When His God Stopped Making Sense

It was in Durban, South Africa when the God he’d been taught to believe in stopped making sense to Bryan Franklin.

Working for a nonprofit trying to build peace through sports, the biracial Denver native was working with some young people who lived in tin roofed shacks with no plumbing and others who lived in affluent suburban homes.

As a light skinned son of a Black father and white mother in a white Denver suburb, Franklin had grown up aware of difference. But his white led evangelical nonprofit said he had to ignore difference, that he was only supposed to focus on the spiritual, and that a relationship with Jesus was only about spiritual freedom and “did not translate into our physical bodies, so it was easy to write off poverty.” People were told they had to live with the status quo of incredible economic disparity and that “the good news only meant they’d go to heaven.”

To inject a historical interlude for context, that division was built into evangelicalism by design, but not by evangelicals. In Sam Hill’s Encyclopedia of Southern Religion, the original devil’s bargain was written down by slave owning Anglican plantation owners in order to make sure the Gospel did not challenge property rights. The slave owners had been approached by evangelicals who wanted to preach to the slaves. To preserve their legal rights of property over African Americans, the slave holders stipulated two conditions: the evangelicals, many of them Baptists, could only preach about exodus as spiritual; it could not really mean let my people go in this world. The second condition was they could not preach about jubilee, and the forgiveness of debts. The evangelicals agreed and their Gospel shrunk to the dimensions of the deal with the devil they’d signed; liberation was spiritual only and divorced from acting for justice in this world.

Now, back to Bryan’s story. He moved back to the U.S., still working for the evangelical basketball for peace nonprofit, and through a grant from a big shoe company, started opening up new urban areas for them. Then Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo. and Franklin “started seeing larger issues; redlining, disinvestment in neighborhoods, food deserts, (zoning meant to keep poor people together and away from affluent people) all started to add up. Meanwhile he started to get a larger picture of the holy spirit as being actively involved in personal transformation on an ongoing basis. Podcasts by Mark Deymaz, (who has spoken at Faith+Finance events on the Biblical basis for multicultural congregations and the need for a safe space for people to come together across race and class.)

An MBA, Franklin started working for LISC, one of the largest community development finance institutions (CDFI) working on economic development and affordable housing while getting a Masters in theology from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. which he will complete in May.

“I see the way God has guided my steps and led me to this point,” Franklin said. “I want to work with LISC and gain the tools and knowledge to do economic development work with small business making community led economic development a reality.”

“I want to learn as much as I can and in the long term work in a ministry role that allows me to pair hands and feet alongside spiritual formation. Part of the reason we have divisions across Christian lines is because of poor spiritual formation. I want to create a space for different people to come together.”

Franklin is joining Faith+Finance’s Assets in Transition cohort of clergy and practitioners working on finding new revenue and new uses of church property that meets virtually every other week curated by Faith+Finance at the invitation of regular member the Rev. Dr. Patrick Duggan, who leads the Church Building and Loan Fund of the United Church of Christ.

Franklin is part of an increasing group of young people we are seeing in the Faith+Finance network who bring a mix of a deep calling to enact the Gospel’s call for justice for the poor with a new set of innovative and cutting financial skills along with an understanding that they need link community based economic development with highly involved communities of faith trained in economic theology. Something new is happening and Bryan Franklin is one more sign that it’s real and growing.