Browsing articles in "the church"

Welcome Home to Urban Church Planting

Mar 8, 2016   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

God’s mission and heart for the city includes the transformation of the least of these. This transformation will happen in a way that the last become first. One way of looking at the last becoming first is a strategy of intentional indigenous urban leadership development. For this cause I say to the church, “Welcome Home.” Welcome to the place that has been abandoned, welcome to the place that we fled, welcome home. This home needs the church to return because of “flight.” In the 1960’s and 1970’s, White flight occurred as some banks and realty companies worked in tandem to convince White families that Black and Brown families moving into their neighborhood would not only lower the value of their homes, but was also a threat to their very lives. Years later, White flight was followed by the flight of families of other ethnic and racial backgrounds who saw moving to the suburbs as a journey to a better life. During these years a number of churches moved out of the inner city to the suburbs, and by the 1980’s and 1990’s many churches were being planted in this affluent mission field.


Many evangelical and mainline churches left buildings behind that less-resourced urban churches would begin to rent and eventually purchase. As all of this took place, many urban communities became infiltrated with poor housing, dissatisfactory public education, gang activity, the loss of businesses, and broken families. I am not blaming the various forms of flight alone for the challenges faced in under-resourced urban communities today, but we shouldn’t deny the possibility that these systemic changes were a contributing factor.


Beyond the flight, there is a larger issue: sometimes the places we flee are the very places that God has consistently shown a heart and mission for. I am in no way here to judge. I wrestle regularly with a passion for the context of my upbringing as well as God’s agenda for the city. The Bible speaks of the city often. The Bible presents the idolatry of the city, the blessing of the city, battles for the city, striving for peace in the city, the rebuilding of the city, and even the promise of an eternal city. Today, cities and urbanization in this nation and beyond provide the greatest opportunity to fulfill the great commission. We live in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan mission field. There is an opportunity for the church to return home for greater advancement of the Kingdom of God.


I realize that there are many churches that never left the city, but in too many cases they are under-resourced and not equipped to deal with the tremendous crises outside the church walls. There is a need for a greater commitment to urban church planting and urban church revitalization. In the same way that we experienced the impact of churches leaving urban America, we need a new great awakening that shows the fruit of a great return to the most under-resourced pockets of our cities. This urban church planting and revitalization movement must include the evangelism, discipleship, and empowerment of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. I do not write this to judge or blame the church. I write this as a loving invitation for the church in some tangible way to return to the city, to return home – to partner in transforming communities together through urban church planting.



#BlackLivesMatter and Evangelicalism

Jan 13, 2016   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, the church, theology  //  No Comments

Since Michelle Higgins’s stirring and uncomfortable message delivered at Urbana15, questions have been raised and statements are being made about whether or not evangelicals should support the Black Lives Matter Movement. I, for one, am glad that Michelle Higgins preached in the fashion that she did. There are moments when evangelicals need to be pushed to a place of discomfort and even disagreement in order to forge a more biblically authentic ministry model for advancing the Kingdom of God. Evangelicalism has struggled to consistently present a biblical and holistic Gospel that brings together truth, transformation, salvation, liberation, compassion, reconciliation, and justice. To be a follower of Christ is to follow Him into all the elements of His declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God. We must have a more authentic understanding and practice a more credible extension of Scripture texts such as Exodus 3, Micah 6:8, Deuteronomy 24: 14-22, Matthew 9 and 10, Matthew 25, John 4, Luke 4, Acts 2, and Revelation 7:9-15.


The Black Lives Matter Movement should be viewed in a similar fashion to the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was much larger and more complex than just the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, there was King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but there was also the NAACP, the Urban League, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, as well as leaders such as Fannie Lou Hammer and Malcolm X. These groups and leaders didn’t always agree, and it wouldn’t be fair to take one group or person’s view and make it the position of the whole movement. The broad and complex Black Lives Matter Movement is bigger than one person or even one website bearing the now famous hashtag. The question that the Civil Rights Movement raised and the Black Lives Matter Movement raises is, “Will the United States of America recognize and protect the full humanity of Black People regardless of their position, circumstance, or possible troubled background?” A question for evangelicalism is, “Will we love, empower, and grieve with Black People to the glory of God and the advancement of God’s Kingdom?”


