“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)
As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.
The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?
My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.
I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.
Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
As a Regional Superintendent in the Evangelical Covenant Church, last week I attended our Annual Meeting held in Estes Park, Colorado. During one of the business meetings, I was a bit surprised by one of the announcements made by our Executive Minister of Finance. Let me just quote the announcement made based on the following handout-
“Federal Tax Credit Available to Local Churches-
One of the early results of the March 2010 passage of the Health Reform Legislation (entitled Affordable Health Care Act) is the ability for small employers to receive tax credit for years 2010 through 2013, if they meet certain eligibility requirements…We encourage Covenant Annual Meeting attendees to call this issue to the attention of their local financial officers.”
He went on to report that our churches had already saved $500,000 and next year could save between 2 and 3 million dollars. It looks like so-called “Obama Care” is helping small business and in our case, Evangelical churches. This is not an endorsement of President Obama or the Health Care Plan. What it is, is a wake up call to not be duped or enslaved by political division and rhetoric. As evangelicals we must study for ourselves and be willing to support public policy based on truth and Scripture, not based on reports by CNN, Fox, or the self interests of the major political parties themselves. When we study the truth, it’s hard to be totally sold out to either of the major political parties. Sometimes a party will get it right and sometimes they will get it wrong. In this case the Health Care plan, which many evangelicals oppose, is actually helping pastors and local churches with the expenses of Health Care coverage. Some are trying to convince us that the plan is and will actually hurt small businesses and churches. Well, so far in the Evangelical Covenant Church, this is not the case.
I listened on Oprah radio (XM radio) to the last show. I have to admit that I wasn’t one who was glued to the television weekday afternoons over the last 25 years catching the over 4,000 episodes. I would watch every once and awhile, but I was very interested in this last show. I guess mostly for the historic moment of it all.
She stated that this show would be her love letter to those who have supported her all these years. From there she went into what I would call the Oprah Gospel; her good news to the world. I would sum this up into three areas-
1.) You have a calling. Find it and make a difference.
2.) You have the power to change a life.
3.) You are responsible for your own life. No one is responsible for you.
This is the foundation of the gospel according to Oprah. After that she spent time talking about energy, the golden rule to the 10th power, and other things that could be interpreted as new age. After listening to this, I wondered about Oprah’s connection to the black church, both good and bad. I wondered about her relationship to the church in general. To borrow number three in her gospel, she is ultimately responsible for her connection to God and the church. She is responsible for making the decision to follow God thru a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or not. She is responsible for joining a church and participating in the local fellowship of believers, or not. But does the church itself carry some responsibility?
My take is, that to a degree, Oprah’s gospel is connected to her being bruised by the church and even abused by those who claimed to be carriers of the true gospel. During her 25 year run as a talk show host, Oprah has shared stories of abuse since her childhood by, “church-going, God fearing people.” This does not take her off the hook of responsibility, but it explains some things.
I began to wonder about all the people away from God and outside of the church because they’ve been hurt by the church and abused by Christians. I realize that the next line may get me in trouble. Are there times when the church and Christians have been abusers and maybe even oppressors? Is Oprah’s gospel connected to pain, abuse, or hurt by the church and Christians? It’s no excuse, but it might help to explain, in part, her gospel. It is interesting that her show ended with Aretha Franklin creating a church like atmosphere with her powerful gospel singing. No question Oprah seeks out a connection with God, but is it impacted by a disconnect from church based on some unfortunate childhood experiences? I pray that the love and grace of God found thru Jesus Christ continues to pursue the queen of the talk shows.
Last week there was an important meeting held between US President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What the future holds for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is unknown as well as what role the United States will play. Because of the prominence of Israel in the Scriptures, it makes sense for Christians to have much interest in this conflict as well as others in the Middle East. It is also important for our understanding to not be held captive and shaped simply by the political ideologies and divides of the United States. Many evangelicals are only able to see these issues thru the narrow lens of the political ideology of the Republican Party. I’m not suggesting at all that being held captive to the Democratic Party position would be any better.
