In this video I respond to Facebook critics that say I don’t have a strong enough stand against abortion.
My grandmother moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Minneapolis, Minnesota as a single mother with my mom and two other daughters and a son. She was a hard working woman, which is why when I saw the movie, The Help, I cried. Her family was one of the first families to move into what had previously been an all-White community. I can remember in the early 1970′s, when at about 5 years old, my father and mother began pursuing owning a house of their own. We moved into a community where we were one of the first non-White families. I witnessed what is called White-flight with my own eyes. I also witnessed some of the White Church flight. Many Black Churches over time were able to buy or lease church buildings formally occupied by White Churches.
I praise God for the White families that stayed or I never would have befriended Bobby Dorsey or John Saphire. I praise God for the White Churches that stayed or I never would have experienced Boy Scouts at Calvary Lutheran Church or Youth Ministry at Park Avenue Methodist Church. But even with those who stayed, the community was impacted drastically by those who left. Years later White flight would be followed by African- Americans and other ethnic groups that would leave the community once they were able to go to college and pursue a career. After the house I grew up in was broken into and set on fire, it made total sense to me that it was time for my parents to leave the community.
Sometimes I wonder what the community I grew up in would be like today if none of the churches would have left after my family members moved in? What if none of the churches that were there prior would have left? What if Black Churches would have been planted and thrived right next to White Churches? What if Multi-ethnic Churches would have developed in the 1970′s in my neighborhood as shining lights of the Kingdom of God? What if there had been no flight.
Today, many of the resourced church plants are strategically placed in the suburbs. Most church planting models are based on a suburban missional context. When Black Churches grow to a certain size, many begin looking for suburban land to fulfill ministry dreams. Yes, there are urban church planters and older churches that never left the city (PRAISE GOD!), but the city is still living in the after effect of Church flight.
The good news is there seems to be a missional return to the cities. The are urban church planting movements coming to the city. There are those graduating from Christian universities sensing a call to join the movement to return to the city. What I say to those coming to the city and recently arriving in the city-
Honor those pastors, churches, missional organizations, and families that never left.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
-Ephesians 6:10-13 (NASB)
WARNING! Though I really don’t believe I need to give a spoiler alert for this blog post in connection to the movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier, if you are still concerned, go see it first and then read this.
SHIELD HAS BEEN COMPROMISED
TRUST NO ONE
How do you respond when an institution, community, or a person you’ve believed in and maybe even fought for is compromised by evil forces? Herein lies a spiritual lesson that we can take from the movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier. Captain America has been loyal to the United States, its government, and S.H.I.E.L.D., a larger agency committed to the safety of the world. I will leave it at that if you haven’t seen the movie and go deeper with the spiritual lesson.
We live in a broken and upside down world. Institutions and communities have been compromised by this evil and sinful world. Humankind is fallen and Satan is real. For the most part that is not a hard sell for Christians. This is why it’s important to see this issue from the perspective of Captain America. The government system is the vehicle thru which Captain America was given new life. It’s what helped develop his mission and purpose. So for the Christian to understand the gospel according to Captain America we have to come to grips with how Christianity as an institution and community has been compromised. The true gospel found in Christ Jesus is Christianity at its best. But the institutions and the communities thru which Christianity is to be expressed has been compromised.
When a pastor confesses a moral failure we see the compromise. This leads to the question who can you trust when it comes to pastors. When the church preaches a gospel that sounds more like capitalism and deep individualism than Kingdom, we see the compromise. This leads to the question who can you trust when it comes to the church. When the church is broken and compromised what do you do? What do you do when you Christian Brother or Sister has been compromised? This is what we can learn from Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Captain America, in the midst of a compromised system never lost sight of his true mission and purpose. This brought justice to a compromised system and defeat to the real enemy. As Christians we must find our true mission and purpose even when some of our institutions, communities, and leaders have been compromised. When we are able to do this, we truly spread the Gospel and take back territories and lives from the real enemy.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
Politically, today is a deadline for the Affordable Care Act. This blog post is not about giving an opinion about what has become known as Obamacare. This post is not about a deadline, it’s about a biblical mandate. As Jesus provides three pictures of the Kingdom of God in Matthew chapter 25, He ends by showing us what Kingdom Compassion and Justice looks like. We don’t have to wonder what God calls us to do when it comes to the poor, the immigrant, the incarcerated, and the sick. I want to move beyond a political deadline, to a biblical mandate.
