The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast

The Soul of Social Justice: A Conversation with DeWayne Davis

January 24, 2024 DeWayne Davis Season 2 Episode 8
The Soul of Social Justice: A Conversation with DeWayne Davis
The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast
More Info
The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast
The Soul of Social Justice: A Conversation with DeWayne Davis
Jan 24, 2024 Season 2 Episode 8
DeWayne Davis

This episode is a re-release of the Soul of Social Transformation Podcast hosted by Rev. Dr. Gary Green II and Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis.

In this episode, we look at our visions for a different world and what it takes to get there. What does vocation mean? What is our life’s work meant to be and how does that relate to the changes we need to see around us?

Before serving as Lead Pastor for Plymouth Congregational, our guest DeWayne Davis previously worked as a policy analyst in the Office of Governmental Relations for the Episcopal Church, as a lobbyist for Sallie Mae, and a decade as a Senior Legislative Assistant for three members of the U.S. Congress. He is married to Kareem Murphy, director of Government Relations for Hennepin County.


-More info on DeWayne Davis

Episode Transcription available here

Host: Gary F. Green II, Justin Sabia-Tanis

Producer: Adam Pfuhl

Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua

You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Show Notes Transcript

This episode is a re-release of the Soul of Social Transformation Podcast hosted by Rev. Dr. Gary Green II and Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis.

In this episode, we look at our visions for a different world and what it takes to get there. What does vocation mean? What is our life’s work meant to be and how does that relate to the changes we need to see around us?

Before serving as Lead Pastor for Plymouth Congregational, our guest DeWayne Davis previously worked as a policy analyst in the Office of Governmental Relations for the Episcopal Church, as a lobbyist for Sallie Mae, and a decade as a Senior Legislative Assistant for three members of the U.S. Congress. He is married to Kareem Murphy, director of Government Relations for Hennepin County.


-More info on DeWayne Davis

Episode Transcription available here

Host: Gary F. Green II, Justin Sabia-Tanis

Producer: Adam Pfuhl

Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua

You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Soul of Social Justice with DeWayne Davis

Gary Green [00:00:01] Are you passionate about social justice and ready to bring about real change as part of your life's work? Have you ever wondered how to bridge the gap between your unique gifts and the world's deepest needs? If so, then I want to welcome you to the Soul of Social Transformation, a podcast designed to help young adults explore vocational possibilities that bring to life our deepest hopes for healing our world. 

I'm your host, Gary Green, along with my co-host Justin Sabia-Tanis. And we are excited to journey with you in this series of conversations that feature six leaders who have discovered and created ways to make meaningful change in their communities. They each bring a wealth of experience and expertise in addressing some of the most critical issues of our time, including racial and economic justice, mental health in marginalized communities, and justice related to native lands and indigenous communities. By highlighting their stories, we hope you will be inspired to find creative ways to translate your passions into concrete action for a better world. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:01:07] I'm Justin Sabia-Tanis from United Theological Seminary. 

Gary Green [00:01:10] And I'm Gary Green, also from the United Theological Seminary. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:01:13] We're excited to welcome you to this program. You know, there are so many people in our world today who are really yearning for a more just and equitable world, a world where people can thrive and where our planet can survive and thrive as well. Young people in particular, I think, are leading voices saying, we need to engage in this work. We need to make a change in the world. This program really is about how to find your way to the calling that is yours, to the vocation that is yours. How will you bring your yearning for justice into your career, into your life, into your activism through college and beyond? And for a lifetime, really, in which we engage in social change that's meaningful, that's lasting, that's effective. And that's what we're really about. 

What we hope to accomplish in this program is really a process of discernment, where people can look at their own lives, at their own callings, their own joys, their gifts or their skills and say, how can I bring these to the service of the world? Or how can I make meaningful change in a way that also brings meaning to you, to us as changemakers? Right. This is both meaningful for us. It's not service that is in a vacuum, but rather something that brings us joy but also creates the world that we really want to live in. You know, I'm reminded by the quote from Howard Thurman, the great black theologian of the 20th century, who said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive". 

And I'm excited to engage in this program with young people who are alive and are seeking to become more alive and bring greater life to the world. This is about a process of joy, discovering joy and discovering vocations. And so we're really hoping to engage in dialogue with young folks and with people who are actively changing the world right now, sometimes in rapid ways, most often in incremental ways. But that will last, that will stand. And how can that dialogue between these groups of people, help us fulfill that which we're called to do and help us build that world that we are all longing for? 

