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.
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.
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.
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.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.
I recently spoke to a pastor who made his case for not supporting women as senior pastors. “I’ve asked many men this question,” he said. “As a man, when you see a woman up front preaching or teaching, what’s the first thing you think about? The first thing that comes into your mind is if she is attractive or not. This distraction is one of the main reasons women should not be senior pastors or preach to men”, he said.
I was somewhat shocked by this argument. Not because he believed this, but because he said it out loud and so boldly. He stated it as if it were a biblical truth. To me, his statement was more about the sexism within evangelicalism connected to the sexism within the broader society, than some well thought out theological position on women in ministry leadership.
At least he was honest and pointed to the real issue at the foundation of why many men in evangelicalism struggle with women in ministry and pastoral leadership. Some try to cover up this truth by using the words of Paul in the New Testament. I’m not going to go into all the Scriptures which support women in ministry and pastoral leadership because this has already been done. I invite you to go to the website of the Evangelical Covenant Church (www.covchurch.org) to get information on some insightful resources.
What I will say is this-
Should the words of Paul, which could very well be situational and contextual, not universal and unconditional be used to argue the case for women in ministry? Shouldn’t the actions of Jesus with women and the equipping of women by God speak louder than the words of Paul? To the second question, I say yes.
I believe the bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which includes the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don’t in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these word of Paul are put in its proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God’s servants and God speaks thru God’s servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry.
What does the actions of Jesus with women in the Gospels tell us about God’s empowerment of women and should this speak louder than Paul’s words, which I present were situational, not universal? Jesus transforms and empowers the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has a woman anoint and prepare him for the cross. Jesus answers the prayers of the Canaanite woman. Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives life to a teenage girl left for dead. A woman is at the tomb first to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus. All of this is not about women in pastoral leadership, but it’s about the bigger issue of God being mindful of the second-class citizenship of women and dealing with it as a kingdom agenda. Jesus challenges the place and role of women to the point that his own male disciples, were annoyed every time they witnessed His empowerment of women.
When it comes to women in ministry and pastoral leadership we should join the position of Jesus and also acknowledge our sexism.
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.
I was recently talking with a European-American friend of mine who is also an evangelical. I am African-American and evangelical. We were talking about the tense debate going on right now about healthcare when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill was a government run health care system, which would lead to bigger government. I responded by agreeing with his concerns, but stating that he should have been concerned about big government militarily during the George W. Bush years as well. I then asked the first question, “why do some conservatives so easily see the threat of big government when it has to do with healthcare, but can’t see big government when it’s running an expensive war in Iraq? Not many conservatives complained about how much money the war in Iraq was taking out of their pockets, but now they’re angry about how much the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill would. Both the management of war and healthcare are types of big government leading to spending money we don’t have as a country in debt.”
My friend responded by asking this question, “why do so many African-Americans trust government with healthcare? Why are so many not concerned about big government in this way?”
I thought this was a great question that gets to the racial divide around how some African-Americans and some European-Americans see government and corporate america from different perspectives. One of the reasons some European-Americans would rather see healthcare worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans there was a seeking of independence from European government systems and the pioneering of a new way of living based on democracy and maybe more importantly, the development of an economic system called capitalism. This makes sense why conservatives and many evangelicals today would be concerned about big government.
For African-Americans there is a history in this country which begins with slavery. The African-American begins their experience in the economic system of capitalism and free enterprise as the slave. From there, the experience with the economic system for many African-Americans is within a race-based, sub-system called, Jim Crow Segregation. What opens the door to freedom from slavery and Jim Crow Segregation comes mainly from government. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government led realities.
Could this be the foundation from which, in this society still influenced by race, that there are many European-Americans that are concerned about big government and many African-Americans that embrace it? I believe the church in the United States of America must rise out of being the most racially segregated institution in this nation so that it can lead conversations and forums on reconciliation. At the church where I serve as Senior Pastor, we have a class called, City Matters, which seeks to raise awareness and spark reconciling discussion. We’ve also hosted an initiative called, The Invitation to Racial Righteousness, developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are apart.
We need more churches to lead these types of initiatives. These conversations and forums could help us understand one another better. We need to move from demonizing those with different perspectives than ourselves and seek to understand the historical roots of our differences. It is possible to love God, follow Christ in a radical way, and have conversations about differing perspectives on how we view the role of government.
“…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.