In this same month that a movie on Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball years before the Civil Right Act is released, a high school in the state of Georgia has its first racially integrated high school prom (google it, if you don’t believe me, I saw this on a cable news and entertainment station, Headline News this morning). This is happening in a nation that some claim to be post-racial. Think about this, students in Wilcox County, Georgia had to fight for an integrated prom. They received backlash from some and some of those folks held their own White Only Prom.
There are many of my evangelical Christian Brothers and Sisters that don’t want to deal with race, believing that we are either now in a colorblind and post-racial reality, or think that talking about race is only about bringing on “White Guilt.” My purpose in dealing with issues of race is four fold-
1.) To show that race is unbiblical and was never from a Scriptural standpoint, God’s idea for defining humanity.
2.) To show the race structure and racism individually and systemically for the sin and demonic force that it is.
3.) To create healthy ways to raise awareness and have discussions about race, so that the church can be fruitful and effective in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural mission field.
4.) Through ministry initiatives of reconciliation and righteousness, create a movement of Kingdom Community.
This mission will be difficult for the church if evangelicals on one hand want to promote the Jackie Robinson movie, “42″ as great, but are silent about segregated high school proms in the Bible Belt. We can’t have real movement around Kingdom citizenship and community if there is still a great fear from some Christian White families that their daughters are at risk of being asked to prom by a Black or Brown young man. Why else would you want a prom to be segregated? I also wonder if the same churches in the Bible Belt that are silent on segregated proms are still practicing the homogenous principal when it comes to church planting and revitalization?
I realize that there are many churches that are striving to be Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and reconciling communities. I think of church like Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi and Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. There are many others in the Bible Belt that are champions of developing Reconciling Churches. At the same time there are still too many evangelical leaders denying the reality and impact of race in the United States and beyond. Because of this the church is not having the Kingdom impact it could on issues such as immigration, incarceration rates, and disparities in the areas of housing, employment, and education. The issues of race at the end of the day are much bigger than the high school proms that will take place around the country this weekend.
My heart was grieved last week after the tragic events that took place in Boston for two reasons. One, was the senseless violence that led to injuries and death brought on by two young men. The second were some of the things said by Christians claiming to be prophets or prophetic voices. Once again there were so-called prophetic voices trying to explain the Boston tragedy by including God’s judgement upon a sinful nation as the ultimate reason behind it. This unfortunately happens a lot after large tragedies.
After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, there were so-called prophets speaking to God ultimately willing these events to happen as warning shots to a sinful United States of America. I call these the Modern Judgement Prophets. I call them this because they are unable to see how their take on prophecy is enslaved to Western Modernity. They also fail to acknowledge a theological stream that would debunk the God’s Judgement Theory by seeing Jesus as the greatest expression of God’s response to sin. If you want to know how God responds to sin for the most part today or better yet how God’s people are to respond to sin, just look at Jesus in the Gospels. How does He treat a sinful woman caught in adultery? How does He treat a sinful Samaritan woman who lives with her boyfriend? How does He treat a sinful man who is economically oppressing people in the role of a tax collector? How does Jesus respond to the sinful people who crucify Him?
Another group of so-called prophetic leaders and voices are what I call the For Profit Prophets. They mostly show up on Christian television stations or take over other cable channels on Sunday morning and evening. For a “Seed Offering” they will speak prosperity, happiness, healing, and promotion into your life. You can pay by cash, check, or credit card to have these prophetic voices speak into your life.
Just for fun, let me add another group, that I call Individual Warning Prophets. These are so-called prophets that sit down with you one on one and begin by saying something like this, “I happen to be a prophet and I have a word for you. I hope that you can receive this…” Then they tell you something bad that will happen in your life if you don’t make certain decisions.
I believe the people that find themselves in these three so-called prophetic groups begin as devoted Christians that mean well. They love the Lord and they desire to know and live into their spiritual gifts and calling. Many of them move into one of these three groups because of lack of a mentor, local church support and accountability, or they are under spiritual leadership that is emotionally unhealthy and immature.
I very much believe in the spiritual gift and office of prophecy and the prophet. I have been challenged, encouraged, and edified on a number of occasions by prophetic people. True prophets need the accountability of a healthy church, with sound biblical rootedness. They also need to see how the prophets of the Scriptures had training, accountability, and walked humbly with God. Prophets of the Scriptures did speak to God’s judgement, but this also included God’s call and work for justice, reconciliation, covenant relationship, mercy, and revolutionary love. Without these components, you get an army of false prophets doing harm and misrepresenting God.
