Browsing articles in "spiritual growth"

In Order To Liberate the Preacher

Dec 15, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   politics, race, spiritual growth, the church  //  No Comments

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

1Timothy 1:3-7 (ESV)

 

One could argue that since the very construction of the United States of America, Christian preaching has been held captive by political ideology and the structures and systems of the world. This type of bondage has lead to Christian preachers and leaders sounding more like conservative and liberal politicians than prophets, pastors, evangelists, and apostles rooted in Scripture. These men and women hinder the advancement of the Kingdom of God. It hurts my heart when preachers out of the Black Church and Evangelicalism – the churches that raised me – and other Christian leaders jump on the bandwagon of cable news commentators, radio shock jocks, and humanist activists.

There have been segments of Christian preaching that supported the tragic treatment of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow segregation, the marginalization of women, and American nationalism on steroids. These concepts were preached over and above the citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In recent years segments of Christendom have preached in support of sexuality without boundaries, Marxism, and a theology that puts the virgin birth and the atonement in question. In too many instances, Christian preaching in America takes place within invisible shackles. When will we come to terms with this real homiletic dilemma?

I have heard many preachers speak on and even specifically call out false preachers and teachers. I’ve never heard preachers speak on their own potential of becoming a false preacher or discuss sermons they’ve preached that, after further study and review, they wish they could take back. I’ve never heard a preacher take back a sermon because the message was more rooted in the matrix of race, family origin issues, or political ideology than being deeply rooted and saturated in the Bible. It is possible to think you are rooted in the Bible and simply be using the Bible to make a worldly point. We can twist the Bible to make a point rooted in political party lines. And yet we should be dismantling policies and platforms from both Democrats and Republicans by preaching the Kingdom of God rooted in solid biblical interpretation.

I don’t desire to sound like a politician (no offense to politicians); I desire to allow God to speak through me about an eternal government that can come to bear upon the social challenges we face today for the transformation of lives and communities. Preachers must look within themselves for places of pride, arrogance, ideological captivity, ego, social conditioning, and unbiblical mental frameworks. This is where the freedom of the preacher begins. We have a heritage of liberated preachers. I yearn for the day when preaching in this line of transformational communication represents the great majority of what is spoken from behind pulpits.

The Liberated Church

Nov 25, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  2 Comments

The Church in the United States needs to be set free. We need a liberated church in order for greater Kingdom advancement and life transformation to take place. We need a liberated church to serve as a force of reconciliation in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan mission field. We need this because the church is currently held captive, to a degree, by systems and forces of this broken world. I believe the crisis that the American church faces is directly related to its captivity and denial thereof.

The Church in the United States began as a movement and institution held captive by the social matrix of race. The institution of slavery and the system of Jim Crow showed that the church was held captive by race. The social construct of race still holds us captive. We can see this more recently in the deadly shootings and physical altercations leading to the death of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers, as well as the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Just follow the rhetoric of many Christians on social media regarding today’s racial tensions and challenges and you will see how expansive the plantation is on which the church labors.

As we move into the 2016 political season, we see another way in which the church is held captive. Verbally vicious and extreme political ideology has a hold on the church of the United States. When I served as a senior pastor of an urban, evangelical, and multi-ethnic church in the Midwest, I had to make sure that political ideology was not a worldly weapon that would tear our congregation apart. Some in the congregation were more driven by radio and cable news political commentators than Scripture. As I’ve talked to other pastors within evangelicalism, I have come to understand that this is a challenge in many churches.

If the church in the United States is going to show more fruit in the areas of evangelism, discipleship, and the development of Kingdom Laborers, we must begin by striving for our own freedom. The church is supposed to be the bride of Christ. The church is God’s frontline vehicle for leading people held captive by sin into the freedom of new life found in Christ. This cannot happen when the church is enslaved.

