The recent news media reports concerning a well-known African-American Bishop outside of Atlanta brings me great sadness. My first reaction is to pray that the accusations aren’t true. My second reaction is to pray for those young men, who could be very damaged by a church in which they should find hope, love, and transformation. Beyond those two reactions, something that I’ve felt for a long time is still burning within me. A revisiting of a theology of the pastor is needed within the Black Church and beyond.
In my opinion too many mega-church African-American pastors are functioning within a theology of the pastor that seems to be more based on a Old Testament model of Kings, than patterned after the New Testament model of Jesus or Paul. Now please hear me, my reflections are based on my great love for the Black Church and African-American pastors. With this said, I believe the matrix of race and how it impacts the identity of the African-American male in society is driving the theology of the pastor in many Black Church circles rather than Scripture. Let’s take a brief historical look back.
The Black Church is a forced church in America, dating back to slavery. As we move up to Jim Crow segregation, the Negro or Colored pastor is the most powerful position of leadership within the community. Remember, the Negro or Colored man cannot be president of the United States or governor of a state at this time. The Black pastor for all leadership purposes in the black community is pastor and king. Think of this in terms of being taken from a land where your forefathers and mothers were kings and queens. Now let’s move to the Civil Rights Movement, where we see the Black pastor as political leader and social transformer. Let’s move to the 1980′s and see the Reverend Jesse Jackson running for president. Not much love and respect is given to Shirley Chisholm, who as a Black woman and non clergy person, ran for the office years before.
Now let’s look at the mega church Black pastors of today. Celebrity figures living in mansion (temples), driving expensive cars (chariots), and having armor bearers (assistants for a king). Where did Jesus live? What chariot did Jesus ride in? Were the disciples of Jesus merely glorified armor bearers? What about Paul? Did his life look like the pursuit of the American dream? Regardless of the situation outside of Atlanta, one thing is true, the larger a church gets in America the temptation to become a CEO or a King and less of a shepherd is there awaiting. This is true regardless of race.
I’m not here to judge, I have my own inner battles to face as a bishop, author, and national speaker. What I do know is that the integrity of all pastors must be pursued and accountability is a key element. I also believe that Satan would rather have pastors be first and foremost CEO’s and Kings, than humble shepherds. I also believe as well that it is possible to be a mega church pastor, international figure, and humble servant. Perhaps our model should be Jesus and not King David.
I watched the Glen Beck show on Fox News this afternoon. His topic was how churches that are using the term, “social justice” are misinterpreting Scripture in order to spread Marxism. Now I don’t want to say that in some cases this might not be true, but to provide a wide-spread brush stroke of all uses of the term social justice to be Marxist and in no way biblical is a major blow to true evangelical theology.
One of the hallmarks of evangelical theology is the authority and centrality of Scripture. The Scripture is full of Kingdom mandates from God that calls for a justice that goes beyond individualism. For those that don’t believe this is the case, they have to wrestle with the Exodus story as well as the book of Esther and the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, beginning with verse 31. This mission of God in the world includes salvation, which is individualistic in nature, but also includes what the corporate church should do concerning the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, and the sick in society. The society makes up the social structures. This isn’t a political ideology, nor marxist philosophy, this is the Word of God.
Glen Beck’s show on social justice and the church included guests from Liberty University and Westminster Theological Seminary who stated that the gospel is individualistic in nature. The guest from Liberty University even said that the parable of the talents, (which just happens to come before a parable about feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and those in prison), is about free market enterprise. So the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the opinions of the guests are rooted in individualism and capitalism.It is about a person, as an individual, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then investing their resources into the marketplace.
This is a very limited and unbiblical view of salvation. Salvation itself is communal because it includes the community of the Trinity and in many cases the community of the person that God used to bring the person to Christ. This is why the evangelical church has a strong history of global missions. If the gospel is rooted in individualism, we should shut down every department of world missions in every evangelical denomination. Read the Old Testament and the Gospel letters and it won’t take you long to realize that justice in society is a biblical theme presented as an act out of the overflow of an intimate relationship with God thru Jesus Christ, as well as a significant part of the mission of the church. The church is called by God, through Scripture to be about the whole mission of God, which includes evangelism, discipleship, mission, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church is called to make disciples and to do justice and love mercy.
