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.
My heart was grieved last week after the tragic events that took place in Boston for two reasons. One, was the senseless violence that led to injuries and death brought on by two young men. The second were some of the things said by Christians claiming to be prophets or prophetic voices. Once again there were so-called prophetic voices trying to explain the Boston tragedy by including God’s judgement upon a sinful nation as the ultimate reason behind it. This unfortunately happens a lot after large tragedies.
After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, there were so-called prophets speaking to God ultimately willing these events to happen as warning shots to a sinful United States of America. I call these the Modern Judgement Prophets. I call them this because they are unable to see how their take on prophecy is enslaved to Western Modernity. They also fail to acknowledge a theological stream that would debunk the God’s Judgement Theory by seeing Jesus as the greatest expression of God’s response to sin. If you want to know how God responds to sin for the most part today or better yet how God’s people are to respond to sin, just look at Jesus in the Gospels. How does He treat a sinful woman caught in adultery? How does He treat a sinful Samaritan woman who lives with her boyfriend? How does He treat a sinful man who is economically oppressing people in the role of a tax collector? How does Jesus respond to the sinful people who crucify Him?
Another group of so-called prophetic leaders and voices are what I call the For Profit Prophets. They mostly show up on Christian television stations or take over other cable channels on Sunday morning and evening. For a “Seed Offering” they will speak prosperity, happiness, healing, and promotion into your life. You can pay by cash, check, or credit card to have these prophetic voices speak into your life.
Just for fun, let me add another group, that I call Individual Warning Prophets. These are so-called prophets that sit down with you one on one and begin by saying something like this, “I happen to be a prophet and I have a word for you. I hope that you can receive this…” Then they tell you something bad that will happen in your life if you don’t make certain decisions.
I believe the people that find themselves in these three so-called prophetic groups begin as devoted Christians that mean well. They love the Lord and they desire to know and live into their spiritual gifts and calling. Many of them move into one of these three groups because of lack of a mentor, local church support and accountability, or they are under spiritual leadership that is emotionally unhealthy and immature.
I very much believe in the spiritual gift and office of prophecy and the prophet. I have been challenged, encouraged, and edified on a number of occasions by prophetic people. True prophets need the accountability of a healthy church, with sound biblical rootedness. They also need to see how the prophets of the Scriptures had training, accountability, and walked humbly with God. Prophets of the Scriptures did speak to God’s judgement, but this also included God’s call and work for justice, reconciliation, covenant relationship, mercy, and revolutionary love. Without these components, you get an army of false prophets doing harm and misrepresenting God.
At this moment, I am so sad in my heart for the nation in which I live. I can’t imagine how any of God’s beloved children could not be at this moment. I received a text message as I was leaving my house this afternoon to go to lunch and grocery shopping with my wife from a friend saying, “are you watching what’s going on in Boston?” I paused, wondering what might be happening.
In a matter of months, a mass shooting at a movie theater in the Denver, Colorado Area, a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and now today bomb explosions during the Boston Marathon. The notion that there is a place in the United States of America or the world where you can escape senseless violence is truly a myth. The fact that it is a myth, is one more sign of a fallen world in need of the truth, radical love, transformation, and reconciliation that can only come thru Jesus Christ. Why am I so convinced of this? Because I know of no other who both proclaimed and performed such revolutionary, non-violent, and transformative love. All for the purpose of reconciling us to a loving God and an eternal Kingdom free from brokenness of this upside-down world.
The Church of Jesus Christ must collectively work even more, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring more of the peace, truth, love, transformation, and non-violent Kingdom of God justice into this violent world. We must be the vehicles through which the vision, values, and actions of the Kingdom of God come forth. We should not live in a world, where we fear our safety at movie theaters, schools, and marathons. Let’s pray for the city of Boston. Let’s pray for those who lost love ones today. Let’s pray for those injured physically and emotionally today. But let’s also allow God to use us even more for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in this fallen world.
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.
As college basketball fans (like me), prepare to watch the Final Four this weekend, it’s a good time to think about the bigger picture of big time basketball. College basketball is both good and bad, divine and demonic, beautiful and ugly. As a former high school basketball coach years ago in Minneapolis I have a different take on all the March Madness.