See more:

The Next Evangelicalism by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3360

The Post-Black and Post-White Church by Efrem Smith http://www.amazon.com/The-Post-Black-Post-White-Church-Multi-Ethnic-ebook/dp/B007ZDV7ZM

The American Church in Crisis by David Olson http://www.amazon.com/The-American-Church-Crisis-Groundbreaking/dp/0310277132

Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith http://www.amazon.com/Divided-Faith-Evangelical-Religion-Problem/dp/0195147073

 

 

The Urgency of Reconciliation

Mar 9, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   post-black thought, race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  3 Comments

This post will briefly include a number of random thoughts, but what will tie them all together is the ongoing need for the movement of reconciliation.

A predominately White (or possibly all-White, I don’t know) fraternity at Oklahoma University is caught on tape yelling a racist chant at the top of their lungs with much passion. Though I believe the Fraternity nationally and the University are responding appropriately, there remains the question of what is proactively working on college campuses to forge a more reconciling and harmonious community? At the same time it raises the question of what is going on in families and religious institutions? Are families and churches actually sending some young people to college without the abilities, competencies, and skills to positively navigate an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world? Or could it be that families and churches aren’t having much of an influence in this area even when they try? In too many cases the initial reaction by the dominant culture is to believe that the racist attitudes coming from the fraternal chapter at OU either represents a small group or isn’t really racism at all, but simply ignorance. Using ignorance over racism is the equivalent of getting a lesser charge after committing a crime. For some, it’s a way to argue that a crime was never truly committed. What I know for sure is that there is an urgent need for reconciliation.

While, I was preaching at New City Church in Downtown LA a couple of Sundays ago, a homeless man was shot and killed by LA police just a few blocks away. I can’t speak into the details of what happened, but it’s ironic that while I was preaching at a multi-ethnic church that includes homeless people, business executives, artists, and other diverse children of God, once again a tragic incident took place between the police and the community. What I know for sure is that there is an urgent need for reconciliation.

This past weekend we recognized the 50th anniversary of the Selma March that is also known as Bloody Sunday. I saw a picture of President Obama and a number of Civil Rights legends walking together across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. What I found out later was that former President, George W. Bush was cropped out of the picture shown in some newspapers. Why? What a wonderful picture of reconciliation that would have been.

A polarizing and deeply divided government won’t solve this issue. Extremist tenured professors who drown out their moderate peers on college campuses won’t solve this issue. Parents who use the colorblind approach to dealing with race won’t solve this issue. Pastors who don’t believe race is an issue in this nation or refuse to preach on this relevant issue won’t solve this problem. Cable news talk show hosts who make millions of dollars to put out demonizing and divisive rhetoric night after night won’t solve this problem. It will take an army of loving, patient, non-violent, proactive, urgent, steadfast reconcilers that will solve this problem.

Reconciliation is not a soft response when it’s a biblical reconciliation. The reconciling mission of Christ contains love, truth, forgiveness, deliverance, liberation, and justice. The problem is that some try to address issues pertaining to race with some of those elements and not the powerful combination of all of them.

Reconciliation will build trust between the police and the community. Reconciliation will end violent hazing and dismantle racism within fraternal organizations. Reconciliation will dismantle the predominately segregated foothold within the Church of the United States of America. We are not yet a post-racial society and we may not fully realize that until the second coming of Christ, but we can create outposts of the Beloved Community on college campuses, in cities, and within the Body of Christ. The army of reconciliation is in need of more soldiers.

“What More Can We Do About It?” A Guest Blog By Romney Ruder, COO, World Impact

Dec 11, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  No Comments

INTRO TO THIS GUEST BLOG-

I have never had a guest blog post on my page, but when I read Romney Ruder’s blog post (www.worldimpact.org) on the recent Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York related to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I really wanted those that follow my post to read this as well. Romney Ruder is COO and Senior Vice President of World Impact, so I have the opportunity to serve with him in ministry on a regular basis. Also, because he is a White Male, I thought it was good to present his thoughts as well. For many years now, I have sensed a deep call to racial reconciliation and righteousness as well as to compassion, mercy, and justice. At World Impact we as a staff have the blessed opportunity to live into this as a ministry family daily. Please pray and reflect upon Romney’s brief, yet very important words.

“What More Can We Do About It?”