Is there room in our theological framework and missional strategies for the acknowledgement of the recognition, protection, and empowerment of Black Lives? Ultimately, this is what evangelical leaders and organizations must wrestle with. As Michelle Higgins brought up at Urbana15, the reason this is a major issue is because evangelicals in this nation have a history of denying and marginalizing the full humanity of Black People. Yes, we have come a long way, but not far enough. All Lives Matter to God, but that’s not the issue. The issue is we live in a sinful and broken world where all lives don’t matter equally. Christ walked the earth in a similar reality, which is why there were times when he demonstrated that certain lives mattered. John 4 could be titled, #SamaritanLivesMatter. Let’s follow Christ into the Kingdom-advancing work of recognizing the need to value the full humanity of Black People in the womb, on the street, in the village, in extreme poverty, and even those behind bars.


Finally, I want to say to the financial and prayer supporters of World Impact, the Christian Missions organization I lead: I know some of you may be struggling to understand all these complex issues around race. Or, you may have disagreement with the ways in which some evangelical ministries are trying to get their heads and hearts around this issue. You may be wondering why I write and speak about these issues so much instead of just evangelizing and discipling the unreached urban poor. I would ask that you would prayerfully consider allowing myself or another World Impact staff member the opportunity to speak at your church, small group, or with you one-on-one. I know trying to connect with thousands of supporters like you in this fashion won’t be easy, but I desire the opportunity to make a sound biblical case for why the issue I’m dealing with here is a Gospel issue and in turn a missional issue. Blessings and may God lead us.

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 Black Church, Black Lives Matter, and Youth Ministry

Dec 8, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   the church, youth ministry  //  No Comments

Last week I attended The Engaging Young People Summit that was put on by the Fuller Youth Institute. I was honored to have been invited as a leader of a Christian missions organization that began over forty years ago offering bible clubs to urban children and youth. As one who personally served for twelve years as an urban youth minister, I was also interested to learn more about the importance of prioritizing ministry to young people. During my time at this gathering I reflected on how the church played such an important role in my own leadership development and discovery of my call to ministry.

During my teenage years, Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church (RMBC) had a youth ministry that made me believe that young people were important to the church. During my youth RMBC put on youth events that might not have been seen as a ministry at first glance. They put on a monthly Friday Night Dance for youth that included secular music played by a DJ, a fried chicken dinner with red punch, and loving adults who greeted us with smiles and hugs. This was my real entrance into the Black Church. This event made me love going to church. My excitement for going on Friday led to my desire to go on Sunday. When I started going on Sunday mornings to this same church, there was no secular music and there was a lot going on that I didn’t understand, but I was greeted with smiles and hugs by those same adults that I met on Friday night.

Sunday mornings is where my leadership development came. I became a junior usher and also began to sing in the church choir with my mother and grandmother. Soon after that I went up to the Senior Pastor and inquired about being baptized. By that time I knew what that meant. Three years later I found myself at a neighborhood outreach event. Even though I had been baptized, I once again found myself confessing my sins and gaining a deeper understanding of what it meant to come under the lordship of Christ. From this point forward I moved into deeper leadership responsibilities at RMBC. I became a junior deacon and a leader in the youth ministry. I am grateful to the Black Church for prioritizing the lives of young people like me back in the day. At the same time, I am concerned that the Church I love so much – and loved me so much – has not progressed enough collectively when it comes to the professionalization and prioritization of youth ministry.

As I look at the Black Lives Matter Movement and hear some of the anti-church sentiments, I realize that part of this dilemma is that the Black Church is lacking a comprehensive, contextualized, and professionalized view of youth ministry. I have witnessed this priority shift from my teen years as the Hip Hop movement came into prominence through today. It’s hard for me to write this because I love the Black Church so much. But the hard reality is that within the Black Lives Matter Movement there is anger not only at broken aspects of the law enforcement system, but also at the Black Church. This anger could stem from the perception that youth are not prioritized in annual budgets or staffing concerns. I recognize that there are a number of Black Churches that have been highly committed to youth ministry, but far too many have put other ministry initiatives above a robust commitment to youth. It is my desire through World Impact to partner with the Urban Black Church to address this. It is not too late to reimagine a ministry that prioritizes evangelism, discipleship, and the empowerment of young people. I hope dearly that my words will be received in love by a Church that I love so much.


