“If you will return O Israel, declares the LORD, Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And not waver, And you will swear, As the LORD lives, In truth, in justice, and in righteousness; The the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1-2)
If the church is to be a force of both Kingdom Building and Kingdom Advancement, it must be willing to connect truth, justice, and righteousness. Let me first give a deeper understanding of these three important concepts. Truth in the Hebrew points to stability, certainty, and trustworthiness. God’s truth as revealed thru the Word of God brings stability to our lives when connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Truth ought to bring certainty by faith. It is thru faith that we believe in the certainty of Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God. We must allow faith to produce certainty about what is truth over strictly searching for truth in some academic ivory tower which cannot admit its own faith formula for truth. This is not to down education. I highly value the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, I’m just stating that this pursuit without faith is meaningless for the Christian.
Justice in the Hebrew is connected to judgement, a formal decree, and determination. God is determined to bring about justice. You cannot talk God out of being a God of justice. The question becomes will you join God in Kingdom justice becoming manifest in the world? Will you join in the Kingdom cause of addressing the issues facing the poor, the immigrant, and at-risk, high-risk youth? The Scripture describes them as the poor, the alien, the orphan, and the widow. The church must be a force of truth and justice or we risk being a church in crisis functioning outside of His glory.
Righteousness in the Hebrew is about justice and virtue. Righteousness is about the character and integrity of God showing up in our lives. We cannot produce this character in our own power. This kind of Character comes thru the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to give ourselves over to it.
We must understand and connect truth, justice, and righteousness in our lives and in the church. Historically in our nation we have separated truth, justice, and righteousness. Some churches preach truth by focusing on an individual approach to repentance and salvation. Or they only focus on sin issues such as fornication, murder, and adultery and leave racism, sexism, and oppression alone. On the other hand some churches focus on issues like racism and sexism and give no attention to the biblical truth of the authority of Scripture or the necessity of the new birth.
The church must connect truth, justice, and righteousness in order to advance the Kingdom of God in these days and live out ancient biblical mandates. The church must focus on evangelism and christian formation, as well as compassion, mercy, and justice. Here’s an example of what this looks like-
1.) Provide regular opportunities for people to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
2.) Create and sustain initiatives which put a priority on Prayer and Scripture.
3.) Develop a racial righteousness and reconciliation ministry.
4.) Get involved locally and globally around issues of Biblical Economic Justice and Christian Community Development.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates recently was the victim of racial profiling at his own home by the Cambridge Police Department. A woman called the police believing someone was breaking into a house in her neighborhood when it was just Dr. Gates himself entering his own home. Now, I’m not here to beat up on the Cambridge Police Department and I assume the role of a police officer is not easy. I must say that the role of being African-American in the United States may be just as, if not more dangerous than that of being a police officer though. I also want to say that unfortunately, I know exactly how Dr. Gates feels.
Just a few months ago, I was at the home of an African-American family that are members of the church where I serve as senior pastor. There was another African-American family there as well who also are members of our church. We realized right before eating dinner that we could use some more sodas and something for dessert. I and the two other African-American guys decided to go to a local grocery store. On the way to the store, I was followed for about 3 blocks by a police car. I looked to see if I was speeding, I wasn’t. The next thing I know the police lights were flashing and I was pulling over.
A White police officer came to the car door and right away I saw another police car pull up behind us. The officer asked for my ID and proof of insurance. That seemed normal, but he also asked for the ID’s of the two other African-American men in the car with me. This made no sense to me, but one of the African-American men in the car with me, cautioned me to stay calm. It was hard for me to stay calm, because I couldn’t understand why we had been pulled over in the first place or why everyone in the car had to provide ID. Nevertheless, I stayed calm. After about ten minutes the officer came back to the car, gave us back our ID’s and sent us on our way. I guess it’s a good thing I stayed calm or just like Dr. Gates, I may have been arrested that night. Do I need to say again, I was pulled over for nothing.
I need to make it clear that this was not the first time this has happened to me. The two other men in the car with me said this happens to them often. We are all college educated, working jobs, and providing for our families. Neither one of us have kids out of wedlock or have prior records of being incarcerated. None of us had a warrant out for our arrest. We all live in the suburbs. Just think what life is like for urban African-American males who don’t live at the level of Black privilege like us.
The question becomes, “how long do you stay calm before you cry out about the injustice and sin of racism and racial profiling? Dr. Gates is older than me and perhaps like Rosa Parks years ago, he decided enough is enough. In my calm opinion, all the police officer had to do was allow Dr. Gates to cry out and then he should have left. All the police officer had to do was leave the house owned by Dr. Gates, while Dr. Gates stood on his own front steps and cried not only for himself but for many African-Americans who have stayed calm too long, I being one of them. This in no way is to say that we shouldn’t respect the police. I just didn’t realize until now I guess that the police were above saying, “I’m sorry.” In the case of one White police officer saying sorry or admitting a mistake will never be an option.
It’s important that my White evangelical brothers and sisters not let Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh give the proper perspective on seeing this issue. Jesus had the ability in Scripture of seeing the world from the vantage point of the child, the woman, the Samaritan, and the poor. Why are some evangelical conservatives only willing to see this from the vantage point of the police officer? I know that Dr. Gates isn’t poor, but he does represent the historically marginalized in our nation. And please don’t down-size this social sin to victimization. I’m not a victim, I’m just an African-American male who gets pulled over by the police from time to time for no reason. This is why, I’m with Dr. Gates on this one and you should be too.
I’m taking a class this week called, Biblically Based Soci0-Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church. This intensive is a part of the Doctor of Ministry program that I’m currently in at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though I pastor an urban and multicultural church that also has a faith-based community development organization connected to it, I’m really being pushed and stretched in some great ways this week.
In some ways this class taught by Dr. Sam Rima, is helping me revisit my ministry roots. Since I became a Christian during my junior year in high school, I’ve been heavily influenced by Dr. John Perkins, Tom Skinner, and Tony Campolo. I grew as a Christian at an Evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban United Methodist church in South Minneapolis. Early on in my Christian life I was convinced that church should be Christ-centered, multicultural, and about social justice. I never bought into the church being divided between the evangelical church and the church of the social gospel. In the Evangelical Covenant Church we see this as connecting, coming to know Christ as Savior with expanding the kingdom that Christ proclaimed and participated in. These roots in my faith walk of connecting evangelism and social justice were my on-ramp into ministry.
The other way in which this class is pushing me is around what Biblical economic justice and reconciliation should look like today. What should it look like in the North Minneapolis area where my church is located? What does it look like in Chicago, Atlanta, or Johannesburg(South Africa)? My friend Neeraj Mehta (former program director for the Sanctuary CDC) said to me a couple of years ago that, “dealing with poverty is about dealing with disconnected relationships. I agree with this, and I would add “relationships of empowerment and humility.”
I’m being pushed this week that I can be an even stronger advocate and voice for the marginalized and poor. My church is doing some cool things in this area but I believe we can be even more innovative. I’d love to hear from others on what they’re doing individually and corporately to forge biblically-based socio-economic justice in their local communities and beyond. To learn more about what we’re doing go to www.sanctuarycov.org.