I recently spoke to a pastor who made his case for not supporting women as senior pastors. “I’ve asked many men this question,” he said. “As a man, when you see a woman up front preaching or teaching, what’s the first thing you think about? The first thing that comes into your mind is if she is attractive or not. This distraction is one of the main reasons women should not be senior pastors or preach to men”, he said.
I was somewhat shocked by this argument. Not because he believed this, but because he said it out loud and so boldly. He stated it as if it were a biblical truth. To me, his statement was more about the sexism within evangelicalism connected to the sexism within the broader society, than some well thought out theological position on women in ministry leadership.
At least he was honest and pointed to the real issue at the foundation of why many men in evangelicalism struggle with women in ministry and pastoral leadership. Some try to cover up this truth by using the words of Paul in the New Testament. I’m not going to go into all the Scriptures which support women in ministry and pastoral leadership because this has already been done. I invite you to go to the website of the Evangelical Covenant Church (www.covchurch.org) to get information on some insightful resources.
What I will say is this-
Should the words of Paul, which could very well be situational and contextual, not universal and unconditional be used to argue the case for women in ministry? Shouldn’t the actions of Jesus with women and the equipping of women by God speak louder than the words of Paul? To the second question, I say yes.
I believe the bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which includes the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don’t in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these word of Paul are put in its proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God’s servants and God speaks thru God’s servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry.
What does the actions of Jesus with women in the Gospels tell us about God’s empowerment of women and should this speak louder than Paul’s words, which I present were situational, not universal? Jesus transforms and empowers the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has a woman anoint and prepare him for the cross. Jesus answers the prayers of the Canaanite woman. Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives life to a teenage girl left for dead. A woman is at the tomb first to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus. All of this is not about women in pastoral leadership, but it’s about the bigger issue of God being mindful of the second-class citizenship of women and dealing with it as a kingdom agenda. Jesus challenges the place and role of women to the point that his own male disciples, were annoyed every time they witnessed His empowerment of women.
When it comes to women in ministry and pastoral leadership we should join the position of Jesus and also acknowledge our sexism.
I know that it has been way too long since I’ve last written. I also realize that when I do write, too much time passes until there is another post from me. I guess I should first provide my multiple pre-thoughtout excuses. Yes, they are pre-thoughtout, but they are very real.
One, since the middle of January, I have been in a major transition mode. I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church during that month. This year began a process of making one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I made the prayerful decision to leave the senior pastor position at the Sanctuary Covenant Church and also the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul where I was born and raised.
By April, I was elected as Superintendent and last month I was installed. It’s official and I’ve just gone through the very emotional good-bye to the Sanctuary phase of this transition. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as hard and long as I did during that last Sunday as Senior Pastor.
Second, (should there even need to be another reason?), I’m in a doctoral program in church leadership at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took a class in February called, “A Theology of Leadership in Community.” I’m in a class this very week called, “Personal Well-Being and Ministry Effectiveness.” Last summer, I took a class called, “Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church” and before that, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership.” Now you’d think I would have a lot to write about wouldn’t you? Well, these classes have had such an impact on me personally, that it drove me to some serious inspection of my inner life and it’s connection to my outer practice of ministry. I feel like I’ve gone into some sort of cave for a little while.
The third reason I haven’t been the consistent blogger I should be and desire to be is that I’ve had the blessing of re-engaging the power of personal relationships that have led to me not being as engaged in the, “tech life.” I’ve enjoyed being apart of a men’s study and prayer community, playing the Wii with my daughters, going to movies and concerts with my wife, and hanging out weekly at the neighborhood barber shop. Man, time flies when you invest in face to face relationships.
Well, the in between time of not being the senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church and not yet fully being transitioned to California to serve as Superintendent has brought my desire to share my thoughts, passions, frustrations, and theology back. I hope it lasts even on the other side of the in between so that I stay back in action for a long time this time.
