Ed: You talk about your journey of life growing up without a father and forgiving him for being absent. Tell us a little bit about that.
Lecrae: I grew up without my biological father. A lot of the unfortunate, stereotypical scenarios were present in my world: drug addiction, jail, all of those things. Obviously, it’s shaped me in a lot of different ways. It did contribute to some emotional trauma that I now battle. But God has been gracious to me and given me an opportunity to process that, and to meet him [my father] as a grown man.
It is very beneficial, very necessary to have fathers in the home. I also think that we give far too much blame for the destruction of the Black community to the absence of fathers in the home. As much as it’s created problems, I don’t think that’s the ingredient. I’ve broken the cycle by the grace of God.
Ed: When we talk about the African American community and fatherhood, many people think about The Moynihan Report, in which fatherhood was a recurring theme of concern. Now, when people don’t want to talk about systemic injustice, they only want to talk about fatherhood. What are the issues and constructs we need to talk about that would bring about change in the community?
Lecrae: Not to oversimplify it, but no one would ever say that you can have all grace and no truth, or all truth and no grace. For the issues in our society, there is both a culpability and a responsibility of the individual, but there are structural and systemic issue as well. They work hand in hand. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. I’ve experienced trauma. I never saw someone I was ever raised around who went on to become this incredible educator or financially secure individual. All of my grandmother’s children have gone through a divorce.
This is the world that I’ve been placed in. But I still have a culpability and a responsibility. I’m not excusing myself and saying that it’s okay that I follow in these footsteps. But it’s been way more difficult for me to be who I am and to go through the spaces that I’ve gone through because of the structural and systemic issues in my world. Not having a father is a problem in the black community.
We also have to ask: why is there a lack of fathers in this community? People speak with statistics and studies, but rarely are there conversations with people who actually lived in these communities and can tell you what was going on. I can tell you specifically in the eighties, there was an influx of drugs in the community. How they got there is a whole other conversation. Drugs terrorized the black family where you had both parents incarcerated. Then you have a war on drugs, which is a different conversation as well. It creates all these issues and all of these problems that I think we have to look at holistically.
Ed: I wrote an article for the Washington Post they gave the title of “Lock Them Up: My Double Standard in Responding to the Crack Crisis Versus the Opioid Epidemic,” which told of my experience in inner city Buffalo, New York. The color of the people certainly impacted how people responded. For example, “Opioids are a disease,” but “We need to lock up the crack addicts.” The race of the parties involved were not the only issues at work here, but were evident.
Evangelicals tend to be good at talking about personal responsibility, repentance and getting right with God. We could fix the community if people would get right and live right and move on from there. Mainliners tend to be more on the systemic issue. When you started to speak up against racial injustice, it rattled some of your core fan base who were more conservative evangelicals.
Lecrae: I never wanted to be a mascot for something I didn’t endorse. There were some conservative views that I totally disagreed with. And there are some perspectives that I felt like I had insight on. I had hoped that my supporters who had been with me for years would trust that I hadn’t just made this abrupt left turn. I began to speak out on issues of race and injustice. Instead of trying to hear where I was coming from, there was so many fear-based assumptions: fear of cultural Marxism, fear of ethnic Gnosticism, fear of communism, socialism, and more. Instead of trying to process the nuance of the conversation, that there can be a perspective that is pro-life and pro-justice, and they’re not mutually exclusive.
Fear says if you swing over here on this issue that means you’re going to take the whole thing with you. Because of that I was written off: “Lecrae’s lost it. He’s, he’s out of his mind now. He’s not solid theologically.” Because of that, people stopped supporting me. I remember doing a show with nearly 2000 people in Philadelphia. I came back after talking about all this, there were only 300 people there and of those 300, probably 200 were African American.
Ed: Tell us what life looks like as a follower of Jesus today for you.
Lecrae: When I say religion, I’m talking about what Tim Keller alludes to in the idea of earning acceptance and love of both people and God by your performance. I believed that if I just performed, if I just said the right things, that I would be accepted. I realized that it takes faith to understand that I’m already accepted by God. He’s going to call me to a standard of following the scriptures that will get me persecuted and not accepted. It’s going to take faith to hold on to God in the midst of those turbulent times.