When George W. Bush was the President of the United States there were some liberals who labeled him as the anti-christ and some others even went as far as comparing him to Hitler. Now some conservatives and even some evangelicals are launching the same attacks at President Obama. It wouldn’t be so bad if these were just a few fringe voices relegated to media outlets that most people don’t take time to read or listen to. The problem is that mainstream and popular media outlets are giving these extreme, “get paid for speaking anger and hate” voices a tremendous platform.
Don’t believe the hype or the hate. Neither Bush nor Obama are the anti-christ. The cases to make them such are based on a limited understanding and blatant misinterpretation of the Bible. These cases are also based on a limited view of the judgement and justice of God.
Let’s begin with this biblical truth. Idolatry and injustice are both sins, which led to judgement from God in the Old Testament and thru Christ plays a role in the entrance into the Kingdom of God described in the New Testament. The Old Testament foundations I’m speaking of can be found in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The New Testament foundation I’m talking about can be found specifically in Matthew chapter 25.
There are some conservatives and evangelicals that want to call Obama the anti-christ, simply because he’s pro-choice. For those with this perspective you need to do your research. President Bill Clinton was pro-choice too, but guess what? There were more abortions that took place during the eight years of George W. Bush than the eight years of Bill Clinton because there is a direct connection between poverty and abortion. If conservatives and evangelicals want to reduce abortions (which didn’t happen under President George W. Bush), deal head-on with poverty. So, the abortion issue alone doesn’t make Obama any more anti-christ than Bush, which is why I say neither are. Now I get the argument that being pro-choice is a biblical problem in and of itself. I agree. I’m pro-life myself; I’m a, “womb to tomb pro-lifer.” This means I not only have issue with abortion, but the death penalty as well. But you’re not going to see pro-life evangelicals outside prisons protesting the death penalty. You also don’t see evangelicals marching down inner-city streets with the same passion to protect babies outside the womb from gang violence the same way they do for the babies in the womb. Remember, I myself am a evangelical, Womb to Tomb Pro-lifer.
Now, let’s look at poverty beyond it’s connection to abortion. Some liberals and mainline Christians want to make the case that George W. Bush is the anti-christ because of his ignoring of the poor and marginalized in our nation during his tenure. Well, this group needs to do its research as well. The No Child Left Behind Act, though not perfect, is the strongest plan to date in holding public education accountable. Education is still one of the best empowerment tools for dealing with poverty. If not for 9/11, which led to the Vice-President and Secretary of Defense taking the leading of the nation from President George W. Bush, we might have seen the plan for “compassionate conservatism.” Urban public education systems are mostly run by liberals who put teachers’ unions ahead of African-American and Latino children and youth. Too many of these children and youth are on the wrong side of the achievement gap. President Obama cannot afford to treat the urban public school systems with kid gloves, George W. Bush didn’t.
You may not like the ideology of the immediate past or present President of the United States, but to make them deputy to Satan is going a little too far. The bottom line is, there is sin in both major political parties and a lot of anger and hate in the extreme conservative and liberal celebrities. Christians must rise above this and become ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20).
A few years ago, I attended the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Dallas, Texas to promote my second book, The Hip Hop Church. After doing a book signing and some other promotion, I had a chance to speak with a staff member of the NRB.
She told me that in their research, they found out that the largest viewing audience of Christian television are women in the 60′s. I’ve been reflecting on this as I’ve watched Christian television more intently over the last few weeks. In these challenging economic times with consumerism probably being the number one addiction of those living in the United States of America, the majority of television preachers haven’t let up in their call for viewers to sow a financial seed into their ministries. A financial seed that they claim will provide escape from the claws of the economic recession. Remember the majority of those watching are women in their 60′s. Some of these women may have already been duped by shady financial advisors just to now be duped by another one in the name of Jesus. It is a shame that the economic times as well as spiritual signs of our day haven’t called for a serious critique of the Word of Faith Movement and the prosperity theology in particular. To provide a real critique one must truly understand the practical science of biblical interpretation, as well as the foundational theories surrounding economics.
