all of us.

The implicit associate test, given by Project Implicit shows that 75 percent of test takers have biases against people of color. Even people of color have biases against people of color. That means three out of every four of us in this room have some sort of bias against people of color. And like I said last week, it’s not overt. We generally have blind spots but these blind spots make a huge difference.

Ohio State University did a study on this implicit bias and it shows that it greatly impacts the way we treat people of color in regards to first encounters, whether or not we arrest, shoot, or prosecute people of color. And I want to stress that we have many fine people that work in law enforcement here in our church. We are great people but we are influenced by a history that is designed so that our brains think differently about POC’s

How often do you look at someone and innately think, that person must be dangerous, smart, weaker than me, a doctor, jobless, on welfare? I can go on. In fact I will go on. According to the extensive research done on implicit bias we see that our institutional racism brings about a personal racism. We are indeed affected by the structures of inequity that have long affected America and its people.

Furthermore the church has responded with complicit actions to keep inequality inequitable. In their book Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith present data that shows the vast majority of Christians right up until the start of the Civil War believed that Native Americans, Slaves, Asians, and other minority groups had no souls and therefore weren’t worthy of Christianity. In fact, the majority of Christians used scripture to justify slavery pointing to passages like this one in the book of Colossians,

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord – Colossians 3:21

On a side note, can we stop saying that we take the Bible literally? But I digress.

Others like famous preacher Cotton Mather advocated for slaves’ rights but ultimately did very little do bring about equity for minorities, both men and women alike.  And If I’m being frank I think there are many churches, maybe ours included who are doing the same thing! We’re advocating for the kingdom of heaven here on earth but aren’t doing enough to bring the light of Christ. This isn’t so much an indictment as a challenge for us to be different.

Ultimately, most of the Christian church has historically stood on the side of the oppressor, a direct contradiction to the radical call of the gospel message. I’ll go even further to say that parts of the American Christian church are in danger of becoming irrelevant due to the fact that they still stand on the side of the oppressor. After the US declared 200K El Salvadorians living in the US for 16 years, “Illegal” I unfortunately saw a fair share of religious folks come out in praise of a country that would protect its people. Unfortunately what they don’t see is that this perpetuates a hundreds of years old pattern in the US and remains that antithesis to the gospel message. So why not just shut the whole church down? Why not just throw the baby out with the bathwater? I’m tempted but I believe that the Epiphany, the incarnation of Christ will not be defeated.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, we’re in the middle of Epiphany. Regardless of the intensity of this message I think that this is a time of celebration. We’re celebrating the fact that the light of Christ is here. We’re celebrating the incarnation of god to show us what the kingdom of heaven looks like. The kingdom of heaven looks a whole lot like Jesus. And so I’ll continue to remind us in this Epiphany season that our job is to partner with God to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth. How did Jesus do it?

He interacts with the Samaritan, the SyroPhoenician woman, the Roman Centurion, the demoniac, all of whom were fundamentally different than Jesus. Jesus does not treat all people equally. Read the scripture, he doesn’t. He treats those who are victims of racism, oppression, and hurt, better than others! Jesus does not bring equality. Jesus brings equity. That is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus breaks down temple systems through his death. There was a clear delineation between the Jewish part of the temple and the gentile part of the temple. In fact, Gentiles were warned not to go near that part of the temple under penalty of death. But Jesus’ death changes the systems of the temple and invites all in.

Lastly, the picture of Pentecost, the spirit of Jesus upon the people once again shows what happens when the kingdom of heaven comes to earth.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. – Acts 2:4-6

There is a picture of all the languages, all of the differences highlighted and yet the spirit of the Lord descends equitably on them all, giving each of them the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Time and time again the Bible points to the fact that the Epiphany season, the light of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, is an equitable kingdom where our differences are celebrated and the gifts of God are made for us all, no exceptions. Frankly, that’s the good news of the Gospel and like I told you before, we get to usher that gospel message into our community!

A couple of weeks ago we talked about developing the willingness to listen. I talked about the fact that listening to the experiences of others creates empathy as does cultivating a practice of grief for all that we’ve heard today and all that we hear from other members of our community.

I want to point out two more things that I think are important to do today in regards to being a church that changes systems. I think we need to hear the voice of the prophet Isaiah and the sermon of Reverend Barber. We need to pay attention to the question asked by our prophets and the questions asked in Ferguson Missouri. Do we believe that the oppressed are the ones who can lead us to peace? Do we believe that some of us as the dominant culture can sit at the feet of those who have long been held back and be led? If we can say yes to that then I think we can take the next steps to bring the kingdom of God.

1.    Be an ally and show up. Hannah Johnston at St. Lydias talks about the fact that they have a ministry where they simply show up in support of others in the city who deal with racism. That sometimes means that they are there as allies for a Black Lives Matter rally. Other times it means being present when the city thinks about passing a law that will increase institutional disparity. Often it’s in support of refugees or those served by DACA.

As some of you have heard or not heard. One of the ways that our church will work to change systems is through our work with the Arab American Support Center in NYC and working with the city of NY directly to help change laws and that perpetuate racism. I invite you to find out more about the orgs we’ll support and invite you to show up and be an ally for those that need allies.

2.    Prayer matters here at our church. We say it every Sunday. We have a prayer team and I don’t think we take advantage. I think prayer allows us to take all of our thoughts captive, like Paul calls us to do in scripture I think prayer gives us the mind to see everyone as a child of God. I believe that the power of prayer changes implicit bias beset upon us by systems of inequity and gives us different eyes to see. I believe that a cultivated prayer life is one that allows us to reorder our minds to change systems.

And as we celebrate Epiphany we celebrate the we extend the light of God, that the spirit is at work in us to bring about a just and generous system of equity to our community.

Let’s pray the same prayer that Lisa Sharon Harper prayed with the church leaders in Ferguson four years ago.

1. Close your eyes.

2. Remember Isaiah’s statement that it will be the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the imprisoned who will repair the ruined cities and the devastations of many generations.

3. Imagine yourself being led by the oppressed in your town, city, and state.

4. How does it feel in your gut to imagine following the lead of the least of these?

5. Be brutally honest with yourself. Do you believe the Scripture?

6. If not, then confess your unbelief to God, and ask God to help you believe.

7. If you believe, then ask God to guide your steps as you enter the movement to repair what race broke in America."

Decolonizing Christianity (sermon)


Hi everyone I’m Sarah Ngu and I’m a deacon at forefront. I handle FF’s social media accounts and I help run with grace and D our lgbtq ministry, queer communion, and I’m a very proud member of our Brooklyn heights small group.