When I was a child, I remember my mother taking me to see Dr. Brown. He was an African-American doctor and many Black parents took their children to see him because they had migrated from the segregated South, where Black doctors were the only option. For many in the North for years this was the only option as well. I also remember my mother taking me to a clinic that was inside a Catholic Church. This “clinic in the church” tore down the dividing lines of race in the way healthcare services were provided.
When I was a teenager, there was a United Methodist Church in my neighborhood where I was involved in the youth group. Eventually, this church would create a community development and leadership foundation that would house a free health clinic, legal clinic, thrift store, and youth science program. Later in my adult years, I would serve as an Associate Pastor of that church and Executive Director of that foundation.
In 2003, I would be apart of a group that would plant a church in North Minneapolis and also start a community development corporation. After I left the church to serve as a Regional Superintendent within a denomination, the church would decide to cut ties with the cdc. Thank God though, that cdc is still going. Before I moved from Minnesota to California with my family, my wife and I would take our daughters to an African American Baptist Church to get flu shots.
My point here is that the Christian Church must stay in the biblical business of providing healthcare to the sick. We must work beyond the divisions and dysfunction of government to care for the sick and the poor. I’m not saying that government shouldn’t play a critical role. My focus though is to remind the church of one of it’s mandates. I’m all for church growth, but I’m concerned that in her efforts to be more attractional, the church isn’t as missional as it needs to be. Every large and substantially resourced church ought to have a free health clinic, providing care to those without healthcare coverage. Why not? It’s a biblical mandate. The church ought to be the alternative for pregnant women who would otherwise have an abortion. Why not? It’s a biblical mandate.
At World Impact (www.worldimpact.org), where I serve now as President and CEO, we have mobile clinics is cities like Los Angeles and Wichita providing healthcare. In partnership, we are involved in providing healthcare in the Philadelphia area. But also, through our urban church planting efforts, we hope to create networks and movements of urban churches working together to demonstrate Kingdom compassion and justice. Today is no deadline for the church, but let it be a reminder of one important element of the true good news of Christ.
A few months ago I was taken to task by a few folks for not being more proactive in using my influence in raising the deep tragedies around the issue of abortion. Some of these dear folks, who I have deep respect for, would take me to task right now for using the word abortion instead of stating it as, the senseless murder of thousands of innocent children daily within the womb. Some even believe that to label yourself as “Pro-life” is too soft and that “abolitionist” is a better term to use. This is actually connected to my being taken to task for talking about working to reduce abortion in the US instead of working to abolish abortion all together. Well, because of all this, I decided to share some reflections which give clarity to my position on this very divisive, yet important issue. I don’t expect readers to agree with me and I might be taken to task yet again for even sharing these reflections.
I will begin by stating that I would still consider myself pro-life for theological and ideological reasons. Let me begin with theology. Jeremiah 1 and the Ten Commandments as laid out in Exodus are part of my biblical foundation for being pro-life. I believe that life doesn’t begin when humans conceive it, but when God begins the designing process, which is beyond simply the works of human beings. Many people would like to stay within a framework of life and death ultimately being in our hands. Freewill gives some influence over life and death for humans, but ultimately life, death, and eternal life are all in the almighty Hands of God. Some pro-life Christians use as their biblical foundation, Scriptures focused on pagan cultures sacrificing children to a false god in the Old Testament. By doing this they are connecting murder and idolatry as the foundation for abortion. I stay away from this because we are dealing with what happens with children in the womb, not outside of it.