Gary Green [00:03:25] That's right, that's right. Thank you. Justin. And I just want to echo my excitement for this program and, particularly because we want to center young adults in this program, those persons that relate or don't relate to religion, to formal theology or church based vocational work as directly or might not relate to it at all. And I'm excited about that because as I was growing up and as I was a young adult, as an athlete, I was looking for those spaces to do important justice work that did not have to adhere to traditional boundaries or rules or, you know, prescriptions in terms of how I am supposed to engage the world. Whether that was inside of the church or inside a faith based community or outside of that completely, but always looking for those opportunities to integrate, for those opportunities to disrupt boundaries, to potentially create new avenues for doing justice work that arises from those desires that we carry but may not already fit into those boxes. That's where people say, this is how you're supposed to do justice work. 

So the soul of social transformation and the soul of social justice is a program that I'm excited to work with you on, Justin. And I am very excited about our inaugural kicking it off guest Dr. DeWayne Davis, who I'm going to take a second to introduce right now. And then we're going to get into some conversation, because of the expertise and because of the integrative justice work that Dr. Davis brings. I'm excited to hear from you and for us to dialogue around this topic. So I want to take a second to introduce Reverend Dr. DeWayne Davis, who currently is the lead minister of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. Is a cleric ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches with an expertise in social justice analysis, advocacy, and organizing. Reverend Doctor Davis brings a gift for preaching. And I can vouch for that. I've heard you preach. And an appetite for partnerships. A commitment to liberal theology and social justice, as well as experience in public policy and political organizing. And I want to jump in and really hone in there because there's a transition that I'm excited to hear you talk about, but prior to his transition to professional ministry, Reverend Doctor Davis served as legislative aide for U.S. Representatives. You have to help me with some of these names, Peter Visclosky of Indiana and Chet Edwards of Texas and as Appropriations Committee aide to Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer, advising and managing such public policy issues as LGBTQ rights, transportation, health care, financial services, housing, judiciary, and law enforcement. Following his service in government, he served as director of Federal and Industry relations for Sallie Mae Incorporated. Where he worked as a lobbyist. And briefed members of Congress and their staff on regulation of student loan financing and federal government collections as it affected Sallie Mae and managed and distributed campaign contributions through Sallie Mae PAC. 

More personally, the 15th child of Elder William Birkett Davis and Missionary Delcia Davis. Born and raised in Mississippi, Reverend Doctor Davis holds a BA in Economics and Philosophy from Howard University and an MA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland at College Park. He received his MDiv degree, a master of Divinity degree with honors from the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC in 2012, and his Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical preaching at Luther Seminary right here in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2020. And then finally, Reverend Doctor Davis currently lives in Minneapolis with his husband, Kareem, and their dog, Yubi. 

Gary Green [00:07:36] I like it. I like it. So welcome, Doctor Davis, thank you so much for being with us tonight. And I was hoping that we could start this conversation off as a dialogue where, obviously, I want to ask you some direct questions, but we also want to weigh in because I think it's important for us to really take an opportunity for, especially for the young adults who might be listening to this and might be participating in this, to have an opportunity to think about the connection of soul, and justice and soul and vocation, perhaps outside the context of what we typically hear soul talked about. 

So why should we have this conversation in the first place is where I want to start. You know, during a time when organized, formal religion is on the decline among young adults, you know, we hear about the spiritual but not religious group growing and growing. And in a world where religion in many cases has become a primary justification for various kinds of oppression, what is the importance of connecting? And really, in some cases, reconnecting spirituality with social justice? 

DeWayne Davis [00:08:42] Thank you. Thank you Justin and Gary. The two words... Each of you said a word that I think gets right at the heart of when we say something about soul or spirituality. Justin said hunger and Gary said integration and you couldn't find two more critical pieces of this idea of soul and spirituality, right? And so when I think of soul, my evolving understanding- and it continues to evolve- is because I think that word integration is what I keep holding on to. And what that means is we go into any space and the way our education system trains us, the way our economy works, all of these things are not interested so much in integration. The nation sees you as a citizen or voter. Business sees you as a consumer. So the nature of the way we interact is fragmentation. So when we talk about souls, we don't use this language anymore. And that's why I'm so glad you started out with Howard Thurman. We don't use this language of this idea of coherence and integration, the ground being the seat of all of your desires, your hunger, your hopes. 

One of the things I tell students, I tell people when I'm teaching Bible study, everybody, which is why would you say I'm spiritual but not religious? I often say, oh, that's because religion is secondary. Everybody is spiritual. Because it is the seat of desire, emotion, longing, vitality. And the integration part of it is when all of it starts with and you can feel it sometimes when you start thinking about your soul. We feel soul like soul music. What we're talking about is all of your hopes, loves, commitments, beliefs, all of it coinciding. And when I use the word coherence or integration, when you are in that group, when you and I come out of church, that in Christ, sometimes I think when they talk about the Holy Spirit, you just have that Holy Spirit. This is where I start thinking about soul again. When people testify about that, that experience, the ecstatic experience or saying the Holy Spirit told me. I think what people are testifying to is that moment of integration of all of these things coming to fruition and your ground of being secure in your knowledge of it. And that's why also people may look at you like you are crazy because you're saying like, that's it, I feel it. And so, I want to hold on to that. I hope not to be so esoteric, but what I mean is that this is where we have to fight for that kind of integration. Because again, we are segmented and fragmented based on the way we interact with the marketplace and we interact with politics. All these fragments. 

