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.
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.
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.
1.) Adopt a school and create a tutoring program for low achieving students in reading and math.
2.) Preach and Teach on the historic and present issues of class, gender, and race. Then present biblical solutions that move away from the colorblind theory.
3.) Survey your surrounding community as well as the assets of your church membership. This is a great way to utilize college students.
4.) Connect a passion for evangelism with compassion, mercy, and justice.
5.) Partner with at least two other churches/Para Churches to impact your community.
6.) Don’t just send money to another country for mission, send people.
7.) Be guided by a leader from another country in your global missions efforts.
8.) Partner with a community organization and volunteer each week in impacting the lives of children and their families.
9.) Create a community development organization with a focus on economics, housing, and engagement.
10.) Every month sit in on city council and school board meetings in your community. Pray for opportunities to be the solution to local challenges.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, there has been a recent focus on how Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Christmas in the context of this debate, has been turned into a consumeristic, marketing, and materialism movement. We were even lead to believe a few years ago that on Black Friday, our Christmas shopping could rescue the economy with this view of Christmas. Black Friday may one day become a holiday all by itself creating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. But this isn’t the Christmas problem that I want to deal with. The problem I want to bring up has been an issue much longer. I want to focus on those of us that still keep Christ in Christmas. We have another problem.
Our problem is with the Christ that we lift up during Christmas. In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world, we continue to lift up a Eurocentric Jesus. The majority, if not all of the images of the Nativity Scene continue to be a White Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even though this scene takes place far away from any European country. Our problem is that as we strive to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we actually lift up a false Jesus. By lifting up a false Jesus, we run the risk of that Western Jesus become the very symbol of what Christmas has become. We also must remember that Christmas isn’t a biblically based holiday in the first place. First century Christian Jews would not have placed the importance on Christmas that we do today. Over time Christian Gentiles made the pagan rooted festivals of both Christmas and Easter what they are today and have long forgotten the true biblical holidays such as Passover and Pentecost.
I’m not saying that we should move away from Christmas and Easter. No, I’m saying that we should recover the real roots of how they came to be celebrations for us in the first place so that we can present the real, biblical Jesus to the world. Christmas and Easter are pagan rooted festivals that were used for evangelism purposes to present Jesus to the Gentile world. This was a multicultural world. Over time though the European part of the pagan world came to dominate Christianity through Constantine and the Roman empire. This led to the re-birth of Jesus into a European.
In this Christmas season the church has the opportunity to recover the true Jesus based on Matthew 1 and John 1. We can also recover the mission of the true Jesus through Luke 4 and Matthew 9, 10, and 25. The real Jesus is a Afro-Asiatic Jew (Matthew 1), but most importantly the Son of God, Who has existed before what we know as the beginning of time (John 1). The real Jesus calls us beyond consumerism to a life of truth, transformation, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church must present the gift of the real Jesus to the world and solve the real Christmas problem.
1.) Become more of a movement than an institution.
2.) Become multi-ethnic.
3.) Proclaim and practice a deeply biblically-rooted strategy for compassion, mercy, and justice.
4.) Have a high priority and passion for evangelism.
5.) Involve large churches as a resource, but don’t lift them up alone as the highest model of a healthy and missional church.
6.) Affirm and train up men and women for the offices of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet based on biblical principles.
7.) Increase the number of women in pastoral leadership.
8.) Become students of how the Kingdom of God is being advanced in Africa, Central America, and South America.
9.) Expand the missional church conversation to include experts within the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic, and Native American Church.
10.) Develop strategic Kingdom partnerships beyond your particular denomination.
As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
First of all I want to share my love, respect, and honor for my Brother, Dr. John Piper and the ministry God has given him in Minneapolis and beyond. I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and served in Ministry there in various capacities for almost 20 years as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and church planter. I have seen up close the ministry fruit of Dr. Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. I know of many African-Americans who lives have been transformed by God thru that ministry. I also know of African-American pastors who have been given the opportunity of ministerial leadership and development there. I know of African-American and Christian hip hop artists whom have been mentored by Dr. Piper. Praise God for all of this. Most recently Dr. Piper has released a book on the topic of racial reconciliation called, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Here are my thoughts after reading this book.
First, as one who is involved with a growing group of humble leaders speaking, preaching, writing, teaching, and advancing multi-ethnic and missional ministry, I am excited that Dr. Piper felt led by God to write this book. Someone of his stature writing on this topic will only bring it more into the forefront of the evangelical movement where he is so well respected. As an evangelical myself, I see how important this is. Within evangelicalism multi-ethnic and urban ministry and racial reconciliation, especially when led by people of color has been marginalized greatly.
Leading multi-ethnic and urban ministry is not new for Dr. Piper. He has served in this area for decades and has been preaching on this topic from his pulpit for the last ten years. What is new is Dr. Piper bringing his passion, personal stories, and theology around racial reconciliation onto his national and global ministry platform thru the writing of Bloodlines. I have spoken at many conference on reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry across the evangelical spectrum and have never known Dr. Piper to attend or speak at one of these conferences. I’m not aware of a book prior to Bloodlines where Dr. Piper has made racial reconciliation the central issue. I don’t believe this is criticism, but truth.
