Freedom from Fear: Mental Health, Justice, and Hope for an Unencumbered Life in the Black Church with Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff

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Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff

Dwight Radcliff serves as Senior Pastor of The Message Center and Academic Dean of the Pannell Center for Black Church Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Episode Summary

What would it be to dream and live unencumbered? Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff is a pastor, community leader, and cultural theologian who wants the pages of Christian scripture to come alive to the gritty realities of justice, equity, and social transformation. Looking through the narrative vision of hip-hop and the Black church, he weaves a story of personal and communal wholeness …. holding everything together in all the tension of life … all to find thriving and spiritual health in the embodied, emotional, and empathetic now.

Show Notes

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  “It really has to do with this ability to, to dream and to live unencumbered.” — Dr. Dwight Radcliff Seeing justice, equity, and social transformation through the lens of hip-hop culture and Christian faith, Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff offers a vision of freedom and unencumbered life for the future of the Black community to which we can all bear witness. Raising challenging questions about the meaning of thriving in a culture dominated by fear, he speaks in a prophetic voice, interweaving the powerful, compounding effects of the language of the Gospel and the language of hip-hop. As a cultural theologian, community leader, and pastor, one of Dwight’s many gifts is presence—presence to emotion, to the realty of injustice, and to the complexities of thriving in the context of race and gender. He speaks about the power of purpose and calling in his life, pointing out the unique insight hip-hop, rap, and R&B music can offer the human experience. He calls us to be attuned to the whole reality of pain, suffering, trauma, and struggle when discussing psychological and spiritual health and thriving. And he bears witness to fear, anger, and grief—re-sensitizing us to our pain and vulnerability—speaking truth for the sake of beauty and justice.

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • Thriving as the ability to dream and live unencumbered, and the ways the Black church embodies that thriving
  • The grievous reality of Black double-consciousness that results from systemic racism
  • And his personal experience as a Black man today
  • Mental health in the Black community
  • The power of sanctified purpose
  • How hip-hop culture and music help us understand thriving at embodied, emotional, and familial levels, beyond the horizon of rational understanding
  • And how the prophetic vision of hip hop operates in the same tradition of justice spelled out by the Gospel that Jesus taught and lived.

Show Notes

  • Check out Rev. Dr. Dwight Radcliff’s Hip Hop Playlist (Note: Explicit Content)
  • What is it to live unencumbered?
  • “Hip-hop culture keeps me in check. It reminds me that the church of Jesus Christ is also supposed to be a prophetic and subversive voice.”
  • Hip-hop and the Black experience
  • Introduction: Rev. Dr. Dwight A. Radcliff
  • Dwight Radcliff: What is thriving?
  • “I think it really has to do with this ability to dream and to live unencumbered.”
  • Fear and the experience of Black men
  • “The American dream is not available to all equally.”
  • “What is unencumbered life for Dwight?”
  • W.E.B. Du Bois and Double Consciousness
  • W.E.B. Du Bois’s book, The Souls of Black Folk (Project Gutenberg)
  • Double consciousness is “fatal to self-confidence,” producing “a peculiar wrenching of the soul, a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment.”
  • “I don’t get to just be me.”
  • Dr. John M. Perkins
  • “Where does our pain come from? Why are you hurting? And I give you your pain and I say that you are hurting; and you give me my pain and we say that we are hurting.”
  • Honest, vulnerable conversations
  • Trauma and inherited trauma
  • “Why do we have to be Black?”
  • “One of the things that I'm lamenting right now in our society is our inability to have honest conversations—our inability to say, ‘Hey, this happened, this was horrible.’ There are ramifications and ripple effects of that. How do we address it, talk about it, and begin to take corrective action so that all of our children can begin to dream and live unencumbered.”
  • Where are honest conversations happening?
  • “I might not change the world, but I'll damn sure inspire the mind that does.” (paraphrase of Tupac Shakur)
  • Socioepigenetics: the impact of genetic inheritance for emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, and the effects of social injustice
  • Mental health in the Black church and broader Black community, and the mistrust of mental health providers
  • Barbara Holmes on Black contemplative practices and spirituality
  • Hip-hop culture and expression of pain and suffering
  • Dwight Radcliff’s journey through hip-hop
  • Pentacostal Holiness church and seeing hip-hop as the devil.
  • “You’re more concerned with the curse words than the cursed worlds.”
  • “I began to do a dangerous thing: I began to read the Bible.”
  • James Cone, The Spirituals & the Blues
  • West African spirituality and “holding all things together”
  • Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, “The Message”
  • “Don’t push me, cuz I’m close to the edge / I’m trying not to lose my head”
  • “It’s like a jungle sometimes / It makes me wonder how I keep from going under”
  • 2Pac, “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto”
  • C. Dolores Tucker, a Black congresswoman and critic of 2Pac
  • Hip-Hop as a way of life, unencumbered and wholly oneself
  • J. Kameron Carter on poesis and creativity
  • “Poesis… making a haven in a ghetto.”
  • “I am hip-hop.”
  • Lament and Good News

About Dwight Radcliff

Theologian and pastor Rev. Dr. Dwight A. Radcliff Jr. is Academic Dean and director of the William E. Pannell Center for Black Church Studies and is Assistant Professor of Mission, Theology, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Prior to coming to Fuller, Dr. Radcliff taught at Vanguard University, Azusa Pacific University, and the Southern California School of Ministry. He has published in The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, and is a recipient of the Parish Pulpit Fellowship graduation prize and the Hooper/Keefe Preaching Award. He completed post-master’s studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and the University of Oxford. He currently serves as senior pastor of The Message Center in Gardena, California, where he leads with his wife, DeShun Jones-Radcliff, who serves as the church’s director of administration. He and his wife have two daughters.  

About the Thrive Center

About Dr. Pam King

Dr. Pam King is Executive Director the Thrive Center and is Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science at Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy.  Follow her @drpamking.

About With & For

  • Host: Pam King
  • Senior Director and Producer: Jill Westbrook
  • Operations Manager: Lauren Kim
  • Social Media Graphic Designer: Wren Juergensen
  • Consulting Producer: Evan Rosa
Special thanks to the team at Fuller Studio and the Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy.


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