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

The Post-Black and Post-White Church by Efrem Smith

The American Church in Crisis by David Olson

Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith



A Year From “Ferguson”

Aug 10, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, the church  //  2 Comments

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. His death came within the very unfortunate conflict with Officer Darren Wilson. Our nation slipped deeper in the ditch of the racial divide after that event. Or one could state that our nation went deeper into the sea of the matrix of race that has plagued us since our inception. Though some tried to have healthy and constructive dialogues and strategic action meetings they were drowned out by extreme political ideology, some leaders who seemed more enamored with cameras than solutions, violent riots, and in some cases movements which lacked true leadership or a clear end game. The tensions between Under-resourced, African American Communities and Police Departments are not new. Individual and Systemic Racism is not new. The is not a one year old problem. The ministry I serve, World Impact, was initially birthed out of the Watts Riots. These riots began after a violent altercation between an African American family and the Police in 1965. And along with this history, this past year has been one filled with grief for me. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Frank Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, The Mother Emmanuel AME Church Nine… Did we learn anything from the past? Or did we simply choose to forget?

I could move beyond this year and mention Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and even go way back and mention Emmit Till. But again to go there you would have to be willing to see the reasoning in connecting the distant past with this past year and even with today. You don’t even have to buy into a narrative that these lives are all connected in order for your heart to be deeply grieved. But I’m not grieved just by what has transpired this past year nor is my grieving just limited to the loss of these lives. Yes, we must address the deaths of unarmed African Americans and you don’t have to spew anti-Police rhetoric to do it. You don’t have to spark violent riots to do it. All you have to do is recognize that we live in an upside-down, sinful, broken, and dysfunctional world. You don’t have to demonize people in order to acknowledge this. All you have to do is realize what Christ realized at the conclusion of Matthew 9 in Scripture. He looked at the multitude and had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. This multitude that Christ looked upon was full of sin, oppression, corruption, division, and death. This is true in our nation today. But, Christ had a solution. A solution that included new life, healing, empowerment and transformation. We need healing, transformation, empowerment, and conversion of the multitudes today.

I know a lot of good Police Officers. I have been touched, blessed, and helped on many occasions by them. I have also been the victim of racial profiling on a number of occasions in encounters with the Police as well. I have come to realize that in every field and in every system there is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong. If we would become humble enough to acknowledge the brokenness within humanity and with all of our systems and institutions we could move towards solutions. There are multitudes of people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Some are poor and marginalized. Some are in positions of authority. If we would take the time to embrace this truth, we could begin to solve the problem at the root that has brought so much grief this past year. Our criminal justice system is broken and we don’t have to throw police officers as a whole under the bus to address that fact. Racism is still real and we don’t have to throw all White People under the bus to address that fact. A culture of “Thug-ology” that has led to so many homicides and shootings that are Black on Black is real and we don’t have to throw all inner-city Black males under the bus to address that. We have lost a value of life in the womb, but we don’t have to throw any woman under the bus to address that. How we address these social ills, sins, and injustices, is first by taking on the same compassionate mission that Christ showed us. We need a Kingdom advancing and compassionate mission focused on African American urban youth and families as well as Police Officers for example. It is very possible for the Church to be a force of liberation and reconciliation in the spirit and theology of J. Deotis Roberts and Martin Luther King Jr. Incorporating their theologies and strategies into modern day ministry models is the urgent work of the church. The urban church must work individually and collectively with Missions and Para Church organizations to professionalize urban youth and family ministry right now. Police Chaplains must see themselves as missionaries to Police Officers right now. The Church must work collectively and compassionately across denomination, urban and suburban, and race right now to develop a Kingdom advancing and reconciling agenda that is rooted in compassion, justice, mercy, and healing. There are already many ministries that are taking this challenge and have been in the trenches for a long time, but there are not enough. And in too many cases the Church is fractured, segregated, and too focused inwardly on unhealthy issues that aren’t relevant for today’s mission field. The Church must also be willing to break the chains of slavery and leave the plantations of extreme political ideologies, false theologies, materialism, and modern day Towers of Babel. Only a Free Church surrendered to the Kingdom of God can lovingly, boldly, and non-violently take on the demonic forces of injustice, racism, thug-ology, materialism, and Herod-like leadership structures. There must be servant-leaders in the Church who are willing to be bridges of reconciliation and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in these troubled times.

