In this same month that a movie on Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball years before the Civil Right Act is released, a high school in the state of Georgia has its first racially integrated high school prom (google it, if you don’t believe me, I saw this on a cable news and entertainment station, Headline News this morning). This is happening in a nation that some claim to be post-racial. Think about this, students in Wilcox County, Georgia had to fight for an integrated prom. They received backlash from some and some of those folks held their own White Only Prom.
There are many of my evangelical Christian Brothers and Sisters that don’t want to deal with race, believing that we are either now in a colorblind and post-racial reality, or think that talking about race is only about bringing on “White Guilt.” My purpose in dealing with issues of race is four fold-
1.) To show that race is unbiblical and was never from a Scriptural standpoint, God’s idea for defining humanity.
2.) To show the race structure and racism individually and systemically for the sin and demonic force that it is.
3.) To create healthy ways to raise awareness and have discussions about race, so that the church can be fruitful and effective in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural mission field.
4.) Through ministry initiatives of reconciliation and righteousness, create a movement of Kingdom Community.
This mission will be difficult for the church if evangelicals on one hand want to promote the Jackie Robinson movie, “42″ as great, but are silent about segregated high school proms in the Bible Belt. We can’t have real movement around Kingdom citizenship and community if there is still a great fear from some Christian White families that their daughters are at risk of being asked to prom by a Black or Brown young man. Why else would you want a prom to be segregated? I also wonder if the same churches in the Bible Belt that are silent on segregated proms are still practicing the homogenous principal when it comes to church planting and revitalization?
I realize that there are many churches that are striving to be Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and reconciling communities. I think of church like Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi and Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. There are many others in the Bible Belt that are champions of developing Reconciling Churches. At the same time there are still too many evangelical leaders denying the reality and impact of race in the United States and beyond. Because of this the church is not having the Kingdom impact it could on issues such as immigration, incarceration rates, and disparities in the areas of housing, employment, and education. The issues of race at the end of the day are much bigger than the high school proms that will take place around the country this weekend.
I received some negative feedback for speaking against The Bible cable series on the History Channel. I have to also acknowledge that I found many like-minded Sisters and Brothers as well. My two issues were with parts of the series that didn’t seem to line up with Scripture and the way in which biblical characters were ethnically portrayed, especially Jesus. Once again, Jesus was presented as European. The series at first, seemed to make progress in comparison to other movies on the Bible in terms of providing greater ethnic diversity more in line with the Scriptures. But, then we came upon Jesus. The European and White Jesus.
I had an interesting conversation with my wife and daughters last night. My youngest daughter asked me if I was trying to make Jesus Black because I’m Black. She also said that the White Jesus is the only Jesus she has ever known and that it would be challenging to see Jesus any other way. I told my family that it is not my intention to fight for a Black Jesus, but for the authentic Jesus of the Scriptures. I fight for the real Jesus, who was a North African and Asiatic Jew. This multi-ethnic Christ, is the great reconciler and brings new life. Now of course, it is more important that Jesus is the Son of God and is God (John 1), but shouldn’t we also want to know the Son of Man as He is presented to us in Matthew 1 as well? There is no biblical evidence to prove the European Jesus that remians the mainstream Jesus. I am not anti-Anglo, I just yearn for the real Jesus. What surprises me is that there are so many Christians who don’t seem to yearn to know the real Jesus.
I believe that our ability to bring the good news of Christ into an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, metropolitan, and global mission field is hindered by the continued promotion of the false Jesus. I have had communication with some Christian leaders that seem willing to verbally fight for the defense of the false Jesus. Others, just seem apathetic to the whole discussion. It seems that for a great number of Christians, a colorblind approach to Jesus is the best route. Why can’t the best route be biblical truth?