So, I’m going to tell you a bit about my family. Here’s a photo of my siblings and I in Malaysia. We’re Chinese-Malaysian, and we moved to the United States when i was ten years old for a bit of an unusual reason: My dad was sent by his church denomination to start a church here. Our denomination was founded by a Thai man, and so most of our churches were in Asia and we wanted to expand around the world. America, to be honest, also seemed to us like a modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah: full of sex, drugs, violence and gun ownership.

Here’s a photo of my family a year after we moved to California. As you can see that, in addition to the fact that I look basically about the same age now as I do then, we have several trophies. Those were all from softball. My dad was very eager for all of us to play softball / baseball, because he wanted us to play American sports. My dad wanted us all to become Americanized, partly because as a pastor he wanted to reach white Americans.

Track and soccer were never encouraged because my dad saw those as Malaysian sports. He wanted us to mingle with the whites. My sisters discovered only after years of softball that they preferred soccer and track (one of my sisters was recruited to run for college)—I was the only one, what a surprise, who really enjoyed softball.

My dad is also quite good at languages and I remember he would listen to the radio and practice rehearsing whatever he heard in order to sound American. We kids all grew up speaking English but we had Malaysian accents, which I remember trying to get rid of, because if you talk with Malaysian accent, people will not think you are very smart. If you talk with a British or Australian accent, okay lah. But with a Malaysian accent, it’s going to be a pro-blem.

But the thing that I remember most from my dad’s lessons in Americanese was that he would always say, “Don’t be intimidated like an Asian. Speak up and be assertive like my white colleagues.”

Now, my dad is a fighter; he loves public speaking, he’s very charismatic, so on one level he was just rebelling against the stereotype of submissive Asians. And I get that he was just trying to help us adapt and give us practical tips.

But note that he did not say, “Americans talk in more direct and assertive ways, and even though that’s not our public communication style, that’s what we have to do to be taken seriously here.”

He said, in contrast, “Don’t be intimidated like other Asians. Stand up for yourself like white people do.”

The former is about how to hustle here in America; the latter is... about shame of your culture. It's about internalizing white supremacy.

When we talk about white supremacy we tend to think of the KKK, Charlottesville. But no one talks about how white supremacy can be to use the ancient language of the bible, like a ghost, a demon, that gets under your skin into your psyche and start to possess you. If you’ve seen the movie Get Out, you’ll know what I mean.

You see, my dad and mom grew up right around the eve of Malaysia’s independence from British rule. They grew up in a country that was still, and is still, trying to overcome more than a hundred years of a legal, political and cultural system that put white people at the top, a system that did introduce modern education and technology but that also took my country’s natural resources and used it to rebuild their country especially after WWII.

But perhaps one of the most insidious effects of colonialism and imperialism globally that still lingers on today is the feeling that white people are superior. More capable. More civilized. You can still see that legacy in how most of the models in fashion ads in Asia are white or Asian people with more “white features” partly due to plastic surgery, in salary disparities between white “expats” and everyone else, and so on.  

I’m not making any personal accusations of anyone in this room, I’m just saying this is the system we live in. And when I say “white people” I’m not referring to certain biological features. If you look at the history of race, we really only started identifying people by their skin color and organizing them into hierarchies around the late 1600s with the advent of colonialism and Atlantic slave trade. So when I say whiteness, I’m using it as a shorthand for “dominant group,” but which group is dominant is something that changes over history. This will be particularly relevant later on when we get into scripture.

So when my dad’s mom wanted to send my dad to the best university, it’s not too surprising that she sent him to an English boarding school. When he got there, his English wasn’t the best. So his classmates mocked his pronunciation. One of the guys would tease him and say, “Could you pass the sugar please?” I mean, if you think about it why would s-u-g-a-r is pronounced “shu-gar”? My dad at the time could speak three languages - 福州话,客家话,普通话,- and his classmates only one, but he was the one who was made to feel inferior.

When you’re excluded from the dominant group, you have two options: You can either withdraw and hang out with your own kind, or you can try your best to assimilate and be accepted by the dominant group. My dad chose the latter option. To this day, he is proud of the fact that he didn’t join International Christian Students Club with all the Asians, he joined Christian Union which was where the white students were -- he was quite popular in fact and became secretary at one point.

It’s sad to me that although my dad grew up in an era in which British colonialism was formally over, he was still embedded in a kind of colonial Christianity.

Look, I don’t want to diminish the agency and choice that we people of color have made to choose this faith because we are compelled by its fundamental story. But it gets hard sometimes. Honestly it’s hard to hold onto this faith when it’s been transmitted to you by the people who have colonized you, enslaved you, and you look around and you see the books my dad has to read for seminary and how most of them are written by white men, and when I look at the top 100 largest churches in America and how 93% of them are led by white pastors and only 1 of them is led by a female co-pastor, and when I look at whose books and podcasts are being published and circulated, who’s getting the speaking engagements and conference invites — I mean my church in Asia raised kids on Focus on the Family and exclusively sang songs from a white Australian band named hillsong — when I look at all of this I can’t help but think that not much has changed since colonialism. The legal structure may not exist, but the culture of colonial Christianity still remains.

So why am I still here?

Let’s get into Scripture. Let’s look Paul’s letter to Titus, his friend and mentee. In this letter, which is in the bible, he gives Titus a whole list of instructions for how to really set up and grow the Christian community in a Greek island called Crete. He tells him what kind of elders to appoint, the ways families should be structured and behave, and towards the end, he inserts this statement which reminds me of what my dads advice to ud:

”Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” (Titus 2:15, NRSV)
Now why would Paul say that? Maybe Titus has some confidence issues, and people around him are kinda arrogant. I’m sure that’s all part of it.

You know if Titus was in a small group he might say, “Hey guys can you pray for me I have this big presentation I have to make and big decisions, and I’m feeling a little nervous if people will listen to me.”

And everyone would be like, “Yeah we’ll pray for you. You got this.”

But hold up. Is Titus feeling insecure because he’s Titus, or are there some larger forces going on here?

Let’s figure this out.

So we see Titus appear again in a book in the bible called Galatians, where Paul is talking about his trip to Jerusalem and he is talking about how there is this faction of Jews who are trying to get all these Gentile converts to the faith to be circumcised. And Paul writes this:

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”

Ah, so we see that Titus is Greek, meaning he is a Gentile, which is a word for someone who is not Jewish.

