This weekend, I participated in the Berry family reunion in Houston, Texas. This reunion celebrates my wife’s family on her dad’s side. The theme of the weekend was “legacy.” Besides the very hot weather (100 degrees the whole time), this has been a very powerful time. I love attending family reunions. It was about 20 years ago when my life was greatly impacted thru a family reunion on my mother’s side of the family.
At that reunion I found out that my great, great grandfather was full-blooded Irish and married a woman who was half African-American and half Native American. I left that family reunion years ago embracing that I’m African-American and also multi-ethnic. A few years later, while in seminary, I unpacked further Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as a multi-ethnic Jew, who was the Son of Man (Matthew 1). These two discoveries have had a tremendous influence on discovering my ministry calling.
I wonder how many people are disconnected from their life mission, simply because they are disconnected from their family tree and cultural heritage?
At the Berry family reunion, many people shared on the power of family and the importance of legacy. Our ability to leave a legacy in the earth is deeply connected to an intimate relationship with God and having a deep understanding of our heritage. This, I believe has become a great weakness for many of my European-American brothers and sisters. By becoming White, they have become greatly disconnected from a heritage that could possibly fuel a deeper understanding of life and mission. I believe African-Americans could offer a great gift to our European-American brothers and sisters, by being more public in conversations about the power of heritage and legacy. There are people of all ethnicities who have become disconnected from family and heritage. Allow God to speak to you about discovering the power of your own family heritage and legacy regardless of ethnicity or racial background. You may discover your life mission.
As I attend the 80th Grand Chapter Meeting celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, I thought it important to share briefly on both the importance and uniqueness of African-American Fraternities. Let me first say that the same could be written about African-American Sororities as well (My wife is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta).
Many of my non African-American friends think that’s it’s somewhat strange that I still wear my fraternity colors and letters, as well as attend monthly local chapter meetings. When I moved from Minnesota to California last year, one of the first things that I did was make contact with the local chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. Why would I do this at 41 years of age and having graduated from undergrad almost 20 years ago? This is what makes African-American Fraternities both important and unique.
Kappa Alpha Psi was founded on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in 1911. A small group of African-American men on a predominately White campus in the heart of Klu Klux Klan country at the time. Graduating with a college degree and founding a fraternity focusing on the achievement and success of African-American males was no small feat. A strong faith in God thru Jesus Christ was an important part of the development of the fraternity (Though there are members today who have lost sight of this).
Though I didn’t face the same type of racism as the founders, I found myself on a college campus in Central Minnesota in the fall of 1988, as one of only seven African-Americans on the whole campus. Faith in God and a deep bond with the small community of other African-Americans got me thru to graduation. One important relationship was with Lee Lindsey Jr. He is now a member of Alpha Phi Alpa Fraternity.
During my undergrad years I would go to the Twin Cities to attend parties on the campus of the University of Minnesota. When I first saw the Kappas, I was drawn to them. Sharp dressers, business minded, and smooth with the ladies. I have to admit, that was my first attraction to them. I should have fully entered the process then, but it was difficult to commute back and forth during the week from St. John’s University in Collegeville to the Twin Cities and keep up my grades.
Years later as a husband, father, and pastor, I found myself attracted to the Kappas for other reasons. I saw a group of educated and successful African-American men tutoring boys in the public schools, raising money for college scholarships, volunteering at the Special Olympics, and talking about the importance of church membership. This time I would make the necessary sacrifices to become a member of this special organization. It was not easy, but well worth it. And I need to say, I never compromised who I am in Christ.
Today in the Oakland Area I’m still very involved in Kappa. Volunteering in elementary schools, raising scholarship dollars, and helping at-risk youth. These are a few reasons why African-American fraternities are important.
As a Regional Superintendent in the Evangelical Covenant Church, last week I attended our Annual Meeting held in Estes Park, Colorado. During one of the business meetings, I was a bit surprised by one of the announcements made by our Executive Minister of Finance. Let me just quote the announcement made based on the following handout-
“Federal Tax Credit Available to Local Churches-
One of the early results of the March 2010 passage of the Health Reform Legislation (entitled Affordable Health Care Act) is the ability for small employers to receive tax credit for years 2010 through 2013, if they meet certain eligibility requirements…We encourage Covenant Annual Meeting attendees to call this issue to the attention of their local financial officers.”
