In a world of terrorism, racial tensions, immigration debates, the need for criminal justice reform, and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, the authentic Christ of the Bible is needed like never before. When Christ came into the world in human form, He came as a marginalized, oppressed immigrant, as well as the object of ethnic profiling (we would call this racial profiling today). He was born in an under-resourced and violent setting. According to His genealogy found in Matthew 1, He was born Jewish, Hebrew, African, Asiatic – a multi-ethnic human being. He was part of a people group living under the power structure of the Roman Empire.
When Christ was born, every male baby that looked like Him was murdered under the instruction of the governing authority. Terrorism was not a foreign concept for the earthly family of our Lord and Savior. The earthly family of Christ fled to Egypt in order to escape terrorism – making them undocumented refugees. Christ came in the human package of the vulnerable and despised so that He would have a deep and intimate credibility with the most marginalized and oppressed around him. Yes, He came that salvation might be a gift for all willing to repent, but the human shell He came in allowed Him to have a powerful connection with the diseased, outcast, left for dead, demonized, and poverty-stricken. What a scandalous way for God to enter our world. I believe God sent the Son into the world in this way on purpose. But we cannot truly understand the Kingdom-advancing ramifications of how Christ came into the world if we deny its importance.
The heavenly heritage of Christ in John 1 establishes Him as the Son of God, and Matthew 1 establishes Christ as the Son of Man. This take on Christology is important, because it takes Christ out of the racialized matrix that the dominant church in the United States has put Him in. We continue for the most part to portray Christ as White and European from birth to death on the cross to resurrection. This version of Christ is not only unbiblical, but also limits our evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom advancement. The divinity and the multicultural human package of Christ matters and is deeply connected to the Spirit He sends, the Church He starts, and the Kingdom He establishes. When the Church grabs onto the true and revolutionary act of the incarnation, there’s a greater opportunity for reconciliation and transformation.
The Church in the United States needs to be set free. We need a liberated church in order for greater Kingdom advancement and life transformation to take place. We need a liberated church to serve as a force of reconciliation in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan mission field. We need this because the church is currently held captive, to a degree, by systems and forces of this broken world. I believe the crisis that the American church faces is directly related to its captivity and denial thereof.
The Church in the United States began as a movement and institution held captive by the social matrix of race. The institution of slavery and the system of Jim Crow showed that the church was held captive by race. The social construct of race still holds us captive. We can see this more recently in the deadly shootings and physical altercations leading to the death of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers, as well as the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Just follow the rhetoric of many Christians on social media regarding today’s racial tensions and challenges and you will see how expansive the plantation is on which the church labors.
As we move into the 2016 political season, we see another way in which the church is held captive. Verbally vicious and extreme political ideology has a hold on the church of the United States. When I served as a senior pastor of an urban, evangelical, and multi-ethnic church in the Midwest, I had to make sure that political ideology was not a worldly weapon that would tear our congregation apart. Some in the congregation were more driven by radio and cable news political commentators than Scripture. As I’ve talked to other pastors within evangelicalism, I have come to understand that this is a challenge in many churches.
If the church in the United States is going to show more fruit in the areas of evangelism, discipleship, and the development of Kingdom Laborers, we must begin by striving for our own freedom. The church is supposed to be the bride of Christ. The church is God’s frontline vehicle for leading people held captive by sin into the freedom of new life found in Christ. This cannot happen when the church is enslaved.
The Next Evangelicalism by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3360
The Post-Black and Post-White Church by Efrem Smith http://www.amazon.com/The-Post-Black-Post-White-Church-Multi-Ethnic-ebook/dp/B007ZDV7ZM
The American Church in Crisis by David Olson http://www.amazon.com/The-American-Church-Crisis-Groundbreaking/dp/0310277132
Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith http://www.amazon.com/Divided-Faith-Evangelical-Religion-Problem/dp/0195147073
Christ was born into a world of violence. All the male babies that looked like Him were to be murdered because of the revolutionary threat of His birth. Christ was also born in a setting of poverty; the Roman Empire was participating in its own version of industrialization and urban development. Christ was multi-ethnic; he walked this earth in human form as a Jewish and Hebrew man. Christ was multicultural; his family tree is rooted in modern day Israel, Palestine, The Sudan, Libya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Iraq. Christ is God; ultimately Christ’s heritage is found in the beginning with God and as God according to John 1, but as the Son of Man, he came into this earthly realm as a multi-ethnic human being. With all of this being true, Christ is reflected in much of urban America.