Why does that matter? Well if we go back to the book of Acts, we read about this tension and power dynamic between Gentiles and Jews in the early church, in which Jews had the upper hand.

By the way recall what I said about whiteness being shorthand for dominance. Obviously throughout history different groups of people have been more dominant than others. And In this context, our bible tells us that it was the Jewish people.

And what I’m going to narrate is going to portray Jewish people in a negative light; I’m just restating whatever the text in our Scriptures states. I don’t really want us to be caught up in questions of whether it was really and historically true that Jewish people at that time acted that way, and whether Paul had an agenda; we have to be super mindful of the fact that the verses I’m going to recite have been used to villainize and persecute Jewish people, and force them to assimilate and to convert.

What I want us to take away from the text are deeper truths that I think Paul is trying to convey about what it means to be a diverse community and what it means to hold power.

With that really important frame, let’s get into it.

So I mentioned this tension between gentiles and jews in the early church. If we go to the book of Acts chapter 15, this tension really comes to a head. Because there are a fair number of Jews who were saying, “Ok we get it that God is now opening up our covenant with God to include Gentiles because God’s given them the Holy Spirit and we see the Spirit evident in their lives. But if they’re coming into our country -- I mean, our covenant -- they gotta assimilate. They’ve got to get circumcised and follow law of Moses.”

Why was circumcision such a big deal? You really see this debate about it all throughout the NT. It was, and still kinda is, the marker of identity for Jews. It was commanded by God; God, as portrayed, in the book of Exodus was about to kill Moses’ son because he wasn’t circumcised. If you’re not circumcised, you’re not part of the covenant. (Of course if you are a cis woman, I guess you’re off the hook since no one seems to really care).

As an aside, as immigrant, it’s really interesting to me that so many of the key flashpoints between Gentiles and Jews are physical: They are about what you eat, how your body is formed, etc. Because so many of the transitions that immigrants have to go through are also physical: Its about your accent, what you eat, what clothes you wear, how you hold your body.

So the early church is at a crossroads and it has to make a big decision about how it’s going to integrategentiles into thecovenant:

Peter gets up and say: “ My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as God did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith God has made no distinction between them and us.”

The church decides that we’re just going to ask Gentles to observe four laws - no sexual immorality, eating food offered to idols, no eating meat that’s strangled or blood… some trace these back to the laws of Noah that Jews believe apply to all humans, but the bigger deal is what’s left out from the list: No mention circumcision and honoring the Sabbath, which is a huge deal because it’s one of the 10 commandments.

This significance of this decision is that what it means to follow Jesus and be Christian — to be part of this new spiritual community — is not about assimilating into the dominant group’s norms or in this case laws. What holds this diverse community together is the spirit of God which is in all of us.

So now that you have that context from the book of Acts, let’s jump back into Galatians. Paul’s writing about his trip to Jerusalem in Heidi he is bringing his Greek friend Titus, and he notices Peter, one of the key leaders in the early church, acting very strangely. He notices that Peter would eat with Gentiles, including Greeks, but when certain Jews -- would come, Peter would separate himself from the Gentiles and eat with the Jews. And Paul is fuming, he’s says, “"If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

If we were to translate this into modern-day America, we might ask, “Hey why are all the white kids sitting together for lunch? Why are all the blacks kids sitting there? Asian kids sitting over there?” And I can’t help but picture Titus, going to Jerusalem with Paul, kinda like a new kid shows up in school, and he’s wondering, “Who’s going to sit with me for lunch?”

Paul is going ballistic in this letter, he’s like:  

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified. The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”

I’ll repeat: Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

He’s arguing: our shared identity is about the Spirit of God, not with whose bodies or flesh matters more than others. And he would later say in that same later that in Jesus we are no longer slave/free, male/female, Jew/Greek — essentially these hierarchies are abolished. We are bound together by the same Spirit, so why we are then replicating these dynamics in church? Yes let’s bring in diversity but not inequity and hierarchy!

So when we look back at Paul’s words to Titus, where he says, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you” — a formulation btw which I much prefer over “don’t be intimidated” by it places the responsibility on the person who is intimidating you not you and your feelings - because we can read that as “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are Greek, you are a Gentile, you are not part of the dominant group.”

If he was writing a letter to the church today, he might say, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because of your sexuality or your gender identity.” Take pride. He might say to you now, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because of your job or your lack of a job your height your weight your body your mental illness your physical ability your addiction where you were born, whether you come from a shithole nation or not.” Because EVEN if the most powerful person in the world looks down upon you, there is yet a higher power PAUSE whose spirit is in all of us. There is a higher truth.  

As a queer person, Paul’s not always my favorite, but I love Paul when he’s bringing the heat like this. Because stuff like this is what brings me back to this faith and tradition.

But we have a lot of work to do to realize this radical vision. So what are we going to do to de-colonize Christianity?


1.   Let’s start looking at our consumption: Whose books and podcasts are we consuming? Is it all… mostly white people? Especially white men? Let’s start listening and paying attention to other voices especially within the church. I’ll post on FFs Facebook page some recommendations and you all can add to it.

2.   Let’s talk about church. Who preaches? Who is paid to be on staff? who’s an elder? a deacon? who tends to sit in the front vs in the back? Who talks the most in small group? Who is listened to more? Who do people make eye contact with when they are talking?

My friend Derrick, who is Singaporean, once ran an experiment where he would observe his reaction to his friends’ comments and statements, and if he reacted differently if it was a female friend or coworker vs a male counterpart, and he said, “Omg sarah, i realized I do take women less seriously, i am more dismissive of their comments.” What if we all ran that experiment also? And do the same thing for race? For people who speak different accents?

3.   One of my favorite examples of de-colonizing church can look like is in the book of Acts. they had this radical socialist system where no one had any economic needs because people would share resources and property. They had this daily distribution of food to widows, because widows had very little family to support them financially. But they started getting complaints that Greek speaking widows were being overlooked compared to Hebrew widows. So you know what the apostles, the leaders of the early church, who were mostly hebrew decided? they weren’t like oh we will track our distribution processes better, they said: Let’s appoint a group of seven deacons to handle the distribution of resources, and we are not even going to make that committee 50/50 Greek and Hebrew, we are going to ensure the entire group is Greek.  I love this example because the early church recognized the fundamental problem was not resource-distribution but power-distribution. And they needed to level the power dynamic. What if we applied that logic today to current problems of inequity?