I watched the Glen Beck show on Fox News this afternoon. His topic was how churches that are using the term, “social justice” are misinterpreting Scripture in order to spread Marxism. Now I don’t want to say that in some cases this might not be true, but to provide a wide-spread brush stroke of all uses of the term social justice to be Marxist and in no way biblical is a major blow to true evangelical theology.
One of the hallmarks of evangelical theology is the authority and centrality of Scripture. The Scripture is full of Kingdom mandates from God that calls for a justice that goes beyond individualism. For those that don’t believe this is the case, they have to wrestle with the Exodus story as well as the book of Esther and the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, beginning with verse 31. This mission of God in the world includes salvation, which is individualistic in nature, but also includes what the corporate church should do concerning the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, and the sick in society. The society makes up the social structures. This isn’t a political ideology, nor marxist philosophy, this is the Word of God.
Glen Beck’s show on social justice and the church included guests from Liberty University and Westminster Theological Seminary who stated that the gospel is individualistic in nature. The guest from Liberty University even said that the parable of the talents, (which just happens to come before a parable about feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and those in prison), is about free market enterprise. So the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the opinions of the guests are rooted in individualism and capitalism.It is about a person, as an individual, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then investing their resources into the marketplace.
This is a very limited and unbiblical view of salvation. Salvation itself is communal because it includes the community of the Trinity and in many cases the community of the person that God used to bring the person to Christ. This is why the evangelical church has a strong history of global missions. If the gospel is rooted in individualism, we should shut down every department of world missions in every evangelical denomination. Read the Old Testament and the Gospel letters and it won’t take you long to realize that justice in society is a biblical theme presented as an act out of the overflow of an intimate relationship with God thru Jesus Christ, as well as a significant part of the mission of the church. The church is called by God, through Scripture to be about the whole mission of God, which includes evangelism, discipleship, mission, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church is called to make disciples and to do justice and love mercy.
Let the Word of God drive the evangelical church and its theology, not a political talk show host.
It has been way too long since I posted a blog and I will try very hard not to make this mistake again. My life has taken quite a turn in the last few months. In mid January I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The election takes place at the Annual Meeting of the PSWC in about two weeks in Northern California. If elected, I will provide servant leadership to about 160 churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Accepting this nomination was a very tough decision for me. I have enjoyed so much the opportunity to serve as Senior Pastor of the Sanctuary Covenant Church the last seven years. Seven years ago, God gave me a vision to plant a church with a diverse group of God’s beloved children, that would be intentionally evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban; including a community development component. The Sanctuary Covenant Church and Community Development Corporation are now a transforming reality because of God’s grace and Spirit. The church has a membership of over 400, a weekly attendance of about 1,000, and a diverse and gifted staff. This is why this decision to look to a new season of potential ministry leadership out West was very tough for me. Minneapolis is the city of my upbringing, the place where I met Christ, and the place where I entered into ministry.
Minneapolis is also the place where I developed a passion for the multi-ethnic church and came to the understanding that theologically I was an evangelical. I also came to the realization that evangelicalism has been kidnapped by political ideology and rugged individualism. Evangelical has moved from meaning the good news to abusive news and news of judgement. I’m so glad that Minneapolis is also the place where I came to know the Evangelical Covenant Church. This movement is committed to presenting evangelicalism as the good news that biblically connects both the good news of eternal salvation and life transformation thru compassion, mercy, and justice.
When I came into the Evangelical Covenant Church, I finally found a theological home. I have also found a Christ-centered, multi-ethnic community of women and men who believe in the authority and centrality of the Word of God. There is a high value on relationship and growing in Christ in community. This is why as tough a decision as it was, I prayerfully made the decision to be considered as the next Superintendent of the PSWC of the ECC. I’m humbled and honored by the potential opportunity, pending election. I hope to multiply the kingdom work begun at the Sanctuary Covenant Church. I’m in time of excitement, grieving, nervousness, and hope. My prayer and focus is on finishing strong, beginning well, and trusting God.
