Pastor John R. Faison Sr.: “Repentance ”

I am all for conversation, dialogue and wrestling, but the alienation is not from the wrestling, it is from people refusing to honor people’s identity and honor people as fully human. If I had a member of my family who was against the humanity of someone — we’re still family — but we’re probably not going to share meals […]

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I am all for conversation, dialogue and wrestling, but the alienation is not from the wrestling, it is from people refusing to honor people’s identity and honor people as fully human. If I had a member of my family who was against the humanity of someone — we’re still family — but we’re probably not going to share meals or talk every day. I respect your differences of opinion and your right to have them, but I will not subject myself or my family to it.

As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing John R. Faison, Sr.

John R. Faison, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Nashville’s Watson Grove Baptist Church (The Grove), a growing, multigenerational, multisite church. Since his arrival in March 2012, The Grove’s congregation has grown from 300 to over 2400 members. In January 2019, The Grove launched a second campus in Franklin, TN. Pastor Faison is a recognized voice at events throughout the country, including the Hampton University Ministers Conference, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Samuel D. Proctor Conference, NAACP Leadership 500, and the Word Network. In 2016, Pastor Faison was named one of the “Top 5 Young Preachers in America” by the preaching website ROHO. He is a passionate advocate for community transformation and development, as seen in his work as an HIV/AIDS National Ambassador with the NAACP. Pastor Faison currently serves as President of The Grove Community Development Corporation and a member of the Board of Trustees at Belmont University. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Boule).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

A native of Boykins, Virginia, Pastor Faison earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Virginia State University, a Master of Arts in Practical Theology from Regent University in Virginia Beach, and a Doctor of Ministry degree at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio.

In addition to his 20 years of ministerial experience, he is also a decorated veteran, having served as an US Army officer for eight years.

Pastor Faison is married to his lovely partner in life and ministry, Min. Alethia Faison. They are the proud parents of three amazing children: John (Jr), Ajah, and Jaden.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I see my career as a calling. No one person inspired me to that go that way, but once I knew I was going that direction, I looked for inspiration from people who were doing it well. Preachers who were gifted at their craft but also used their leverage to make a positive impact on their communities.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We just launched a new program called The Grove CDC’s Guarantee Initiative to help minority-owned small businesses secure loans, improve diversity in entrepreneurship and strengthen small business ownership here in Nashville, Tennessee. The Grove is working with partners Studio Bank and The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help bridge the gap in funding supporting Black entrepreneurship.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My grandmother, who passed away last week at the age of 94. She did not graduate from high school, but she was a voracious reader and learner. She read medical encyclopedias for fun and raised four daughters who all have master’s degrees.

I grew up in Boykins, Virginia and we did not have day care. I grew up in the country and she was the babysitter for our entire town — before school, after school. She helped raise my siblings and I, making sure our homework (she called it our lessons) was done.

My first day of kindergarten I was surrounded by kids, some were nervous and crying, and the teacher gave us a piece of paper to write our names. Well, I did it in cursive. My teacher went and got a bunch of other teachers to show and they were asking who taught you how to do this! Because of my grandmother, I skipped to second grade.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but none that I look back at as funny.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster had the most impact on me. It introduced me to a practical approach to the spiritual discipline. The book explains the value of and how to live a life of faith, which cannot just be event driven. It has to be guided by daily practices. Quakers can teach us a lot about living a contemplative life.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

From my great uncle Garland Faison, “If your word ain’t nothing, you ain’t nothing.” To me, it means trying to live a life of integrity and having the appropriate weight to your words. I don’t waste words and I don’t make commitments I am not going to follow up on.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is embodying the direction you want others to go. It is not something you do. It is something you must become. I intend to lead people to a deeper walk with Christ and making a difference in the world. I don’t just tell people to do it, the way I lead is by doing it. People see the evidence of that embodyment in my life. I am not asking people to go somewhere I haven’t been — I am asking them to come with me.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

We got here because we refuse to tell the truth. We refuse to tell the truth of our history and our journey as a nation. We want to deny the wounds that exist, and they keep festering and growing. When the wounds manifest themselves into public life, we want to rename them into something else because to name them as they are implicates ourselves and no one wants to carry the guilt of racial inequity.