Through the philosopher Aristotle, economics begins simply as the ability to attain the products and resources needed to maintain one’s household. The rise of the economic system known as capitalism leads eventually to going beyond meeting our household needs to consumerism. This is about taking what I want and making it a need. An addiction or enslavement to consumerism is about losing the ability to prioritize or tell the difference between the things I want and the things I need or even the things I crave in my flesh. This addiction to the fullest, driven by the flesh is what leads a parent to choose crack cocaine over feeding their children. It’s what leads one to buy alcohol over paying the rent. Well, what does this have to do with prosperity theology and Christian television?
Prosperity theology (the most preached theology on Christian television) makes it difficult to see the difference between a Kingdom of God economic system and what is simply the capitalism and consumerism of the United States of America that at least right now is failing. Please know though that I’m in no way calling for socialism. I’m calling for a true biblically rooted Kingdom of God economic system which includes addressing the issues of the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor. I’m calling for an economic system that calls the church to start health clinics and schools in the poorest inner-city communities in the United States of America. To be honest, I don’t think the United States needs much more third-ring suburban mega-churches, but it needs more faith-based community development corporations dealing with healthcare, housing, education, and employment.
Christian television through many of its prosperity preachers are preying on women in their 60′s to sow seed into ministries based on the abuse of agricultural-rooted parables spoken by Jesus (i.e. sowing and reaping) that have more to do with the Kingdom of God showing up to the poor in spirit and body thru compassion, mercy, justice, and life transformation. These parables are being misinterpreted and mixed with capitalism and consumerism by too many television preachers so that they can fly in private jets, ride in luxury cars, and build their own ministry empires. Don’t be duped by a pimp dressed up as a preacher. Until this unfortunate use of God’s Word is lessened by the addition of more expository preaching on Christian television, I say we don’t watch it. At the end of the day the Christian revolution won’t be televised anyway.
“…I was sick, and you visited Me…” (Read Matthew 25:31-46)
Lately, you can’t watch the news without seeing angry people at a town hall meeting on health care reform. There are angry people (mostly European-American conservatives and in some cases evangeical) who are mad at President Obama and they want to know how this health care plan is going to be paid for. I get why they’re asking how this proposed plan is going to be paid for. To be honest, I have the same question myself.
What I don’t get is the anger about big government spending big money on a monthly basis. If that’s what the anger is about, you’re a few town hall meetings too late. The proposed health care bill could cost 100 billion dollars a year over the next 10 years. Wow! But, before you get angry, what about the 8-10 billion dollars a month being spent on the war in Iraq right now? This monthly cost is probably less than when the war was at its height under President George W. Bush. Where was the anger then? Isn’t spending billions of dollars a month on a war, that brought forth no weapons of mass destruction and may have contributed to our economic collapse big government as well? It funny to me, (but I’m not angry yet) that when it’s about war, for some people the checkbook of the government can be unlimited, but when it comes to providing healthcare for the poor and marginalized, to consider writing any checks at all from the government is socialism.
For the Christian the bigger question becomes, should the church be in the business of healthcare? I believe the biblical answer is yes. Jesus was in the business of healthcare and so should evangelical christians. Now if we were talking about Africa, I wouldn’t have to make this point. But if I’m talking about Chicago, Detroit, or Minneapolis, I’ve probably got a debate on my hands. If you happen to be one of those Christians that are against the proposed healthcare reform of President Obama then you need to be apart of crafting a church run proposal. It can’t be the Obama plan or no plan, this is not a biblical option. When I served as an Associate Pastor at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of my responsibilities was to serve as Executive Director of the Park Avenue Foundation. This outreach ministry of the church has a computer learning center, a free legal clinic, and a free health clinic still going today. If, as a Christian, you don’t agree with government driven health care reform, then redistribute some of your church budget dollars to starting a free health care clinic in partnership with healthcare professionals in your local area. This is something we seek to do at The Sanctuary Covenant Church, where I pastor now through a larger initiative called, The Exchange Center for Compassion, Mercy, and Justice.
If you’re not willing to take this biblical step, then you should get out of the way of some type of reasonable health care reform. Maybe the problem is that government is working at trying to move something forward that the church should actually be addressing in a creative and innovative way. If I had my way, I’d rather see the church leading the way on this issue, not government. Because the church in the United States of America has lost sense of biblical insight on issues such as housing, healthcare, education, and incarceration, the current government proposal must be at least considered. To be honest I wish there was a town hall meeting where I could vent my anger with the church.