I can still remember in 1996 when I was sitting in a classroom with eight urban, African-American, and middle school boys. I asked them what they wanted to be when they became adults. They all wanted to play professional basketball. They had worked this all out in their minds. Two of them even had plans to both play college basketball for North Carolina and then go on to play for the Chicago Bulls. Basketball had become a religion for these boys and Michael Jordan was the almighty savior. I believe around this same time a documentary (I am probably mistaken on the year), which still get airtime on ESPN Classic called, Hoop Dreams was out. Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two Chicago African-American young men with dreams of going to the NBA. Neither one of these young men fulfilled those dreams. Basketball can be bad, ugly, and demonic because it can use up African-American young men, whose dreams become nightmares. Some get so caught up in their hopes for the NBA, that they don’t even take advantage of a free college education. Many of these Hoop Dreamers want to be what’s called, “A One and Done.” To play one year of college basketball simply to audition for the NBA. The NCAA and the head coaches of major universities like Kentucky and North Carolina make millions of dollars no matter how the future unfolds for many African-American young men growing up in poor urban and rural communities.
What is good, beautiful, and divine about basketball is when you meet coaches who use basketball as a tool to transform lives. Two of my favorite coaches that represent just that are Tubby Smith, Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Minnesota (as well as the winner of a National Championship while at Kentucky) and Holy Angels Academy (Richfield, Minnesota) Boy’s Coach, Larry McKenzie. When I was the h]Head Boys Coach at Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School, he was my assistant. In our first year together, we made it to the State Championship game, saw players on the team come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and helped some go on to get college degrees. Coach McKenzie eventually became the Head Boys Coach at that school and I took the Head Girls Basketball position there. He went on to win four state titles. He’s more than just a good basketball coach though.
Coach McKenzie is a Christian, coach, mentor, and father figure to many. He is used by God to transform lives and I encourage you to read about his story. Please get his book, Basketball: More Than Just A Game.” This book puts basketball in its proper context. Coach McKenzie is also an excellent speaker and I encourage you to bring him to your school, church, business, or community center. He will inspire you and with the issues surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin impacting our nation right now, Coach McKenzie can serve as a voice of reconciliation, reason, and clarity. Let’s get beyond simply March Madness. There is real madness in our urban communities and beyond that must be addressed.
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 we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, there has been a recent focus on how Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Christmas in the context of this debate, has been turned into a consumeristic, marketing, and materialism movement. We were even lead to believe a few years ago that on Black Friday, our Christmas shopping could rescue the economy with this view of Christmas. Black Friday may one day become a holiday all by itself creating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. But this isn’t the Christmas problem that I want to deal with. The problem I want to bring up has been an issue much longer. I want to focus on those of us that still keep Christ in Christmas. We have another problem.
Our problem is with the Christ that we lift up during Christmas. In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world, we continue to lift up a Eurocentric Jesus. The majority, if not all of the images of the Nativity Scene continue to be a White Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even though this scene takes place far away from any European country. Our problem is that as we strive to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we actually lift up a false Jesus. By lifting up a false Jesus, we run the risk of that Western Jesus become the very symbol of what Christmas has become. We also must remember that Christmas isn’t a biblically based holiday in the first place. First century Christian Jews would not have placed the importance on Christmas that we do today. Over time Christian Gentiles made the pagan rooted festivals of both Christmas and Easter what they are today and have long forgotten the true biblical holidays such as Passover and Pentecost.
I’m not saying that we should move away from Christmas and Easter. No, I’m saying that we should recover the real roots of how they came to be celebrations for us in the first place so that we can present the real, biblical Jesus to the world. Christmas and Easter are pagan rooted festivals that were used for evangelism purposes to present Jesus to the Gentile world. This was a multicultural world. Over time though the European part of the pagan world came to dominate Christianity through Constantine and the Roman empire. This led to the re-birth of Jesus into a European.
In this Christmas season the church has the opportunity to recover the true Jesus based on Matthew 1 and John 1. We can also recover the mission of the true Jesus through Luke 4 and Matthew 9, 10, and 25. The real Jesus is a Afro-Asiatic Jew (Matthew 1), but most importantly the Son of God, Who has existed before what we know as the beginning of time (John 1). The real Jesus calls us beyond consumerism to a life of truth, transformation, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church must present the gift of the real Jesus to the world and solve the real Christmas problem.