By Romney Ruder

I have been surprised at how many people have asked me about my positions regarding what has transpired recently in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York. Maybe it is because of the amount of time that I have worked in the inner city of America, or it could be because of my role as a leader in the church. But with so many experts (politicians, athletes, media stars, and the like), garnering their opinion on the topic, I have wondered what good one more voice would add to the situation? Recently however, I was asked the question by someone who hesitated to get involved feeling there was nothing more he could do? He was just one voice among millions that could not solve anything. It was this question, “What more can we do about it?” that prompted me to write this piece.

Mind you, I am not going to give my opinion on either case or seek to side with one or more voices. In both situations, like so many similar issues that take place regularly in our neighborhoods, it has been tragic. Although I appreciate the perspectives of different individuals who want to argue about where the problems lie, or who is at fault, what I am not hearing is productive dialogue regarding changes that need to be made; especially from the church.

Our ministry was founded in the rubble of the Watts riots in the 1960’s. Twenty-five plus years later, we as a country witnessed similar violence erupt in Los Angeles. Now almost the same amount of time has passed where we see similar happenings. Yet the media reports that this comes as a surprise to many in our society. I am shocked that this type of unrest should surprise anybody. Unfortunately, our country responded to Los Angeles the same way it responded to Watts. We waited until the media frenzy and violence died down and we forgot about it. I pray that we do not make the same mistake in this instance.

Certainly this is a stain on a country that calls itself the land of the free, but is an even deeper blemish on a nation that touts itself as over 50% Christian. The Church (by using the capital C I mean the entire body of Christ) needs to take a more active role to help ensure these situations do not continue to happen!

Now I do not want to pretend that I have the answer that will solve anything. I recognize that I am a middle-class, educated, white male and that my lens might not be able to see clearly the actions that should be taken. However, I am intelligent enough to see that our responses in the past have not worked. For some reason, the old saying “stupidity is doing the same thing every day but expecting a different result” does not apply to the handling of societal complexities. There is no doubt about it that race is at the root of the problem. Leaders, on both sides though need to recognize that systemic injustice and poverty are also at the heart of it.

Too often, we as Christians have sat back and waited for a government response to these issues. Don’t get me wrong; I do not want to discount the thousands of great ministries that are invested in assisting the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. Yet these tend to be local and regional approaches. Isn’t it time that the “big C” Church get together collectively to work at ways of eradicating these problems? Even more so, why do we as the Bride of Christ sit back and expect the government to handle?

What I desire to see is Church leaders meeting to strategize about specific strategies to combat the differences in our Christian community. I am calling for roundtable discussions with Pastors from all Christian denominations, from all races, in every economic sector of society to come together with the purpose of developing a response to racial reconciliation; to determine what actions will be taken to lift our brothers and sisters in Christ out of poverty, and to answer the question of how we stamp out injustice for everyone. Again, I do not have the solution. But I know what doesn’t work. I also know that the responsibility for what is happening and what has happened falls to us as the Church.

What can one voice do? We can collectively call for the same response from the Church that I am suggesting. We can encourage our ministry leaders to take a more active role in being the Church in their own backyard. We can open dialogue cross-culturally to ensure all voices are being heard. We can admit that we do not have all of the answers but insist that we are committed to working toward reconciliation and solutions. As Christians, we all have a voice in this. As Christian leaders, the responsibility falls to us.

Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Bauchman’s Assault on Black People

Dec 1, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, theology, Uncategorized  //  3 Comments

Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People

By Austin Channing Brown, Christena Cleveland, Drew Hart and Efrem Smith

 

So God created human beings in his own image. Genesis 1:27

 

As black evangelical leaders, we believe it is important to respond to The Gospel Coalition’s publishing of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Thoughts on Ferguson, a perspective we deem to be extremely anti-black. First, we condemn The Gospel Coalition’s editorial leadership for its moral and pastoral failure in publishing such an anti-black viewpoint. No Christian organization should ever participate in dishonoring the image of God in black people, especially at a time when so many black Americans are in pain. Second, we lament the internalized anti-black racism that Pastor Voddie conveyed in his article and the fact that it has been used to further support White-on-Black violence among Christians. Here, we offer a different perspective, one that we believe honors the image of God in black people.