Gary Green [00:12:00] Yeah. And you know, one, the things you made me think of. This past weekend, I went on a trip with my cousin to Denver, and we were up in the mountains and I've been thinking about this concept of soul or spirit. Right. And one of the things that he talked about that I observe in this, this connects directly to this question of spirituality or soul, particularly in social justice, looking at the mountains and seeing how vegetation will grow right through cracks in the rock and you walk down the street and you see vegetation, in most cases weeds, but nonetheless there's growth and there's life that happens, regardless. Right. And for me, that's where the soul connects. I think of the soul as the crux of creativity in human beings. I think of soul as that part as I think about, scholar M. Shawn Copeland talks about our souls existing as essential freedom, which means no matter what happens, our souls are longing to be free, to be liberated. In other words, not to be boxed in. Right? But to have an opportunity to integrate and to really bleed categories for the sake of doing the kinds of work in the world that helps other people come alive. I'm curious Justin, what about you? I mean, when you think about why this program is important and why it's important to go back to this category of soul, of spirituality, and to consider its importance. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:13:35] You know, I've been thinking recently about, you know, we have the globe, we can see it from space now and there's no lines on it. Right? The borders between countries are things that exist because we agree that they exist. Right. And because we've given some people power to police certain borders that say, some people can come in and some people can go out. You know, and I think religion is the same way. Right? Spirit is the globe, right? It is this thing that is unbounded and unlimited. And some people say, oh, my religion's over here, and I police these borders and we're going to maintain fences over here. And some people are going to say, oh, our country is open, like come through our borders, right? They're different. Yeah. But to my mind, that doesn't matter. Right. That's the same as the countries on the globe, in a sense. What matters is being grounded into something that's bigger than you are, that reminds you that I am important and infinitely beloved and I am nothing. I am a tiny little speck in the face of a big ocean. We need that experience of being all that and not all that, right? That keeps us grounded in something. 

And I would say, you know, I've been doing social justice activism since I was a teenager. I'm in my 50s. It is that sense of being connected with community, with humanity, with something bigger than myself that is that sustaining voice. So when people in the organization I'm working with are annoying, or we decide to go in a direction that's not quite mine, or it is joyful and blissful and we're all going in the same direction. All of the things, that motion, the thing that sustains me as being part of something that's bigger than I am, remembering that I am important and I'm also small. And so I think, you know, what I'm hoping for in this program is that we engage more and more collaborators, conspirators, compañeros, compañeras, companions, playmates on this journey towards justice. And so I think the more we are connected with one another in that kind of community, the more we're able to move forward together. And so, you know, I'm all out. Let's recruit really adaptive, awesome people striving for justice, to walk alongside us and to show us new paths that we haven't thought of yet. And, you know, and to move this journey in the direction that we all know and long for it to be going in.


DeWayne Davis [00:15:54] And Justin I love,again, the examples that I gave when you just said that about what spirit is versus what religion is. One thing I always say about spirituality and spirit and soul. I say, you know, Beyonce has soul. And so does a nun doing a chant.The artistry that Beyonce is doing and the worship that she's doing is this general rubric of spirit.

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:16:30] It calls us back to ourselves. 

DeWayne Davis [00:16:31] Right, right. And the borders of religions are like the borders. We have erected those things to give some definition to certain things, but that so that it could be coherent to something as opposed to us. 

Gary Green [00:16:46] And that's so helpful. And I think that that's so important for, you know, we're talking about, inviting young adults to the table and really listening and allowing young adults to create new ways of doing justice that arises from and really connects to their soul. We're talking about how you made the distinction between spirit of spirituality and religion. Yeah. And so, you know, one question for all of us is how how does or how might spirituality function either underneath or outside of religious affiliation or religious vocation, you know, and you've kind of spoken to it already, but I'm wondering if we can just sit here a little bit and really think about that together, in relation to some of those concerns or questions young adults might have. 