4. Ok to all my fellow immigrants out there, what cultural ritual or even religion have you been told to stay away from because it’s not Christian? What if you explored those rituals and even religions and found a way to authentically integrate it with your faith? If some of you are like what heresy is this... consider Christmas and Easter. Let’s look at Xmas. The date of Christmas comes from a pagan midwinter festival celebrated by the Druids, a Celtic religion, who would celebrate it by cutting down evergreen trees and putting it in their homes; Easter itself is probably influenced by an ancient Babylonian goddess named Ishtar whose symbols, as the goddess of love and fertility, were eggs and rabbits. So Europeans been playing this game for centuries; we gotta get in on the action. We’ve been missing out. Why do we have to assimilate into their version of christianity?


I think of my dad and how I kinda wish he was here — he’s not attending because of FF’s affirming stance on LGBTQ people — because when I think about how the Gospel can be a truly liberating force, I think of people like him, and how I, deeply wish, he, and all of us, could truly be free.

Why Forefront Brooklyn Has Become My Chosen Family


Kisha L. first visited Forefront Brooklyn during spring 2017. During the first service she attended, she saw Grace D. stand up in front of the audience and talk about how she is a queer deacon at Forefront. She immediately turned to her best friend and said, "I think I've found home."

Since then, her experience at Forefront has been "awesome and overwhelming in a really good way. The sense of community is not something that I've known in church before." She cites herexperience of three Queer Communion (a FFBK ministry) members volunteering to help her move in, even though she had only met one of them before briefly at church. "I didn't feel I deserved it at first; I felt I had to earn help or community so it was hard for me to even accept it... I didn't know genuine care like that." Her first QC event was a discussion group hosted in a QC member's apartment to discuss the Nashville Statement and race. "I'd never been in a space that was so religious and queer at the same time. It felt good to be around my people."

After only a handful of months, Kisha volunteered to make waffles and host a brunch for QC at her apartment. "It was a way for me to give back. I've had a really hard time with church before Forefront, which stopped me from going to church for several years, until I found a space where I was 100% accepted. Hosting was the least I could do."

To help make FFBK create a home for more LGBTQ+ Christians, give here: https://buff.ly/2Dm8MQU

To learn more about Queer Communion, check it out: https://buff.ly/2DlhYVN

Taking Back "Evangelical"

Our senior pastor Jonathan Williams has a new article up on Huffington Post.

Christian Fundamentalists have hijacked the word, “evangelical” and I’m ready to take it back.
The word, “evangelical,” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” I believe that the Christian faith can still be good news but there must be a reckoning.
Today, Christian Evangelicals have done enough damage such that the word “evangelical” conjures reactions that belie the word’s meaning. Tell me: The last time you read a headline that said, “American evangelicals ….” did you think, “Oh that’s going to be good news?”

Read more here.

When the Forefront Community Helped Me Pay My Bills

 Emem Offong, an elder at Forefront

Emem Offong, an elder at Forefront

I have been a part of Forefront church for almost 10 years. In that time,  I have seen and experienced examples of true community countless times.  One such example occurred in 2009 when I was freelancing and having a tough time making ends meet. I had started hanging out with other freelancers at church, one of whom was becoming a good friend.  As we got closer and shared more about our lives, we realized we were both struggling financially. So for most of that year, we shared our earnings with each other. If she made some money from a freelance gig, she shared it with me and I did the same. What I needed that year wasn’t prayers, it was cash. And thanks to my friend, I was able to pay my bills and take care of myself during a really difficult time. Her generosity is the reason I still live in New York today. It is also one of many reasons why I am immensely grateful to be a part of this community. 

Prayers of the Peacemakers

In this tumultuous season, Forefront Brooklyn added a time of prayer and reflection in our worship services. We want to prayerfully respond to the tension and the division in our country. Forefront community member Ashley Putnam wrote a moving prayer of peace for our nation. We encourage you to pray this prayer and share it with others that we might be conduits of real peace.

Prayer of the Peacemaker 

Lord, we come to you today with heavy hearts. It seems every day we are waking up to devastating news, political divisions, natural disasters, lives lost. 

Our hearts long for your peace, your justice, the world that you desire.

Lord open our eyes and hearts this morning, help us to see the distance between our politicalized mainstream American culture, and the radical love you want us to practice.

Lord, in a world is hurting and broken, where people fear each other and judge each other before they love each other, we pray we will be the hands and feet of your love. 

God make us instruments of your good, guide our hands and feet to action, make us more than a people of thoughts and prayers. 

May we be community in a world of isolation, mercy in a world of judgment, and reconciliation in a time of division. 

Lord hear our cries. 

-Ashley Putnam

The New York Times profiles our founding pastor and church

 Photo taken by Jackie Molloy for The New York Times

Photo taken by Jackie Molloy for The New York Times

The New York Times profiled our founding pastor, Jonathan Williams, and his family's story. Read about what happened when Jonathan's father came out as trans, and how that's impacted our community's theology, particularly on LGBTQ issues.

In case the message wasn't clear from the article, to our LGBTQIA brothers, sisters and all non-binary folks: You are fully affirmed and welcome to participate in the life of the church in all levels of leadership, ritual and service. In fact, you're welcome to join our thriving queer community over at Queer Communion--it's led by leaders at Forefront and is open to anyone who is anywhere on their journey of faith and gender or sexuality. They run monthly events which are open to anyone, including people outside of Forefront. 

BabaHero: Entrepreneurs in our Community (interview with Tommy Cohen)

Interview with Thomas Cohen, member of Forefront. 

Q. You've launched a subscription box business for new fathers -- BabaHero -- which has been featured in Entrepreneur, Buzzfeed Parents, and WNBC New York. Can you tell us about your journey towards fatherhood—and later on, your business? 

A. It started when we found out that my wife was pregnant with twins, Zara and Amari, back in November 2014. We were elated but conscious of the fact that it might not happen. We had lost two due to miscarriage before—Emem, Mira and Jonathan at Forefront were there when we needed them through those tough times. We just leaned on Forefront Church for prayer. 

As we got closer and closer to the pregnancy date, I was excited and started reading every book I could on parenting—I probably read 10 or 11 books, in addition to tons of articles. I just wanted to be the best parent I could be. I just wanted to be involved especially as a dad. 