The best on-ramp to this route is to repent of the false Jesus and all that has come from it. The false Jesus justified slavery, Jim Crow Segregation, and the racially segregated church in the United States. The fact the 80% or more of churches in the United States are still racially segregated may be rooted in the continued promotion of the false Jesus. This is why we need more than ever, the real Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of a cable series on the Bible. The real Jesus is multi-ethnic, multicultural, and most importantly, the Son of God. If Jesus was walking in physical form on the earth today, He would be called a minority and a person of color. He very well might be pulled over by the police for driving around the wrong neighborhood after dark. He might be followed around the shopping mall by security. This is probably why we would rather have the false Jesus, because the real Jesus forces us to have to deal with issues of class, race, and ethnicity. The multi-ethnic Jesus’ treatment of women in the Bible causes us to have to deal with gender issues. The multi-ethnic Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery could cause us to both stand on Scripture and extend the love of God to the GBLT community for instance. The real Jesus forces the church to become a suffering, reconciling, liberating, and transforming movement all at the same time.
Maybe this is why we want the false Jesus. It’s so much easier to live in comfort.
As we move towards Good Friday and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ, I have been thinking of how the mission of the church should be aligned more with the suffering. This begins with what is at the core of a church’s theology or ecclesiology.
I recently read once again Dr. J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account. These words from his book bring forth the main issues he deals with-
* The modern invention of race (especially as both a sociological and theological construct).
* Whiteness as a theological problem.
* The problem of Christianity being severed from its Jewish roots and remade into the cultural property of the West.
* Showing where Black theology falls short in dismantling Whiteness and the Western hold on Christian theology.
* The theological work of understanding dark flesh beyond the pseudo-theological gaze of Whiteness.
* The need for redirecting Christian theological discourse.
* The theological problem of our time in not simply race in general, but Whiteness in particular.
* How Christian civilization become Western civilization and vice versa.
* How Whiteness continues to reign as the inner architecture of modern theology.
*Why Christian theology must take its bearings from Christian theological languages and practices that arise from the lived Christian worlds of dark peoples in modernity and how such peoples reclaimed the language of Christianity, thus Christian theology from being a discourse of death- their death.
From all this insightful, yet deep academic language of Carter, let me provide some practical words. In the West, the model of successful church is a church of power and privilege. I am in no way against the large church. My issue is with a church mainly aligned with the pursuit of power and privilege, held captive by primarily political and corporate structures. This is not about the demographic of a church. It is possible to have a church made up of mainly highly educated and upper-middle class to upper class people and be a serving and suffering church.
A serving and suffering church is one that through it preaching and teaching, budget priorities, and ministry models is about life and community transformation. This happens when a congregation is able to read the Scriptures authentically. This is possible when we see the nation of Israel, Jesus, and the 1st century church for what it really was; a suffering, minority, and oppressed people under multiple empires of power, yet blessed and empowered through a covenant with the one and only true God.
In the West, the Church is held captive by man made kingdoms and power structures both political and economic that has caused an identity crisis and has led to a mission that presents an incomplete gospel. When this happens you get a church divided by race, ethnicity, and class. You get churches more consumed with a Christianity covered in extreme individualism and capitalism coming in the prosperity gospel and some forms of evangelicalism. Blackness and Whiteness are unbiblical, man made social constructs of the West. There would be no Blackness without the creation of the false identity of Whiteness, which is a construct of pursuing power and dominance. Blackness in turn is the servant and casualty of the identity of Whiteness. When the church dismantles Blackness and Whiteness, it is able to go beyond a church of power and victimization, to one of serving and suffering for the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom.
This is why we need a church that doesn’t just identify with resurrection Sunday, but also with the suffering of Good Friday. Resurrection alone can lead to a Tower of Babel Church that uses the living Jesus to rise to earthly power. The church that can also identify with the suffering and serving Jesus is one that shuns the kingdoms of this world and puts it attention on the advancing of the Kingdom of God. This type of missional church must put itself in close ministry relationship with the poor and suffering not just for outreach purposes, but for its own Christian formation.
Checkout this recent article on Hip Hop artist Lacrae, Theology, and Race that I am included in.