 

A Brief of History of White-on-Black Violence

 

Racism is White-on-Black violence.

 

In 1619, the first twenty Africans were brought over as labor for the new colonies. Within one generation the white majority had defined black people as permanent slaves and non-human property. This created a social order in which black people were only valuable for their ability to support a white dominated society that was economically prospering off of the stolen land of Native Americans and the stolen labor of African Americans. Consequently, a system of White-on-Black violence was born.

 

This system of White-on-Black violence has defined the last 400 years of American history. For example:

  • Millions of Africans died      during the middle passage journey from Africa to the so-called ‘new land’,      even before ever stepping foot in America.
  • Slavery lasted for 246 years,      beginning in 1619 and ending in 1865.
  • From 1865 until 1945, well over      one hundred thousand black people were re-enslaved through the      convict-leasing system, in which whites arrested blacks for minor crimes      such as changing employers without permission, vagrancy, engaging in      sexual activity or loud talk with white women.
  • Simultaneously, white (mostly      Christian) Americans sought to retain white control through racial      terrorism. About 5,000 African American men, women, and children were      lynched by white mobs.
  • Jesus, who was both the Son of      God and a poor Galilean Jew living in solidarity withthose under Roman      occupation and those vulnerable to crucifixion, has been transformed into      a powerful white man. This image is a form of idolatrous systemic white      violence against black people and all people of color.[i]

 

Despite such White-on-Black violence and much more, black people have always resisted. For example, dissident voices like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass rejected ‘the Christianity of this land’ in its complicit endorsement of white domination over black bodies, proclaiming that it had nothing to do with the true peaceable Christ. Protests like these continued until the 1970s, always triggering systemic white backlash.

 

In the 1960s black consciousness arrived in mainstream public discourse, affirming the value of black people in the face of historical and ongoing White-on-Black violence.  Not surprisingly, the system in which Whites were always on top, responded. Taking a cue from the convict-leasing system, White law enforcement began arresting black men en masse for nonviolent drug crimes. Since the 1970s, the prison population has boomed from about 300,000 inmates to beyond 2 million people caged like animals, a disportionately large number of them black men. Black bodies continue to be controlled by this system of White-on-Black violence.[ii]

 

Now in the present, black people in Ferguson and around the country are fed up. We are fed up that 1 out of 3 African American males will be arrested and go through the American injustice system at some point in their lives[iii], primarily for nonviolent drug charges, despite studies revealing that black youth and white youth use drugs at comparable rates. Research also tells us that black males are 21 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police than their white counterparts.[iv] Just as critical, schools are being defunded all around the country in many black neighborhoods while prisons are being expanded — another example of systemic White-on-Black violence.

 

Black-on-Black Violence is an Extension of White-on-Black Violence

 

The historical and current system of White-on-Black violence sends messages that are so powerful that many black people succumb to them, ultimately becoming defined by them.  Internalized racism, a term first coined by black scholar W.E.B. DuBois in 1903,[v] involves accepting a white supremacist social world that places black people at the bottom, and adopting society’s negative stereotypes about African Americans concerning their abilities and intrinsic worth.[vi]

 

An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”

 

Indeed, a research study conducted in 2011 found that internalized racism significantly predicted black male teenagers’ propensity for violence. In other words, the more internalized racism a black male teen possessed, the greater his aggressive behavior, the more positive his attitudes toward guns and violence, and the more at-risk he was for engaging in violent behavior.[vii] Based on these findings, the researcher concluded that a lack of self-respect and/or negative views toward their own race (e.g., internalized racism) result in black male teens’ greater propensity to engage in violence. In essence, “Black-on-Black violence” is simply an extension of systemic White-on-Black violence.