Let the Word of God drive the evangelical church and its theology, not a political talk show host.
It has been way too long since I posted a blog and I will try very hard not to make this mistake again. My life has taken quite a turn in the last few months. In mid January I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The election takes place at the Annual Meeting of the PSWC in about two weeks in Northern California. If elected, I will provide servant leadership to about 160 churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Accepting this nomination was a very tough decision for me. I have enjoyed so much the opportunity to serve as Senior Pastor of the Sanctuary Covenant Church the last seven years. Seven years ago, God gave me a vision to plant a church with a diverse group of God’s beloved children, that would be intentionally evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban; including a community development component. The Sanctuary Covenant Church and Community Development Corporation are now a transforming reality because of God’s grace and Spirit. The church has a membership of over 400, a weekly attendance of about 1,000, and a diverse and gifted staff. This is why this decision to look to a new season of potential ministry leadership out West was very tough for me. Minneapolis is the city of my upbringing, the place where I met Christ, and the place where I entered into ministry.
Minneapolis is also the place where I developed a passion for the multi-ethnic church and came to the understanding that theologically I was an evangelical. I also came to the realization that evangelicalism has been kidnapped by political ideology and rugged individualism. Evangelical has moved from meaning the good news to abusive news and news of judgement. I’m so glad that Minneapolis is also the place where I came to know the Evangelical Covenant Church. This movement is committed to presenting evangelicalism as the good news that biblically connects both the good news of eternal salvation and life transformation thru compassion, mercy, and justice.
When I came into the Evangelical Covenant Church, I finally found a theological home. I have also found a Christ-centered, multi-ethnic community of women and men who believe in the authority and centrality of the Word of God. There is a high value on relationship and growing in Christ in community. This is why as tough a decision as it was, I prayerfully made the decision to be considered as the next Superintendent of the PSWC of the ECC. I’m humbled and honored by the potential opportunity, pending election. I hope to multiply the kingdom work begun at the Sanctuary Covenant Church. I’m in time of excitement, grieving, nervousness, and hope. My prayer and focus is on finishing strong, beginning well, and trusting God.
This morning as I was running on the treadmill, I was also watching CNN. A story came on about a shooting in Washington D.C. The police chief was speaking with the mayor of D.C looking on. She stated that, “people are just ready for acts like this to stop.” I didn’t get a chance to see who was involved in this latest incident of urban violence, but it led me to reflect on the violent acts committed in my own city of Minneapolis involving young African-Americans in most cases. This statement raises the question, “How do we stop the violence in our inner-cities?”
On one level we must address this issue from the standpoint of individual responsibility. Churches and other ministries must develop ministry initiatives, which deal head-on with the issue of violence as the primary means for solving conflict. Peace and nonviolence cannot be seen as an outdated strategy of Hippies and those who participated in the part of the Civil Rights Movement directed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many young people in the city lack a strategy free of violence to deal with loss, anger, stress, and not being able to have what you want immediately. Ministries to children, youth, and families must contain initiatives dealing with conflict resolution rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus has something to say in Chapters 5-7 about conflict resolution and specifically on how to deal with enemies. These biblical principles must be contextualized for today. We can also look at chapter 3 of 1 John. Within this chapter John reminds us of what happens if our souls are not being driven by the love of God by pointing back to the story of Cain and Abel. What led to Cain killing his own brother is today at the root of violence in the city as well as the suburbs. The lack of being filled with Gods’ love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a major factor in the ability to attempt to take the life of another human being. It’s also easier when you don’t see the other as just as much Gods’ beloved as you are. Sometimes the ability to attempt to take the life of another begins with not seeing oneself as the beloved of God.