Because I’m from Minneapolis, I’ve known of many times when race was a major issue in the city. I’ve been a part of many of the discussions and initiatives to bring about racial reconciliation in Minneapolis, I don’t remember Dr. Piper being involved in these discussions or initiatives. This is why thru facebook and twitter, I welcomed Dr. Piper into the discussion of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry. This was not a “shot” but a welcoming praise. When I was in Minneapolis I worked very hard to meet with and partner with Dr. Piper. I met with many of his associates to try to make this happen. I know Dr. Piper is very busy and has a number of people trying to meet with him, so I get why our partnering never happened. I am thankful though that before I left Minneapolis to serve as a Superintendent within the Evangelical Covenant Church, Dr. Piper came to visit the Sanctuary Covenant Church where I served. Okay, really to the book now-
I like the way the book begins, but not so much how it ends. I love that Dr. Piper shares his personal story. I love that he shows biblically that Jesus took on ethnocentrism as He walked the earth in human form. I love that he goes into great depth to show that race is not biblical and racism is a sin. The book shows his commitment to racial reconciliation within the church he leads in Minneapolis. His commitment is shown, though he doesn’t share in great detail in the book, thru the multi-ethnic staff he has built with his church board over the years. He shares that he has struggled in living this out in the community where he lives, which happens to surround the church he leads. I am moved by knowing more of his personal story. It’s why I wish I could have gotten to know him more personally when I lived in Minneapolis. I praise God for his commitment to urban ministry.
The second half of the book is the problem that I have. Dr. Piper presents Calvinism as the theological framework for living into racial reconciliation biblically. I must respectfully disagree with him. He states in the book that Jesus deals with ethnocentrism, but then presents a theology rooted in Eurocentric ethnocentrism as the solution. In Dr. Piper’s commitment to racial reconciliation he can’t just have great love for theologies developed by European men. By presenting Calvinism this way, he actually goes against what he is writing about. Structural racism exists in the church in the United States because theology is dominated by White theology. Just because some African-Americans are sold on Reformed theology and seem to have no regard for theologies developed by Africans and African-Americans doesn’t mean its the best frame work for reconciliation. This is actually assimilation, not reconciliation. What makes the Evangelical Covenant Church strong is that White leaders are allowing the theologies and ministry practices of so-called minorities to come into this Swedish immigrant denomination historically and give it the second wind of becoming a Christ-centered and multi-ethnic movement. The key is that these theologies and practices not compromise the evangelical foundation of the movement.
Piper also only offers politically conservative and Republican solutions to dealing with structural racism. He only offers school choice and welfare reform as solutions. These are political solutions not biblical ones. Matthew 25, John 4, Matthew 9, the Book of Leviticus, the Book of Exodus, and the Book of Nehemiah are better frameworks for dealing with structural racism. Still, I believe it is good that Dr. Piper has written this book and I hope to both have healthy conversations with him and hope to see him speaking and writing even more on this important topic for kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
I love the Black Church. I was raised in the Black Church. I was licensed and originally ordained into ministry through the Black Church. I learned about preaching, Kingdom justice, singing, a theology of celebration and suffering, and community leadership all within the Black Church. I’ve met Civil Right Movement workers, former gang members turned community development leaders, school principles, praying grandmothers, theologians, fraternity and sorority members, and committed fathers in the Black Church. I learned how to respect and honor African-American women in the Black Church. In many ways I am a product of the Black Church.
The Black Church today must become a Post-Black Church. This does not mean the end totally of the Black Church. What it does mean, is that for the Black Church to be healthy and missional into the future it must be able to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. We cannot prophetically call the White Church to racial righteousness and reconciliation and in turn let the Black Church off the hook. Both churches are equally held accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Scriptures. The Post-Black Church is one that is willing to share the gifts of the Black Church with the broader body of Christ without losing its soul. It’s a church that provides alternative methods of worship, evangelism, discipleship, and mission to all those within its surrounding community regardless of ethnicity. It’s a church that will provide a more holistic and justice focused model of global missions. In some cases this is already going on.
The Post-Black Church must move this direction by truly becoming even more of an African-American Church. Then it must grow into a multi-ethnic and missional church. This will lift up the fact that race in the form of Blackness and Whiteness are ultimately man made social constructs never intended by God. The Post-Black Church can take the lead in kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. If this doesn’t happen the Black Church will become enslaved to the same elements that hold the White Church captive (To learn more about this read the book, The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah). In many cases this is already happening.
Too many Black Churches are being held captive by individualism, capitalism, and consumerism. This combination can lead to empire building instead of Kingdom advancement. This happened through the drift theologically into the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel. Some Black Churches have moved away from the theologies of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins, and James Cone. Some Black Churches can’t hear the voices of Vashti McKenzie, Jeremiah Wright, Gardner C. Taylor, Calvin Butts, Floyd Flake, Frank Reid, and Brenda Salter McNeil. Instead some are captivated by television preachers promising wealth, rooted in a “casino theology.” Others want to grow large churches so badly that they’ll follow the theology of the closest mega church. Sad indeed. This has led to an institution that has historically been a champion of freedom, to become enslaved. The Post-Black Church is not just about sharing the theologies and ministry models that have made the Black Church missional and unique, but also the freeing of a church enslaved. I love the Black Church and I want it free.
A freed African-American church can lead to the freedom of the White Church from its captivity. We could use the help of Asian and Hispanic churches as well.
More on this topic in the future.