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#BlackLivesMatter and Evangelicalism

Jan 13, 2016   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, the church, theology  //  No Comments

Since Michelle Higgins’s stirring and uncomfortable message delivered at Urbana15, questions have been raised and statements are being made about whether or not evangelicals should support the Black Lives Matter Movement. I, for one, am glad that Michelle Higgins preached in the fashion that she did. There are moments when evangelicals need to be pushed to a place of discomfort and even disagreement in order to forge a more biblically authentic ministry model for advancing the Kingdom of God. Evangelicalism has struggled to consistently present a biblical and holistic Gospel that brings together truth, transformation, salvation, liberation, compassion, reconciliation, and justice. To be a follower of Christ is to follow Him into all the elements of His declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God. We must have a more authentic understanding and practice a more credible extension of Scripture texts such as Exodus 3, Micah 6:8, Deuteronomy 24: 14-22, Matthew 9 and 10, Matthew 25, John 4, Luke 4, Acts 2, and Revelation 7:9-15.

 

The Black Lives Matter Movement should be viewed in a similar fashion to the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was much larger and more complex than just the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, there was King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but there was also the NAACP, the Urban League, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, as well as leaders such as Fannie Lou Hammer and Malcolm X. These groups and leaders didn’t always agree, and it wouldn’t be fair to take one group or person’s view and make it the position of the whole movement. The broad and complex Black Lives Matter Movement is bigger than one person or even one website bearing the now famous hashtag. The question that the Civil Rights Movement raised and the Black Lives Matter Movement raises is, “Will the United States of America recognize and protect the full humanity of Black People regardless of their position, circumstance, or possible troubled background?” A question for evangelicalism is, “Will we love, empower, and grieve with Black People to the glory of God and the advancement of God’s Kingdom?”

 

Is there room in our theological framework and missional strategies for the acknowledgement of the recognition, protection, and empowerment of Black Lives? Ultimately, this is what evangelical leaders and organizations must wrestle with. As Michelle Higgins brought up at Urbana15, the reason this is a major issue is because evangelicals in this nation have a history of denying and marginalizing the full humanity of Black People. Yes, we have come a long way, but not far enough. All Lives Matter to God, but that’s not the issue. The issue is we live in a sinful and broken world where all lives don’t matter equally. Christ walked the earth in a similar reality, which is why there were times when he demonstrated that certain lives mattered. John 4 could be titled, #SamaritanLivesMatter. Let’s follow Christ into the Kingdom-advancing work of recognizing the need to value the full humanity of Black People in the womb, on the street, in the village, in extreme poverty, and even those behind bars.

 

Finally, I want to say to the financial and prayer supporters of World Impact, the Christian Missions organization I lead: I know some of you may be struggling to understand all these complex issues around race. Or, you may have disagreement with the ways in which some evangelical ministries are trying to get their heads and hearts around this issue. You may be wondering why I write and speak about these issues so much instead of just evangelizing and discipling the unreached urban poor. I would ask that you would prayerfully consider allowing myself or another World Impact staff member the opportunity to speak at your church, small group, or with you one-on-one. I know trying to connect with thousands of supporters like you in this fashion won’t be easy, but I desire the opportunity to make a sound biblical case for why the issue I’m dealing with here is a Gospel issue and in turn a missional issue. Blessings and may God lead us.

In Order To Liberate the Preacher

Dec 15, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   politics, race, spiritual growth, the church  //  No Comments

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

1Timothy 1:3-7 (ESV)

 

One could argue that since the very construction of the United States of America, Christian preaching has been held captive by political ideology and the structures and systems of the world. This type of bondage has lead to Christian preachers and leaders sounding more like conservative and liberal politicians than prophets, pastors, evangelists, and apostles rooted in Scripture. These men and women hinder the advancement of the Kingdom of God. It hurts my heart when preachers out of the Black Church and Evangelicalism – the churches that raised me – and other Christian leaders jump on the bandwagon of cable news commentators, radio shock jocks, and humanist activists.

There have been segments of Christian preaching that supported the tragic treatment of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow segregation, the marginalization of women, and American nationalism on steroids. These concepts were preached over and above the citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In recent years segments of Christendom have preached in support of sexuality without boundaries, Marxism, and a theology that puts the virgin birth and the atonement in question. In too many instances, Christian preaching in America takes place within invisible shackles. When will we come to terms with this real homiletic dilemma?