Because I see abortion as murder, I see it as oppressive and sinful. This belief is why I don’t choose to lift up abortion as a stand alone issue. If we want to reduce or abolish abortion, I believe we must connect it to other acts of oppression. Some have told me they want to abolish abortion the same way we abolished slavery. Well, they don’t realize that slavery has not been totally abolished on this planet, which proves raising single issues is a strategy that is very limited in dealing with sin and injustice. There are slave systems which are still not abolished in this sinful world. And, if we want to abolish sinful and oppressive acts, why just limit it to abortion? Why not abolish oppressive government systems, murder, poverty, and human trafficking as well? I would agree that we should work towards that end.
What makes the issue of abortion complex is that it intersects the oppression of children in the womb and that of women. In some cases it brings in racial oppression and the oppression of the poor as well. If we want to reduce or abolish abortion, I believe we must connect it to the oppression of women, the poor, and people of color. It is problematic to cry out for innocent children in the womb, but not cry out against domestic abuse, date rape, human trafficking, and other forms of the oppression of women. There is also a connection between abortion and the urban poor. There is a connection between abortion and race. It has been stated on many occasions that the founder of Planned Parenthood had a racist agenda in wanting to use abortion as a way to control the number of Black babies born or to be more true to the agenda, not born. The one who desires to reduce or abolish abortion must have a more holistic agenda of Kingdom compassion, mercy, and justice.
I am very passionate about babies in the womb of mothers who ought to have a chance at living out God’s destiny for their lives. I’m also passionate about the empowerment of the poor, the empowerment of women, racial reconciliation, and the rescuing of children out of sex slavery. It would be fair to take me to task for not being dominated by one singular issue.
What is it that I’m really asking here? This is important for me to clarify because I know that the Black Church still exists. What I’m really wrestling with is if the Black Church that I’m a product of still exists. Does the Black Church that brought an evangelism, theology, and justice movement to enslaved Africans who were presented a Christ representing the Slave Master instead of the Reconciler still exist?
Does the Black Church that launched the Civil Rights and Azusa Street Revival Movements still exist? The reason I wrestle with these questions is for two reasons. One, I believe the Black Church that I’m a product of is still needed. I see this version of the Black Church shrinking. I learned how to preach and lead worship in the Black Church. I learned how to serve and respect Elders in the Black Church. I learned both liberation and reconciliation theology in the Black Church and from Black Itinerant Preachers like Tom Skinner and John Perkins. Pastors such as, Edward Berry, Gerald Joiner, Robert Owens, Don Davenport, Stan Long, J. Alfred Smith Sr., Keith Johnson, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Debbie Blue, and William Smith have all been mentors and pastors to me over the years. Please know that men and women of diverse ethnicities have played a significant role in my development as a pastor, evangelist, and evangelical leader, but I would not be where I am today if not for the way in which God used the Black Church in my life. When I ask does the Black Church exist, I am asking about the church that raises up Sons and Daughters of the faith as expository preachers, community leaders, and prophets of compassion and justice.
A significant segment of the Black Church followed the playbook of a significant segment of the White Church and when it grew large enough, left the city for the suburbs. Just like many of the Black families that remain in urban communities are under-resourced, many of the Black Churches that remain in the city are under-resourced. This creates a culture of survival, competition, and empire verses a missional and reproducing culture of equipping and empowerment. I’m not against large churches at all, but can we grow churches without abandoning the city full of boys and girls in need of mentoring, development, and a Christ-centered compass for living?