At this moment, I am so sad in my heart for the nation in which I live. I can’t imagine how any of God’s beloved children could not be at this moment. I received a text message as I was leaving my house this afternoon to go to lunch and grocery shopping with my wife from a friend saying, “are you watching what’s going on in Boston?” I paused, wondering what might be happening.
In a matter of months, a mass shooting at a movie theater in the Denver, Colorado Area, a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and now today bomb explosions during the Boston Marathon. The notion that there is a place in the United States of America or the world where you can escape senseless violence is truly a myth. The fact that it is a myth, is one more sign of a fallen world in need of the truth, radical love, transformation, and reconciliation that can only come thru Jesus Christ. Why am I so convinced of this? Because I know of no other who both proclaimed and performed such revolutionary, non-violent, and transformative love. All for the purpose of reconciling us to a loving God and an eternal Kingdom free from brokenness of this upside-down world.
The Church of Jesus Christ must collectively work even more, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring more of the peace, truth, love, transformation, and non-violent Kingdom of God justice into this violent world. We must be the vehicles through which the vision, values, and actions of the Kingdom of God come forth. We should not live in a world, where we fear our safety at movie theaters, schools, and marathons. Let’s pray for the city of Boston. Let’s pray for those who lost love ones today. Let’s pray for those injured physically and emotionally today. But let’s also allow God to use us even more for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in this fallen world.
I received some negative feedback for speaking against The Bible cable series on the History Channel. I have to also acknowledge that I found many like-minded Sisters and Brothers as well. My two issues were with parts of the series that didn’t seem to line up with Scripture and the way in which biblical characters were ethnically portrayed, especially Jesus. Once again, Jesus was presented as European. The series at first, seemed to make progress in comparison to other movies on the Bible in terms of providing greater ethnic diversity more in line with the Scriptures. But, then we came upon Jesus. The European and White Jesus.
I had an interesting conversation with my wife and daughters last night. My youngest daughter asked me if I was trying to make Jesus Black because I’m Black. She also said that the White Jesus is the only Jesus she has ever known and that it would be challenging to see Jesus any other way. I told my family that it is not my intention to fight for a Black Jesus, but for the authentic Jesus of the Scriptures. I fight for the real Jesus, who was a North African and Asiatic Jew. This multi-ethnic Christ, is the great reconciler and brings new life. Now of course, it is more important that Jesus is the Son of God and is God (John 1), but shouldn’t we also want to know the Son of Man as He is presented to us in Matthew 1 as well? There is no biblical evidence to prove the European Jesus that remians the mainstream Jesus. I am not anti-Anglo, I just yearn for the real Jesus. What surprises me is that there are so many Christians who don’t seem to yearn to know the real Jesus.
I believe that our ability to bring the good news of Christ into an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, metropolitan, and global mission field is hindered by the continued promotion of the false Jesus. I have had communication with some Christian leaders that seem willing to verbally fight for the defense of the false Jesus. Others, just seem apathetic to the whole discussion. It seems that for a great number of Christians, a colorblind approach to Jesus is the best route. Why can’t the best route be biblical truth?
The best on-ramp to this route is to repent of the false Jesus and all that has come from it. The false Jesus justified slavery, Jim Crow Segregation, and the racially segregated church in the United States. The fact the 80% or more of churches in the United States are still racially segregated may be rooted in the continued promotion of the false Jesus. This is why we need more than ever, the real Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of a cable series on the Bible. The real Jesus is multi-ethnic, multicultural, and most importantly, the Son of God. If Jesus was walking in physical form on the earth today, He would be called a minority and a person of color. He very well might be pulled over by the police for driving around the wrong neighborhood after dark. He might be followed around the shopping mall by security. This is probably why we would rather have the false Jesus, because the real Jesus forces us to have to deal with issues of class, race, and ethnicity. The multi-ethnic Jesus’ treatment of women in the Bible causes us to have to deal with gender issues. The multi-ethnic Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery could cause us to both stand on Scripture and extend the love of God to the GBLT community for instance. The real Jesus forces the church to become a suffering, reconciling, liberating, and transforming movement all at the same time.
Maybe this is why we want the false Jesus. It’s so much easier to live in comfort.