Yes, my heart is grieved, but my spirit is hopeful and determined. Let us work together as children of God and citizens of God’s Kingdom to extend truth, transformation, justice, love, reconciliation, and new life within this broken reality before us.

Why Black Churches Should Matter To All

Jul 2, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

I put on my Facebook Wall yesterday, “#blackchurchesmatter.” Some of the responses proclaimed, “All Churches Matter.” Well, of course that is true. This is just like when some have stated that “Black Lives Matter”, some have responded with, ‘All Lives Matter.” Again, my response would be, of course all lives matter. Let me just state that all lives matter to God and all churches matter to God. That’s not the concentrated point here though. Before people provide any respond to Black Lives Matter or Black Churches Matter we should take time to explore why these statements need to be proclaimed in the first place. Let me provide a biblical foundation for Black Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter. It would be also important for me to say that my biblical theology for Black Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter may be very different from any particular social movement using these terms. Let me also mention why as President of World Impact, it’s important for me to deal with this issue. World Impact traces its roots back to the Watts Riots of 1965 within the Los Angeles Area. At the time this community was predominately Black and was facing issues of substandard housing and education to mention just some of the challenges. The riots broke out because of an incident between the police and an African-American young man, his Mother, and his Brother. So, our ministry begins with the missional and transformational caring for urban, under-resourced, and Black lives.

In terms of a biblical foundation for this type of missional and transformational care, I would encourage you to read the Gospel of John, chapter 4. You will learn that even though all lives mattered to Christ as He walked the earth, He went out of His way to show that Samaritan lives mattered. He had to do this because of how Samaritans were viewed and treated socially at the time and because it was a part of his demonstration and declaration of the Kingdom of God. If you read all four Gospels, you will see how Christ went out of His way to show that Women Mattered, Children Mattered, and the Sick Mattered. There were multiple times when Christ zeroed in on a certain group and lifted up their humanity, their dignity, and showed how they mattered.

In the Old Testament, God the Father had to remind His own chosen people that the Poor, the Needy, the Widows, and the Stranger Mattered. Whenever God concentrates on a particular group this doesn’t mean that other groups in the human family no longer matter to God. It’s really about God giving attention at a particular time about a group that has been marginalized, oppressed, or viewed outside the vision of the Kingdom of God. So the deeper biblical question is why did God have to do this from time to time? Why did God have to say to His chosen people and to the world, Poor Lives Matter, Needy Lives Matter, Samaritan Lives Matter, or Incarcerated Lives Matter? When Christ states in Matthew 25 that Hungry, Thirsty, Foreign, Incarcerated, or Homeless lives matter, should the response have been, “Hey Christ, Don’t All Lives Matter?” I think not. The response I should be to investigate the connection between marginalized people mattering, intimacy with God, and being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

There is a history in the United States and some present examples that call us to question if Black lives matter, if Black churches matter, and if the Poor matter. The response is not to declare all lives matter, which is very true, but to be sensitive enough to investigate thru the love, grace, and unselfishness of Christ why Black lives, Black churches, and the Poor should be of utmost importance to all of us right now. Just like Christ had to go to Samaria, we must now go to the Black Church and into the Black Community for understanding and for missional purposes. We must go into the context of the Poor in the same way.

The Black Church and the God given aspects of African-American Culture, are gifts for the whole body of Christ and the whole world. The disparities facing African Americans in the areas of incarceration, education, economics, healthcare, and housing should concern all Americans. The devaluing of Black bodies should be all of our concern. Dismantling racism in all its forms should be the proactive work of all Churches. This may take the whole body of Christ being willing to say that, “Black is beautiful and the Black Church is valuable to us all.” We should all be concerned and actively doing something in response to the 9 Black Christians that were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina. We should all be concerned about Black Churches that have been burning over the last week. We should all care about the life transformation and empowerment of both the Poor, the Marginalized, and the Incarcerated. This should be deeply tied to our work of evangelism, discipleship, and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Black Lives Matter because all Lives Matter and Black Churches Matter because all Churches Matter. At World Impact we have been about the work of Poor Lives, Urban Lives, Black Lives, and Brown Lives mattering for a long time. It’s because these and all matter to a loving, gracious, and all powerful God.