The second reason I wrestle with this question about the Black Church is because I believe the Black Church is the first visible sign of an evangelistic, missional, and reconciling church in the United States. The Black Church is a forced church historically because its people were rejected by the White Church. Even with this fact, when the Civil Rights and Azusa Street Revival Movements were launched, open arms of reconciliation were presented to the White Church. The Black Church must not forget its missional, justice, and reconciliation roots. Today, a significant segment of the Black Church has traded in mission, justice, and reconciliation for individualism, Christian-covered capitalism, and deeply-rooted and one-sided political ideology. Though we have more Black Churches probably now than any time in history, Black people overall are still by percentage not doing as well as other ethnicities in areas of net worth, home ownership, college graduation rates, mass incarceration, and family stability. This is why we must simultaneously love, honor, and raise questions around the Black Church of today. We need the resurgence of the missional, reconciling, and community transforming Black Church.
It’s really not that this type of Black Church doesn’t exist as all. Pastors such as Curtis Flemming in Oakland, D. Darrell Griffin in Chicago, Arrvel Wilson in Dallas, and Gerald Joiner in Louisville are examples of its existence. The fact is we need more. We need a resurgence of a Black Church that is a missional church, a reproducing church, and a reconciling church. What does this look like? More Black Churches that are revitalizing inner-city communities. More Black Churches that are raising up, resourcing, and releasing urban leaders. More Black Churches that plant multi-ethnic Churches. More Black Churches that promote Kingdom Compassion and Justice. I love the Black Church too much to ask for anything less.
With the films Son of God and Noah coming to theaters, I will once again share my thoughts while also grieving over the continued portrayal of Jesus the Christ as European. The Noah movie, featuring Russell Crow as Noah, has me extending my thoughts to the broad portrayal of biblical characters as White. Some have responded to some of my Facebook posts as if this is strictly a Hollywood problem. American Christianity as dominated by the Anglo Evangelical and Mainline Church has participated in a significant way in lifting up the White Jesus. Others argue that the recent Jesus is Latin. That may be progress to some, but still is far from the Christ of Scripture.
Though there is a part of me that hopes these two films will point people ultimately to the authentic Christ of the Scriptures, I still grieve that we as Christians are okay with a false Jesus used as the on-ramp hopefully to the real One. Isn’t this really saying that we okay with a lie being the road to truth? You would think my fellow Evangelical Brothers and Sisters would have a real problem with that one. Some believe that at the end of the day the color of Jesus doesn’t matter; it only matters that He is the Son of God. Okay, let’s sit with that one for a moment. This creates a problem when living within a theology of knowing Jesus the Christ as both the Son of God and Son of Man. I deal with this issue on a deeper level in my books, Jump: Into a Life of Further and Higher and The Post-Black and Post-White Church. In short, Matthew 1 and John 1 provide us the biblical foundation for understanding Christ as both human and divine. The way in which Jesus comes to earth socially, ethnically, and politically all play a role in understanding who He is as the Lamb that was slain. Understanding His Jewish and multi-ethnic identity and what that meant to both the political and religious power structures has major meaning in the biblical narrative and how He gets to the cross. It also sets up the reconciliation and multicultural Christ-centered movements we see in the Book of Acts and the writings of Paul. The Great Commission is not just stated by Jesus, it’s embodied by the multi-ethnic Christ. This is all powerful stuff. The White Jesus represents something else all together.
The White Jesus unfortunately points us to colonization, American slavery, and a privileged religion that wrestles with how to missionally relate to people groups the Jewish and multi-ethnic Jesus gravitated to naturally (John 4). The White Jesus keeps the Christian Church captive to the social matrix of race. When people say, it doesn’t matter what color Jesus was, my reply is, “then why does the Bible take the time to tells us in detail his multi-ethnic family line in Matthew 1?” I also say, those who made Christ White in the first place seemed to really care what color He was or really cared about what color He needed to become. Watch the movie 12 Years a Slave and then meditate on the significance of a European Jesus verses the Jesus of Scripture.
With a White Christ comes a whole army of White biblical characters from Adam and Eve, to Noah, to David, to Esther, and Paul. The authentic ethnic and multicultural presentation of biblical characters gives the church greater missional credibility to reach an increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality.