“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.
I had a feeling last November that our country was going to go thru some birth pains in having the first African-American president. I have to be honest and say that I’ve been going thru them myself. I really wrestled with the presidential election for a number of reasons. First and foremost because I did not want to cause division within my evangelical, multicultural, and urban congregation, I kept my mouth shut. This was hard because I really wanted to use the presidential election to deal head on with the need for racial righteousness and reconciliation in our nation. But, every time I would just scratch the surface of the issue, you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. As the election day got closer I could sense the divide in our church between conservatives (in our church mostly Whites) and the more liberals (mostly young Whites and so-called people of color). It seemed like the conservatives became quieter and somewhat down in our church and after November 20th, the liberals got louder and excited for the dawn of a new day.
The second reason this past election was hard for me was because I was wrestling back and forth between being apart of history and being from a political standpoint, a moderate conservative. Okay, I guess this is my political coming out party; I would compare my political beliefs to that of General Colin Powell. Finally, I said it! That felt so good! With this in mind, I had part of me that wanted to see Obama win and part of me that struggled because I’m pro-life, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and I tend to be fiscally conservative. Voting day last year put the biggest rock in my stomach ever.
Even with all this in mind, when I hear some evangelicals and conservatives refer to President Obama as the Anti-Christ and a racist angry black man, I see how in denial about racism many in our nation are. The issue is, some conservatives really don’t mind the idea of a black president, they just want them to act White and never raise the issue of racism or question police or military authority. Conservatives then pimp some conservative African-Americans and Hispanics to drive this point home. I’ve been asked by some conservatives to play this role on many occasions. For the president to have attended a Black church which preaches a Black liberation theology and to question the actions of the police is out of bounds. Now to be a White president that attended an all-White church and be a part of all White social clubs, and live in an all-White community and have all that shape your views of what it means to be American is totally acceptable. I thought the President carried more authority in this country than a police officer from Cambridge? But it’s really beyond that. The problem is, you can be president or a professor at Harvard, if you don’t act American, which in many cases for some conservatives is acting White, then you are an angry black man. We have to deal with the fact the some conservatives have not separated being American from being White. Some are in denial about living in Whiteness. By the way, Blackness is no better solution.
Please hear that I’m not condemning all conservatives, I’m a moderate conservative myself. What I’m talking about is that when African-Americans question the actions of European-Americans in authority or when we raise the issue of race in our country, we are labeled as angry black people. It’s like some Whites are saying, “how dare you question my beliefs or my behavior! How dare you say I might have some racial issues I need to work out.” On conservative television this week our president has been called a racist, one who hates Whites and White culture, and one who is angry. This is code language for, “Negro President, get in your place.” I need my evangelical and conservative European-American brothers and sister to stay ideologically conservative but separate that from straight out racism masking itself with patriotism and family values.
By the way, word to the President: “Why you so angry?” Word to the Christians, read Galatians 3.
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.
Last night I had the awesome opportunity to speak at CHIC. CHIC stands for Covenant “Higher-s” in Christ. I know, as someone who has only been apart of the Evangelical Covenant Church for six years, I don’t really understand the name either. This national high school conference of the Covenant takes place every three years. The last few conferences, like the one this past week, has taken place on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This week over 5,000 students gathered under the theme, “Undone.” We are undone human beings in an undone world, but the good news is, God desires to transform our lives through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we might advance the Kingdom of God.
Just so you know this wasn’t just a conference of speakers, bands, and workshops. That all took place, but the young people also packed 100′s of 1,000′s of meals to address hunger around the world. They also raised over $100,000 for Evangelical Covenant Missions efforts. That’s straight cash out of the pockets of a many times called, consumeristic generation. I was able to connect one on one with many of the young people and I sensed a heart for God and to make a revolutionary difference in the world. I have spoken at many youth conferences, but this one is very special. I know what you’re thinking, “of course he’s going to say that, it’s your denomination!” Yes, that’s true, but I’m not one to give props like that.