As we move towards Good Friday and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ, I have been thinking of how the mission of the church should be aligned more with the suffering. This begins with what is at the core of a church’s theology or ecclesiology.
I recently read once again Dr. J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account. These words from his book bring forth the main issues he deals with-
* The modern invention of race (especially as both a sociological and theological construct).
* Whiteness as a theological problem.
* The problem of Christianity being severed from its Jewish roots and remade into the cultural property of the West.
* Showing where Black theology falls short in dismantling Whiteness and the Western hold on Christian theology.
* The theological work of understanding dark flesh beyond the pseudo-theological gaze of Whiteness.
* The need for redirecting Christian theological discourse.
* The theological problem of our time in not simply race in general, but Whiteness in particular.
* How Christian civilization become Western civilization and vice versa.
* How Whiteness continues to reign as the inner architecture of modern theology.
*Why Christian theology must take its bearings from Christian theological languages and practices that arise from the lived Christian worlds of dark peoples in modernity and how such peoples reclaimed the language of Christianity, thus Christian theology from being a discourse of death- their death.
From all this insightful, yet deep academic language of Carter, let me provide some practical words. In the West, the model of successful church is a church of power and privilege. I am in no way against the large church. My issue is with a church mainly aligned with the pursuit of power and privilege, held captive by primarily political and corporate structures. This is not about the demographic of a church. It is possible to have a church made up of mainly highly educated and upper-middle class to upper class people and be a serving and suffering church.
A serving and suffering church is one that through it preaching and teaching, budget priorities, and ministry models is about life and community transformation. This happens when a congregation is able to read the Scriptures authentically. This is possible when we see the nation of Israel, Jesus, and the 1st century church for what it really was; a suffering, minority, and oppressed people under multiple empires of power, yet blessed and empowered through a covenant with the one and only true God.
In the West, the Church is held captive by man made kingdoms and power structures both political and economic that has caused an identity crisis and has led to a mission that presents an incomplete gospel. When this happens you get a church divided by race, ethnicity, and class. You get churches more consumed with a Christianity covered in extreme individualism and capitalism coming in the prosperity gospel and some forms of evangelicalism. Blackness and Whiteness are unbiblical, man made social constructs of the West. There would be no Blackness without the creation of the false identity of Whiteness, which is a construct of pursuing power and dominance. Blackness in turn is the servant and casualty of the identity of Whiteness. When the church dismantles Blackness and Whiteness, it is able to go beyond a church of power and victimization, to one of serving and suffering for the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom.
This is why we need a church that doesn’t just identify with resurrection Sunday, but also with the suffering of Good Friday. Resurrection alone can lead to a Tower of Babel Church that uses the living Jesus to rise to earthly power. The church that can also identify with the suffering and serving Jesus is one that shuns the kingdoms of this world and puts it attention on the advancing of the Kingdom of God. This type of missional church must put itself in close ministry relationship with the poor and suffering not just for outreach purposes, but for its own Christian formation.
I have been in conversations over the past few months about the need for better urban and multi-ethnic representation at youth ministry conferences, training events, and within journals and magazines. These conversations have led me to reflect deeper on why the professional youth ministry training and resourcing world in the US remains a predominately Anglo and male world when it comes to executive leadership. The same is true when you look at the senior leaders of most large para church organization such as Youth for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Young Life. Out of those three, I believe Young Life is doing the best job at becoming more multi-ethnic in their staffing structure.
The professional youth ministry resourcing world remains predominately Anglo and male, while adolescent youth culture is becoming more multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan. There are a few exceptions such as The Urban Youth Workers Institute founded by Larry Acosta. But, for the sake of the focus of this post, he’s not African-American. Check this out-
* In 2010 the Anglo births in the US dropped under 50%.
* By 2023 Anglos under 18 in the US will be less than 50% of the adolescent population.
Even with these statistics, youth ministry training and resourcing on a national level mostly comes from a suburban, upper-middle class, and Anglo perspective. To a degree, this makes sense because professional youth ministry as we know it in the US was birthed in a European-American, mainline and evangelical context, during World War 2. I will leave it to Asian and Hispanic leaders to talk about where their churches are when it comes to caring about the further development of professional youth ministry. I will focus on the African-American Church.