 

Pastor Voddie’s Internalized Racism is Black-on-Black Violence

 

Black-on-Black violence takes many forms. Propped up by the mighty platform of The Gospel Coalition and the many white people who frequent the organization’s online space, Pastor Voddie was quick to point out the physical Black-on-Black violence that exists in America. However, despite the fact that he is black, Pastor Voddie failed to see the ways in which he engaged in a form of verbal Black-on-Black violence that mirrors White-on-Black violence. By conveniently omitting any discussion of the ways in which the long-standing system of white domination contributes to fatherlessness in the black community, police brutality of black people, negative societal perceptions of black people, the systemic disempowerment of black people, the internalized racism of black people and even Black-on-Black violence, he assaulted the character and worth of black people, suggesting that black people like Michael Brown deserve to be killed. In doing so, he made a statement in support of White-on-Black violence, an argument that many whites have used throughout history.

 

Just as we are presenting a historic look at the system of White-on-Black violence, the Bible also shows us — from Exodus to the Gospels to the 1st Century Church — the forms of systemic violence perpetrated upon the people of God by those in power. In this light, all Christians today should grieve with a people group that has been and continues to be victimized by such systemic violence. Blaming one Black young man for the sowing of such sin is a great disservice to the very people to oppressed people of the world, to whom Jesus consistently showed mercy.

 

We encourage you to read Dr. Alan Noble’s point-by-point response to Pastor Voddie’s article. Given the long history of anti-black violence in this country, all followers of Jesus must be committed to engaging in the transformative and liberative work of Jesus, which means affirming the image of God in black people and resisting all White-on-Black violence in word or deed.

 

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:

to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

 

 

 

Austin Channing Brown, M.A. is a Resident Director and Intercultural Liason at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.

Christena Cleveland, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.

Drew Hart, M.Div. is a pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Efrem Smith, M.A.. is President/CEO of World Impact, Inc. and the author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church.




[i] Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[ii] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York, N.Y.; Jackson, Tenn.: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2012).

[iii] Ibid., 9.

[iv] Ryan Gabrielson et al., “Deadly Force, in Black and White,” ProPublica, accessed November 30, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white.

[v] Du Bois, W.E. B. 1989 [1903]. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin

[vi] Jones, C. P. (2000). Levels of racism: A theoretical framework and a gardener’s tale.

American Journal of Public Health, 90(8), 1212-1215.

[vii] Bryant, W.W.. (2011). Internalized racism’s association with African American male youth’s propensity for

violence. Journal of Black Studies, 42, pp.690-707.

 

 

 

 

The Privileged and The Poor

Oct 21, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  8 Comments

Last week while attending my first board meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals, I was able to sit in on a discussion on Evangelicals and Poverty. This forum featured a mild debate of sorts between Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners). Arthur Brooks said something that I found very interesting in his closing comments-

“The real way the rich are stealing from the poor is by not sharing their secrets of success.”

At first I just heard this statement as a politically conservative one that carried more intellectual pontificating than faith-based conviction to actually tackle the multiple issues surrounding poverty in the U.S. As a political moderate I tend to have enough reflective criticism for both the right and the left. But, after further reflection, I believe that Mr. Brooks statement is a window into a biblical principle for the empowerment of the Poor.

A major issue when it comes to poverty and race is the relational divides that exists. The Privileged can’t share secrets with a group of people that they don’t even know by name. I don’t make this point to take away from dealing with the systemic and institutional sides of poverty, but they won’t be dealt with as long as the relational gaps that exist widen. If the Poor are merely homeless people you see holding up signs at intersections, children you interact with on a short term missions trip, or faces you see in the media, are you truly in a position to speak on the issue of poverty? Too many Privileged People are giving commentary on people they aren’t in relationship with.

 You could apply this same relational problem to the issue of race. I don’t believe that most White people are racist, but I have heard too many White people make comments about people groups that they are not in relationship with. Just to be fair, people of other ethnicities do this to, but I bring up Whites because they remain the most privileged people group in the U.S. at this moment in time. When you give commentary on other people groups that you aren’t in deep relationship with, it could open the door to people perceiving you as being racist or prejudice.