He went on to report that our churches had already saved $500,000 and next year could save between 2 and 3 million dollars. It looks like so-called “Obama Care” is helping small business and in our case, Evangelical churches. This is not an endorsement of President Obama or the Health Care Plan. What it is, is a wake up call to not be duped or enslaved by political division and rhetoric. As evangelicals we must study for ourselves and be willing to support public policy based on truth and Scripture, not based on reports by CNN, Fox, or the self interests of the major political parties themselves. When we study the truth, it’s hard to be totally sold out to either of the major political parties. Sometimes a party will get it right and sometimes they will get it wrong. In this case the Health Care plan, which many evangelicals oppose, is actually helping pastors and local churches with the expenses of Health Care coverage. Some are trying to convince us that the plan is and will actually hurt small businesses and churches. Well, so far in the Evangelical Covenant Church, this is not the case.
Last week I had the honor of speaking on main stage at the Ichthus Music Festival. I spoke right after a very powerful performance by Holy Hip Hop artist LaCrae. Earlier that day I was on a panel with LaCrae, Trip Lee, and Pro speaking on the influence of Hip Hop and Urban Culture on all of youth culture today. These artists are all apart of Reach Records. Some of you may remember a post I did not long ago on the “Odd Marriage Between Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism.”
In this post I shared my concerns about Holy Hip Hop being dominated by Calvinist theology without the balance of Reconciliation theology, Liberation theology, and Black theology rooted in the history of the Black Church. My point was not to say that Calvinism has no place in Holy Hip Hop, but to say that Calvinism alone makes Holy Hip Hop no Hip Hop at all and limits its ability to be a true transformational and evangelistic force in urban America and beyond.
First let me make one more point about my concerns on a Holy Hip Hop movement dominated by Calvinism. Calvinist theologians and pastors have not fully dealt with a theology that has ties historically to the economic structure of capitalism, the replacement theology connected to colonialism, and the unbiblical development of the race structure and imagination dealt with by theologians such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account). What this means is that historically, Calvinism has had moments when it was not on the side of the liberation of African-Americans, especially during slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This does not mean that there weren’t some Calvinists that would have been against slavery or on the side of the Civil Rights Movement. We can say though, that evangelicals must own a sketchy history at best around issues of race. We’ve truly come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived as a truly reconciled people. This is why the Reconciliation theology of Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung is needed within the Holy Hip Hop Movement.
With all that said, I need to give much love to the Ministry of Reach Records. I especially need to show much love to LaCrae. As I sat on the panel of with the artists of Reach Records and witnessed the ministry of LaCrae on stage, I was moved by his gifts, character, and theological depth. I’m also honored that these artists have so much respect for me and my contributions to the Holy Hip Hop Movement. My last post on this subject was in no way meant to dishonor these artists. My heart is to serve as a Hip Hop theologian and to see this movement have a significant Kingdom impact in Urban America and beyond. I pray for LaCrae and the ministry of Reach Records that God would bless them in a mighty way.
I listened on Oprah radio (XM radio) to the last show. I have to admit that I wasn’t one who was glued to the television weekday afternoons over the last 25 years catching the over 4,000 episodes. I would watch every once and awhile, but I was very interested in this last show. I guess mostly for the historic moment of it all.
She stated that this show would be her love letter to those who have supported her all these years. From there she went into what I would call the Oprah Gospel; her good news to the world. I would sum this up into three areas-
1.) You have a calling. Find it and make a difference.
2.) You have the power to change a life.
3.) You are responsible for your own life. No one is responsible for you.
This is the foundation of the gospel according to Oprah. After that she spent time talking about energy, the golden rule to the 10th power, and other things that could be interpreted as new age. After listening to this, I wondered about Oprah’s connection to the black church, both good and bad. I wondered about her relationship to the church in general. To borrow number three in her gospel, she is ultimately responsible for her connection to God and the church. She is responsible for making the decision to follow God thru a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or not. She is responsible for joining a church and participating in the local fellowship of believers, or not. But does the church itself carry some responsibility?
My take is, that to a degree, Oprah’s gospel is connected to her being bruised by the church and even abused by those who claimed to be carriers of the true gospel. During her 25 year run as a talk show host, Oprah has shared stories of abuse since her childhood by, “church-going, God fearing people.” This does not take her off the hook of responsibility, but it explains some things.