DeWayne Davis [00:17:31] The first place that I well, I think the most obvious place that you see it, or at least I've seen it in the last few years, has been in the movement for Black Lives or Black Lives Matter. Where church or religion has not been the central organizing principle of that movement. And how I know that we're talking about spirituality, we're talking about soul in that this is something again, I'm so glad you mentioned Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman, in his book The Luminous Darkness, was talking about systems and structures of injustice. And particularly, he's talking about segregation. But what he's talking about is that, systems and structures of injustice have both the external and internal manifestation. And what we do when we're going in changing the law, we are striking out at the external manifestations of something. Right? And so we can change laws. We can fight them. But what we tend not to do, is look at what the internal manifestation, the thing that created that thing.  The stuff that he calls it a movement or state of mind that created the system and structures for justice. We don't tend to look at that, nor do we look at what happens to the spirit of the people who were impacted by the systems. And so once we tear them down, we say, oh, look, we tore them down, right? But we didn't deal with that internal, the soul that was abused. The spirit that was torn down. Yeah. The spirit that was hurt.  Movement for black lives talked about trauma and pain. Yeah. It wasn't just like what do you want? Because what people are thinking about is if you want to tear down the external manifestation, but they're talking about that wholeness, we're talking about that spirit. 

So when we're talking about social justice, this is what we add. It's what we need people to add to the equation. We can go to any political organizing group and tear down old systems and structures of injustice. We can change the law. We can change rules, the Supreme Court rule. But have we tended to the stuff that created it and the abuse of it. Where's the repair? 

Gary Green [00:20:13] I mean, that really puts front and center, to my mind, that's the real, deeper significance of this kind of work. Yes. Of vocational justice work. When you think about now, you made me think about those times in and you know, a lot of my work is with young black men and being a young African-American man who grew up in the South and I can think about how diminishing it is when you are profiled and really misused, unfortunately, or dehumanized by police officers or whoever it is. Right? It's not merely an inconvenience but that something happens in your soul, in your spirit. Right? And there are people who have been so dehumanized that that crux of creativity, right, that I'm talking about earlier is just diminished.  

Wendy Farley talked about it being a spark that can never be put out completely, but it can really be, you know, diminished to a great degree. Right. And so I appreciate you noting that, that's really critical to what we're talking about. And Justin, I'm curious, because it also reminded me of something you said about previously, about the importance of spirituality, specifically in long term justice work. So kind of moving in the opposite direction, from what happens to the soul but what might emanate from it. Can you speak to that a little bit? 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:21:45] Well, if I can just go back just a little bit because I can also want to name, I think one of the things that the particularly really the Anishinaabe elders and, you know, the water protector movement are calling out right now is actually that white people are in a place of spiritual woundedness. And then until we begin to heal the ways in which being an oppressor has also wounded us, then we're not going to go to 30th in Chicago and recognize that the place where George Floyd Square is holy. And when you think you achieve some degree of that personal healing, go and say I recognize holiness. I recognize holiness in the face of others. I recognize holiness in this space and that there's a reparative aspect. And I don't mean to in any way equate the violence and discrimination that black people and other communities of color face, but rather to say that our own communities need to recognize ourselves in a place of needing to heal from what our ancestors and ourselves have done in order to reenter this life. And in doing that, I think we're able to engage in these places of joy and pleasure and to build the beloved community that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about  and others prophets have talked about. 

So that when we when we reconnect with our values, if my value is to see every other human being as a beloved, you know, if my value is to say that that every child deserves food and education and safety and a playground and, you know, if every human being deserves health care, and we know that there are pockets in the world where we have made it so and we can make it so again, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger in this world, right now, right this minute. And we can do it and people are moving in those directions. It's you know, I think it's really important to me that it's not hopeless. When we reconnect with those values and when we say, I'm living my values day to day, and I'm going to make some mistakes and get up and try again tomorrow, and I'm going to do these things. And when I'm joined with my community to whom I'm accountable to and with whom I am joyful with. As we're moving forward, that's something I can do for a long time. 

Going to community meetings where everybody argues and pulls each other down, I can do for about five minutes, right. But I, you know, I can even do it for a year if I'm committed to the cost, I will keep going back because I can be that kind of, you know. Yeah, I can do that. Yeah. But if I'm really going to do this work, I think this is where, like Adrienne Maree Brown's pleasure activism, when she talks about wanting to create movements that are so, that they draw people to them, they're irresistible. Right. And that's where I think this connection with spirit and meaning and the values that we have, you know, I want us to create movements that are irresistible. And where we are, I can't help myself. I can't not fight against racism or white supremacist culture because I love people of color in my life and I can't help coming there because also I'm going to get food and companionship and other people who share my values are going to be in that room with me, and we are going to work together like that's irresistible. Yeah, and I can do that. I can continue to do that for the next 50 years. And I plan to. I think, DeWayne, you mentioned the creative energy is like that is, I think, creative. And also I think to connect to the spirituality that is the creator among us that manifests in ways that say, that's your life work and your life's play and your life's joy and your life's. 

DeWayne Davis [00:25:24] Thurman said, helping the oppressed and the oppressor experience themselves as human beings, which it seems so simple. But the way we dehumanize each other, that's where we lose our connection to that. I mean, even people who are oppressing are not experiencing themselves as human beings.

