Pastor Albert Tate shares his vision of a “disruptive holiness” that challenges social norms in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Feb. 6, Pastor Albert Tate of Fellowship Monrovia spoke about his vision for a unified, holy community. Tate’s lecture was a part of the Azusa Pacific Seminary’s Lecture series on Holy Living.

The lecture was also meant to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as Tate was recently published in “Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Something happens when a community comes together and moves in unity…beautiful, mutual love. We were created to be a part of that fellowship – the epitome of holiness,” Tate said.

Tate’s first experience with unity was the electric slide.

“At parties back home in Mississippi, we didn’t need drinks to have fun. We had that already with the electric slide. Everybody had the time of their lives doing the same moves at the same time to the same beat, and there was such a joy that was present with everybody on that dance floor,” Tate said. “That’s what unity and holiness in the church needs to look like. When all is said and done, the music in the divine dance will culminate. Our holiness should be a picture of that redemption.”

Tate expressed his fear that the church will not be ready for that kind of redemption because it is so divided. He explained that throughout history, people have let their differences divide them into groups. Since the majority group in the United States is white, “white” behavior became the standard, “normal” behavior. Tate felt pressure to acclimate to white culture and customs.

However, the “us versus them” mentality and the social construct of “whiteness” also taught Tate to hate himself and his own culture.

“My classmates unintentionally taught me to unappreciate me…to look upon my parents and aunts and uncles as ‘other,’ as abnormal. Notice my language here. I’m equating ‘normal’ to ‘whiteness.’ When I acted like myself and was frowned upon, it not only taught me to hate myself, but also [to hate] other people who didn’t look like me,” Tate said.

Tate said that society has created a dynamic that screams “other” when anything but “whiteness” is presented. He explained that because of this dynamic, white people benefit from a system that caters to them.

“This is a real thing. Liberals try to make this a leftist issue, but it’s not an issue or thing that should be partisan,” Tate said. “I should not have to feel threatened if I get pulled over as a 40-year-old man, but I do. What if I get a police officer with a ‘normal equals white’ mentality?”

Tate said that in order to talk about holiness and fellowship, believers need to understand the stories of those who have been affected by racism and social constructs. He mentioned the term “internal racial oppression,” meaning “repressing who you are to fit a standard.”

“We’ve got to talk about it. I want us to know the tools the enemy uses so we can fight it. We need to call out the ‘whiteness equals normal’ mentality and cause disruption,” Tate said. “Our passion for redemption should push us to disruption of the status quo.”  

Tate said that for white people, saying “I’m not a racist” was not enough. He compared it to an unresolved music scale.

“The full progression of the gospel was always to go to the opposite end of the scale. God commands that you not only not kill, but that you give life,” Tate said. “So it’s not enough to say ‘I’m not a racist.’ That sounds like an unresolved music scale. Instead, let’s say ‘I’m anti-racist.’ Let’s stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ against oppression and cause disruption by taking on that burden and intentionally engaging in conversations about people’s cultures.”

Kyle Hearn, a senior Christian Ministries major, said the main thing he will take away from the lecture is to intentionally seek out stories from people that don’t look like him.

“This lecture really widened my perspective. I’ve never thought about the fact that in heaven, in the divine dance, it will be all of us together, and there will be people from every tribe, nation, and tongue,” Hearn said. “It makes me wonder if I’m ready for that kind of unity, and it makes me want to intentionally seek out stories from people who don’t look like me.”

However, some students expressed frustration with the APU community, because they don’t feel comfortable enough to talk about these things with their peers on campus.

“Not to be critical, but everything in America and at APU is an event or a program,” said Anna Cabrera, a sophomore Christian Ministries major. “There aren’t enough conversations happening outside of programs like these that contribute to racial reconciliation.”

Tate addressed the people of color in the audience, warning them against bitterness.

“Self-righteousness, arrogance and bitterness in people of color who are ‘woke’ but not awake in the Spirit is dangerous,” Tate said. “We need to have the grace to be able to walk the scale back down to reach people and walk them back up.”

Carmeli Silva, the Director of External Relations and Diversity Ambassadors, spoke on behalf of the Lectureship on Holy Living Committee. The committee consists of Silva, Kent Walkemeyer, Tim Finlay, Don Thorsen. Silva said that APU is taking steps to create an environment where people feel safe to start conversations like these.

“APU is also being intentional in creating an environment for its community with chapel speakers, diversity ambassador training for administration, faculty, staff, and students and the creation of the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence,” Silva said. “This process takes time, but together we can keep working towards making APU a just and reconciling place for everyone.”

Silva spoke of the relationship between social justice and ministry.

“Holiness is incomplete without justice. Holiness has to do with wholeness, which includes redemption of people spiritually and physically, individually and collectively, and with justice as well as love,” Silva said. “Social justice is a responsibility of every Christian, and the APU community has a mandate to practice [and] live this out.”