I began to wonder about all the people away from God and outside of the church because they’ve been hurt by the church and abused by Christians. I realize that the next line may get me in trouble. Are there times when the church and Christians have been abusers and maybe even oppressors? Is Oprah’s gospel connected to pain, abuse, or hurt by the church and Christians? It’s no excuse, but it might help to explain, in part, her gospel. It is interesting that her show ended with Aretha Franklin creating a church like atmosphere with her powerful gospel singing. No question Oprah seeks out a connection with God, but is it impacted by a disconnect from church based on some unfortunate childhood experiences? I pray that the love and grace of God found thru Jesus Christ continues to pursue the queen of the talk shows.
Last week there was an important meeting held between US President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What the future holds for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is unknown as well as what role the United States will play. Because of the prominence of Israel in the Scriptures, it makes sense for Christians to have much interest in this conflict as well as others in the Middle East. It is also important for our understanding to not be held captive and shaped simply by the political ideologies and divides of the United States. Many evangelicals are only able to see these issues thru the narrow lens of the political ideology of the Republican Party. I’m not suggesting at all that being held captive to the Democratic Party position would be any better.
If you want a different perspective on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict that will drive you to prayer and Scripture as well as provide some hope, I encourage you to see the documentary, Little Town of Bethlehem (WWW.LITTLETOWNOFBETHLEHEM.ORG). This film shows the powerful story of three men committed to non-violent strategies for solving this crisis which is impacting so many families. Speaking of families, that’s what makes this film so powerful to me. The story of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is told from the vantage point of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families who desire to see a peaceful solution to the conflict. Too many evangelical leaders are providing heated, uncivil, and biblically misinterpreted rhetoric on this subject. Little Town of Bethlehem will provide a much needed alternative for wrestling thru a very complex issue.
The main characters are Yonatan Shapira (Israeli Jew), Sami Awad (Palestinian Christian), and Ahmad Al’Azzeh (Palestinian Muslim). Based on media and politically driven depictions of the conflict you wouldn’t think that these three individuals would form this needed alliance for peace and reconciliation. The film begins by introducing these three leaders with a hip hop soundtrack in the background. They are taking great risks just to provide a peaceful solution to the crisis of their day. Their solutions should be heard by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and and President Obama.
When I was in college, I was moved greatly by the documentary, Eyes on the Prize. This film series told the story of the Civil Rights Movement and watching it changed my life on many levels. It played a role in my calling to Christ-centered, reconciling, multi-ethnic, and Kingdom-minded ministry. Little Town of Bethlehem has gripped me in the same way Eyes on the Prize did years ago. This film really is a must see for Christian leaders. I even highly recommend this film for small group ministry within local churches as well as forums focused on reconciliation and a global understanding of racial righteousness.
I introduce Post-Black Theology around the thesis that, there are theologies and ministry practices coming out of the Black Church in the United States of America that can be a gift from God to the whole body of Christ.
In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, the church in the United States of America is in decline and in crisis. Part of this crisis situation is that the church in the US is in captivity to modernity, a Eurocentric theology presented as normative theology, and the social construct of race.
A few years ago, I heard a European-American, evangelical denominational leader state that African-American ministers were the best positioned to lead evangelical, multi-ethnic, and missional churches. It was this statement that led to the explosion of the Post-Black theology within me. It is important for me to state that a Post-Black theology doesn’t call for the ending of the Black Church or Black Theology. It actually gives honor to the Black Church and Black Theology. It takes them out of the second-class citizenship and the marginalization that both the evangelical and mainline church traditions has placed upon them. I am a product of the Black Church and Black Theology. I even owe my ability to serve as a regional superintendent of a evangelical denomination to how God development me within the Black Church.
Post-Black Theology is a powerful, Spirit-led force for the development of Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and missional ministry. One of the reasons for this is that successful African-American leaders have to learn to be bi-cultural and multi-ethnic in their thinking and social navigating. I know how to lead, communicate, and relate in various ethnic and racial circles. This makes me a Post-Black leader, but it does not dimmish my African-American identity. In other words, you don’t have to sellout to be a Post-Black leader, pastor, or theologian.
There are three theological streams which fuel Post-Black theology. One is Black Liberation Theology. This theological stream is focused on seeing the biblical mandates for addressing racism, oppression, and injustice. This stream also is about understanding that as Jesus walked the earth, liberation was a major act of His Kingdom proclaiming and performing mission. The words of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 are helpful in understanding this stream. Jesus identifies with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. You can’t separate salvation from liberation and justice. One pioneer of this stream is Dr. James Cone.