Does the African-American Church care about a professional approach to youth ministry? At this point, with the experiences and the evidence I currently have, I would say, “no.” There are way too many reasons why, that this post won’t take time to deal with, but let me deal with a few. Let me also take a moment to define what I mean by professional youth ministry. A professional approach to youth ministry is when a church values youth ministry enough to hire at least one paid staff person focused on this area of ministry, preferably full-time with benefits. You could also include that youth ministry is also a priority when it comes to a generous budget for youth ministry programming and for the professional development of the youth pastor for long-term effectiveness.
One could argue that the African-American Church since its inception has been forced to deal with the sinful and oppressive social issues surrounding it from slavery and Jim Crow in the past, to mass incarceration, failing public school systems, and economic disparities just name a few today. This would make sense why a professional approach to youth ministry has not been at the top of the ministry development list. But even with this reality, I would argue that the issues the African-American Church is dealing with makes an even stronger case for the need for a professional approach to youth ministry.
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and not one African-American Church in my city had a full-time youth pastor on staff when I was a teenager and when I became an adult, not much had changed. Even the largest African-American Churches with the resources, seemed only interested in paying for a part-time youth pastor. Now when you see an African-American pastor wearing the best suits, driving a luxury car, but won’t push their congregation to hire a full-time youth pastor, what message does that send to urban youth disconnected from church and more connected to Hip Hop culture?
I know of African-American Churches over 3,000 in weekly attendance that are only willing to pay a youth pastor a part time salary. This creates a culture where African-American youth pastors are in youth ministry mainly to develop their preaching skills and bye time until they get the opportunity to become a Senior Pastor. Others end up working for para churches such as Young Life and Youth for Christ. And still others, create their own non-profit ministries, hustling to raise the dollars to keep it going and in too many cases, fail.
I think one of the reasons many African-Americans don’t value professional youth ministry at the level they should is because they never were professional youth pastors themselves. Anglo mega church pastors such as Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Ray Johnston are all former youth pastors, hence their churches have a high value on a professional approach to youth ministry.
Let me end by saying I know of a number of African-American Churches around the country with full-time youth pastors, but they are far too few. I believe the African-American Church cares very much about youth, but not so much about a professional approach to youth ministry that includes resourcing, theological training, denominational leadership, and the development of national African-American led para church movements. I love the African-American Church so much. I’m a product of it. It’s why I had such a difficult time writing this post.
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.
So much is being said about the death of Trayvon Martin, but let me add a few reflections-
1.) No matter the race or ethnicity of the one behind the murder weapon, we must be concerned about the continued loss of young African-American male lives. Too many young African-American men are leaving this earth too soon. We need more than a rally, we need reasonable solutions about this crisis that leads to fruitful results. Too many institutions are failing African-American boys and young men in this country. More importantly than that, too many families are failing them as well. We need strong African-American marriages, strong churches committed to community development and racial reconciliation, and a series of national initiatives that raises the value of young African-American male life.
2.) We cannot avoid the issue of race in the United States of America and beyond. The racial stereotyping, profiling, and devaluing of African-Americans is still a major issue. I am a professional, Christian, and highly educated African-American male. I still have to endure experiences where I am profiled simply for being Black. We can’t put all the blame on African-Americans in terms of how they are perceived. Corporate heads that are European-American make more money than African-Americans off of the devaluing and stereotyping of African-Americans. No question that there are some African-American rappers, athletes, and reality show stars that have sold their souls over money, but they should not carry the blame alone.
3.) It’s painful that some of the media are trying to use the fact that Trayvon was having some trouble in school to place blame on him for his own murder. Painting an African-American male as troubled on some level is used to steer our attention away from justice.
4.) It’s also painful that so-called Civil Rights leaders show up for racially charged issues, but don’t give the same passionate attention to Black on Black crime. A few months ago in Oakland, California there multiple homicides in one weekend where African-Americans were both victim and responsible for the crime. Neither Reverend Sharpton, nor Reverend Jackson made an appearance.
5.) Finally, as an evangelical pastor, I’m so concerned about how the evangelical church and its leaders seem to rarely, if ever take the lead in standing for compassion, mercy, and justice on issues like this. Where are the prophetic voices of justice, reconciliation, and liberation within evangelicalism?
These are my reflections. I now turn to prayer before the God of love, justice, and transformation. In Jesus name.