Cities are collaborating with suburbs to become larger metropolitan areas. For instance, San Francisco is part of the larger Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco Bay Area. This is why the San Francisco 49ers professional football team can play in a home stadium located in Santa Clara. You can live an hour away from Downtown San Francisco and still consider yourself part of the Bay Area. This is happening across the United States. As these metropolitan areas grow they become more multi-ethnic and multicultural. In the midst of this, suburbs become like cities and rural areas become suburban bedroom communities. The farm lands are shrinking. There is an economic and business development strategy connected to all of this. As businesses grow, the metropolitan mission field grows. Is the same true globally?
I have often written and preached about the mission field being an ever increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan one in the United States. To a degree, this is true around the world. Currently over half the world lives in an urban setting. There are missiologists who believe that global cities will grow to the degree that the vast majority of people will live in metropolitan areas. I realize that this isn’t the case for many people today. Many unreached poor populations live in villages and small towns, but will this always be the case? Shouldn’t we just assume that mission field is becoming more and more urban?
Ultimately time will tell if I’m really on to something here. But I’m preparing the Church to for the metropolitan mission field. The way in which we reach the unchurched, raise up indigenous leaders, plant churches, and make disciples should assume that we will do so in a global multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan mission field. The true Christ of Scripture is relevant for today’s multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan mission field.
I saw the movie “Straight Outta Compton” last weekend. The late 1980′s and early 90′s rap group NWA is said by many to have revolutionized music and pop culture as well as having provided a stronger voice on behalf of the hip hop generation at the time. Others are critical of the group for their abuse of women off the stage and the tendency at times to stray away from revolutionary lyrics to ones that glorify drug and alcohol abuse, rape, and violence as the primary means to solve conflict. More socially conscious Rappers from the same era such as Speech from the group, Arrested Development have provided blog posts to offer a better take on the true revolutionary hip hop groups at the time.
As a member of the hip hop generation, I found myself very connected to socially conscious and revolutionary hip hop groups during the 1980′s and 90′s. My favorites at the time included Public Enemy, Last Asiatic Disciples, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubians, and De La Soul. I was also drawn to Christian Hip Hop artists such as D-Boy, SFC, I.D.O.L. King, GRITS, and Preachers in Disguise. I never saw NWA as part of the real revolutionary hip hop movement. I actually thought that NWA member, Ice Cube provided a more revolutionary side of himself with the group Lench Mob that he formed after leaving NWA. I don’t want to take away from a few revolutionary leaning songs that NWA put out, but they seemed to be confused on what type of hip hop group they really wanted to be. They also came along during a time when White owned record labels finally caught on to the idea that rap music could make a lot of money. Money making at the highest level of the music industry seems to be the death nail for revolutionary hip hop groups. Not only will “the revolution not be televised,” in many cases it won’t be recorded either.
The mainstream music industry seeing dollar signs within rap music came after Run D.M.C. collaborated on the remake of “Walk This Way.” The music video finally put rap music into regular rotation during primetime on MTV. I loved Run D.MC., but I wouldn’t consider them a revolutionary group when it came to socially conscious hip hop. Their revolutionary work was more about bringing rap into the mainstream. Notice I didn’t state bringing hip hop into the mainstream, but rap into the mainstream. Now, NWA is a revolutionary group in another way. They laid the foundation for gangsta rap coming into the mainstream. Those rappers with tattoos all over their bodies and faces, sagging their pants, and glorifying strip clubs and weed in their lyrics should thank NWA. If there was no NWA and Ruthless Records, there would have been no Chronic Album from NWA member Dr. Dre’ on Deathrow Records.