The Bible is full of stories of God using young people to do incredible things. In 1 Samuel there is the story of a boy named David who defeats the giant, Goliath. None of the adults trained for battle were willing to take on this task. There is a whole book in the Old Testament named after a girl named, Esther. Even though she didn’t know her biological father or mother growing up, she became a Queen who was willing to risk her own life for her people. In one of the books of Kings in the Old Testament as well, we read about Josiah who becomes king at 8 years old.
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about a young prophet God uses to speak truth when the adult prophets were unwilling. In the New Testament, a teenager named, Timothy is mentored by Paul to become a church planter and leader. Throughout the Bible, God uses these young faith heroes to advance the Kingdom of God.
In our more contemporary history young people are found at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and the movement to realize freedom in South Africa. Even now in Iran, it’s youth and young adults who are protesting an unjust political process.
Children and youth are not too young to make a difference for God. We must be willing to see children and youth the way God does. We must encourage them to know that they can make a Kingdom mark in the world. They can be Gods’ agents of truth, transformation, compassion, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The church must be a training ground for the equipping and empowerment of young heroes for God.
I remember as a kid, going into my backyard in the summertime and pretending to be a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the Hulk. I wanted to save the day with super powers. I thank God that when I became a Christian in high school, I had adults in my life, who believed I wasn’t too young to make a difference in the world. I know that this had a direct impact on the ministry call that I’m living out as an adult today. Consider the young people around you, do you see them as the young hero they can be? Do you pray that they realize this potential? Do you speak this into their lives? If you are a young person and reading this blog entry, I hope that you would allow God to use you in an amazing way. You can make a Kingdom difference in the world among the lost and the poor.
I encourage you to read and have a time of deep reflection upon the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this text Jesus is speaking through parables to His disciples. Today, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this includes you as well. Jesus is presenting key points about the Kingdom of God and how you and I are to participate in its mission and value system. This is so that we might say yes to the invitation to advance the Kingdom of God in the world through the empowerment, which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
He begins the chapter by speaking of two groups of bridesmaids, one wise and one foolish. This parable lifts up the need to have a sense of urgency and anticipation for the return of Christ. This anticipation though should not lead us to a state of privatized religion. The position of a Christian fundamentalism rooted primarily in individualism and judgement is not how we wait on our Lord to return. We must use this time, which we know not its limit, to be used by God as vehicles of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, transformation, and reconciliation. We are to be salt and light in the world while we are waiting in anticipation.
Next, Jesus shares a parable about a Master, who presents talents to His servants. These servants or slaves to be more specific are in this position because they owe a debt to the Master. But it seems in this parable that the Master forgives the debt owed Him and instead gives talents or resources to the servants. Because of sin, we owe God. We have created spiritual debt in the economy of the Kingdom of God. But, through Christ Jesus not only are our debts dealt with, but we are given resources to steward for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are called to take the gifts God has given us and multiply them. The question becomes how? This question is answered in the final parable of Matthew 25.
Jesus speaks of a King, that takes the people of the world and divides them into two groups. He looks at the first group and speaks of being hungry and this group feeding Him. He speaks of being thirsty, sick, a stranger, naked, and in prison and this group addressing these issues. The people respond in confusion, not knowing when they did any of those things. The King responds to the confusion with the Kingdom call to compassion, mercy, and justice. He says that as it is done to the least of them in the world, it is as if it was done to Him.
Our God in heaven calls us today out of a religion of individualism into a life of Kingdom advancement which includes evangelism, compassion, mercy, and justice.
This morning as I was running on the treadmill, I was also watching CNN. A story came on about a shooting in Washington D.C. The police chief was speaking with the mayor of D.C looking on. She stated that, “people are just ready for acts like this to stop.” I didn’t get a chance to see who was involved in this latest incident of urban violence, but it led me to reflect on the violent acts committed in my own city of Minneapolis involving young African-Americans in most cases. This statement raises the question, “How do we stop the violence in our inner-cities?”