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:25:48] That's right, that's right. You're losing touch with your essential humanity. And together we can reclaim it. 

Gary Green [00:25:57] As I'm listening in my mind to, you know, questions I was asking when I was a young adult. Yeah, well, how does this connect with vocation? What is vocation? Because there might be, particularly for those folks who want to do this kind of work, and might be looking for a job where they can do this kind of work and may or may not be finding it. How do you define or understand vocation, and how is that different from a job or a profession? What's at the core of it?

DeWayne Davis [00:26:36] So now you're about to get me to really get all angry. So the reason I say that, it was very interesting. Just a few weeks ago, we were at a cookout. And I don't know how the conversation started, but there were a lot of young people saying the question ended up being, are you doing what you wanted to do? And, these are professional people with different types of professions. But I tell you, just the majority of the people. When you ask them that question, they were doing something that's financial or something, right? And the majority, there was some creative, artistic thing that they were getting into and then something interfered with it. Something stopped it. Right. And that's, you know, Martin Luther King talked about consumerism and Walter Brueggemann talks a lot about it now about consumerism and what it does to the human spirit.  

And so one of the things that when you ask the question about vocation, one of the reasons I said that is because I think it goes to this question of spirit and integration. There's so much, we are so fragmented from that part of the equation. Our economy and our politics are so hard that people end up thinking that everything is about the job. And then, by the way, on the other side of that, that's not an irrational thing, right? Because we don't have a social safety net of any kind whatsoever. So then people are not only taken away from this thinking about vocation, what brings me alive? Where do I want to express myself in that way? Yeah. They're almost led away from that kind of evaluation because they say I gotta get a job. 

Gary Green [00:28:37] That's right, that's right. 

DeWayne Davis [00:28:39] So when I think about vocation, though, which, again, could be a job, but again, I keep coming to that word, especially when you're integrated. So what I do now is a vocation and a job but they don't feel disconnected. It feels integrated or it feels all of a piece. So when I say you know vocation then that is where all of that is integrated. All of that love, hope, desire, commitments and beliefs all cohere. Right. And it can happen anywhere. You can see it, no matter what, you can see the person where if you look at yourself, it looks like a job and then you talk to them. And so you can then see the distinction that oh this is not just a job because everything that they are holding comes to that. And so what I tell younger people, what I tell my nieces and nephews, who have, you know, I'm the black sheep of the family because I'm not Pentecostal. Right. And I have these nieces and nephews who want to go into acting and you've got this other part of the family saying are you going to make a living? And I keep saying, where is that passion, that energy, that love all coming together? And I'm not trying to be romantic about it because, you know-

Gary Green [00:30:16] There are going to be some days. 

DeWayne Davis [00:30:16] There's going to be some days! I have friends who are actors and those are the people where that integration is happening. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:30:23] But I think also we can testify to the fact that we have made, in worldly terms, terrible decisions. Yeah, terrible career decisions that could have been the best thing ever made by following, I think, what we're passionate about. Yeah. Like I lived in Honolulu and Amsterdam and Albuquerque and, Twin Cities, and San Francisco. My life's work has been that which gives me meaning. Yeah, it's a profound meaning. It's been hard and it's amazing.  And I think if we had, like, I think you're absolutely right. I think there has to be that risk to say vocation is my piece. Yes. My life is crafted like a work of art. It is yours and only yours and your only time on this planet, to be slightly cliched, but, I mean, we've made this bed. There's worldly bad decisions and lived and thrived.

DeWayne Davis [00:31:12] I'm glad you said that because, the choices, some of those choices, as hard headed as I am, I think I had to do those things to get to this place because there were other reasons, sexuality, other reasons where the idea of religion, the idea of faith was so distorted in my mind that I could not see myself there. And so I had to go and do all this other thing to get to the vocation.  And I know some people have to do that. They have to do that. They have to figure it out, they have to go through that. But boy, I tell you, I wish we had an economy and a culture that allows that kind of freedom. 

Gary Green [00:32:01] That's right. Really facilitate, like help to facilitate people to do what tugs at their heart. As opposed to feeling like you have to choose between this is what I'm passionate about, but this is what's going to put food on the table. Right. And that's unfortunate. I'm glad you connected that to something bigger right there. There are bigger, broader, you know, things about society that we do still have to address. You started talking, DeWayne, about shifting into the work that you're doing now. And I'm wondering if, you know, as we shift gears into this vocational question and discernment, can you say a little bit about how you made that transition or what kind of helped you make that transition from being in policy work in DC? But yeah, can you just kind of, you know, help us along your journey? 