Now, I won’t state that NWA wanted to go down as a revolutionary group by launching the gangsta rap movement, but they played this role all the same. At the same time that NWA became popular, Luke and the 2 Live Crew was bringing their pornographic version of rap into the mainstream as well. The mainstream music industry was more than happy to take the worst of rap music or at best a stereotyped Black cultural rap portrayed as real Blackness, put it on steroids, and in turn silence real revolutionary hip hop. NWA West Coast rap also brought into rap music a glorification of gang culture. The movie Straight Outta Compton deals with this by showing us scenes featuring the portrayal of members of The Bloods and The Crips. This is the beginning of a violent culture within the rap industry that would take the lives of rap icons, Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. This is all the foundation of today’s commercial rap music to a significant degree.
Today’s mainstream and commercial rap music is not only un-revolutionary, it’s not even real hip hop. There are some artists such as Common and Kendrick Lamar who work to keep socially conscious hip hop alive, but it’s very much on life support. Many hip hoppers of my generation miss real hip hop culture with the principles of love, peace, community, having fun, and knowledge of God, knowledge of self. We miss the original elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy and b-girl, and the graffiti artist. We miss non-violent house, roller skating, and community center parties. We miss being educated about our African, slave, and civil rights movement past thru hip hop. We miss the commentary on our urban situation thru words such as, “It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under” from The Message. Before The Message was a Bible version, it was the story of urban youth and young adults.
I remain hopeful for real revolutionary hip hop though. There is another possibility for the resurgence of revolutionary hip hop and it’s coming from a renewed version of holy hip hop. What Christian hip hop artist LeCrae is doing right now is very revolutionary indeed. Here is an evangelical, African-American hip hop artist whose music sales can be compared with the best secular versions of the music genre. He is also socially conscious in his recent off stage comments on racial profiling and the murders of unarmed African-Americans by Police Officers thru social media. He doesn’t provide a broad attack against the police force but instead offers words of reason, reconciliation, and justice. He provides a Biblical framework for Black Lives Matter. He has also had words about the tragedy of Black on Black violence and murder. He is truly a hip hop revolutionary. I don’t believe he is alone. Could there be an army of revolutionary Christian hip hop artists who could point to liberation and revival? I hope so. For a breakdown of the impact of hip hop on the broader culture and a history of holy hip hop, check out the book I wrote with Pastor Phil Jackson a few years ago entitled, The Hip Hop Church (Intervarsity Press).
Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. His death came within the very unfortunate conflict with Officer Darren Wilson. Our nation slipped deeper in the ditch of the racial divide after that event. Or one could state that our nation went deeper into the sea of the matrix of race that has plagued us since our inception. Though some tried to have healthy and constructive dialogues and strategic action meetings they were drowned out by extreme political ideology, some leaders who seemed more enamored with cameras than solutions, violent riots, and in some cases movements which lacked true leadership or a clear end game. The tensions between Under-resourced, African American Communities and Police Departments are not new. Individual and Systemic Racism is not new. The is not a one year old problem. The ministry I serve, World Impact, was initially birthed out of the Watts Riots. These riots began after a violent altercation between an African American family and the Police in 1965. And along with this history, this past year has been one filled with grief for me. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Frank Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, The Mother Emmanuel AME Church Nine… Did we learn anything from the past? Or did we simply choose to forget?
I could move beyond this year and mention Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and even go way back and mention Emmit Till. But again to go there you would have to be willing to see the reasoning in connecting the distant past with this past year and even with today. You don’t even have to buy into a narrative that these lives are all connected in order for your heart to be deeply grieved. But I’m not grieved just by what has transpired this past year nor is my grieving just limited to the loss of these lives. Yes, we must address the deaths of unarmed African Americans and you don’t have to spew anti-Police rhetoric to do it. You don’t have to spark violent riots to do it. All you have to do is recognize that we live in an upside-down, sinful, broken, and dysfunctional world. You don’t have to demonize people in order to acknowledge this. All you have to do is realize what Christ realized at the conclusion of Matthew 9 in Scripture. He looked at the multitude and had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. This multitude that Christ looked upon was full of sin, oppression, corruption, division, and death. This is true in our nation today. But, Christ had a solution. A solution that included new life, healing, empowerment and transformation. We need healing, transformation, empowerment, and conversion of the multitudes today.