I have heard many preachers speak on and even specifically call out false preachers and teachers. I’ve never heard preachers speak on their own potential of becoming a false preacher or discuss sermons they’ve preached that, after further study and review, they wish they could take back. I’ve never heard a preacher take back a sermon because the message was more rooted in the matrix of race, family origin issues, or political ideology than being deeply rooted and saturated in the Bible. It is possible to think you are rooted in the Bible and simply be using the Bible to make a worldly point. We can twist the Bible to make a point rooted in political party lines. And yet we should be dismantling policies and platforms from both Democrats and Republicans by preaching the Kingdom of God rooted in solid biblical interpretation.

I don’t desire to sound like a politician (no offense to politicians); I desire to allow God to speak through me about an eternal government that can come to bear upon the social challenges we face today for the transformation of lives and communities. Preachers must look within themselves for places of pride, arrogance, ideological captivity, ego, social conditioning, and unbiblical mental frameworks. This is where the freedom of the preacher begins. We have a heritage of liberated preachers. I yearn for the day when preaching in this line of transformational communication represents the great majority of what is spoken from behind pulpits.

The Black Church, Black Lives Matter, and Youth Ministry

Dec 8, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   the church, youth ministry  //  No Comments

Last week I attended The Engaging Young People Summit that was put on by the Fuller Youth Institute. I was honored to have been invited as a leader of a Christian missions organization that began over forty years ago offering bible clubs to urban children and youth. As one who personally served for twelve years as an urban youth minister, I was also interested to learn more about the importance of prioritizing ministry to young people. During my time at this gathering I reflected on how the church played such an important role in my own leadership development and discovery of my call to ministry.

During my teenage years, Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church (RMBC) had a youth ministry that made me believe that young people were important to the church. During my youth RMBC put on youth events that might not have been seen as a ministry at first glance. They put on a monthly Friday Night Dance for youth that included secular music played by a DJ, a fried chicken dinner with red punch, and loving adults who greeted us with smiles and hugs. This was my real entrance into the Black Church. This event made me love going to church. My excitement for going on Friday led to my desire to go on Sunday. When I started going on Sunday mornings to this same church, there was no secular music and there was a lot going on that I didn’t understand, but I was greeted with smiles and hugs by those same adults that I met on Friday night.

Sunday mornings is where my leadership development came. I became a junior usher and also began to sing in the church choir with my mother and grandmother. Soon after that I went up to the Senior Pastor and inquired about being baptized. By that time I knew what that meant. Three years later I found myself at a neighborhood outreach event. Even though I had been baptized, I once again found myself confessing my sins and gaining a deeper understanding of what it meant to come under the lordship of Christ. From this point forward I moved into deeper leadership responsibilities at RMBC. I became a junior deacon and a leader in the youth ministry. I am grateful to the Black Church for prioritizing the lives of young people like me back in the day. At the same time, I am concerned that the Church I love so much – and loved me so much – has not progressed enough collectively when it comes to the professionalization and prioritization of youth ministry.

As I look at the Black Lives Matter Movement and hear some of the anti-church sentiments, I realize that part of this dilemma is that the Black Church is lacking a comprehensive, contextualized, and professionalized view of youth ministry. I have witnessed this priority shift from my teen years as the Hip Hop movement came into prominence through today. It’s hard for me to write this because I love the Black Church so much. But the hard reality is that within the Black Lives Matter Movement there is anger not only at broken aspects of the law enforcement system, but also at the Black Church. This anger could stem from the perception that youth are not prioritized in annual budgets or staffing concerns. I recognize that there are a number of Black Churches that have been highly committed to youth ministry, but far too many have put other ministry initiatives above a robust commitment to youth. It is my desire through World Impact to partner with the Urban Black Church to address this. It is not too late to reimagine a ministry that prioritizes evangelism, discipleship, and the empowerment of young people. I hope dearly that my words will be received in love by a Church that I love so much.

 

And The Word Became Marginalized

Nov 30, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, theology  //  No Comments

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 Liberated Church

Nov 25, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  2 Comments

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.

See more:

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

 

 

The Multi-ethnic Christ and Metropolitan Missions

Oct 20, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   post-black thought, race, reconciliation  //  No Comments

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.

 

 

Real Revolutionary Hip Hop

Aug 25, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   hip hop, justice, race  //  No Comments

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).

A Year From “Ferguson”

Aug 10, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, the church  //  2 Comments

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.

Why Black Churches Should Matter To All

Jul 2, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

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.

Starting Racially Reconciling Conversations

May 26, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church, theology  //  3 Comments

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.

 

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