Recently thru Facebook, I saw a video posted of a panel of reformed theologians answering a question about the validity of Christian Rap as a ministry tool. I thought it both interesting and strange that an all Anglo male group of theologians would even take on this topic. As I listened to their answers it was obvious that they should stay away from the topic from here forward. I would make one exception. I would love to have a healthy and respectful public conversation with any of the reformed theologians on that panel as one who has written on Hip Hop, the Church, and theology. If not me, I would encourage these reformed theologians to have a public conversation with folks like Dr. Daniel Hodge of North Park University in Chicago or Pastor Phil Jackson also of Chicago. I could name many others more qualified to provided a rich and biblical approach to Hip Hop and specifically the element of rap as a tool for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Some say this issue has already been dealt with and I’m late to the party. Well, I have a feeling this won’t be the last time Anglo, evangelical, suburban, and male theologians speak as if they know more about God, urban culture, and people of color than urban people and people of color with ministry experience and theological credentials.
There is something else I want to briefly mention here as well. I am amazed by all of the recent conversations that Anglo male reformed theologians and pastors are having lately on issues of Hip Hop, race, and justice. On one hand I would say this is very wonderful. I’m glad to see Pastors such as Dr. John Piper and Dr. Tim Keller leading these conversations. At the same time, I’m very disappointed that rarely do these conversations include evangelical people of color and women who have been writing, speaking, and leading ministry models around these topic for years. Where is John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon Chan Rah, Greg Yee, Dave Gibbons, Larry Acosta, Ed Delgado, Debbie Blue, Cecilia Williams, Robyn Afrik, and Eugene Cho? Until the conversations become more diverse and represent the broader community of evangelicals, reformed theology will lose ground in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and evangelical Christian movement.
Since the reality show Preachers of LA debuted on the Oxygen cable channel this fall, I’ve watched every episode. There have been times when I’ve been deeply touched by this reality show, but many other times when I’ve been embarrassed by it. This show has also caused me to reflect deeply on my own calling as a preacher and minister. Since, I now lead a national ministry with global influence that happens to have its headquarters in LA, I guess I’m now an LA preacher too in some way.
Preachers of LA presents 5 preachers. Four are African-American and one is an Anglo with Southern and Skateboarding roots. Four are leading congregations over 2,000 each and one is a leading urban gospel music artist. They all live in large, mansion like houses and drive luxury cars. They are all ministry celebrities. Two of them are so well known that they have security and drivers. So that I don’t come across as a “hater” I actually don’t mind that they live this way in one sense. If you happen to lead a ministry that pays you a salary of a marketplace CEO and the congregation desires their pastor to be “celebrity like” because of the status it brings them in being connected to that pastor, go for it. I guess.
With my background in urban ministry, I’ve been up close to the urban poor and urban middle class. I’ve had many opportunities to hear their commentary on urban pastors. In many cases they were talking about urban African-American pastors. As one who desires to see Kingdom advancement and transformation among the urban poor especially, I care deeply about their perceptions of preachers. I have sat in barber shops and heard urban folks call urban pastors pimps, hustlers, and gangsters. These comments have been sometimes based on what the pastors drive and how they dress. Some of this has been based on their personal experience with urban pastors. It is the view of some of the urban poor and urban middle class that they sometimes can’t tell the difference between the pimps in their communities and the preachers. I’ve heard these comments for over 25 years in barbershops, community centers, at high school basketball games, and at soul food places. When I’ve shared these comments with some of the urban African-American pastors that I’ve know over the years, some join me in concern over this perception. Others look at me and seem to care less.
