As we continue to live within the ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, it is more and more obvious that the Black and White matrix of the American Christian Church is outdated. It seems that regardless of the racial and class constructs that exists within our nation and world, God is determined to to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28).
If there was ever a time for Pastoral Leadership with the ability to lead Christ-centerd and multicultural communities now is the time. The reason I say Christ-centered is because leading a multicultural congregation should not compromise biblical truth. Some churches in the United States of America and beyond have sacrificed biblical truth for the sake of becoming multicultural. This Christ-centeredness and belief in the authority and centrality of Scripture ought to lead us to proclaiming truth, righteousness, evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom justice. A true commitment to Christ-centeredness in no way compromises the commitment to biblical truth, because the Word of God is the beginning point for understanding the nature, words, and works of Christ. This ought to be the on-ramp to the next area, which is cross-cultural leadership.
The ministry of Jesus was very cross-cultural in nature. His ministry included the Tax Collector, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, women, the poor, and those of privilege. Jesus Himself walked the earth as both God (John 1) and a multicultural Jew (Matthew 1). His ministry was cross-cultural and He was cross-cultural. Thru the Holy Spirit, He lives within us as Christian pastors and lay leaders. This reality is the on-ramp for our understanding that God desires to equip and empower us to minister in the multicultural reality in which we live daily.
Cross-cultural leadership takes being willing to be informed and mentored by diverse, Christian leaders. If you’re European-American and evangelical for instance, it’s not enough to just have C.S. Lewis, John Piper, N.T. Wright, John Calvin, and Rick Warren on your book shelf. You also need Vashti McKenzie, Soon-Chan Rah, Francis Chan, Howard Thurman, John Perkins, and Anne Wimbley on your shelf as well. You also must allow God to lead you into deep, authentic cross-cultural friendships. God desires to raise up an army of Christ-centered, cross-cultural, post-black, and post-white leaders.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of something he called, the beloved community. This was the title given to describe a reality where freedom, love, justice, and reconciliation would reign. In many ways this was a mainstream way for Dr. King to speak of the Kingdom of God being advanced within a sin-filled world. Today, there is still a need for the beloved community. The question becomes though, “can there be a beloved community without a beloved church first?” Another question to consider would be, “can there be a beloved church without beloved children of God in intimate relationship with God thru Christ Jesus?” These questions must be reflected on deeply, if the church is to be a force of Kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
Though we live in a world that is becoming more and more diverse by the day, the church in the United States of America is still one of the most segregated institutions there is. It’s funny how the church in the United States of America, through its many denominations, sees itself as a leader in world missions but can’t consistently develop churches that look like that world or the Kingdom of God where we will live eternally. Though collectively financially resourced, the church is socially bankrupt when it comes to living outside of the race matrix of this nation. Why is this?
This reality of the segregated church continues for two reasons. One reason is, many are in denial that the Christian church in this country was planted in a soil of race and racism. The treatment of Native Americans and Africans in the beginning of what became known as the United States of America went against the very gospel message being preached by some Europeans carrying a Bible in their hands and racism in their hearts. We must explore this history on a regular basis that we might re-plant the Christian church in this nation.
The second issue is that the church in this nation is still evolving in a race-based soil, which creates comfort in racially segregated churches. Though many people would not see themselves as racist, they attend churches based on race values even though they don’t realize it in most cases. The not realizing factor is true for many European-Americans. Many African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians proudly attend racially or ethnic specific churches. For many of them this is about being in a community of empowerment in a society where they collectively hold little power even in light of a minority president. Yet, this reality is a major obstacle to the beloved community. There will never truly be shining examples of the beloved community as long as we Christians have a taste for the segregated church. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and evangelical church, I cry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist. I cry out to prepare the way for a movement of churches think look like the Kingdom of God and not the race-based society of this earthly realm. I cry out for the beloved church. What is your heart cry?
I was recently talking with a European-American friend of mine who is also an evangelical. I am African-American and evangelical. We were talking about the tense debate going on right now about healthcare when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill was a government run health care system, which would lead to bigger government. I responded by agreeing with his concerns, but stating that he should have been concerned about big government militarily during the George W. Bush years as well. I then asked the first question, “why do some conservatives so easily see the threat of big government when it has to do with healthcare, but can’t see big government when it’s running an expensive war in Iraq? Not many conservatives complained about how much money the war in Iraq was taking out of their pockets, but now they’re angry about how much the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill would. Both the management of war and healthcare are types of big government leading to spending money we don’t have as a country in debt.”
My friend responded by asking this question, “why do so many African-Americans trust government with healthcare? Why are so many not concerned about big government in this way?”
I thought this was a great question that gets to the racial divide around how some African-Americans and some European-Americans see government and corporate america from different perspectives. One of the reasons some European-Americans would rather see healthcare worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans there was a seeking of independence from European government systems and the pioneering of a new way of living based on democracy and maybe more importantly, the development of an economic system called capitalism. This makes sense why conservatives and many evangelicals today would be concerned about big government.
For African-Americans there is a history in this country which begins with slavery. The African-American begins their experience in the economic system of capitalism and free enterprise as the slave. From there, the experience with the economic system for many African-Americans is within a race-based, sub-system called, Jim Crow Segregation. What opens the door to freedom from slavery and Jim Crow Segregation comes mainly from government. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government led realities.
Could this be the foundation from which, in this society still influenced by race, that there are many European-Americans that are concerned about big government and many African-Americans that embrace it? I believe the church in the United States of America must rise out of being the most racially segregated institution in this nation so that it can lead conversations and forums on reconciliation. At the church where I serve as Senior Pastor, we have a class called, City Matters, which seeks to raise awareness and spark reconciling discussion. We’ve also hosted an initiative called, The Invitation to Racial Righteousness, developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are apart.
We need more churches to lead these types of initiatives. These conversations and forums could help us understand one another better. We need to move from demonizing those with different perspectives than ourselves and seek to understand the historical roots of our differences. It is possible to love God, follow Christ in a radical way, and have conversations about differing perspectives on how we view the role of government.
In all my years of watching Presidents speak before congress and a national television audience, I’ve never known a member of the house to shout out, “you’re a liar” to the President. In just eight short months, I’ve heard our President called a racist, unpatriotic, hitler, a socialist, and the anti-Christ. The real sad news here is that some of those using these terms to describe President Obama are Christians. Some of those who are called biblically to be, “ambassadors of reconciliation” are turning out to be, angry name-callers influenced less by Jesus and more by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Now, there were some mainline Christians doing the same thing during the Bush presidency, which is no better. Why can’t we have ideological differences and still show some sense of intellect and maturity? Today, going to a town hall meeting can be a very dangerous place.
You might not like this next statement, but there are some who believe that the fire of anger against the President of the United States of America has been turned up for more than just ideological disagreements. Here’s the question some people don’t like, “is this about race?” Uh Oh. Why did I have to go there?
When George W. Bush was in office and he said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no one yelled at him during a speech before congress, “Liar!” This was the case even though it turned out he wasn’t telling the truth. We won’t call him a liar, we’ll just say he didn’t have all the right information Fox News Commentator, Glenn Beck believes President Obama hates White people and White culture. I guess he forgot what color the President’s mother’s side of the family is. You might not want to deal with it, but the reality could be that if you’re the President and happen to be Black, you can’t expect the same level of respect.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…” (Areatha Franklin)
R-A-C-E, find out if it’s really still playing a role in our behavior (Efrem Smith)
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).
“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.
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.
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