DeWayne Davis [00:32:53] Yeah. I, you know, I thought, politics was my vocation. I always was an Economics major. So my whole sort of approach to government was going to be economic policy. Tax policy. Yeah. That kind of thing. So that's what I ended up doing. But what I, what I worked on, one of the things is, this connects to the social vocation. 

Gary Green [00:33:21] Right. 

DeWayne Davis [00:33:22] You know, I'm the 15th child of a Pentecostal preacher and his wife. Who got their lives, started their marriage, their married life as sharecroppers in Jim Crow Mississippi. And so by the time I came along, I was born in the 70s, you know, and the last and the fifteenth child, by the time I came along, that former sharecropper had two churches and a hardware store, and sent all his kids to college. But where I lived, the Delta region of Mississippi is the poorest region in Mississippi. And in each of those churches, I would say more than 50% of people live below the poverty line. And so I was not someone, you know, from the middle class, but I was not someone sheltered from poverty. We saw it. And I saw how my father reacted to it. Yeah. How he served in the midst of it, how he served. 

So I thought what I was running away from was really bad theology. Right. But what I was at that time, running away from bad theology, I didn't see praxis. I couldn't disconnect what may have been bad theology from what I would say is a real social justice existence. I don't think my father ever uttered the word social justice. But his whole existence was in that. I go off to Washington and I'm thinking, okay, I'm going to do this work. I also want to be, you know, I want to be in politics. I'm working on all of these public policies. As I got into my career, you know, and I got very successful in my career. Nothing's changed. Yeah, we could change a law and it seemed like another year we'd be fighting over the same thing. We're successfully knocking down some systems and structures of injustice. We chip away at this. We make a good law here. It's really good. We work with activists, and things aren't really changing. Yeah. And I think we're, we're starting to really start to see that happening. 

I think that at this particular time, there was a debate about the federal Marriage Amendment. The one thing I kept hearing there is these people literally do not know any of the people they're talking about and that, you know, I look back on it now, I think what was so lodged in me was that nothing that my father preached about in terms of poverty, injustice. We were there with people we were experiencing. And so some part of it was this push like, yeah, you can do this, but where, where is the change and where are the people? Yeah. The real again, experiencing people as humans. 

Gary Green [00:36:40] That's right. 

DeWayne Davis [00:36:40] And so when, when church and seminary called, when I said I'm going to subject myself to this again. Yeah. And I went to an MCC in DC. And to be honest with you, I didn't even, you know, I made a list of churches at the prompting of my therapist, made a list of churches I was going to go to. And the reason I put MCC on the top of the list is because the church in DC had built their own building, and it was this beautiful glass top building that won some architectural awards. And I wanted to know what it looked like. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:37:21] And glass so people could see inside on purpose when the other buildings had brought in people. 

DeWayne Davis [00:37:26] Yeah. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:37:27] So they wouldn't be outed and they wouldn't be seen. 

DeWayne Davis [00:37:29] Yeah. Just so I went and guess what that church did. Because they were focusing- it was an integration of liberation theology, a queer theology. I don't even remember what the preacher preached at the time. A woman preacher, I don't remember what she preached. But for the first time in my life, I was speaking to my spirit. Someone was inviting me in in a way that I hadn't experienced in other ways. And it transformed my life. And so then at that point thinking oh my God, how am I going to do that? How do I do that? Right? I don't want to be like my father. 

What really started to gel, again I keep going back to coherence and integration, the choice of where I'm going to live, the place that I want to put myself is I want to be where the ground of being is lived out. I don't want to be separated from anything. I don't want to be separated from the suffering, the pain. Because then, I can be in a relationship and I can talk about and testify and do the work that you were talking about. To heal myself while working with others as we do healing. 

So that's a quick story but that transition happened because, and this is important for the people who have been doing this work,I don't know what the intent of that preacher was. I know what that church is about. But they did something that someone like me needed. Needed. And it wasn't institutional for institutions sake. Right. It's a small denomination, so it doesn't have hundreds of years of tradition that it has to uphold. So there was freedom. And so they did the thing that I think sometimes other places or even when we get big enough, we forget that there is a human spirit that is searching and hungry. But just the very act of speaking to someone's human spirit, was knocking on the door of healing. That's how I got healed from bad theology. You know, I got healed from seeing myself, got healed from the politics of respectability both as a black man and as a queer man. You know, I was steeped in the politics of respectability. If I show up in a certain way, they're going to accept me, or they're going to give me the right. All of that fell away because what was important was how they were talking to that human spirit. And I began to heal. And so it didn't matter what you thought. I learned to make myself a certain type of black man. So they would love me. Yeah. I had to be a certain type of queer man so that I could be accepted. All of that stuff started to fall away, and I knew I was in trouble. 

Gary Green [00:40:51] Right? 

DeWayne Davis [00:40:53] I couldn't go back. 