On one level we must address this issue from the standpoint of individual responsibility. Churches and other ministries must develop ministry initiatives, which deal head-on with the issue of violence as the primary means for solving conflict. Peace and nonviolence cannot be seen as an outdated strategy of Hippies and those who participated in the part of the Civil Rights Movement directed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many young people in the city lack a strategy free of violence to deal with loss, anger, stress, and not being able to have what you want immediately. Ministries to children, youth, and families must contain initiatives dealing with conflict resolution rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus has something to say in Chapters 5-7 about conflict resolution and specifically on how to deal with enemies. These biblical principles must be contextualized for today. We can also look at chapter 3 of 1 John. Within this chapter John reminds us of what happens if our souls are not being driven by the love of God by pointing back to the story of Cain and Abel. What led to Cain killing his own brother is today at the root of violence in the city as well as the suburbs. The lack of being filled with Gods’ love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a major factor in the ability to attempt to take the life of another human being. It’s also easier when you don’t see the other as just as much Gods’ beloved as you are. Sometimes the ability to attempt to take the life of another begins with not seeing oneself as the beloved of God.
The second factor that must be dealt with in order to deal with violence in the city is being willing to deal with the realities of class and race. What is behind so much violence in the city among so many African-Americans? There is a connection between poverty, race, relationships, and violence. To deny this is to ignore some root causes that go along with individual responsibility. Inner-cities are the way they are on purpose. The White Flight of the 60′s and 70′s play a role. The Educated Black Flight of the 80′s play a role as well. This is not a guilt trip for those in the suburbs for I live in the suburbs myself. The issue is figuring out how to live in the suburbs and still have a heart for the city. This was the place of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It broke his heart to know the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and he took some of the responsibility for why this was the case. We must acknowledge the systemic issues behind urban violence and take responsibility as well. Those living outside the city must take responsibility and work with those in the city to be salt and light.
Nonviolence cannot be an ancient social strategy that was just good for a season. We must raise up an generation who are able to experience, “a peace that passes all understanding” that it might, “guard our hearts and minds.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of something he called, the beloved community. This was the title given to describe a reality where freedom, love, justice, and reconciliation would reign. In many ways this was a mainstream way for Dr. King to speak of the Kingdom of God being advanced within a sin-filled world. Today, there is still a need for the beloved community. The question becomes though, “can there be a beloved community without a beloved church first?” Another question to consider would be, “can there be a beloved church without beloved children of God in intimate relationship with God thru Christ Jesus?” These questions must be reflected on deeply, if the church is to be a force of Kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
Though we live in a world that is becoming more and more diverse by the day, the church in the United States of America is still one of the most segregated institutions there is. It’s funny how the church in the United States of America, through its many denominations, sees itself as a leader in world missions but can’t consistently develop churches that look like that world or the Kingdom of God where we will live eternally. Though collectively financially resourced, the church is socially bankrupt when it comes to living outside of the race matrix of this nation. Why is this?
This reality of the segregated church continues for two reasons. One reason is, many are in denial that the Christian church in this country was planted in a soil of race and racism. The treatment of Native Americans and Africans in the beginning of what became known as the United States of America went against the very gospel message being preached by some Europeans carrying a Bible in their hands and racism in their hearts. We must explore this history on a regular basis that we might re-plant the Christian church in this nation.
The second issue is that the church in this nation is still evolving in a race-based soil, which creates comfort in racially segregated churches. Though many people would not see themselves as racist, they attend churches based on race values even though they don’t realize it in most cases. The not realizing factor is true for many European-Americans. Many African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians proudly attend racially or ethnic specific churches. For many of them this is about being in a community of empowerment in a society where they collectively hold little power even in light of a minority president. Yet, this reality is a major obstacle to the beloved community. There will never truly be shining examples of the beloved community as long as we Christians have a taste for the segregated church. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and evangelical church, I cry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist. I cry out to prepare the way for a movement of churches think look like the Kingdom of God and not the race-based society of this earthly realm. I cry out for the beloved church. What is your heart cry?