The system itself will never own its own culpability. We make up these nice little stories without saying the truth, when in fact this is America. We refuse to look at and address what the issues are.

I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?

I think the alienation is really necessary. It’s happening predominately between parents and kids or between one generation and another. There are different viewpoints that are present in the different generations because of their different experiences. People grew up without anyone who looked different than themselves. Our younger generation has not experienced that, and they don’t see the world through the same eyes. The political reality has just exacerbated those different experiences.

I am all for conversation, dialogue and wrestling, but the alienation is not from the wrestling, it is from people refusing to honor people’s identity and honor people as fully human. If I had a member of my family who was against the humanity of someone — we’re still family — but we’re probably not going to share meals or talk every day. I respect your differences of opinion and your right to have them, but I will not subject myself or my family to it.

The alienation is part of the reality of awakening that is happening in this country. “Let’s bring families back together — let’s sit at the table together,” — no, we can’t. Some of the alienation is necessary.

In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?

I think you have to try to have a conversation. Open and honest. Sit at the table to hear and be heard. However, if people are still intent in believing what they believe and they can’t see people as equal in God’s sight, then there comes a point when I have to go another way.

Jesus said to go into a place and when received, share what you have to share. if you are not received, if you are rejected and you’ve done all you can, then shake the dust from your feet and go to another town.

Some of the alienation is the breakdown of superficial relationships. How can we connect beyond last name? We feel alienated now because we’ve been forced to go deeper and reveal more because of the current situation.

How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?

The workplace is different (than family and friends). These are not your conditions and you don’t get to make the choices. So, you have to find common ground. You are there because you need your needs met, not because you agree. The workplace is about setting the conditions where we can agree. Maybe we don’t talk about politics at work. Instead, we focus on the goals of our team and from there we can figure out the rest.

I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?

I think the last two presidential elections sealed that for us. I am not sure that’s going to change again. I’ve got friends who are Republicans. I don’t have any friends who are Trumpians. The game changed with Trump. It just did.

There’s always political ideologies that differ. Now it’s a different way to look at the world and humanity. Maybe it was like that before, but it was more covert. Trump stopped coding and said it outright. Post-Trump you have to pick a side.

Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?

Social media didn’t divide us. It just told a story. We divided us. You can’t put that on social media. It is a reflection of who we are. People who are serious about what it takes to repair have to be as savvy as the people who are trying to divide.

I am not sure stopping polarization is the best object of our attention. Some people are just not going to get it. Some people just don’t like me, and my job is not to win them. There is always going to be polarization.

If we come together, not everyone will be on the same page. Celebrating the idea of gathering as reconciliation is performance, not reconciliation. If you want real reconciliation, you have to repent, recognize the wrongs that we are responsible for, and then you have to repair it, fix the broken stuff.

Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Reflection — We’ve got to examine ourselves. I’ve got to see my blind spots, the areas in which I have not been fully aware of how I have hurt, damaged, or contributed to the damage of someone else.
  2. Repentance — We must acknowledge and apologize for it. Own it, don’t blame anyone else, and don’t gaslight.
  3. Repair — Ask how can I fix what has been broken and what are the steps I can do to help repair?
  4. Reconcile — This is the reframing of the relationship by the person who has been wronged, who now sees a change and because of that, is open to reconciliation.
  5. Respect — We must immerse ourselves amongst people who are different than ourselves, so that we regularly strip ourselves of privilege. Where I am not dominant, where I have to listen.

Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?

Sure, if nice is all you want. We ‘gotta raise the bar past nice.

Even if I don’t like you, if I’m committed to The Golden Rule, to treat you like I want to be treated. I can hate you and it won’t bleed into how I treat you because of that.

If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?

You are the product of someone doing it for you. You didn’t get here by yourself. Any positivity you have created in the world is because someone did it for or towards you, or someone connected to you that got you to the place where you can do the same.

You stand on the shoulders of positive impactors. One of the problems of Western society is violent individualism. ‘I am only responsible for me. I don’t have to care about anyone else.’ We’ve disconnected from the communal idea of what I do in the present reverberates in history and in the future. You are connected to something bigger than yourself.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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