Another stream is Reconciliation Theology. This is about connecting the reconciling of people groups at odds with the significance of being reconciled to God thru Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ there is liberation, transformation, and a greater understanding of new life when enemies or those separated become brothers and sisters. Dr. John Perkins, one of the pioneers of this stream, developed the “3R’s”, of reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. This triune strategy is about an incarnational and community development approach to evangelism and outreach.
The third stream is Missional Theology or a missional ecclesiology. This stream, though not introduced by African-American theologians and practitioners, is in need of African-American and other ethnic voices in order to truly have an impact in the present multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. Pastor Phil Jackson and myself attempted this in our book, The Hip Hop Church. Dr. Dan Hodges does this as well in his book, The Soul of Hip Hop. To me, an authentic Missional Theology is about theology, ministry models, and leadership development which equips the church to engage todays cultural realities for Kingdom advancement.
These are the three theological streams that I present to make up the development of a Post-Black Theology. From time to time I will offer more on this emerging theology.
(I will present here a writing that I developed for both an evangelical newspaper and journal I used to write for. I say, “used to” because both publications refused to publish, without major edits, what you are about to read. I ended up deciding to longer write for either publication. I admit that I now look back on that decision with some reservations. I really miss having an on-going column in a evangelical publication. At the same time, I don’t like being censored just because some extreme conservative evangelicals aren’t willing to deal with discomfort. Without absorbing and processing this discomfort, the ability to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and urban reality will be hindered. Well, here’s what I wrote back in 2008. It should be noted that I have expanded on the writing since that time.)
With the legitimate presidential candidacy of Barak Obama, we now see that the United States of America is potentially ready for what I call post-black leadership at the highest level. With the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Oprah Winfrey, we are already in the age of post-black leadership. Post-black leadership is the reality of both the dominant culture as well as a broader multi-ethnic culture embracing being led by African-American leaders. Barak Obama is not the first African-American to run for President of the United States. Shirley Chisholm, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Reverend Al Sharpton all ran before him. The difference is that they were seen as Black leaders, mainly representing Black people and Black issues. They all tried to present themselves as being able to lead the whole nation, but their resumes all screamed, Black leader!
European-Americans or Whites rather they realize it or not, have historically marginalized African-American leaders as Black leaders. In the 1950′s, 1960′s, and 1970′s within professional football as an example, there were major questions about whether an African-American could be a quarterback. For this to happen, it would have to be accepted that an African-American could lead the European-Americans on offense. Also, the quarterback was seen as the most intelligent position on the team. In politics, there was a time in this country when you would never think of an African-American being mayor, governor, or president. In the corporate sector, there was a time when you’d never think of an African-American being the CEO of a major company. African-Americans for many years were marginalized to being the pastor of a black church, CEO of a black business, principal of a black school, or president of a black college. What was being said by the dominant culture was that Blacks can only lead Blacks.
Well, praise God, a lot has changed. whether you agree with his political ideology or not we could see the nations’ first African-American president.
(remember this was written in the summer of 2008)
But, Barak Obama is not the first post-black leader. Oprah Winfrey has a large multicultural following. She truly is more than a black leader. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are truly post-black political leaders. African-Americans are now heads of major companies, large universities, and yes professional quarterbacks and head coaches in football. As excited as I am about this, when I think about the body of Christ, I begin to grieve. The church as an institution in the United States of America is way behind secular society when it comes to post-black leadership.
Within the Christian world, Whites lead predominately White denominations and Black lead predominately Black ones. I can’t think of one major evangelical university, Para-church organization, or denomination with a post-black leader at the head of it. In most Para-church organizations African-Americans are mainly in urban and multicultural ministry positions with very little if any influence to speak into the direction of the organization. It seems that the body of Christ is not as ready as secular society for post-black leadership. Shouldn’t the church be the leader of a leadership development strategy that looks like the Kingdom of God and is not enslaved to the race structure of black and white?
I don’t put all the blame for this on European-American evangelicals. There are many African-American pastors and ministry leaders that have no desire whatsoever to be a Kingdom-minded, post-black leader. I believe that there is a way to honor the heritage and current impact of the black church and also become Kingdom leaders. I believe that God has placed some things within African-American leaders that are meant to be a gift to all of the body of Christ.
(I need to note that since I originally wrote this, Barak Obama became President of the United States and I was elected as Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This is the largest region within the denomination. Before my election, African-Americans Jerome Nelson and Robert Owens were elected respectively as Superintendents to the Central and Southeast Conferences of the same denomination. I can’t post this and not recognize progress that has been made. But within the larger evangelical movement, we still have a long way to go. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t get this writing published.)