When I was the pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, I was fortunate to have a number of conversations about poverty with fellow staff members. One staff member that I had very deep and sometimes mildly heated conversations on the subject was Mr. Neeraj Mehta. He would say often that poverty is about the lack of relationships. At first I thought this wasn’t a very strong beginning point for tackling the issue of poverty. As I’ve thought about it about it more and more though, my Brother Neeraj is absolutely right. We must close the relational gaps between the Privileged and the Poor. When the Privileged and the Poor are reconciled, we will see poverty as we know it in the U.S. dismantled. I’m not sure if we will ever totally eradicate poverty in the U.S., (though I passionately hope so) but I do believe through relationships, we can put a major dent in it.

To dismantle poverty in this way, we not only need multi-ethnic congregations, we need multi-class congregations. Poor people ought to have a voice in the Church. They ought to have the opportunity to serve as elders, deacons, preachers, and board members alongside the Privileged. Putting all Privileged People in power and places of influence may be the American way, but it’s not the Kingdom of God way. How can Privileged People suffer with those who suffer when they are not in friendship or community with those who suffer? Jesus Christ modeled a ministry life of being up close with the oppressed, suffering, outcast, and marginalized. American Christians seem to be held captive by the matrix of economic and racial compartmentalization. Because of this too many Privileged Christians have compassion for the suffering, but they aren’t in intimate relationships with them. People don’t tend to share secrets with people they don’t love, respect, value, and trust.

Could it be to this degree that all Christians are biblically called to be incarnational? I’m not saying all Privileged People need to sell their houses in nice neighborhoods and move to under-resourced ones. What I’m saying is that for the Privileged Christian, we ought to live in the blessed gift of having a diverse community of friends across racial, ethnic, and class lines. To accept this gift is to live more deeply as a Kingdom citizen. Christ was in the business of closing social and relational gaps. This is why He was up close with Samaritans, the diseased, the paralyzed, the left for dead, and the Privileged. What if as Privileged Christians we spent more time talking about people we were in relationship with than giving commentary on people we don’t?

Empowerment Theology

Oct 13, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church, theology  //  1 Comment

Many times when Christ was declaring or demonstrating that the Kingdom of God was near, He did so thru interactions with the marginalized, the oppressed, and the physically challenged. He also gave His followers the authority and responsibility to do the same. The paralyzed, the blind, the outcast woman, one facing the death penalty, and the stigmatized minority encountered Christ and left a different person.

In many cases the Gospels show us that when the marginalized and broken encountered Christ, they left empowered. Those religiously unlearned followers willing to leave their working-class occupations, found themselves empowered to preach, speak to evil spirits, and heal the sick. The good news that Christ spoke of and performed led to the oppressed becoming the empowered. This version of empowerment is quite different from how empowerment is defined in our upside down world today.

Empowerment in our world is based on title, educational level, economic class, and celebrity. Because of the race matrix that we are still held captive by, skin color can be a major factor when it comes to empowerment. Because women lag behind men in many social and religious areas such as work pay, executive positions, and pastoral leadership, gender can also be a major factor when it comes to empowerment.

But what does empowerment look like in the body of Christ? What does empowerment look like in the Church? How does one become a pastor? How does one become an elder or board member in the Church? How does one become a Para Church President? How does one become President of a Christian University or College? How does one become leader of a denomination? How does one discover an amazing Kingdom advancing call regardless of their occupation?

Now, I want to recognize that the face of empowerment is becoming more and more diverse but that really isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The real question I’m getting at is, what would the Church and what would our world look like if we followed the empowerment strategies and theology of Christ? I believe if we did, the Poor would be empowered to lead Churches. We’d see even more ethnic and gender diversity when it came to leadership. We’d see more indigenous leadership. The broken, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the Poor would become apostles, prophets, church planters, missionaries, and executives; advancing the kingdom of God like we’ve never seen. We’d see an incredible revival and transformation in under-resourced communities.

Empowerment is a way of understanding the declaration of Christ, stating that He came to give sight to the blind and set the captives free (Luke 4). Empowerment is a way of understanding the many interactions of Christ with women. Empowerment is a way of understanding the miracles of Christ. Empowerment is a way of understanding discipleship and mission. As Christians we must wrestle with how we are stewarding and extending empowerment.