The second factor that must be dealt with in order to deal with violence in the city is being willing to deal with the realities of class and race. What is behind so much violence in the city among so many African-Americans? There is a connection between poverty, race, relationships, and violence. To deny this is to ignore some root causes that go along with individual responsibility. Inner-cities are the way they are on purpose. The White Flight of the 60′s and 70′s play a role. The Educated Black Flight of the 80′s play a role as well. This is not a guilt trip for those in the suburbs for I live in the suburbs myself. The issue is figuring out how to live in the suburbs and still have a heart for the city. This was the place of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It broke his heart to know the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and he took some of the responsibility for why this was the case. We must acknowledge the systemic issues behind urban violence and take responsibility as well. Those living outside the city must take responsibility and work with those in the city to be salt and light.
Nonviolence cannot be an ancient social strategy that was just good for a season. We must raise up an generation who are able to experience, “a peace that passes all understanding” that it might, “guard our hearts and minds.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of something he called, the beloved community. This was the title given to describe a reality where freedom, love, justice, and reconciliation would reign. In many ways this was a mainstream way for Dr. King to speak of the Kingdom of God being advanced within a sin-filled world. Today, there is still a need for the beloved community. The question becomes though, “can there be a beloved community without a beloved church first?” Another question to consider would be, “can there be a beloved church without beloved children of God in intimate relationship with God thru Christ Jesus?” These questions must be reflected on deeply, if the church is to be a force of Kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
Though we live in a world that is becoming more and more diverse by the day, the church in the United States of America is still one of the most segregated institutions there is. It’s funny how the church in the United States of America, through its many denominations, sees itself as a leader in world missions but can’t consistently develop churches that look like that world or the Kingdom of God where we will live eternally. Though collectively financially resourced, the church is socially bankrupt when it comes to living outside of the race matrix of this nation. Why is this?
This reality of the segregated church continues for two reasons. One reason is, many are in denial that the Christian church in this country was planted in a soil of race and racism. The treatment of Native Americans and Africans in the beginning of what became known as the United States of America went against the very gospel message being preached by some Europeans carrying a Bible in their hands and racism in their hearts. We must explore this history on a regular basis that we might re-plant the Christian church in this nation.
The second issue is that the church in this nation is still evolving in a race-based soil, which creates comfort in racially segregated churches. Though many people would not see themselves as racist, they attend churches based on race values even though they don’t realize it in most cases. The not realizing factor is true for many European-Americans. Many African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians proudly attend racially or ethnic specific churches. For many of them this is about being in a community of empowerment in a society where they collectively hold little power even in light of a minority president. Yet, this reality is a major obstacle to the beloved community. There will never truly be shining examples of the beloved community as long as we Christians have a taste for the segregated church. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and evangelical church, I cry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist. I cry out to prepare the way for a movement of churches think look like the Kingdom of God and not the race-based society of this earthly realm. I cry out for the beloved church. What is your heart cry?
“…I was sick, and you visited Me…” (Read Matthew 25:31-46)
Lately, you can’t watch the news without seeing angry people at a town hall meeting on health care reform. There are angry people (mostly European-American conservatives and in some cases evangeical) who are mad at President Obama and they want to know how this health care plan is going to be paid for. I get why they’re asking how this proposed plan is going to be paid for. To be honest, I have the same question myself.
What I don’t get is the anger about big government spending big money on a monthly basis. If that’s what the anger is about, you’re a few town hall meetings too late. The proposed health care bill could cost 100 billion dollars a year over the next 10 years. Wow! But, before you get angry, what about the 8-10 billion dollars a month being spent on the war in Iraq right now? This monthly cost is probably less than when the war was at its height under President George W. Bush. Where was the anger then? Isn’t spending billions of dollars a month on a war, that brought forth no weapons of mass destruction and may have contributed to our economic collapse big government as well? It funny to me, (but I’m not angry yet) that when it’s about war, for some people the checkbook of the government can be unlimited, but when it comes to providing healthcare for the poor and marginalized, to consider writing any checks at all from the government is socialism.