If you want a different perspective on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict that will drive you to prayer and Scripture as well as provide some hope, I encourage you to see the documentary, Little Town of Bethlehem (WWW.LITTLETOWNOFBETHLEHEM.ORG). This film shows the powerful story of three men committed to non-violent strategies for solving this crisis which is impacting so many families. Speaking of families, that’s what makes this film so powerful to me. The story of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is told from the vantage point of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families who desire to see a peaceful solution to the conflict. Too many evangelical leaders are providing heated, uncivil, and biblically misinterpreted rhetoric on this subject. Little Town of Bethlehem will provide a much needed alternative for wrestling thru a very complex issue.
The main characters are Yonatan Shapira (Israeli Jew), Sami Awad (Palestinian Christian), and Ahmad Al’Azzeh (Palestinian Muslim). Based on media and politically driven depictions of the conflict you wouldn’t think that these three individuals would form this needed alliance for peace and reconciliation. The film begins by introducing these three leaders with a hip hop soundtrack in the background. They are taking great risks just to provide a peaceful solution to the crisis of their day. Their solutions should be heard by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and and President Obama.
When I was in college, I was moved greatly by the documentary, Eyes on the Prize. This film series told the story of the Civil Rights Movement and watching it changed my life on many levels. It played a role in my calling to Christ-centered, reconciling, multi-ethnic, and Kingdom-minded ministry. Little Town of Bethlehem has gripped me in the same way Eyes on the Prize did years ago. This film really is a must see for Christian leaders. I even highly recommend this film for small group ministry within local churches as well as forums focused on reconciliation and a global understanding of racial righteousness.
I introduce Post-Black Theology around the thesis that, there are theologies and ministry practices coming out of the Black Church in the United States of America that can be a gift from God to the whole body of Christ.
In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, the church in the United States of America is in decline and in crisis. Part of this crisis situation is that the church in the US is in captivity to modernity, a Eurocentric theology presented as normative theology, and the social construct of race.
A few years ago, I heard a European-American, evangelical denominational leader state that African-American ministers were the best positioned to lead evangelical, multi-ethnic, and missional churches. It was this statement that led to the explosion of the Post-Black theology within me. It is important for me to state that a Post-Black theology doesn’t call for the ending of the Black Church or Black Theology. It actually gives honor to the Black Church and Black Theology. It takes them out of the second-class citizenship and the marginalization that both the evangelical and mainline church traditions has placed upon them. I am a product of the Black Church and Black Theology. I even owe my ability to serve as a regional superintendent of a evangelical denomination to how God development me within the Black Church.
Post-Black Theology is a powerful, Spirit-led force for the development of Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and missional ministry. One of the reasons for this is that successful African-American leaders have to learn to be bi-cultural and multi-ethnic in their thinking and social navigating. I know how to lead, communicate, and relate in various ethnic and racial circles. This makes me a Post-Black leader, but it does not dimmish my African-American identity. In other words, you don’t have to sellout to be a Post-Black leader, pastor, or theologian.
There are three theological streams which fuel Post-Black theology. One is Black Liberation Theology. This theological stream is focused on seeing the biblical mandates for addressing racism, oppression, and injustice. This stream also is about understanding that as Jesus walked the earth, liberation was a major act of His Kingdom proclaiming and performing mission. The words of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 are helpful in understanding this stream. Jesus identifies with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. You can’t separate salvation from liberation and justice. One pioneer of this stream is Dr. James Cone.
Another stream is Reconciliation Theology. This is about connecting the reconciling of people groups at odds with the significance of being reconciled to God thru Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ there is liberation, transformation, and a greater understanding of new life when enemies or those separated become brothers and sisters. Dr. John Perkins, one of the pioneers of this stream, developed the “3R’s”, of reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. This triune strategy is about an incarnational and community development approach to evangelism and outreach.
The third stream is Missional Theology or a missional ecclesiology. This stream, though not introduced by African-American theologians and practitioners, is in need of African-American and other ethnic voices in order to truly have an impact in the present multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. Pastor Phil Jackson and myself attempted this in our book, The Hip Hop Church. Dr. Dan Hodges does this as well in his book, The Soul of Hip Hop. To me, an authentic Missional Theology is about theology, ministry models, and leadership development which equips the church to engage todays cultural realities for Kingdom advancement.
These are the three theological streams that I present to make up the development of a Post-Black Theology. From time to time I will offer more on this emerging theology.