I was recently talking with a European-American friend of mine who is also an evangelical. I am African-American and evangelical. We were talking about the tense debate going on right now about healthcare when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill was a government run health care system, which would lead to bigger government. I responded by agreeing with his concerns, but stating that he should have been concerned about big government militarily during the George W. Bush years as well. I then asked the first question, “why do some conservatives so easily see the threat of big government when it has to do with healthcare, but can’t see big government when it’s running an expensive war in Iraq? Not many conservatives complained about how much money the war in Iraq was taking out of their pockets, but now they’re angry about how much the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill would. Both the management of war and healthcare are types of big government leading to spending money we don’t have as a country in debt.”
My friend responded by asking this question, “why do so many African-Americans trust government with healthcare? Why are so many not concerned about big government in this way?”
I thought this was a great question that gets to the racial divide around how some African-Americans and some European-Americans see government and corporate america from different perspectives. One of the reasons some European-Americans would rather see healthcare worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans there was a seeking of independence from European government systems and the pioneering of a new way of living based on democracy and maybe more importantly, the development of an economic system called capitalism. This makes sense why conservatives and many evangelicals today would be concerned about big government.
For African-Americans there is a history in this country which begins with slavery. The African-American begins their experience in the economic system of capitalism and free enterprise as the slave. From there, the experience with the economic system for many African-Americans is within a race-based, sub-system called, Jim Crow Segregation. What opens the door to freedom from slavery and Jim Crow Segregation comes mainly from government. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government led realities.
Could this be the foundation from which, in this society still influenced by race, that there are many European-Americans that are concerned about big government and many African-Americans that embrace it? I believe the church in the United States of America must rise out of being the most racially segregated institution in this nation so that it can lead conversations and forums on reconciliation. At the church where I serve as Senior Pastor, we have a class called, City Matters, which seeks to raise awareness and spark reconciling discussion. We’ve also hosted an initiative called, The Invitation to Racial Righteousness, developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are apart.
We need more churches to lead these types of initiatives. These conversations and forums could help us understand one another better. We need to move from demonizing those with different perspectives than ourselves and seek to understand the historical roots of our differences. It is possible to love God, follow Christ in a radical way, and have conversations about differing perspectives on how we view the role of government.
In all my years of watching Presidents speak before congress and a national television audience, I’ve never known a member of the house to shout out, “you’re a liar” to the President. In just eight short months, I’ve heard our President called a racist, unpatriotic, hitler, a socialist, and the anti-Christ. The real sad news here is that some of those using these terms to describe President Obama are Christians. Some of those who are called biblically to be, “ambassadors of reconciliation” are turning out to be, angry name-callers influenced less by Jesus and more by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Now, there were some mainline Christians doing the same thing during the Bush presidency, which is no better. Why can’t we have ideological differences and still show some sense of intellect and maturity? Today, going to a town hall meeting can be a very dangerous place.
You might not like this next statement, but there are some who believe that the fire of anger against the President of the United States of America has been turned up for more than just ideological disagreements. Here’s the question some people don’t like, “is this about race?” Uh Oh. Why did I have to go there?
When George W. Bush was in office and he said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no one yelled at him during a speech before congress, “Liar!” This was the case even though it turned out he wasn’t telling the truth. We won’t call him a liar, we’ll just say he didn’t have all the right information Fox News Commentator, Glenn Beck believes President Obama hates White people and White culture. I guess he forgot what color the President’s mother’s side of the family is. You might not want to deal with it, but the reality could be that if you’re the President and happen to be Black, you can’t expect the same level of respect.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…” (Areatha Franklin)
R-A-C-E, find out if it’s really still playing a role in our behavior (Efrem Smith)