Gary Green [00:40:54] Yeah, I seen too much. I couldn't go back. 

Gary Green [00:40:59] Thank you for sharing that. And one of the things that that I picked up on is how you came from bad theology, and then you just so happened to be in a church, a faith based context, but one that obviously did theology very differently than the theology that you came from, that really knocked on the door of your humanity and allowed you that space to bring the fullness of that and integrate that. And now, as a pastor and a political activist still ,an organizer, but what is the uniqueness in the work that you do, in terms of vocation and particularly being able to work for social justice? What does your current vocational position grant you in that way that perhaps others don't? 

DeWayne Davis [00:41:49] That's a very good question. And it leads from what I was talking about, people who, those lawmakers who were talking about people that they didn't know. One of the things about being in a community of faith, being a pastor is that every soul diminishing thing, every force that distorts humanity, in you, in a practical theological way, in a pastoral care way, you get to see. You get to accompany people. What I think we miss, this is why the church lost favor. This is why I think the black church lost favor with Black Lives Matter. Yeah. Because in some ways, the church began to do institutional work and did not take accountability for it. 

Did not, took it for granted in some ways, too. And that really hit me. Because the first thing I heard myself saying when the activists were not going to the churches. The first thing I said to myself is I don't blame them. And then I said, why don't you say that. Why didn't you say that? Some of that came from some of my own personal hurt. But at the same time, the unique position that all pastors, who take their work of accompaniment and pastoral care seriously, is that people are telling me the way these systems and structures are hurting and it doesn't even matter. Sometimes it doesn't even matter what socioeconomic status. We're talking about issues of reproductive freedom and justice for women in every socioeconomic status. And I guarantee you they cannot take that. I don't care what  denomination and especially the more conservative ones. Can they find their pastor to accompany them? It's there. During the Great Recession, I think there were people who were ashamed to tell their pastor that I'm upside down on my luck. And that's real. That's real poverty. It's a real shame. There's some research. I forgot the name of the book. There's a great book about where they were talking about how the church gave up on sort of helping people exercise empathy. 

Gary Green [00:44:40] Oh my goodness. 

DeWayne Davis [00:44:41] The church did. So that again that's why someone could be sitting right next to you in a pew and would never tell you that they lost their job, or because they would not get the empathy or the support. Right. Every church setting, we are bombarded with this struggle to live in a 21st century capitalist structure that is merciless and unrelenting in its distortion. Yeah. And people don't know how to talk about it. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:45:12] When more Americans took to the streets with the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd was killed, which I think was, you know, an association both I see the humanity of George Floyd and I think in some ways a pilgrimage. To begin, you know, like, if you like, a pilgrimage is not the whole thing. It's the beginning. It's a piece of our journey. But to find humanity. And I think that, you know, in those movements, you could walk by people and you could tell them I lost my job. 

DeWayne Davis [00:45:39] Exactly. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:45:40] And you could say, oh, the mutual aid is right over here. Right. Right. And I think that's where this kind of spiritual epiphany you were talking about in church, I think, also happened in the streets. And that's one reason young people are so hungry and many others are so hungry. It's like, what's next?  I had this moment. I recognized it. Yeah, a medic could help me in the street. Yes, yes, I was thirsty and someone gave me a bottle of water. Yeah. The world could be different. Yes. Right. How do I participate? 

DeWayne Davis [00:46:11] That's good. That's how they're making me. It was a point where church was a place where you could make meaning, right? Again, I think that's the issue around which we keep saying spiritual again. You know, churches got very defensive. They get somebody, get very defensive. Always say spiritual reason. Like, why are you getting defensive? 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:46:28] Right, right, right.

DeWayne Davis [00:46:33] Go and start figuring out what the spirit is. Because when people say that, what they are saying is you are not a safe place for me to make meaning. I'm not getting what I became. When I moved here, I became pastor of a previous church, All God's Children.  We have a big relationship with the recovery community. And there is a residential treatment center here in Saint Paul called Latitudes for queer people in recovery. Okay. And I just decided I would go monthly because of all the speakers we had, I was the only clergy person, only queer clergy person. Right. 

But the one thing that I discovered there: here are people who are at their most vulnerable. They are in recovery, and they're in a residential treatment center. And they got to be there for a while. They are very vulnerable and very exposed. And when you talk to them, their spirituality shines through. They disconnected from this religion. I ask a lot of questions, they talk about the Bible, but what you're seeing is a real hunger and drive. And so we're missing. And this is why you talk about these people going to do this work. Yeah. Your relationships, your engagement with people in your context, whatever that context is, is the beginning of that journey. Yeah. That journey that Justin talked about healing and repair because we're all hungry for it. And these institutions in many ways are disconnected from that. And we have got to figure out which of those people on the streets that I tell you, I said that to, my mother. I said, that is a revival.. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that is a revival. That's right. There are people who are tapping into something that they didn't know that they had. 