(I will present here a writing that I developed for both an evangelical newspaper and journal I used to write for. I say, “used to” because both publications refused to publish, without major edits, what you are about to read. I ended up deciding to longer write for either publication. I admit that I now look back on that decision with some reservations. I really miss having an on-going column in a evangelical publication. At the same time, I don’t like being censored just because some extreme conservative evangelicals aren’t willing to deal with discomfort. Without absorbing and processing this discomfort, the ability to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and urban reality will be hindered. Well, here’s what I wrote back in 2008. It should be noted that I have expanded on the writing since that time.)
With the legitimate presidential candidacy of Barak Obama, we now see that the United States of America is potentially ready for what I call post-black leadership at the highest level. With the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Oprah Winfrey, we are already in the age of post-black leadership. Post-black leadership is the reality of both the dominant culture as well as a broader multi-ethnic culture embracing being led by African-American leaders. Barak Obama is not the first African-American to run for President of the United States. Shirley Chisholm, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Reverend Al Sharpton all ran before him. The difference is that they were seen as Black leaders, mainly representing Black people and Black issues. They all tried to present themselves as being able to lead the whole nation, but their resumes all screamed, Black leader!
European-Americans or Whites rather they realize it or not, have historically marginalized African-American leaders as Black leaders. In the 1950′s, 1960′s, and 1970′s within professional football as an example, there were major questions about whether an African-American could be a quarterback. For this to happen, it would have to be accepted that an African-American could lead the European-Americans on offense. Also, the quarterback was seen as the most intelligent position on the team. In politics, there was a time in this country when you would never think of an African-American being mayor, governor, or president. In the corporate sector, there was a time when you’d never think of an African-American being the CEO of a major company. African-Americans for many years were marginalized to being the pastor of a black church, CEO of a black business, principal of a black school, or president of a black college. What was being said by the dominant culture was that Blacks can only lead Blacks.
Well, praise God, a lot has changed. whether you agree with his political ideology or not we could see the nations’ first African-American president.
(remember this was written in the summer of 2008)
But, Barak Obama is not the first post-black leader. Oprah Winfrey has a large multicultural following. She truly is more than a black leader. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are truly post-black political leaders. African-Americans are now heads of major companies, large universities, and yes professional quarterbacks and head coaches in football. As excited as I am about this, when I think about the body of Christ, I begin to grieve. The church as an institution in the United States of America is way behind secular society when it comes to post-black leadership.
Within the Christian world, Whites lead predominately White denominations and Black lead predominately Black ones. I can’t think of one major evangelical university, Para-church organization, or denomination with a post-black leader at the head of it. In most Para-church organizations African-Americans are mainly in urban and multicultural ministry positions with very little if any influence to speak into the direction of the organization. It seems that the body of Christ is not as ready as secular society for post-black leadership. Shouldn’t the church be the leader of a leadership development strategy that looks like the Kingdom of God and is not enslaved to the race structure of black and white?
I don’t put all the blame for this on European-American evangelicals. There are many African-American pastors and ministry leaders that have no desire whatsoever to be a Kingdom-minded, post-black leader. I believe that there is a way to honor the heritage and current impact of the black church and also become Kingdom leaders. I believe that God has placed some things within African-American leaders that are meant to be a gift to all of the body of Christ.
(I need to note that since I originally wrote this, Barak Obama became President of the United States and I was elected as Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This is the largest region within the denomination. Before my election, African-Americans Jerome Nelson and Robert Owens were elected respectively as Superintendents to the Central and Southeast Conferences of the same denomination. I can’t post this and not recognize progress that has been made. But within the larger evangelical movement, we still have a long way to go. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t get this writing published.)
In the recent edition of Christianity Today there is a story on the marriage between Holy Hip Hop (or Christian Rap) and Calvinism (or Reformed Theology). Contemporary Reformed Theologians such as John Piper and John MacArthur are having a major influence on Holy Hip Hop artists such as LaCrae and Flame. Though I have some issues with this, I understand the reasons why. First let me present my issue with this odd marriage.
Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all. Reformed Theology, though it contains some theological elements that I totally agree with should not be the only or primary theology influencing Holy Hip Hop. Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged. Hip Hop, Holy or Secular is about the engaging and presenting of the issues surrounding a sub-culture of the historically marginalized of urban America.
True Hip Hop is constructed around the elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy or b-girl, the graffiti artist, and most importantly, knowledge of God for knowledge of self. The original principles are peace, love , community, and having fun. Hip Hop originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture. It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.