So much is being said about the death of Trayvon Martin, but let me add a few reflections-
1.) No matter the race or ethnicity of the one behind the murder weapon, we must be concerned about the continued loss of young African-American male lives. Too many young African-American men are leaving this earth too soon. We need more than a rally, we need reasonable solutions about this crisis that leads to fruitful results. Too many institutions are failing African-American boys and young men in this country. More importantly than that, too many families are failing them as well. We need strong African-American marriages, strong churches committed to community development and racial reconciliation, and a series of national initiatives that raises the value of young African-American male life.
2.) We cannot avoid the issue of race in the United States of America and beyond. The racial stereotyping, profiling, and devaluing of African-Americans is still a major issue. I am a professional, Christian, and highly educated African-American male. I still have to endure experiences where I am profiled simply for being Black. We can’t put all the blame on African-Americans in terms of how they are perceived. Corporate heads that are European-American make more money than African-Americans off of the devaluing and stereotyping of African-Americans. No question that there are some African-American rappers, athletes, and reality show stars that have sold their souls over money, but they should not carry the blame alone.
3.) It’s painful that some of the media are trying to use the fact that Trayvon was having some trouble in school to place blame on him for his own murder. Painting an African-American male as troubled on some level is used to steer our attention away from justice.
4.) It’s also painful that so-called Civil Rights leaders show up for racially charged issues, but don’t give the same passionate attention to Black on Black crime. A few months ago in Oakland, California there multiple homicides in one weekend where African-Americans were both victim and responsible for the crime. Neither Reverend Sharpton, nor Reverend Jackson made an appearance.
5.) Finally, as an evangelical pastor, I’m so concerned about how the evangelical church and its leaders seem to rarely, if ever take the lead in standing for compassion, mercy, and justice on issues like this. Where are the prophetic voices of justice, reconciliation, and liberation within evangelicalism?
These are my reflections. I now turn to prayer before the God of love, justice, and transformation. In Jesus name.
As I reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I can’t help but meditate deeply on something he wrote within an article entitled, “The Case Against Tokenism” for the New York Times, August 5, 1962-
“…it is still true that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. As a minister of the gospel, I am ashamed to say that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning-when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There Is No East Nor West’- is the most segregated hour of America, and that Sunday school is the most segregated school of the week.”
So what is the state of the church in the United States of America today, some 40 years after the murder of Dr. King? Christian sociologist Michael Emerson, who co-wrote the important book, “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, has said that today only about 7% of the church in the U.S. would be deemed multiracial. Of all the institutions in the United States could it be that the Christian church has struggled the most in living out the dream and vision of Dr. King? It seems so. But, in order to be missional into the future this must change. I am actually very hopeful about this happening.
On the website, churchleaders.com, Sam Rainer recently wrote about “Ten (Unexpected) Church Trends to Surface by 2020″ (http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/157452-10-unexpected-church-trends-to-surface-by-2020.html). The very first trend he mentions deals with something that champions of the multi-ethnic and missional church have known for a long time. Rainer points to the trend that the heterogeneous (or homogeneous church principle) church will explode. The question becomes what will cause this and are we preparing emerging leaders for this reality?
Let me deal with the issue of preparing leaders. No longer can we afford to make multi-ethnic and missional ministry simply a “track” within a leadership conference or a “Pre-conferene” before the general conference begins. Multi-ethnic and missional ministry must become the central issue of every denomination, church planting association, seminary, and leadership conference. I’m so glad, that the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I serve, has done just that (www.covchurch.org).
Theology, preaching, church leadership, and ministry practice must be connected to this central issue of multi-ethnic and missional ministry. Multi-ethnicity is important, not just because of the current and future multicultural realities, but also because Jesus walked the earth as a multi-ethnic human being and the Bible is the most multi-ethnic story you will ever read. Being missional is about the church having a sense of urgency concerning evangelism, outreach, and biblical justice. These are the key components of the advancement of the kingdom of God.
To live into this multi-ethnic and missional movement, we can learn much from Dr. King the theologian. I encourage you to engage his writings and then return to the Scriptures with new eyes. Allowing Dr. King to influence how we engage the Scriptures allows us to see the God of salvation, deliverance, and liberation. The new church that is needed today can be developed as the words of Dr. King allow us to see the true church of the Scriptures. This church takes on the mission of advancing what Dr. King called, The Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is realized as the church embodies reconciliation, redemption, transformation, and justice.