Post-Black Theology is rooted in the thesis that there are theologies and best-practice models that have come out of the Black Church in America and Africa that are meant from God to be a gift to the whole church. You can’t present Post-Black Theology though without first dealing with Black Theology.
Black theology is a theology for Black people. Black theology is about a biblical understanding that God, thru Jesus, identifies with the historical suffering and current social disparities facing Black people. Theologian James Cone and Religious and African-American Studies Scholar, Cornell West are the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology has connections to Liberation Theology coming out of Latin America. Black Liberation Theology has not been fully received within evangelicalism because one, it’s focused on God identifying with the conditions facing Black people and two, it has elements which seem more rooted in marxism and humanism than Scripture. South African theologian Allan Boesak has offered a version of Black Liberation Theology that is more palatable for evangelical tastes.
Post-Black Theology, though not labeled that, begins with African-American theologians and organic scholars such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins. Thru these leaders we find the foundation of Reconciliation Theology. Reconciliation Theology is about the redemption, liberation, and reconciliation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. Black Liberation theology is primarily about the oppressed, with little or no focus on the transformation of the oppressor.
Post-Black theology also includes a more authentic missional ecclesiology. The Black Church has been a missional church since its inception. The Civil Rights Movement is both a missional and emergent movement before European-American pastors and theologians began the discussion. Hip Hop culture today is both a Post-Black movement and the most visible sign of post-modernism. Because it is a movement of urban African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth, it is marginalized by the dominant culture. If the church in the United States is truly going to be missional it must learn to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, urban, global, technological, and hip hop reality.
The Black Church is missional because it has also been engaging culture for justice and transformation as well as being a development center for the empowerment of African-Americans to become Post-Black leaders. If not for the Black Church influence on some level, there would be no Post-Black leaders such as President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or Tony Dungy. Whether in their generation, their parents, or grandparents, the Black Church had influence.
I will spend time in future posts breaking down further Post-Black Theology. Stay tuned and I would love your thoughts.
In the recent edition of Christianity Today there is a story on the marriage between Holy Hip Hop (or Christian Rap) and Calvinism (or Reformed Theology). Contemporary Reformed Theologians such as John Piper and John MacArthur are having a major influence on Holy Hip Hop artists such as LaCrae and Flame. Though I have some issues with this, I understand the reasons why. First let me present my issue with this odd marriage.
Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all. Reformed Theology, though it contains some theological elements that I totally agree with should not be the only or primary theology influencing Holy Hip Hop. Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged. Hip Hop, Holy or Secular is about the engaging and presenting of the issues surrounding a sub-culture of the historically marginalized of urban America.
True Hip Hop is constructed around the elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy or b-girl, the graffiti artist, and most importantly, knowledge of God for knowledge of self. The original principles are peace, love , community, and having fun. Hip Hop originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture. It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.
This doesn’t mean that the culture was ever Christian in nature, although there has always been a respect on some level for God. Today, many are stating that true Hip Hop is dead. It’s been replaced by a European-American controlled record industry that makes money off of exploiting the very things that Hip Hop culture was created to go against. Please get this point, secular Hip Hop is being influenced by people outside the culture, who have turn it into a contemporary plantation.
Now back to Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically. I have great respect for John Piper, but I question his understanding of Hip Hop culture. I pastored a Hip Hop and multi-ethnic, evangelical church in Minneapolis for almost eight years. Dr. Piper never consulted us on our theological or philosophical approach to this type of Kingdom advancing ministry model. Myself, Rev. Phil Jackson, and Dr. Daniel Hodge have been labeled as Hip Hop Theologians. We all count this as an honor. We have written scholarly works on the subject. We desire to love, mentor, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop artist need to know scholarly and organic theologians such as Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon-Chan Rah, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, and Howard Thurman.
I want to make it clear that I don’t want to put down Dr. Piper. I have great respect for him and would love to have healthy dialogue with him on this subject and others. What I am saying is that Calvinism cannot be the lone theology shaping Holy Hip Hop. This is why currently most Holy Hip Hop takes place at Evangelical events, in front of predominately European-American audiences. I don’t blame Holy Hip Hop artists for this though. I put the full blame on the African-American church, which has done a great job over the years of rejecting Holy Hip Hop artists. Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement. I can’t hate on Dr. Piper for that. I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors, I being one. I’m also willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus. Let’s come together for the sake of the Kingdom.