For the Christian the bigger question becomes, should the church be in the business of healthcare? I believe the biblical answer is yes. Jesus was in the business of healthcare and so should evangelical christians. Now if we were talking about Africa, I wouldn’t have to make this point. But if I’m talking about Chicago, Detroit, or Minneapolis, I’ve probably got a debate on my hands. If you happen to be one of those Christians that are against the proposed healthcare reform of President Obama then you need to be apart of crafting a church run proposal. It can’t be the Obama plan or no plan, this is not a biblical option. When I served as an Associate Pastor at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of my responsibilities was to serve as Executive Director of the Park Avenue Foundation. This outreach ministry of the church has a computer learning center, a free legal clinic, and a free health clinic still going today. If, as a Christian, you don’t agree with government driven health care reform, then redistribute some of your church budget dollars to starting a free health care clinic in partnership with healthcare professionals in your local area. This is something we seek to do at The Sanctuary Covenant Church, where I pastor now through a larger initiative called, The Exchange Center for Compassion, Mercy, and Justice.
If you’re not willing to take this biblical step, then you should get out of the way of some type of reasonable health care reform. Maybe the problem is that government is working at trying to move something forward that the church should actually be addressing in a creative and innovative way. If I had my way, I’d rather see the church leading the way on this issue, not government. Because the church in the United States of America has lost sense of biblical insight on issues such as housing, healthcare, education, and incarceration, the current government proposal must be at least considered. To be honest I wish there was a town hall meeting where I could vent my anger with the church.
“If you will return O Israel, declares the LORD, Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And not waver, And you will swear, As the LORD lives, In truth, in justice, and in righteousness; The the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1-2)
If the church is to be a force of both Kingdom Building and Kingdom Advancement, it must be willing to connect truth, justice, and righteousness. Let me first give a deeper understanding of these three important concepts. Truth in the Hebrew points to stability, certainty, and trustworthiness. God’s truth as revealed thru the Word of God brings stability to our lives when connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Truth ought to bring certainty by faith. It is thru faith that we believe in the certainty of Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God. We must allow faith to produce certainty about what is truth over strictly searching for truth in some academic ivory tower which cannot admit its own faith formula for truth. This is not to down education. I highly value the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, I’m just stating that this pursuit without faith is meaningless for the Christian.
Justice in the Hebrew is connected to judgement, a formal decree, and determination. God is determined to bring about justice. You cannot talk God out of being a God of justice. The question becomes will you join God in Kingdom justice becoming manifest in the world? Will you join in the Kingdom cause of addressing the issues facing the poor, the immigrant, and at-risk, high-risk youth? The Scripture describes them as the poor, the alien, the orphan, and the widow. The church must be a force of truth and justice or we risk being a church in crisis functioning outside of His glory.
Righteousness in the Hebrew is about justice and virtue. Righteousness is about the character and integrity of God showing up in our lives. We cannot produce this character in our own power. This kind of Character comes thru the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to give ourselves over to it.
We must understand and connect truth, justice, and righteousness in our lives and in the church. Historically in our nation we have separated truth, justice, and righteousness. Some churches preach truth by focusing on an individual approach to repentance and salvation. Or they only focus on sin issues such as fornication, murder, and adultery and leave racism, sexism, and oppression alone. On the other hand some churches focus on issues like racism and sexism and give no attention to the biblical truth of the authority of Scripture or the necessity of the new birth.
The church must connect truth, justice, and righteousness in order to advance the Kingdom of God in these days and live out ancient biblical mandates. The church must focus on evangelism and christian formation, as well as compassion, mercy, and justice. Here’s an example of what this looks like-
1.) Provide regular opportunities for people to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
2.) Create and sustain initiatives which put a priority on Prayer and Scripture.
3.) Develop a racial righteousness and reconciliation ministry.
4.) Get involved locally and globally around issues of Biblical Economic Justice and Christian Community Development.