1.) Adopt a school and create a tutoring program for low achieving students in reading and math.
2.) Preach and Teach on the historic and present issues of class, gender, and race. Then present biblical solutions that move away from the colorblind theory.
3.) Survey your surrounding community as well as the assets of your church membership. This is a great way to utilize college students.
4.) Connect a passion for evangelism with compassion, mercy, and justice.
5.) Partner with at least two other churches/Para Churches to impact your community.
6.) Don’t just send money to another country for mission, send people.
7.) Be guided by a leader from another country in your global missions efforts.
8.) Partner with a community organization and volunteer each week in impacting the lives of children and their families.
9.) Create a community development organization with a focus on economics, housing, and engagement.
10.) Every month sit in on city council and school board meetings in your community. Pray for opportunities to be the solution to local challenges.
As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
First of all I want to share my love, respect, and honor for my Brother, Dr. John Piper and the ministry God has given him in Minneapolis and beyond. I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and served in Ministry there in various capacities for almost 20 years as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and church planter. I have seen up close the ministry fruit of Dr. Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. I know of many African-Americans who lives have been transformed by God thru that ministry. I also know of African-American pastors who have been given the opportunity of ministerial leadership and development there. I know of African-American and Christian hip hop artists whom have been mentored by Dr. Piper. Praise God for all of this. Most recently Dr. Piper has released a book on the topic of racial reconciliation called, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Here are my thoughts after reading this book.
First, as one who is involved with a growing group of humble leaders speaking, preaching, writing, teaching, and advancing multi-ethnic and missional ministry, I am excited that Dr. Piper felt led by God to write this book. Someone of his stature writing on this topic will only bring it more into the forefront of the evangelical movement where he is so well respected. As an evangelical myself, I see how important this is. Within evangelicalism multi-ethnic and urban ministry and racial reconciliation, especially when led by people of color has been marginalized greatly.
Leading multi-ethnic and urban ministry is not new for Dr. Piper. He has served in this area for decades and has been preaching on this topic from his pulpit for the last ten years. What is new is Dr. Piper bringing his passion, personal stories, and theology around racial reconciliation onto his national and global ministry platform thru the writing of Bloodlines. I have spoken at many conference on reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry across the evangelical spectrum and have never known Dr. Piper to attend or speak at one of these conferences. I’m not aware of a book prior to Bloodlines where Dr. Piper has made racial reconciliation the central issue. I don’t believe this is criticism, but truth.
Because I’m from Minneapolis, I’ve known of many times when race was a major issue in the city. I’ve been a part of many of the discussions and initiatives to bring about racial reconciliation in Minneapolis, I don’t remember Dr. Piper being involved in these discussions or initiatives. This is why thru facebook and twitter, I welcomed Dr. Piper into the discussion of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry. This was not a “shot” but a welcoming praise. When I was in Minneapolis I worked very hard to meet with and partner with Dr. Piper. I met with many of his associates to try to make this happen. I know Dr. Piper is very busy and has a number of people trying to meet with him, so I get why our partnering never happened. I am thankful though that before I left Minneapolis to serve as a Superintendent within the Evangelical Covenant Church, Dr. Piper came to visit the Sanctuary Covenant Church where I served. Okay, really to the book now-
I like the way the book begins, but not so much how it ends. I love that Dr. Piper shares his personal story. I love that he shows biblically that Jesus took on ethnocentrism as He walked the earth in human form. I love that he goes into great depth to show that race is not biblical and racism is a sin. The book shows his commitment to racial reconciliation within the church he leads in Minneapolis. His commitment is shown, though he doesn’t share in great detail in the book, thru the multi-ethnic staff he has built with his church board over the years. He shares that he has struggled in living this out in the community where he lives, which happens to surround the church he leads. I am moved by knowing more of his personal story. It’s why I wish I could have gotten to know him more personally when I lived in Minneapolis. I praise God for his commitment to urban ministry.