Q. Why were you so excited to be a parent?

Before we were pregnant, I found myself questioning whether I was truly ready to be a dad. I never knew how much I wanted to be a dad until that was taken away from me. Also I know a lot of dads get bad reputations for being absent—digging a little deeper, as an African-American dad, the typical stereotype is that they are not there for their children (although my parents were great). I wanted to debunk that.

Q. And then partway through the pregnancy, you received news that you would be laid off. What happened after that? 

I was working in HR at a company for five years and I was laid off in May 2015—our girls were due in August. It was a really scary time—just thinking about how I was going to take care of them and afford to feed them. Looking back, I feel I was programmed to feel that since I was the man of the house, my role was to provide financially. I was frantic, thinking, what am I going to do? 

What really helped was that my wife was willing to go back to work shortly after our girls were born because she didn’t want me to get a job, where I would be miserable, just to have a job. I’m really thankful that she was willing to be the primary financial provider for the family. I became a stay-at-home dad and the primary parent of our twin girls for 18 months. It was an amazing experience.

Q. Was it hard to transition from being anxious about providing towards being excited about being a parent? 

It was kind of hard. After the 5th or 6th interview where I just kept getting “No”s — to be honest I still don’t know why, as I have a BA and Masters in HR, in addition to five years of work experience in a multibillion dollar company—but maybe in the bigger picture God had a different plan for me. 

None of what I’ve accomplished so far would not happen if I landed a job and didn’t stay at home with my children. When they were six months old, I felt that I had the parenting down pat and I was looking for other ways to contribute financially, as we were bleeding financially. I was wrapping my head around, “What is the problem I have? What is the solution for it?” And that’s how the business came to be.

Q. Can you tell us more about the business, BabaHero?

It's a subscription box business for new dads to help them transition to fatherhood.  “Baba" translates to dad in many languages, and “hero" is any dad or parent who just wants to be a hero to their child. In the box, you may find baby wipes, teethers, books, hand sanitizers, bath toys, etc. Every box will include a gift for dad — a way to say thank you and encourage them to bond with kids. Some dads will find socks, gadgets, tools, coffee or edibles. 

When we conceptualized the business, there were a ton of subscription boxes for new moms but nothing much catering to new dads. There were “survival kits," but I chose a different philosophy. You’re not supposed to survive fatherhood—if you approach it that way, you’ll always be stressed. I believed that you should embrace fatherhood and really enjoy the time of being a father, including the ups and downs. 

Q. What was it like starting a business while parenting? 

It was a busy time. They don’t go to sleep until 11pm or 12am, so I start working on the business from 12-3am. When our kids would wake up throughout the night as infants, we split the labor 50-50. As one of them didn’t want to nurse—she only took the bottle—I would feed her, and my wife would nurse the other one. 

Q. In your ideal world, what would society expect of parents? 

Society is changing—two years ago, I got one day for paternity leave. NYC is changing its paternity leave structure to be more supportive of fathers. Ideally, I would like to see us head in the direction where being a stay-at-home dad or mom is okay, where it’s not shocking for a father to take care of the kids, to change diapers, etc. 

Q. Has Forefront Church has been helpful at all in your journey as a father and an entrepreneur?

I would definitely give Forefront credit. Recently, we attended a family small group, which has been amazing to hear other stories from parents and realize that we aren’t alone, and that there are people going through the exact same things we are. The group also gives me insight into how other parents raise their children, what products they use, etc. It’s also been a great experience to see my girls interact with other kids during Kidstuf (Sunday school) — they are under two so they haven’t attended daycare, so being with other kids helps them develop their social skills. 

Q. Has Forefront been supportive of your family’s parenting structure?

Yeah, definitely. Forefront has a female pastor, which hasn’t been true of some of the churches we’ve attended in the past. The community has been open and receptive to me being a stay-at-home dad. Quite honestly, it’s refreshing, especially compared to down South where I grew up. Forefront is a very open church—they talk about issues that really matter in society, such as the LGBT community. They’ve challenged my upbringing and my programming after 20-30 years of attending certain churches. Jonathan is very good at preaching in a way where I can relate to him, where he allows us to come to our conclusions instead of twisting the words of the Bible to fit an agenda. I grew up Southern Baptist and then later on attended predominantly Chinese churches with my wife. Forefront was an opportunity to start over and open my mind to what church really could be. 

How Forefront Helped Save Our Marriage (Interview)

An interview with a member of Forefront.

Q. Why did you join Forefront?

My spouse and I were on the verge of separating—we were at the end of our rope and out of options. Obviously we love each other, we’re together, it’s great, but at the time, when your back is against the wall, what are your options? It was like, I don’t know, maybe we should try church again (we were done with church for a really long time until Forefront). I needed to find someone else to stare at. [laughs]

Q. So how exactly did Forefront help your marriage?

It wasn’t so much the Jesus factor or God, although that underpins everything. It was being around other people who have been married and almost divorced, or people who can reflect back to us how they see us and each other. Because we could no longer see each other the way that we needed to. It’s helpful to interact with someone and see, “Oh maybe I’m not a jerk, so maybe I don’t need to be the jerk that I am to my husband.” It was the same for him.

Q. What makes you stay now?

The community. My best friends have come from here. I’m continuing to build that community—it happens all the time that somebody new shows up who is willing to dive in and be part of the community. There’s also the writing guild I lead here.

Also, Forefront’s quest for asking questions instead of necessarily answering them.

Q. What are questions that you’ve been able to explore here that you haven’t elsewhere?

I mean, [laughs] the existence of God, the existence of hell, the infallibility or not of this biblical text. I have a lot of issues with what I perceive to be the sexism of the Christian faith; I try to hold space for Christianity and my feminism. Because one way that I can look at Christianity is: A bunch of men were so intimidated by the power of a woman to give life that they created a religion which required you to be born a second time by putting your faith in a man.

When I attended Jonathan’s and Jubi’s small group when the church first started, Jonathan held space for questions like that. Other pastors have been quick to answer questions with scripture and answer questions with ”more faith.” Jonathan held space to not have answers to questions and to acknowledge that if someone is having a crisis of faith, maybe the answer shouldn’t be the very thing they are questioning.

I feel like that there is space here for having a period of time where I don’t believe anything at all and that’s okay — these crises of faith are no longer a “crisis” and just a natural part of being human. It’s exactly the right kind of place for me because I’m not sure about anything ever a hundred percent, and that just needs to be okay.

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Why I Choose to Stay in Forefront, Even When It’s Uncomfortable (Interview)

An interview with Joanne Howell.

