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.
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 we head towards election day next week, my heart grieves over how the Church in the United States of America is enslaved by the ideology of the two major political parties. I know that in part of what I’m presenting will be generalizing, but this is merely to point to a real problem.
You can sort of divide the enslavement into two plantations. The conservative plantation and the progressive or liberal plantation. The evangelical and parts of the charismatic church seem to be on the conservative plantation and the mainline and parts of the charismatic church seem to be on the progressive or liberal plantation. The conservative plantation has some evangelicals announcing that we must vote next week on biblical values, but have reduced biblical values to marriage between a man and a woman and being pro-life specifically around the issue of abortion. The liberal plantation has lead to some mainliners participating in the Occupy Movement, fighting on behalf of the poor, and calling for immigration reform.
The point is, the bible presents a solid theological case for marriage being between one man and one woman (Genesis 1 and 2), God designing life before it is even formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5), and caring for the immigrant, the sick, the incarcerated, and the poor (Matthew 25). When God spoke through the Prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus spoke in the New Testament, they were not just speaking to priests. They were speaking to Kings and common citizens as well. Both the Church and the Government is held responsible.
I’m concerned that too many enslaved Christians will be going to the polls next week, with very limited biblical understanding and theology. The reason this will happen is because some pastors will tell their congregations to vote for President Barak Obama for re-election this Sunday and present a very limited theology from the political plantation to do it. Others, will tell their congregations to vote for Mitt Romney, but this will be the trick. Because Mitt Romney is a Mormon and evangelicals for years have said that this is a cult, they will tell their church members to vote on biblical values. Then they will limit those biblical values to marriage and abortion.
What should be said this Sunday by pastors are three things-
1.) Christians as citizens of the Kingdom of God first, and citizens of the United States of America second should exercise their right to vote. In my case as an African-American, there was much blood shed during the Civil Rights Movement so that I could have this opportunity.
2.) Exercising this right is very complex and not easy for the Christian. (Which is why pastors should spend time praying and not directing). All Christians should not be expected, nor will they all vote the same way. What should unify Christians is not who they vote for, but the God who leads them to the polling booth. We must go prayed up and asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct. Bring a larger biblical narrative into the polling booth, so that you can go in as a free Christian and a free American. Pastors should not expect their members to vote the same way they will, so they should encourage on any level.
3.) Whoever ends up being the President of the United States for the next four years, know that God is still on the throne. The Kingdom of God will still stand and ultimately, the transformation of our nation and the world is about the church living into being liberated from all earthly governments, so that it can function as a holy nation and a royal priesthood.
There are parts of the bible that sound like the Republican party platform and parts the sound like the Democratic party platform. When you can move past being sold out on either platform and embrace a larger understanding of the Kingdom of God, the shackles will start to come off the church.
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.
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.
1.) Don’t avoid conflict.
2.) Find biblical and prayerful approaches to anticipating and resolving conflict.
3.) Practice forgiveness daily.
4.) Embrace “dying to self” as a daily spiritual discipline.
5.) Find mentors of a different ethnicity, gender, and race.
6.) Acknowledge that we still live in a society influenced by issues of race, gender, and class.
7.) Work towards a more missional and multi-ethnic church.
8.) Extend grace to those that you would normally extend judgement.
9.) Find space to experience God’s love daily.
10.) Listen more.