I know a lot of good Police Officers. I have been touched, blessed, and helped on many occasions by them. I have also been the victim of racial profiling on a number of occasions in encounters with the Police as well. I have come to realize that in every field and in every system there is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong. If we would become humble enough to acknowledge the brokenness within humanity and with all of our systems and institutions we could move towards solutions. There are multitudes of people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Some are poor and marginalized. Some are in positions of authority. If we would take the time to embrace this truth, we could begin to solve the problem at the root that has brought so much grief this past year. Our criminal justice system is broken and we don’t have to throw police officers as a whole under the bus to address that fact. Racism is still real and we don’t have to throw all White People under the bus to address that fact. A culture of “Thug-ology” that has led to so many homicides and shootings that are Black on Black is real and we don’t have to throw all inner-city Black males under the bus to address that. We have lost a value of life in the womb, but we don’t have to throw any woman under the bus to address that. How we address these social ills, sins, and injustices, is first by taking on the same compassionate mission that Christ showed us. We need a Kingdom advancing and compassionate mission focused on African American urban youth and families as well as Police Officers for example. It is very possible for the Church to be a force of liberation and reconciliation in the spirit and theology of J. Deotis Roberts and Martin Luther King Jr. Incorporating their theologies and strategies into modern day ministry models is the urgent work of the church. The urban church must work individually and collectively with Missions and Para Church organizations to professionalize urban youth and family ministry right now. Police Chaplains must see themselves as missionaries to Police Officers right now. The Church must work collectively and compassionately across denomination, urban and suburban, and race right now to develop a Kingdom advancing and reconciling agenda that is rooted in compassion, justice, mercy, and healing. There are already many ministries that are taking this challenge and have been in the trenches for a long time, but there are not enough. And in too many cases the Church is fractured, segregated, and too focused inwardly on unhealthy issues that aren’t relevant for today’s mission field. The Church must also be willing to break the chains of slavery and leave the plantations of extreme political ideologies, false theologies, materialism, and modern day Towers of Babel. Only a Free Church surrendered to the Kingdom of God can lovingly, boldly, and non-violently take on the demonic forces of injustice, racism, thug-ology, materialism, and Herod-like leadership structures. There must be servant-leaders in the Church who are willing to be bridges of reconciliation and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in these troubled times.
Yes, my heart is grieved, but my spirit is hopeful and determined. Let us work together as children of God and citizens of God’s Kingdom to extend truth, transformation, justice, love, reconciliation, and new life within this broken reality before us.
I put on my Facebook Wall yesterday, “#blackchurchesmatter.” Some of the responses proclaimed, “All Churches Matter.” Well, of course that is true. This is just like when some have stated that “Black Lives Matter”, some have responded with, ‘All Lives Matter.” Again, my response would be, of course all lives matter. Let me just state that all lives matter to God and all churches matter to God. That’s not the concentrated point here though. Before people provide any respond to Black Lives Matter or Black Churches Matter we should take time to explore why these statements need to be proclaimed in the first place. Let me provide a biblical foundation for Black Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter. It would be also important for me to say that my biblical theology for Black Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter may be very different from any particular social movement using these terms. Let me also mention why as President of World Impact, it’s important for me to deal with this issue. World Impact traces its roots back to the Watts Riots of 1965 within the Los Angeles Area. At the time this community was predominately Black and was facing issues of substandard housing and education to mention just some of the challenges. The riots broke out because of an incident between the police and an African-American young man, his Mother, and his Brother. So, our ministry begins with the missional and transformational caring for urban, under-resourced, and Black lives.
In terms of a biblical foundation for this type of missional and transformational care, I would encourage you to read the Gospel of John, chapter 4. You will learn that even though all lives mattered to Christ as He walked the earth, He went out of His way to show that Samaritan lives mattered. He had to do this because of how Samaritans were viewed and treated socially at the time and because it was a part of his demonstration and declaration of the Kingdom of God. If you read all four Gospels, you will see how Christ went out of His way to show that Women Mattered, Children Mattered, and the Sick Mattered. There were multiple times when Christ zeroed in on a certain group and lifted up their humanity, their dignity, and showed how they mattered.