This doesn’t mean that the culture was ever Christian in nature, although there has always been a respect on some level for God. Today, many are stating that true Hip Hop is dead. It’s been replaced by a European-American controlled record industry that makes money off of exploiting the very things that Hip Hop culture was created to go against. Please get this point, secular Hip Hop is being influenced by people outside the culture, who have turn it into a contemporary plantation.
Now back to Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically. I have great respect for John Piper, but I question his understanding of Hip Hop culture. I pastored a Hip Hop and multi-ethnic, evangelical church in Minneapolis for almost eight years. Dr. Piper never consulted us on our theological or philosophical approach to this type of Kingdom advancing ministry model. Myself, Rev. Phil Jackson, and Dr. Daniel Hodge have been labeled as Hip Hop Theologians. We all count this as an honor. We have written scholarly works on the subject. We desire to love, mentor, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop artist need to know scholarly and organic theologians such as Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon-Chan Rah, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, and Howard Thurman.
I want to make it clear that I don’t want to put down Dr. Piper. I have great respect for him and would love to have healthy dialogue with him on this subject and others. What I am saying is that Calvinism cannot be the lone theology shaping Holy Hip Hop. This is why currently most Holy Hip Hop takes place at Evangelical events, in front of predominately European-American audiences. I don’t blame Holy Hip Hop artists for this though. I put the full blame on the African-American church, which has done a great job over the years of rejecting Holy Hip Hop artists. Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement. I can’t hate on Dr. Piper for that. I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors, I being one. I’m also willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus. Let’s come together for the sake of the Kingdom.
I have been reading a number of books on the Missional Church recently. At first as I was reading books by Alan Hirsch, Darrell Guder, and Alan Roxburgh, I’d wished I hadn’t waited so long to jump into the missional church discussion. Then, after getting through about three books on the issue, I realized that as a product of both the African-American and Urban Multi-ethnic Church, I was raised up in the truly missional church movement.
The missional church discussion is both about a theological foundation known as missional ecclesiology and the process of the church engaging culture for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. All of the experts on the topic are European-American and European-Canadian. The discussion around the missional church for the most part is a White Church discussion. I appreciate that the authors are willing to admit this. The talk about the missional church is from the perspective of the history of both the European and European-American Church influenced by modernity and modernism. To understand the need for the missional church in the United States for instance, is to understand the church coming out of Europe influenced by Constantine, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. I would not argue against these being important things to know. As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, I realize the importance of understanding how the Reformation and the Enlightenment shaped the development of the church in the United States. Specifically, it’s important for me to understand the Swedish immigrant roots which shape the development of the Evangelical Covenant Church. I consider my understanding of this heritage as a gift. What I don’t understand is why European-Americans don’t see the gift of the missional roots and current missional activity of African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic churches in America.
As a product of the African-American church, I can speak to a church that historically has engaged its surrounding culture for transformation. The African-American Church has a history of community engagement, development, and transformation. You can look at the missional impact of the Civil Right Movement as an example. Why missional theologians and practitioners ignore and marginalize the African-American Church is hard to understand. At the same time the African-American Church hasn’t always been helpful, because at times it presents itself as only being for African-Americans. But we must remember that the African-American Church is a forced church in a race-based society. If it weren’t for the defense and protection of the White Church, there would be no African-American/Black Church.
In today’s increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, this must change. There is a need for a Post-Black, Post-White Church theology. This theology must include liberation and reconciliation theology. A true missional movement must be Christ-centered and multi-ethnic. If this isn’t the case, all the missional discussion is just a re-hashing and a recycling of the White Church. If the Church in Canada and the United States is truly going to be a missional one it must be multi-ethnic and there must be a diversity of respected voices speaking into its development.
10.) Act as if justice is simply a social issue and not a biblical one.
9.) Reduce the Christian life to individualism.
8.) Major in the minors theologically.
7.) Stop saying “hate the sin, but love the sinner” when we don’t do it.
6.) Feel comfortable with segregated church.
5.) Confuse political ideology with biblical theology.
4.) Act as if race, class, and gender are no longer issues to be dealt with.
3.) Avoid prophetic preaching.
2.) Missing out on being blessed by women in pastoral leadership.
1.) Ignoring the biblical mandate of reconciliation.
I am honored to be featured in this publication of Duke Divinity School. Check it out and let me know what you think.