The second half of the book is the problem that I have. Dr. Piper presents Calvinism as the theological framework for living into racial reconciliation biblically. I must respectfully disagree with him. He states in the book that Jesus deals with ethnocentrism, but then presents a theology rooted in Eurocentric ethnocentrism as the solution. In Dr. Piper’s commitment to racial reconciliation he can’t just have great love for theologies developed by European men. By presenting Calvinism this way, he actually goes against what he is writing about. Structural racism exists in the church in the United States because theology is dominated by White theology. Just because some African-Americans are sold on Reformed theology and seem to have no regard for theologies developed by Africans and African-Americans doesn’t mean its the best frame work for reconciliation. This is actually assimilation, not reconciliation. What makes the Evangelical Covenant Church strong is that White leaders are allowing the theologies and ministry practices of so-called minorities to come into this Swedish immigrant denomination historically and give it the second wind of becoming a Christ-centered and multi-ethnic movement. The key is that these theologies and practices not compromise the evangelical foundation of the movement.
Piper also only offers politically conservative and Republican solutions to dealing with structural racism. He only offers school choice and welfare reform as solutions. These are political solutions not biblical ones. Matthew 25, John 4, Matthew 9, the Book of Leviticus, the Book of Exodus, and the Book of Nehemiah are better frameworks for dealing with structural racism. Still, I believe it is good that Dr. Piper has written this book and I hope to both have healthy conversations with him and hope to see him speaking and writing even more on this important topic for kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
I love the Black Church. I was raised in the Black Church. I was licensed and originally ordained into ministry through the Black Church. I learned about preaching, Kingdom justice, singing, a theology of celebration and suffering, and community leadership all within the Black Church. I’ve met Civil Right Movement workers, former gang members turned community development leaders, school principles, praying grandmothers, theologians, fraternity and sorority members, and committed fathers in the Black Church. I learned how to respect and honor African-American women in the Black Church. In many ways I am a product of the Black Church.
The Black Church today must become a Post-Black Church. This does not mean the end totally of the Black Church. What it does mean, is that for the Black Church to be healthy and missional into the future it must be able to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. We cannot prophetically call the White Church to racial righteousness and reconciliation and in turn let the Black Church off the hook. Both churches are equally held accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Scriptures. The Post-Black Church is one that is willing to share the gifts of the Black Church with the broader body of Christ without losing its soul. It’s a church that provides alternative methods of worship, evangelism, discipleship, and mission to all those within its surrounding community regardless of ethnicity. It’s a church that will provide a more holistic and justice focused model of global missions. In some cases this is already going on.
The Post-Black Church must move this direction by truly becoming even more of an African-American Church. Then it must grow into a multi-ethnic and missional church. This will lift up the fact that race in the form of Blackness and Whiteness are ultimately man made social constructs never intended by God. The Post-Black Church can take the lead in kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. If this doesn’t happen the Black Church will become enslaved to the same elements that hold the White Church captive (To learn more about this read the book, The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah). In many cases this is already happening.
Too many Black Churches are being held captive by individualism, capitalism, and consumerism. This combination can lead to empire building instead of Kingdom advancement. This happened through the drift theologically into the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel. Some Black Churches have moved away from the theologies of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins, and James Cone. Some Black Churches can’t hear the voices of Vashti McKenzie, Jeremiah Wright, Gardner C. Taylor, Calvin Butts, Floyd Flake, Frank Reid, and Brenda Salter McNeil. Instead some are captivated by television preachers promising wealth, rooted in a “casino theology.” Others want to grow large churches so badly that they’ll follow the theology of the closest mega church. Sad indeed. This has led to an institution that has historically been a champion of freedom, to become enslaved. The Post-Black Church is not just about sharing the theologies and ministry models that have made the Black Church missional and unique, but also the freeing of a church enslaved. I love the Black Church and I want it free.
A freed African-American church can lead to the freedom of the White Church from its captivity. We could use the help of Asian and Hispanic churches as well.
More on this topic in the future.