Gary Green [00:48:40] Right. 

DeWayne Davis [00:48:40]  And, you know, seeing that makes it seem joyfully the life got out of it, right? And, it tapped into that, tapped into this. That ideology couldn't stop for me. 

Gary Green [00:48:57] It reached beyond I mean, it reached beyond all of that. 

DeWayne Davis [00:49:00] Yeah. 

Gary Green [00:49:01] When you see that. Because your humanity can't help but to be grabbed by that. I mean just the way that that connected people and the way that that unfortunate event that existed, it exists in a long trajectory. But the uniqueness of that particular situation, when it happened, did do something spiritually. 

For people who may not have reflected on their own spirituality and may not need to reflect formally on their spirituality because it's there, it lives and breathes and it comes alive. And that really speaks to that part of us that gets enlivened. And when you go to a movement like Black Lives Matter or these protests or these places, these spaces where young people, old people and who are not there because of any particular affiliation, right? Right. But are there because something has been enlivened, and enraged. And so, I just appreciate you naming that in this conversation. 

And one question I do want to ask before we, because there's going to be a lot of young people who are tapped into this passion and tapped into this hunger, but don't necessarily know what to do with it or how to begin to think about vocation or profession. And so what wisdom would you share with a young adult who may or may not be involved in church, but who is passionate about justice, and may not know how to begin to connect that passion with profession?

DeWayne Davis [00:50:39] We call my father the old preacher. But the one thing I used to complain about him making us go to church or, you know, go different places, and his point was you need to be there. I said I'm not doing anything. Well, you need to go. Yeah. So one of the things that I have said to people at church, I think if you go and be both either a witness and a presence. Go and see. 

I often joke that if someone is talking, especially even when I was in Washington politics, working at work, we should joke. Like, if someone took a picture of the crowd, they see this tall black man and just stand here, you know? So, like, the million man March, right? I was working on Capitol Hill, and had to be at work there but it was right around the Capitol. So, you know, every break I got, I could stand on it and see. And that's been a part of me even now. People are, you know, activist demonstrations. If I'm not even a part of. I'm not being invited. I'm sitting in, you know, standing there looking around. 

What I'm inviting people to do is to go have a curiosity and especially at the location of struggle and protest.  Go and see. Yeah. You know, there's a lot of armchair analysts on social media, who didn't go to any one of the polls. So they got a lot to say as well. And I often say, what would what would happen if you just for one minute said, you know, I'm just going to stand, listen to the speakers, I'm going to sit there and I'm not saying you, but, you know, even for someone who's not interested in that, I think that might complicate your analysis. 

But if you do care about it and do have a drive for this, you do want to understand that part of that work begins by unlearning, and unlearning begins by going to where it is. Right. And I think sometimes we think we read enough or read the right books, and I'm a book nerd, so if you tell me the book, I'll go read it. But as I'm telling my members now who really love racial justice and they're reading the books, and I say over and over again, at some point you have to put the book down.  And you only have to go to this thing called Praxis. 

Howard Thurman said when we tear all the structures down, we get every law change we wanted, we get everything we want. Then the work begins. That's good. That's right. That's when the work begins. Yeah. So while we're doing all that fighting, right. And changing, you know, walls and changing even when it's done, then the work begins. Wow.

Gary Green [00:54:03] Thank you so much, Doctor Davis, for sharing with us tonight. And Justin, thank you for setting the stage with Howard Thurman so that so much wisdom can be shared. But no, I again, I'm super excited about this program. And I'm excited to hear young adult stories. Yeah. I'm excited to hear young adults reflect on this conversation and what they might want to just add to it or take from it. So thank you so much for being with us tonight. 

DeWayne Davis [00:54:36] And, I'll say to those young adults of, you know, I don't know who you are going to be, but I tell you this. Just follow. Follow your question. Yeah. Indulge your curiosity in this. Yeah. Because I also think that we are rewriting the way that's written. Yeah. We don't have to all be pastors. That's right. We don't, but we, I would tell people that I have several friends who are not pastors who have seminary education, and one reason they chose seminary education is because it was asking the questions for us that a sociology degree wouldn't. That's right. Or a political science degree? Yeah. 

Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:55:20] Yeah. I cannot wait to see the vision unfold and manifest. Yeah. The young people in this world are going to bring about this, and for us to collaboratively work on that together. I don't expect people of another generation to be the saviors of the world. But I do think, y'all are going to think about things that we haven't yet thought of, and we thought of some things. Yeah. And putting that all together, I think that that's where the magic, the energies, the spirit is going to bring about what we need.

Gary Green
[00:55:55] That's right. Excellent. Well, thank you so much. And, I appreciate this conversation.