Believing in the Urban Poor

Oct 1, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church, theology  //  1 Comment

Last week I was watching a story about terrorist groups on cable news. The largest target group for recruitment in many cases are unemployed young men from under-resourced communities. There seems to be a number of young men from the United States that fit this description being lured into these terrorist cell armies. What does this tell us? Is it just that terrorist groups are so desperate that they will take anyone, including the Poor? Or does it tell us that they see something in the Poor that we don’t see?

I actually began wrestling with this years ago, when I was an urban youth pastor and later church planter. It seemed to me that gang leaders, pimps, and drug dealers saw more potential in the urban poor youth than the church did. I even had to confess that as one who had to raise financial support as an urban youth worker and initially as a church planter, I had developed a heart for the Poor, but I was more focused and dependent than I wanted to admit on the Privileged. I had high hopes for the Privileged. I needed them to believe in me, fund me, and continue to fund my ministry. Some of the Privileged had strings with their money. They also wanted to speak into the strategies and theology of the urban ministry I was involved in even if they had no urban background, urban ministry experience, and lacked cross-cultural competencies. But even with all that, I was dependent on believing in the Privileged for my survival. I won’t take the time now to add that one of the reasons I was so dependent on the Suburban Privileged is because many Urban Churches either didn’t have the resources to or didn’t believe in hiring full time Youth Pastors. So that raises the question of if the urban church in some cases even believes in college educated young adults who come from urban environments with a call on their lives for ministry. But again, I won’t go into that now.

All this energy on the Suburban Privileged can take energy away from believing in the Poor. Believing in the Poor is much more than having compassion for the Poor. Within Evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism there is much compassion and advocacy for the Poor in the US, but what I question is, are we fully committed to the empowerment of the Poor? Empowerment of the Poor means you believe in their potential to lead, develop, create, innovate, and become a part of your succession plan if you are an older leader. This is what’s missing in far too many of our models of evangelism, discipleship, and witness within the body of Christ in the US.

Why must we radically believe in the Urban Poor? Because this was the ministry of Christ. Not only was it His ministry, it was the human package in which Christ lived as He walked the earth. Christ did not come to earth as a Privileged Suburbanite. He came as a Jewish, ethnic minority, oppressed, and marginalized human being. The Poor, marginalized, outcast, and diseased were at the center of His declarations and demonstrations of the Kingdom of God. He showed us Who He was thru His interactions with women, children, the blind, the paralyzed, and those facing the death sentence. He then empowered them to go out as evangelists and missionaries, advancing the Kingdom of God themselves.

The first churches as we know them in the New Testament, in many cases, were led by the persecuted, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the non-Privileged. God has high standards and great expectations of the Poor. The question is not what God thinks about the Poor, but what does the Privileged Church of the US think about the Poor. We must believe in the Poor, especially the Urban Poor in our nation. We must see their potential. If you can’t see the potential of a Poor Person becoming a leader and/or Pastor in your church then you are not seeing the Poor thru the eyes of Christ. If you can’t see the Poor planting churches and shepherding their own people in their own communities then you aren’t seeing them thru the eyes of Christ.

We must move beyond simply compassion for the Poor to the empowerment of the Poor.

Child Discpline: “Spare the Switch?”

Sep 16, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, spiritual growth  //  1 Comment

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him”

Proverbs 13:24 (ESV)

 

The recent news about Minnesota Viking Running Back, Adrian Peterson whooping his 4 year son excessively with a switch has sparked a lot of discussion throughout social media. My even stating that he excessively whooped his son could cause great frustration with those who would say I’m using language to cover up what is really child abuse. In the end, child abuse could very well end up be the concluding verdict in the legal process. But I will let the process take its course.

Let me start by saying that there are a number of issues at work here. One, is the cultural differences and opinions around child discipline. And when I say cultural differences, I’m not purely focused on race or ethnicity. Values and behavior within this issue can be based on demographics, economic class, and one’s own childhood issues. Two, we have to ask ourselves how much we value children in our society. Some are reacting based on their love for football, not children. Some are reacting based on defending an African American male that they feel is being made an example of within the power institutions of the media, the NFL, and the ever-growing public opinion. But even this category doesn’t seem to put children first. Some people are reacting based on what they went thru as a child and the unresolved issues around how they were disciplined. I wonder what our discussions would be in our society if we put children first on these types of issues.