Starting Racially Reconciling Conversations

May 26, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church, theology  //  3 Comments

I just finished serving as the moderator for Exponentials’ webinar on Race and Justice, which originally took place at the national conference in Tampa last month. As I listened to the panel of ministry leaders discussing the recent murders of unarmed African-Americans by police and in some cases riots that followed, it reminded me how important it is for the Church to lead regular conversations on race and reconciliation. For this to happen two things must be addressed.

One, we must create opportunities for Post-Black and Post-White spaces of conversation. The White Church must get beyond its avoidance or apathy of having conversations about race. I am so hopeful by the number of one on one conversations I’ve been having with White pastors and lay leaders who want their congregations to figure out how to put on forums to begin racially reconciling discussions. The Church can’t play a role in advancing the Kingdom of God in a divided land if it won’t have on-going and prayerful conversations about the divides. Churches that are predominately Black, Asian, and Hispanic must be willing to serve as teachers, mentors, and bridge builders when it comes to these types of conversations.

As a product of the Black Church I know that race conversations have been going on for a long time internally and in many cases reconciling conversations have been taking place externally. Over time this can cause some to grow weary and lose patience on the road towards reconciliation and righteousness. No matter how long the journey we must not give up until we reach the destination, even if that destination isn’t reached in our lifetime. I am where I am today because of those who came and fought lovingly for change before me. In this spirit, I must fight nonviolently and lovingly for those who will come after me.

The second thing that must be addressed in order for racially reconciling conversations to take place is recognizing that biblically reconciliation and justice go hand and hand. I have learned this theologically from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, John Perkins, Debbie Blue, Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Tom Skinner. Christ is the ultimate reconciler because He deals with individual and systemic sins thru his death and resurrection. National and individual sin separates humanity from God. Another way to state this is that sins within souls and systems of humanity created a gap that could only be closed thru a Supernatural Savior and Liberator. Christ brings about true reconciliation and justice and when He returns all of creation will reflect this reality. The Church cannot truly be a reconciling church without also being a church of Kingdom compassion, mercy, and justice.

Though not easy, we must jump into racially reconciling conversations. The Church must lead the way. Allow God to direct and empower you to serve as the solution to the divided and broken world around you.


When the Poor Rise With Christ

Mar 31, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, the church  //  5 Comments

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (NASB)

For too many of the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized, every day is like Good Friday. They live surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice. When Christ hung on the cross and freely gave His life He was surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice as well. As He hung on the cross, he looked with a forgiving spirit upon those who mocked Him and cheered His suffering. He hung on the cross as all of the sins of humanity hung on his shoulders. The good news is that this is not how this part of the story concluded. Christ endured Good Friday and came out of the grave on Resurrection Day. He rose indeed.

What about the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized? Is there a Resurrection Day for them? Now, I realize that through the new covenant established in Christ, that all who accept Him as Lord and Savior rise with Him into Kingdom citizenship and eternity. But, I focus more deeply on the least of these in order to lift up a significant part of the mission of Christ when He walked the earth. Many times when Jesus was declaring and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, He did so among the least of those around Him. There were times when he broke social and religious customs in order to bring mobility, sight, life, dignity, and liberation to Samaritans, Canaanites, women, children, and the poor. Even as He hung on the cross, he engaged a thief and empowered him to rise into new eternal possibilities.

I am grieved as I go into this weekend focused on death and resurrection because I have witnessed so many examples of the poor, marginalized, and rejected being so shamed and demonized in our world. There are even examples of Christians who, judge, patronize, shame, and mock the least of these in our society. Instead of seeing the lowly as just as much made in the image of God as the privileged, we as Christians sometimes join in with Satan’s plan and labeling by seeing only the thug, gangsta, hoe, criminal, enemy, and demon in a person. Christ was able to look at a woman caught in adultery, a scandalous Samaritan, a man plagued by a legion of demons, a girl left for dead, and a thief and see something else.

I also have great hope that when the Church sees the least of these thru the eyes of Christ a new movement will rise up. It is then that we will experience a whole new understanding of the dead rising with the risen Savior.


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.