I had a feeling last November that our country was going to go thru some birth pains in having the first African-American president. I have to be honest and say that I’ve been going thru them myself. I really wrestled with the presidential election for a number of reasons. First and foremost because I did not want to cause division within my evangelical, multicultural, and urban congregation, I kept my mouth shut. This was hard because I really wanted to use the presidential election to deal head on with the need for racial righteousness and reconciliation in our nation. But, every time I would just scratch the surface of the issue, you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. As the election day got closer I could sense the divide in our church between conservatives (in our church mostly Whites) and the more liberals (mostly young Whites and so-called people of color). It seemed like the conservatives became quieter and somewhat down in our church and after November 20th, the liberals got louder and excited for the dawn of a new day.
The second reason this past election was hard for me was because I was wrestling back and forth between being apart of history and being from a political standpoint, a moderate conservative. Okay, I guess this is my political coming out party; I would compare my political beliefs to that of General Colin Powell. Finally, I said it! That felt so good! With this in mind, I had part of me that wanted to see Obama win and part of me that struggled because I’m pro-life, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and I tend to be fiscally conservative. Voting day last year put the biggest rock in my stomach ever.
Even with all this in mind, when I hear some evangelicals and conservatives refer to President Obama as the Anti-Christ and a racist angry black man, I see how in denial about racism many in our nation are. The issue is, some conservatives really don’t mind the idea of a black president, they just want them to act White and never raise the issue of racism or question police or military authority. Conservatives then pimp some conservative African-Americans and Hispanics to drive this point home. I’ve been asked by some conservatives to play this role on many occasions. For the president to have attended a Black church which preaches a Black liberation theology and to question the actions of the police is out of bounds. Now to be a White president that attended an all-White church and be a part of all White social clubs, and live in an all-White community and have all that shape your views of what it means to be American is totally acceptable. I thought the President carried more authority in this country than a police officer from Cambridge? But it’s really beyond that. The problem is, you can be president or a professor at Harvard, if you don’t act American, which in many cases for some conservatives is acting White, then you are an angry black man. We have to deal with the fact the some conservatives have not separated being American from being White. Some are in denial about living in Whiteness. By the way, Blackness is no better solution.
Please hear that I’m not condemning all conservatives, I’m a moderate conservative myself. What I’m talking about is that when African-Americans question the actions of European-Americans in authority or when we raise the issue of race in our country, we are labeled as angry black people. It’s like some Whites are saying, “how dare you question my beliefs or my behavior! How dare you say I might have some racial issues I need to work out.” On conservative television this week our president has been called a racist, one who hates Whites and White culture, and one who is angry. This is code language for, “Negro President, get in your place.” I need my evangelical and conservative European-American brothers and sister to stay ideologically conservative but separate that from straight out racism masking itself with patriotism and family values.
By the way, word to the President: “Why you so angry?” Word to the Christians, read Galatians 3.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates recently was the victim of racial profiling at his own home by the Cambridge Police Department. A woman called the police believing someone was breaking into a house in her neighborhood when it was just Dr. Gates himself entering his own home. Now, I’m not here to beat up on the Cambridge Police Department and I assume the role of a police officer is not easy. I must say that the role of being African-American in the United States may be just as, if not more dangerous than that of being a police officer though. I also want to say that unfortunately, I know exactly how Dr. Gates feels.
Just a few months ago, I was at the home of an African-American family that are members of the church where I serve as senior pastor. There was another African-American family there as well who also are members of our church. We realized right before eating dinner that we could use some more sodas and something for dessert. I and the two other African-American guys decided to go to a local grocery store. On the way to the store, I was followed for about 3 blocks by a police car. I looked to see if I was speeding, I wasn’t. The next thing I know the police lights were flashing and I was pulling over.