In the Old Testament, God the Father had to remind His own chosen people that the Poor, the Needy, the Widows, and the Stranger Mattered. Whenever God concentrates on a particular group this doesn’t mean that other groups in the human family no longer matter to God. It’s really about God giving attention at a particular time about a group that has been marginalized, oppressed, or viewed outside the vision of the Kingdom of God. So the deeper biblical question is why did God have to do this from time to time? Why did God have to say to His chosen people and to the world, Poor Lives Matter, Needy Lives Matter, Samaritan Lives Matter, or Incarcerated Lives Matter? When Christ states in Matthew 25 that Hungry, Thirsty, Foreign, Incarcerated, or Homeless lives matter, should the response have been, “Hey Christ, Don’t All Lives Matter?” I think not. The response I should be to investigate the connection between marginalized people mattering, intimacy with God, and being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
There is a history in the United States and some present examples that call us to question if Black lives matter, if Black churches matter, and if the Poor matter. The response is not to declare all lives matter, which is very true, but to be sensitive enough to investigate thru the love, grace, and unselfishness of Christ why Black lives, Black churches, and the Poor should be of utmost importance to all of us right now. Just like Christ had to go to Samaria, we must now go to the Black Church and into the Black Community for understanding and for missional purposes. We must go into the context of the Poor in the same way.
The Black Church and the God given aspects of African-American Culture, are gifts for the whole body of Christ and the whole world. The disparities facing African Americans in the areas of incarceration, education, economics, healthcare, and housing should concern all Americans. The devaluing of Black bodies should be all of our concern. Dismantling racism in all its forms should be the proactive work of all Churches. This may take the whole body of Christ being willing to say that, “Black is beautiful and the Black Church is valuable to us all.” We should all be concerned and actively doing something in response to the 9 Black Christians that were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina. We should all be concerned about Black Churches that have been burning over the last week. We should all care about the life transformation and empowerment of both the Poor, the Marginalized, and the Incarcerated. This should be deeply tied to our work of evangelism, discipleship, and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Black Lives Matter because all Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter because all Churches Matter. At World Impact we have been about the work of Poor Lives, Urban Lives, Black Lives, and Brown Lives mattering for a long time. It’s because these and all matter to a loving, gracious, and all powerful God.
I just finished serving as the moderator for Exponentials’ webinar on Race and Justice, which originally took place at the national conference in Tampa last month. As I listened to the panel of ministry leaders discussing the recent murders of unarmed African-Americans by police and in some cases riots that followed, it reminded me how important it is for the Church to lead regular conversations on race and reconciliation. For this to happen two things must be addressed.
One, we must create opportunities for Post-Black and Post-White spaces of conversation. The White Church must get beyond its avoidance or apathy of having conversations about race. I am so hopeful by the number of one on one conversations I’ve been having with White pastors and lay leaders who want their congregations to figure out how to put on forums to begin racially reconciling discussions. The Church can’t play a role in advancing the Kingdom of God in a divided land if it won’t have on-going and prayerful conversations about the divides. Churches that are predominately Black, Asian, and Hispanic must be willing to serve as teachers, mentors, and bridge builders when it comes to these types of conversations.
As a product of the Black Church I know that race conversations have been going on for a long time internally and in many cases reconciling conversations have been taking place externally. Over time this can cause some to grow weary and lose patience on the road towards reconciliation and righteousness. No matter how long the journey we must not give up until we reach the destination, even if that destination isn’t reached in our lifetime. I am where I am today because of those who came and fought lovingly for change before me. In this spirit, I must fight nonviolently and lovingly for those who will come after me.
The second thing that must be addressed in order for racially reconciling conversations to take place is recognizing that biblically reconciliation and justice go hand and hand. I have learned this theologically from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, John Perkins, Debbie Blue, Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Tom Skinner. Christ is the ultimate reconciler because He deals with individual and systemic sins thru his death and resurrection. National and individual sin separates humanity from God. Another way to state this is that sins within souls and systems of humanity created a gap that could only be closed thru a Supernatural Savior and Liberator. Christ brings about true reconciliation and justice and when He returns all of creation will reflect this reality. The Church cannot truly be a reconciling church without also being a church of Kingdom compassion, mercy, and justice.