You and your small group from your former church, International Church of Christ, were looking for a new church a few years ago. Why did you all decide on Forefront? 

We felt welcomed. No one asked didn’t ask us, “What are your beliefs?” in order make sure that we could fit with them. I certainly did a lot of praying and I felt that this was the answer to prayer. Yeah, it didn’t fit with box of what we knew, but it was an opportunity to learn without the sense that you had to accept the church’s way of looking at things. It was also important to me that our children liked this church—I didn’t want to have to wake them up on Sunday morning and push them to come. 

But it wasn’t a completely comfortable transition?

It was when we had a baptism of someone who was gay. She told her life-story on stage. Frankly, it’s still something that’s hard for me. I wrestle with both sides of the argument. The way that I’ve resolved it is that I understand both point of views. I feel unsure about what I believe, but I don’t feel as compelled as I did earlier to have the right answer. It’s something that you can have a different opinion on.

Why don't you feel so compelled to have the right answers? 

I come from a background where it’s “Thus saith the Lord” [laughs] If the Bible says it, then it’s true. One of the things that I’ve really loved and embraced here at Forefront is a new understanding of how to approach Scripture. It really doesn’t intellectually make sense to just lift it all up and say, "If it’s there, it’s literally true." 

You work as a lawyer, right? So did you compartmentalize how you mentally approach your professional work versus the Bible? 

I absolutely did. It’s not even rational. I think, subconsciously, that’s always been a question mark and this church has brought that question to the forefront. 

I feel my experience with God is what keeps me here. It doesn’t feel like it’s in danger because my understanding of Scripture changes. Before it was, “It’s gotta be exactly what you see the bible and if you get it wrong, you can’t go to heaven.” 

What keeps you here at Forefront Brooklyn?

We have looked around at different churches, and frankly I came to the decision that this is what feel better for me than any place else — at least I can continue to grow as a Christian. It feels like other churches have very clear doctrines and I guess I’m not as comfortable with that anymore. I now realize I need some room to question and figure things out. 

I feel my experience with God is what keeps me here. It doesn’t feel like it’s in danger because my understanding of Scripture changes. Before it was, “It’s gotta be exactly what you see the bible and if you get it wrong, you can’t go to heaven.” 

My connection with God feels more honest and genuine. Now it includes my questions. Before I had to lock out anything that didn’t fit. I couldn’t process those parts. 

This is a young church. There are still some things we feel are lacking in Forefront, and I expect that as time goes on, various things will get addressed -- they are already starting to be.

Click Here to give to our "Why Forefront" Campaign. 

FAQ's about our Why Forefront Campaign

Why are we having a “Why Forefront” Campaign?

As we’ve talked about, Forefront Brooklyn and Forefront Manhattan decided to split our finances for 2017. Before 2017 we worked under one budget with both locations’ giving going to the same bank account. We operated under one combined budget.

As we separated our finances we found some good news, that with a few cuts Forefront Brooklyn was in fact a self supporting church. That means that we’re not receiving any financial help from outside churches or organizations, and we’re not receiving financial help from Forefront Manhattan. We’re able to cover staff salaries, rent, and about 2,000 dollars a month in ministry expenses.

That being said our margins are slim. We want to operate in such a way that we don’t have to make more cuts but can build into our ministries and families while maintaining financial stability. We’re praying that this campaign will create a financial margin that allows us to make upgrades to our kids’ area, to make positive changes in the ministries that serve our whole church, and keep us from tightening our belts further.

What is the Goal for our "Why Forefront" Campaign?

We’d like to raise $60,000 with 12% of all that is raised going towards our Refugee Relief Fund.

The money raised will go towards:

Improving our Kidstuf area by providing new equipment, new curriculum, and creating a more aesthetically pleasing area for kids and families. You can learn more by clicking here.

Funding our Forefront Brooklyn ministries, which include but are not limited to, supporting our lay leaders, paying our staff to help care for and disciple our community, paying for events including outings and retreats, and helping to cover the almost $2000 in monthly expenses ranging from coffee and bagels to paying insurance, and purchasing new signs.

As you know, rent in this city is crazy. Some of the money given will go toward renting our Roulette space each week and towards renting spaces for events throughout the year.

Why are we having another campaign after we raised money last year in our “Together in This campaign?”

Our "Together in This" campaign did its job. Our community raised money that allowed both Forefront Brooklyn and Forefront Manhattan to continue to operate in its full capacity. In fact, much of the money given to our TGIT campaign allowed Forefront Brooklyn to become the self supporting church that it is now.

Our TGIT campaign also helped us to make up the parts of the budget affected by the planned end of outside giving from our generous benefactors. It put us in great shape and allowed for us to make this financial split without incurring large cuts in salary, expenses, and ministries.

TGIT put us in a position to move forward in a positive direction, and our "Why Forefront" Campaign allows our church, Forefront Brooklyn, to continue to make strides towards living out our just and generous vision. This is our opportunity to create growth and stability in our church.

Explain the Refugee Relief Fund.

The start of our church coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. We recognized the need and were able to raise money to help victims of Sandy all over the East Coast. We started a relief fund because we recognized that our money would be best used if we were able to give it to multiple organizations, causes, and people.

In the same way we recognize that there is a wide swath of refugees in need of help. One organization that we've partnered with in the past, CAMBA, helps settle refugees in and around the city. We also know that there are major needs on the Syrian border where hundreds of thousands are in need of supplies to simply live. We want to be able to help refugees in every time and capacity. There are other organizations in NYC and throughout that can use our help. Just like with Hurricane Sandy, we want to use this money when and where it’s needed without limitations.

The money we receive will allow us to act swiftly when CAMBA notifies us of new refugee families who are settling in NYC. It also allows us to use our resources to immediately help ongoing needs in places like the Syrian border though the work of our friends at Gather for Goats.

Why isn’t there an option to personally support refugee families?

Simply put, we didn’t want our community to have to choose between supporting our church and supporting refugee families. Instead, we decided that it was more effective for our community to both support Forefront and know that as we support our church, we’re also supporting refugees in our city and beyond.

For those who are interested in personally supporting refugees, we encourage you to join Greater NYC Families for Syria and participate in the great work happening with them. 

Why are we giving 12% to support refugee families?

Throughout the years Christian tradition has dictated a tithe of 10%, which stems from Jewish Levitical laws of the Old Testament. We know that every dollar counts and in some ways, 10% of our giving is a sacrifice for Forefront Brooklyn. CS Lewis had a popular quote that goes like this,

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

Although it sounds like a trite number, giving a little more, 12% of our total puts us in a position of truly trusting God with our provisions. We want to practice what we preach, and we hope that our community’s generosity spills over to others.