A White police officer came to the car door and right away I saw another police car pull up behind us. The officer asked for my ID and proof of insurance. That seemed normal, but he also asked for the ID’s of the two other African-American men in the car with me. This made no sense to me, but one of the African-American men in the car with me, cautioned me to stay calm. It was hard for me to stay calm, because I couldn’t understand why we had been pulled over in the first place or why everyone in the car had to provide ID. Nevertheless, I stayed calm. After about ten minutes the officer came back to the car, gave us back our ID’s and sent us on our way. I guess it’s a good thing I stayed calm or just like Dr. Gates, I may have been arrested that night. Do I need to say again, I was pulled over for nothing.
I need to make it clear that this was not the first time this has happened to me. The two other men in the car with me said this happens to them often. We are all college educated, working jobs, and providing for our families. Neither one of us have kids out of wedlock or have prior records of being incarcerated. None of us had a warrant out for our arrest. We all live in the suburbs. Just think what life is like for urban African-American males who don’t live at the level of Black privilege like us.
The question becomes, “how long do you stay calm before you cry out about the injustice and sin of racism and racial profiling? Dr. Gates is older than me and perhaps like Rosa Parks years ago, he decided enough is enough. In my calm opinion, all the police officer had to do was allow Dr. Gates to cry out and then he should have left. All the police officer had to do was leave the house owned by Dr. Gates, while Dr. Gates stood on his own front steps and cried not only for himself but for many African-Americans who have stayed calm too long, I being one of them. This in no way is to say that we shouldn’t respect the police. I just didn’t realize until now I guess that the police were above saying, “I’m sorry.” In the case of one White police officer saying sorry or admitting a mistake will never be an option.
It’s important that my White evangelical brothers and sisters not let Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh give the proper perspective on seeing this issue. Jesus had the ability in Scripture of seeing the world from the vantage point of the child, the woman, the Samaritan, and the poor. Why are some evangelical conservatives only willing to see this from the vantage point of the police officer? I know that Dr. Gates isn’t poor, but he does represent the historically marginalized in our nation. And please don’t down-size this social sin to victimization. I’m not a victim, I’m just an African-American male who gets pulled over by the police from time to time for no reason. This is why, I’m with Dr. Gates on this one and you should be too.
Last night I had the awesome opportunity to speak at CHIC. CHIC stands for Covenant “Higher-s” in Christ. I know, as someone who has only been apart of the Evangelical Covenant Church for six years, I don’t really understand the name either. This national high school conference of the Covenant takes place every three years. The last few conferences, like the one this past week, has taken place on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This week over 5,000 students gathered under the theme, “Undone.” We are undone human beings in an undone world, but the good news is, God desires to transform our lives through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we might advance the Kingdom of God.
Just so you know this wasn’t just a conference of speakers, bands, and workshops. That all took place, but the young people also packed 100′s of 1,000′s of meals to address hunger around the world. They also raised over $100,000 for Evangelical Covenant Missions efforts. That’s straight cash out of the pockets of a many times called, consumeristic generation. I was able to connect one on one with many of the young people and I sensed a heart for God and to make a revolutionary difference in the world. I have spoken at many youth conferences, but this one is very special. I know what you’re thinking, “of course he’s going to say that, it’s your denomination!” Yes, that’s true, but I’m not one to give props like that.
CHIC is incredible to me for a couple of reasons. One, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America is one of the smaller denominations, so to put on a conference that draws 5,000 youth makes a statement. I realize that numbers aren’t everything, but these youth show up because so many adults, whose lives have been impacted by CHIC years ago have been praying for this generation. Second, CHIC is not just about good music and speaking, many Christian youth conferences do that. It’s about equipping young people to realize the potential they have to lead a Kingdom building movement for God. The connection between evangelism and social justice is the key to me, which unfortunately is still not dealt with as much as it should be in evangelical youth ministry. I don’t mean connecting coming to Christ with missions trips. I’m talking about connecting an intimate, life transforming relationship with Jesus with His call to address the sick, hungry, and incarcerated. To address head-on issues of race and the empowerment of women. For more info about CHIC and the impact made this week go to www.covchurch.org