I was spanked and whooped as a part of being disciplined by my parents. This was the cultural context in which I grew up. I have never doubted that my parents loved me dearly as a child. I also know that they were different in their discipline of me than how their parents disciplined them. Now that I’m a parent, I discipline my children somewhat different than my parents disciplined me. I know this, though I received spankings and whoopings growing up, my doctor never saw marks on my body that raised high concerns. I’m not here to judge Adrian Peterson, I’m here to say that we need to be willing to revisit on a regular basis the complex issues around disciplining our children. Here are some thoughts-

1.) Never discipline your child when you are angry. Cool off, explain to your child why you are disciplining them, and when it’s over hug and tell them how much you love them.

2.) Ask yourself if physical punishment of some kind is the needed response at that time or are you doing it because it’s all you know or you’re too tired to think thru other options.

3.) Don’t parent in isolation. You should have other family members, friends, and even professionals who you allow to speak into your life about how you discipline your children.

4.) An arrogant parent is an ignorant parent.

I’m not telling you to spank or not spank your child. I’m not telling you to whoop or not whoop your children. What I am saying is, continue to grow as a parent. Don’t do something just because your parents did. My parents listened to 8 tracks, but I don’t. It’s a different day. Be wise, be loving, be consistent, and keep learning when it comes to being a parent. As a Christian, I ultimately want to be directed by God in how I parent. What directs and guides you? Speaking of Christianity, I would encourage you to study all of the interactions of Jesus with children. Also, reflect upon what could become the thin line between discipline and abuse. Finally, as a society we must wrestle with how much we truly value children in our society. We are so quick to judge and defend celebrities sometimes while our kids become second-class citizens.

Violent and Passive Men in the Church

Sep 8, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, preaching, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  2 Comments

With the releasing of the TMZ video showing NFL player Ray Rice punching his then fiancée so hard that she was knocked unconscious, we once again see that domestic violence is a serious and tragic issue among professional athletes. But what about the seriousness of domestic violence within the Church?

I am concerned that domestic abuse is not dealt with nearly at the level that it should be within the Church. Now you may disagree with me, but let me ask you, when is the last time domestic abuse was brought up biblically within a sermon in your Church? If you would say recently, I would be impressed and envious. I can’t tell you the last time I heard a sermon on the topic. I can say to you though that as a Pastor and ministry leader, I have walked with many couples where domestic abuse was an issue. I have challenged men over the years in I congregations where I’ve served about how they treat women. I have also a few times had to confront friends and family members when I witnessed how they treated their wives and girlfriends. There have also been the times when I have had to deal with male Pastors who treated their wives as second class citizens. Some of the things I’ve heard male Pastors say to their wives have hurt me deeply. It also made me wonder what happened when they got home behind closed doors.

I have been deeply challenged lately in my own preaching to deal more often with the issue of violence as the primary means to solve conflict. Too many men know no other way to deal with a conflict than to resort to some sort of threatening or violent behavior. The Church must own that this approach to solving conflict with women could be connected to an extreme and misappropriated theology of the man as the head over the woman. I’m not talking about a spiritual leading and serving based on the love of Christ for the Church, but a belief that a woman must do as a man says or face the consequences. The Church must dismantle this dysfunctional and damaging theology and replace it with deep biblical teaching on love and forgiveness as the primary way to solve conflict. There is the great possibility that violent and hurting men will be sitting in congregations this Sunday. Who will preach to them a word that could deal with and begin to dismantle the demons of violence within?

There is also the possibility that non-violent men who are passive and lack the courage to confront domestic violence will be sitting in congregations this Sunday as well. Who will minister to them? The Church can and must deal with the issue of domestic violence. This is not just a problem in the National Football League. This is about a broader culture of violence, sin, and brokenness that can be dismantled thru the love and transformation found in Christ.

 

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