Though not easy, we must jump into racially reconciling conversations. The Church must lead the way. Allow God to direct and empower you to serve as the solution to the divided and broken world around you.
I would recommend that before or after reading this blog post that you read Exodus 1-4 and Nehemiah 1-2.
The initial ministry efforts of, World Impact was birthed during the riots in Watts within the Los Angeles Area 50 years ago. A few years later we would become officially incorporated as an urban missions organization. Knowing this is helpful to understanding why we can’t separate urban missions which includes indigenous leadership development, the facilitating of urban church planting movements, and demonstrating compassion and justice from what is going on in the city of Baltimore right now. If you research what led to the Watts riots in the mid 1960’s you will see the deep connections between what happened then and what is going on in Baltimore right now. We cannot act as if what we are seeing thru both violent and nonviolent protest against police violence is something new. Under-resourced urban communities burning in the United States is not something that just came on the scene in the 21st century. Burning cities, class and racial divisions, broken power structures, and domestic poverty unfortunately should not surprise us. The issue becomes for the Church, can we simultaneously see burning cities and the burning bush opportunities from God to advance a Kingdom of truth, transformation, reconciliation, justice, and eternal life?
World Impact exists because we saw not only Watts burning, but the burning bush of God calling us to evangelism, discipleship, and holistic ministry among the urban poor. The burning bush of God is not only focused on sin from an individual standpoint, but it also focuses on systemic sin reflected in dysfunctional and broken power structures. The Black Church exists today because in the midst of the systemic sin of slavery, there were slaves that were still able to see the burning bush of a God who saves and liberates. The Black Church was also a great pioneer of nonviolent Christ-centered resistance during the Civil Rights Era that brought both spiritual and social transformation. There is both an evangelical and Black Church heritage of seeing and acting upon God’s burning bush in order to see the transformation of lives and communities. We need this type of burning bush action like never before from the Church as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God.
I would also add that we must see those young people who are disenfranchised, angry, and lost as our children. We must missionally run to them with the love, compassion, truth, and grace of Christ. We must see past the anger to the potential of what they can become in Christ. This is the beginning of true urban ministry. Also, in the spirit of Nehemiah, we must face as the privileged (which includes me on some levels) our responsibility in why under-resourced communities have been how they are for so many years. This is not a process of self-shaming, but collective self-reflection so that we can work together to rebuild our cities based on biblical principles. This collective self-reflection also includes work to address not only broken communities but broken power structures and systems as well. World Impact has many initiatives deeply connected around these issues and I hope that you would join us and other urban ministries on the front lines to advance the Kingdom of God and empower the poor and marginalized.
Finally, we should acknowledge, pray for, and support the many local churches and Para Church ministries in the Baltimore Area working to bring peace and as I’m writing this are cleaning up and talking with people on the streets. We must also pray for pastors who are speaking in both prophetic and loving voices to police, community, and political leaders to bring about the systemic changes that are needed. There is an opportunity for the whole body of Christ to make a transforming impact.
I am both a product of the Black Church and Evangelicalism. I am so honored to have been mentored, developed, and empowered by both Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church and Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am grateful to the late Reverend, Dr. Edward Berry Sr. who prepared me for licensure and ordination within the National Baptist Convention USA. Once Dr. Berry retired and eventually Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church closed, I returned to Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church, the church of my childhood. There I came under the mentoring of the man I call my Father in the Ministry today, Reverend Gerald Joiner, who now serves as the Senior Pastor of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Zion Missionary Baptist Church is affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which became the denominational home of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am indeed a product of the Black Church.