CHIC is incredible to me for a couple of reasons. One, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America is one of the smaller denominations, so to put on a conference that draws 5,000 youth makes a statement. I realize that numbers aren’t everything, but these youth show up because so many adults, whose lives have been impacted by CHIC years ago have been praying for this generation. Second, CHIC is not just about good music and speaking, many Christian youth conferences do that. It’s about equipping young people to realize the potential they have to lead a Kingdom building movement for God. The connection between evangelism and social justice is the key to me, which unfortunately is still not dealt with as much as it should be in evangelical youth ministry. I don’t mean connecting coming to Christ with missions trips. I’m talking about connecting an intimate, life transforming relationship with Jesus with His call to address the sick, hungry, and incarcerated. To address head-on issues of race and the empowerment of women. For more info about CHIC and the impact made this week go to www.covchurch.org
I’m in class all this week in the first of two of my July intensives in the Doctor of Ministry program at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’m taking a class on understanding congregational systems that has me in deep reflection on the multicultural and reconciling church.
Most of the reading I’ve done on multicultural churches has been focused on relational issues rooted in sociology. Now, I don’t want to take away from the importance of this because understanding issues of race and culture from a sociological standpoint and how this has influenced the church is vital. It’s vital because we have to continue to wrestle with why, according to Christian Sociologist Michael Emerson, 93% of the churches in the United States of America are racially segregated. We also need to have strong theology for the multicultural church so that our case for such a Christ-centered community is based on a biblical mandate, not political correctness. So, all this to say, in making the case for the multicultural church, sociology and theology matter greatly.
What I’m having deep thoughts on this week in class though is about how you develop and sustain healthy and mission-al multicultural churches over the long haul. This is where I believe systems thinking and theory come into play. Now as I begin to work on my final project for this class things will get fleshed out more, but for now here are some thoughts. Systems thinking is about seeing the whole and dealing head-on with how ministries can become segregated and competitive. This is an issue in churches whether they’re multicultural or not. How do we realize in church that how we live and minister is directly connected to a larger reality or system? If you are passionate about the planting, development, and sustaining of a multicultural church consider reading 1 Corinthians chapter 12. My professor (Dr. Greg Bourgond) has been guiding our class through this text. Read it and think about what ministries and systems need to be developed in order to sustain a healthy and mission-al multicultural Church. Are there ministries, leaders who need to be on a journey of reconciliation in your ministry? Your welcome to join me in the journey. Consider reading the books, Systems-Sensitive Leadership by Michael Armour and Don Browning and Management for Your Church by Alvin Lindgren and Norman Shawchuck
Wow, I can’t believe it been over a week since I posted a blog. That’s way too long and I’ll work to make sure that doesn’t happen again I was blessed and humbled to be able to speak last week at Willow Creek’s Arts and Worship Conference. I spoke on the title, The Wonder of Beloved Worship. Using 1 John 3 as my main text, I shared about, a leading worship from the identity of the beloved verses the broken.
As I prepared for this message, I reflected a lot on art, worship, identity, and transformation. Before I accepted a call into ministry, I had dreams of becoming an actor and a singer. I was in a performing arts program in high school and majored in theater in college at Saint John’s University in Central Minnesota. It was during my senior year in college that I sensed a call into ministry, which led to my going to Luther Seminary to receive a Master of Arts degree in Theology.
Today as a pastor, I still feel that I’m an artist. I use comedy, story-telling, and singing in my preaching. As an African-American, I’ve been raised that preaching is an art form as influenced by the Black Church tradition. Leading a multicultural congregation that desires to engage culture for Kingdom purposes, has allowed me to connect my passion as an artist with one for theology as well. I believe that it is important for the church to equip and empower artists within the experience of corporate worship. One of the ways we do this at Sanctuary Covenant Church is through a monthly Hip Hop worship experience. I’m excited about spoken-word artist, break-dancers, rappers, and deejays being apart of a church worship experience.
Many artists outside of the church are using their gifts out of brokenness. There is a great opportunity through the church to also equip artists through Christian formation to use their gifts out of the identity of being God’s beloved. Beloved worship is about artists using their gifts as an extension and expression of God’s love that lives might be transformed. Worship in this way can be a liberating and Kingdom advancing movement.