What do we do if we exceed our goal of $60,000?

Our hope is that we get an abundance, which will allow us to reimplement effective ministries like MidrashNYC, Marriage and Singles Retreats, and Leadership Retreats. Our hope is that we’re able to add those ministries back into the life of Forefront. Remember, whatever we get above our goal allows us to give even more to Refugee Relief.

What happens if we do not reach our goal of $60,000?

As I’ve previously stated, our church will not close. We’re ultimately a self supporting church. However, I also stated that our margins between giving and expenditures are quite slim. Any decrease in giving will ultimately result in the tightening of our budget even further. These cuts will most likely come in the form of staff salary reductions, which unfortunately hamper our staff’s ability to effectively serve the church.

What can we do to help?

We can give! Choose to give to Forefront Brooklyn Ministries, Forefront Brooklyn Kidstuf, and even Forefront Brooklyn’s general fund!

Pray for our church. We say it every week. Prayer matters and makes a difference. Pray that our church aligns with the calling of God and that we work to bring God’s kingdom to this earth.

Thanks so much for all your help and support! I’m amazed at the way God has used our church community over the past 5 years and I look forward to seeing what God has in store for our future!

- Jonathan Williams, Lead Pastor

Why Our Brooklyn Ministries Matter

Why Our Brooklyn Ministries Matter

Everything we do is with the intent of loving people and bringing them into the life-changing presence of community. Our ministries, outreach, and events all reflect our values of community, humility, generosity, and diversity. When you give to our Bk ministries you make it possible for more people to be invited into the just and generous love of Jesus. 

 Leadership Resident, Caroline Hughes, leads our volunteer setup ministry team each Sunday. 

Leadership Resident, Caroline Hughes, leads our volunteer setup ministry team each Sunday. 

Here are just a few examples of the ways your gift will serve our community and our city:

$1250 - The cost of rent for one Sunday at the Roulette

$700 - New signage and storage bags for our lobby and sidewalks

$450 - One month's rent for our van parking space (The van stores all our Sunday supplies.) 

$70 - Coffee and bagels for one Sunday morning

$300 - An appreciation event for our leaders and volunteers

$800 - Weekly programs and printed materials for one year

$350 - Application fee and supplies for the Atlantic Antic Street Festival

$150 - Rental space and food for the Women's Fall Party outreach event

$10 - Allows a staff member to meet a newcomer for coffee 

$250 - Allows us to bring in a guest teacher like Rabbi Dan or Isaac Archuleta

$1000 - Allows us to have one Faith, Culture, Questions event this fall

$8000 - Allows us to do a weekend prayer/rest retreat


Why Kidstuf Matters

At Kidstuf, we believe in providing more than just childcare on Sunday mornings.  We provide space so babies, toddlers and children alike can form friendships and grow in their relationship with God.  We pride ourselves in being intentional about meeting the needs of the diversity of our community.  In everything we teach, we focus on these Biblical truths:


I am loved by God.

We are created in the image of God.

Jesus taught us how to love generously.


We learn how we can continue to live out the Gospel in our daily lives, in our homes, in our schools, and in our community.  One of the ways we do this is through community outreach events. You can learn more about our current kidstuf events and curriculum here. 

We need your support to keep up with the growing needs of Family Ministry!  Read about each need below and how contributing will help that particular area of our ministry.


Curriculum Development and Planning: $1200/month. There is a lot of free and paid curriculum out there.  $500/month would cover a basic curriculum for the children downstairs.  However, none of it would take into account, the vision and mission for our church as well as the unique makeup of our Kidstuf Kids. With more funds, we can cover the time and resources it would take to develop a curriculum that is unique to Kidstuf.  We can take the time to develop curriculum that is inline with our vision and mission, and celebrates the diversity of our Kidstuf Kids.  We want to celebrate the diversity in their backgrounds and experiences, the diversity in their learning styles and the diversity in how they worship.  We want to develop curriculum that keeps in mind what goes on in the calendar year and integrating that so they see how the relevance of their Christian faith in the world today.  We want them to find a place in their faith within Kidstuf and then in turn see how their identity in God, their faith and their walk with Christ can be used to bring shalom within themselves, in their home, school and in their neighborhood.  

Library: $400 Children can explore Biblical themes in the context of what is happening in their world today, e.g. the importance of observing Earth Day and how the Bible tells us that we are stewards of the earth and then reading about how a little girl has done just that in a storybook.  Biblical stories come alive as we read them along side children's books. 

Snacks: $480/year. There's just something about apple juice and goldfish crackers that just brightens up every child's morning!

Toys for the Nursery: $300. We want to update our resources and purchase high quality toys made of wood. Toys will be purchased that are both sustainable and encourage children to learn through play.  

Kidstuf Environment: $2000. We want kids to look forward to coming to Kidstuf and our families to take pride in it, and be encouraged to invite friends. One of our parents, Gretchen Chern, has so generously donated her time and talent to design a fun and inviting environment.  We will be using backdrops that are child-safety approved and can be set up and packed down quickly and efficiently.  

Personal Development: $700 per Kidstuf Staff/Volunteer. Our goal is to fund three Kidstuf leaders.  This money goes to funding the attendance to at least one Children's Ministry Conference this year where we can network with other Children's Ministry leaders.  We can learn from different voices, all with varying experiences to expand our knowledge on Children's Ministry so that we can better serve the families in our church and our neighborhood.

Pastoral Care for new families/current families and volunteers: $400/month  Much of the growth of our ministry stems from taking the time to care for our families and volunteers.  We take time to check on the wellbeing of new moms, hear the stories of new families coming in so as to better serve them and their children, and pour into our volunteers who continue to sacrifice part of their Sunday morning to investing in the future of our church.  Caring for the health of our parents and volunteers, ultimately produce healthier relationships in which our children can flourish.

Volunteer Appreciation Event: $300 In ministry, we have learned that caring for and appreciating our volunteers make them feel appreciated, this in turn, produces a healthy and thriving ministry.  

Baby Dedications: $35/baby. $700 will cover the next 12 months. This is an immediate need.  Our babies from our baby boom are being dedicated and we want to welcome them into our church home with love. These funds go towards Baby Dedication church services and gifts.