I am also a product of Evangelicalism. I was very influenced in my teen years by an Evangelical United Methodist Church in the community where I grew up called, Park Avenue United Methodist Church. A number of Evangelical preachers came thru as guest speakers during those years. But it was a particular group of evangelical preachers that really impacted me and assisted in my getting clarity around my call to ministry. Tom Skinner, John Perkins, and Tony Evans are preachers that I wanted to be like. I realized over time that I was a traditional evangelical to the degree that I believed in the necessity of new birth in Christ, the authority and centrality of Scripture, fellowship in and deep connection to the local church, and the missional call to participate in the Great Commission. But thru the influence of African American Evangelicals, I had a strong passion for racial reconciliation, Kingdom justice, and urban missions, which empowered the Poor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was being shaped by a new Evangelical Movement. A movement shaped by pioneering and prophetic African American voices entering into what had been a White Christian Movement. It’s probably more true to say that I’m a product of the Black Church and Black Evangelicalism. This makes more sense when there is an admitting to the existing of a White Evangelicalism. I am as Dr. Walter McCray, President of the National Black Association of Evangelicals calls, Pro Christ, Pro Cross, and Pro Black. Taking this position will actually assist in leading Evangelicalism into a future that looks more like the Kingdom of God.
The problem with the dominant version of Evangelicalism today is that it is still defined by the theologies, ideologies, and nationalistic bent of certain Whites. The picture painted of the typical Evangelical in America is White, Republican, Reformed, Suburban, Southern, and most of the time Male. Well, I’m Male, African-American, a Missional Pietist, committed to racial reconciliation, justice, and the empowerment of the poor and marginalized, a product of the Black Church, and I’m just as much Evangelical as anybody else. Any definition of Evangelicalism that gives preferential treatment to the views of White Evangelicals is no true biblical Evangelicalism at all. I praise God for the White Brothers and Sisters that have recognized this truth over the years and have made way for the development of a Mosaic and more Kingdom Evangelicalism. This is why I’m honored to be ordained for Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Covenant denomination, to serve as a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, to serve as President of World Impact; an evangelical urban missions organization, and write books for Evangelical Publishing Companies.
At the same time, I have not turned my back on the Black Church and never will. I thank God for the mentoring of Dr. Robert Owens, Reverend Debbie Blue, Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr., Pastor Gerald Joiner, and Dr. Brenda Salter- McNeil to name a few. There are times when I will respectfully disagree with what is still presented as the dominant picture of Evangelicalism, but I also know that I have not compromised the great tradition and sacred roots that really fuels Evangelicalism such the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.
I am grateful that there continues to be a deeply biblical and growing multi-ethnic movement of Evangelicalism. This new movement is actually helping Evangelicalism become truly Evangelical.
“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (NASB)
For too many of the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized, every day is like Good Friday. They live surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice. When Christ hung on the cross and freely gave His life He was surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice as well. As He hung on the cross, he looked with a forgiving spirit upon those who mocked Him and cheered His suffering. He hung on the cross as all of the sins of humanity hung on his shoulders. The good news is that this is not how this part of the story concluded. Christ endured Good Friday and came out of the grave on Resurrection Day. He rose indeed.
What about the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized? Is there a Resurrection Day for them? Now, I realize that through the new covenant established in Christ, that all who accept Him as Lord and Savior rise with Him into Kingdom citizenship and eternity. But, I focus more deeply on the least of these in order to lift up a significant part of the mission of Christ when He walked the earth. Many times when Jesus was declaring and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, He did so among the least of those around Him. There were times when he broke social and religious customs in order to bring mobility, sight, life, dignity, and liberation to Samaritans, Canaanites, women, children, and the poor. Even as He hung on the cross, he engaged a thief and empowered him to rise into new eternal possibilities.
I am grieved as I go into this weekend focused on death and resurrection because I have witnessed so many examples of the poor, marginalized, and rejected being so shamed and demonized in our world. There are even examples of Christians who, judge, patronize, shame, and mock the least of these in our society. Instead of seeing the lowly as just as much made in the image of God as the privileged, we as Christians sometimes join in with Satan’s plan and labeling by seeing only the thug, gangsta, hoe, criminal, enemy, and demon in a person. Christ was able to look at a woman caught in adultery, a scandalous Samaritan, a man plagued by a legion of demons, a girl left for dead, and a thief and see something else.
I also have great hope that when the Church sees the least of these thru the eyes of Christ a new movement will rise up. It is then that we will experience a whole new understanding of the dead rising with the risen Savior.