I care so much about the transformation of the cities across the nation and hold so much love for the urban poor in my heart that it has led me to make some decisions. Decisions on how I dress and what I drive. Now, don’t take my comments the wrong way. I’m not all that and never will be. There are decisions that I’ve made that could put into question my love for urban America. I live in the suburbs and have not made the type of sacrifices that urban missionaries and committed urban residents that refuse to leave “the hood” have made. What I have decided though is that living like a secular corporate CEO, a rap mogul, king of an empire, or NBA player may have a direct impact on my witness to the urban poor. So I drive a Hyundai instead of a BMW. I don’t have a driver or security when I travel across the country each month as a speaker. Maybe I shouldn’t travel alone and should have someone with me, but if I do make this choice, I don’t need them to be a traveling butler. This position on my ministry calling doesn’t make me a better pastor or Christian than others. I’m just attempting to live out my calling without judging someone else’s. Preachers of LA doesn’t show us the hundreds of other Preachers in LA, with a calling different from the celebrity preacher. Please know that this is just one preachers opinion and reality.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”
1 Peter 4:12-13
“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
“Therefore, as twenty-first-century discourse, Christian theology must take its bearings from the Christian theological languages and practices that arise from the lived Christian worlds of dark peoples in modernity and how such peoples reclaimed (and in their own ways salvaged) the language of Christianity, and thus Christian theology, from being a discourse of death- their death. This is the language and practices by which dark people, insofar as many of them comported themselves as Christian subjects in the world, have imagined and performed a way of being in the world beyond the pseudotheological containment of whiteness. To the extent that they have done this, they mark out a different trajectory for theology as discourse. The language and practices, therefore, of dark people who have lived into a Christian imagination can no longer be deemed theologically irrelevant nor made invisible, which is what white intellectuals in the theological academy have tended to do.”
J. Kameron Carter, “Race: A Theological Account” Oxford University Press, 2008, Pg. 378
SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing some of the scenes of the film, 12 Years A Slave. If you haven’t seen the film, you may not want to read this yet, though I’m not giving away any main story line, which hasn’t already been told in the advertising of the film. Neither am I giving away any surprise ending (which really doesn’t exist).
Sitting thru the entire almost 3 hours of the film “12 Years a Slave” was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I had to. I had to watch the violent and brutalizing realness of the enslavement of Africans in the history of the nation of which I am a citizen. 12 Years a Slave is the story of a free Black man named Solomon of New York, who is tricked into going to Washington D.C. and then kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Not much is held back in showing the demonic evil that the slavery of Africans in America was. What is very troubling is that this evil was practiced for the most part in the name of Jesus. Speaking of Jesus-
Another movie that was hard for me to sit thru a few years ago was Mel Gibson’s version of The Passion of the Christ. There is a scene in The Passion that is hauntingly similar to a scene in 12 Years a Slave. In The Passion, Jesus is tied to a post and whipped violently. We are brutally treated to witnessing skin tearing and blood pouring all over. The body of Christ looking like butchered meat. In 12 Years a Slave, there is a scene that is similar, except the victim is a Black woman. I couldn’t help but see a connection between the suffering Christ and the suffering Slave. This is not to bring the same divinity to the African slave that was upon Jesus, but to proclaim the way in which the Son of God is so connected to the oppressed, Brown and Black skinned sufferer. But the again, maybe by seeing the suffering slave that is something divinely planted that we might know the work of Christ.
By making Jesus European, White, and privileged, the non African or African-American Christian is able to watch 12 Years a Slave from a distance. You are not granted this opportunity once you accept the biblical truth that Jesus was born as an oppressed, Jewish, Brown, and ethnic minority, when coming into this world over 2,000 years ago. For more on this you have to read, Radical Reconciliation by Allan Boesak and Curtiss DeYoung. Jesus can bring liberation to the oppressed because He is God and because He came to earth packaged in the human form of a non-privileged, ethnic minority.
If we want to truly understand the oppression of first century Christians in the New Testament, one way is to gain a deeper understanding of “slavery past” in the United States of America. This could assist the church closing the gap between being privileged and having a closer, transforming relationship with the poor and oppressed of today. Please go see the film 12 years a Slave. It may help us realize the true work of Christ needed in our nation and world today.