Mother's Day and Father's Day:  $250  We want to honor the Mothers and Fathers in our church community and those that visit on these Sundays.  It's not a side note to us.  We value them, we value what they do in raising their family and we value their role in our church too.

 Our Easter Egg Hunt this year attracted roughly 150 kids and adults!     Photo Credit: Katherine Pastrana

Our Easter Egg Hunt this year attracted roughly 150 kids and adults!    Photo Credit: Katherine Pastrana

Outreach:  $500-$800. We saw the success of outreach events such as the Easter Egg Hunt, made possible by the generous sponsorship of members of Forefront.  We want to do more.  We want to make space to bring together families who don't always have the means to enjoy pricey activities for their kids.  We want to make space for them to enjoy an afternoon of fun without having to break the bank. In turn, we want our Kidstuf kids to see what it means to serve our community.

Cushioning: $500.  Emergencies come up.  Families/kids/volunteers may have urgent needs.  We want as a ministry to be able to serve those who pour into our families and are a part of our community when/if they need us.

Click on the button below to give to Kidstuf. Giving to Kidstuf means that you have contributed to raising up the next generation of church and investing in their future.  Thank you for joining us in caring for our families and our community!  

Why Forefront Matters with Stef Fontela

How has Forefront supported me in ways that other churches haven't? Well, it's funny because I think the question should be more like, "How hasn't Forefront supported me? 

 This church has been a massive part of my life over the last 6 years, almost just as long as I've lived in New York City. Forefront has become my safe place to sit for an hour or two on Sundays to wrestle my stress and anxiety to peace. Forefront has become a group of people I call family who constantly help me and love me, even if it requires good ole Robbie Kleinberg and Don Torrance carrying boxes into my new apartment or Mira dropping off dinner to me when hypochondriac Stef proves herself correct. Forefront has become the ability to text message Jonathan and Jubi in the middle of the night because I'm convinced I've officially gone out of my mind this time and need someone to talk me back to center. Forefront has become the spiritual studio that's allows me to question, grow, and explore my faith in a way that I've never done before, making it stronger and more insightful than it's ever been.

You see, I grew up in the church and I loved it. But one day, when you’re 18-years-old and you’re staring at yourself in your dorm room mirror begging yourself not to be gay, you realize you’re about to lose church.

These are just a handful of ways that Forefront has supported me and other churches haven't. I know it seems like the run of the mill types of things that a church and its community would do to support their members but there's one thing I haven't really mentioned that plays a big role in this story. Forefront supports me—and when I say me, while yes, I mean me as Stef the 32-year-old, filipino girl from San Francisco who loves to cook and pretend to play the guitar, I also mean me as in Stef, the lesbian. You see, I grew up in the church and I loved it. But one day, when you're 18-years-old and you're staring at yourself in your dorm room mirror begging yourself not to be gay, you realize you're about to lose church.

 That's what happened to me. Other churches gave up on me. Other churches turned their backs on me. Other churches closed their doors on me and asked me to never come back. But Forefront, they let me be in a way that allowed me to reconcile, mend, heal, and start a journey meant to flourish. So yah, that's how Forefront has supported me in ways that other churches haven't. They let me exist and be a part of something I need...and that's church, love, and faith in God. - Stef Fontela


Good Friday with Forefront Brooklyn

Join us at 7pm EST tonight only on Facebook Live as we team up with Ben Grace and his project, The Calendar Years, to bring you a contemplative Good Friday worship experience. 

We've put together a service guide in pdf form to help you interact and follow along in worship tonight. Click the button below to download it. You can print it out or open a new window of your browser, and follow along on your screen. 

We invite you to turn the lights down low, light a candle if you can, and join us at 7pm for a few moments of contemplation before we begin. Share our video on your own page and invite your friends to join us. 

Go to our Facebook page by clicking here now.

What Is Passover?


Passing Over

In the Old Testament, Egypt enslaved the nation of Israel for 400 years.

God called to Moses from a burning bush and told him to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go that they may worship me in the desert.”

Pharaoh refused, so God turned the Nile River into blood.

After the Nile, Pharaoh still refused to set the Hebrew slaves free, so God sent a second plague of frogs, followed by a plague of gnats, followed by a plague of lice, followed by a plague of flies, followed by a plague of livestock diseases, followed by a plague of boils, followed by a plague of hail, followed by a plague of locusts, followed by a plague of darkness.

Holy Moses! (pun intended) Why wouldn't Pharaoh give in? 

Finally, in a rage, Pharaoh told Moses that he would be put to death if he appeared before him again.

This brought the final plague, and it was the worst of them all.

After that ninth plague of darkness God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb. They were to paint the lamb’s blood on the entryways of their dwellings.

That night the Lord “passed over.” Every dwelling that was painted with the blood was protected. Any dwelling that was not marked suffered the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn son in the household.

This final judgment humbled Pharaoh and he finally let the Jews go free. 


The Historical Significance

About 1,500 years after Moses, Jesus ate His Last Supper with His disciples. It was Passover – the 15th day of Nissan. Jesus began the meal by serving unleavened matzah and a cup of wine. We do the same on Sundays during our worship, following the example of Jesus on that evening with his dearest friends.

After the remainder of the meal, Jesus left the Upper Room, was betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified.

In Moses’ day, the firstborn of Egypt died on Passover while the firstborn of Israel were protected. In Jesus' day, the firstborn of God died on Passover so that all would be protected.


Why We Celebrate Passover Today

Jesus drank from the Passover cup, then told His disciples, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Passover points us not only to death, but to the arrival of a loving Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul explained this in similar language when he wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Communion and Passover remind us of these truths. 


What Can You Do for Passover This Year?

Believers all over the world will celebrate the Last Supper as they have for thousands of years, at a gathering of friends and family called a "Seder Dinner."

If you are going to host a Passover Seder, you will need to provide Haggadahs for all the participants. The word Haggadah means “telling.” It is also the name of the book that Jews follow as they celebrate the liturgy of the evening. Seder means “order,” so it describes the order of the Passover meal.

We look forward to seeing you at our church-wide Passover Meal on Good Friday, April 14, at 7:30PM in our community space at the Forefront Offices. We will provide the food (and the Haggadahs).

An RSVP is required so that we can be sure to have enough food and a seat reserved for you. Entry to the meal is $10.00 and can be paid for by cash, check, or credit/debit card at the door.

You can RSVP on the event page by clicking on the button below. We look forward to joining you for a meal with meaning! All are invited.

See you there!