As I reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I can’t help but meditate deeply on something he wrote within an article entitled, “The Case Against Tokenism” for the New York Times, August 5, 1962-
“…it is still true that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. As a minister of the gospel, I am ashamed to say that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning-when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There Is No East Nor West’- is the most segregated hour of America, and that Sunday school is the most segregated school of the week.”
So what is the state of the church in the United States of America today, some 40 years after the murder of Dr. King? Christian sociologist Michael Emerson, who co-wrote the important book, “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, has said that today only about 7% of the church in the U.S. would be deemed multiracial. Of all the institutions in the United States could it be that the Christian church has struggled the most in living out the dream and vision of Dr. King? It seems so. But, in order to be missional into the future this must change. I am actually very hopeful about this happening.
On the website, churchleaders.com, Sam Rainer recently wrote about “Ten (Unexpected) Church Trends to Surface by 2020″ (http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/157452-10-unexpected-church-trends-to-surface-by-2020.html). The very first trend he mentions deals with something that champions of the multi-ethnic and missional church have known for a long time. Rainer points to the trend that the heterogeneous (or homogeneous church principle) church will explode. The question becomes what will cause this and are we preparing emerging leaders for this reality?
Let me deal with the issue of preparing leaders. No longer can we afford to make multi-ethnic and missional ministry simply a “track” within a leadership conference or a “Pre-conferene” before the general conference begins. Multi-ethnic and missional ministry must become the central issue of every denomination, church planting association, seminary, and leadership conference. I’m so glad, that the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I serve, has done just that (www.covchurch.org).
Theology, preaching, church leadership, and ministry practice must be connected to this central issue of multi-ethnic and missional ministry. Multi-ethnicity is important, not just because of the current and future multicultural realities, but also because Jesus walked the earth as a multi-ethnic human being and the Bible is the most multi-ethnic story you will ever read. Being missional is about the church having a sense of urgency concerning evangelism, outreach, and biblical justice. These are the key components of the advancement of the kingdom of God.
To live into this multi-ethnic and missional movement, we can learn much from Dr. King the theologian. I encourage you to engage his writings and then return to the Scriptures with new eyes. Allowing Dr. King to influence how we engage the Scriptures allows us to see the God of salvation, deliverance, and liberation. The new church that is needed today can be developed as the words of Dr. King allow us to see the true church of the Scriptures. This church takes on the mission of advancing what Dr. King called, The Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is realized as the church embodies reconciliation, redemption, transformation, and justice.
Here is my take on a piece written recently entitled, “9 Reasons Not to Plant a Church in 2012.” I originally thought this was written by DJ Chuang, but that is not the case. It was passed on by him, but written by a guy named Andrew, I believe. I still think you should read it and then decide if you agree with my disagreements or not. Here are the links below to what he said or just google it.
Short link- j.mp/ycnSi1
Here’s my response-
One, the advice on church planting begins with C. Peter Wagner’s outdated principles on church planting. If this is where we are beginning, not only should we not plant churches this year, we should stop completely. Planting churches doesn’t begin with what C. Peter Wagner says, it begins with what Scripture says. For example, “How does the book of Acts speak to whether we should plant churches or not?”
Second, the writer then roots his advice in his travels to Europe and Asia. Many theologians have been saying for the last few years that the new center of Christianity is in Africa, Central America, and South America. Why don’t Africans, African-Americans, or Hispanics get any say in the writers’ commentary on church planting? We are in a multicultural reality and I believe he should have diversified the foundation his comments more.
Third, his #8 reason for not planting churches in 2012 is, “Church planting normally thrives in wealthier areas or suburban areas but ignores the urban poor.” Well, maybe the answer is not to stop planting churches this year, but to plant abnormal multi-ethnic and missional churches.” You don’t have to separate missional ministry from the experience of corporate worship. The writer presents an “either or” instead of a more holistic and biblical, “both and.” I wonder if he has experience in planting multi-ethnic and missional urban churches. I do, and I know others who are leading a new movement of church planting that is needed in 2012.
Here are reasons to plant a church in 2012-
1.) The church in the US remains over 90% racially segregated. Church planting is the best path to the multi-ethnic and Kingdom Church.
2.) For those of us who believe in the call of women to pastoral leadership, church planting is one avenue to providing opportunities for our Sisters to live out their calling.
3.) It’s biblical. Without the biblical mandate for church planting, some of the books in the New Testament might not be needed or make sense. (Book of Acts, etc.)
4.) The challenges of urban and rural poor communities calls for the planting of new church models.