Tuesday, July 31, 2007
And the beat goes on. One after another, day after tragic day the residents of Philadelphia endure yet another killing. Fifteen year old Raheem Grant (the young man pictured in the photo) was murdered just days ago in what police say was a retaliation killing. And with the ‘don’t snitch’ culture firmly entrenched in our ‘community’ it seems likely that that’s as close as they will get to solving this crime.
Many explanations have been offered and many solutions put forth to address this pandemic of slaughter. From what I hear and read at least in the Philly area the solutions seemed grouped into four categories. First there’s gun control. The vast majority of the city’s murder victims are slain by a firearm. A second aspect is lack of jobs and opportunity with a corresponding lack of hope in the community. A third is poor or absent leadership by politicians which includes money for recreation centers, after school programs, more and better policing etc. A fourth centers on quality education which supposedly would give inner city (code for poor black/Hispanic) residents the necessary tools to reach for a life outside of the hood.
I do believe in one way or another all of these solutions have some merit, but overall they are a pipe dream. Simply put, the city of Philadelphia will not be able to control the flood of guns into the city’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Good paying, blue collar jobs which could help forge the backbone of a sound health community have never been abundant in poor black neighborhoods. I grew up in West Philly and never remember a time when my father, his friends or my uncles went to a company or factory that paid a living wage suitable for stabilizing a family and lifting them from underclass to working class to middle class. Trust me, the hood has always had low paying subsistence jobs and apart from extraordinary efforts by those who populate the hood that will always be the case. This is especially true in an era when companies usually associated with providing these kinds of jobs are no longer offering them or have shipped them overseas. Our politicians may be well intentioned and have some good plans but most of what they wish to do relies on obtaining more money something the state of PA has little if any desire to allocate to KillAdelphia. Schools which have been put on the front lines of these particular killing fields are ill-equipped to both teach the three r’s and shepherd the souls of young people so that they grow into productive citizens instead of violent killers.
No these solutions are destined to fail. They will fail because they only scratch the surface of the real problem. They don’t answer the question of why there is so, so little value on human life. They don’t grapple with why a generation of black youth that is the most free and has the most opportunity than any previous one also suffers from the most despair. They don’t address the inability of politicians, police and social workers to bring about a change of heart and mind among those who live and die by the code of the streets. They wonder but have no solution concerning why those who strive to make the most of their education are mocked, while those who go to jail are celebrated.
They will also fail because they depend on others to solve a problem that mainly affects us directly and one that the black community must step to the plate to deal with ourselves. Unfortunately it seems that few within our community stop and ask ‘what happens if we can’t get gun control, what if the good jobs which were never here don’t materialize, what will our politicians do should they not be able to open more recreation centers and get more police on the streets and what if our schools just aren’t up to the task of raising children instead of just teaching them?
Let me put it bluntly. What if white America says ‘look, your children are killing each other in your neighborhoods and frankly that’s not our problem. You are on your own.’ What would we do? Where would we turn? To whom would we go? It’s here that I’m supposed to give the obligatory answer that ‘black folks need to get back to God’. And yes that’s true in a certain sense. It’s true only if we return to the God of Scripture and not the god of the black man and woman. It’s true if we’re ready to come to God on His terms, through His Son as He’s revealed in Scripture and to pursue His agenda, rather than prostitute Him to indulge ours. However, if our only desire is to have a god who eases our pain, increases our wealth and levels the playing field with white America, in other words if we want a divine mascot and not the self-existent, self-sufficient, all powerful and sovereign Creator and sustainer of the universe then let’s not bother folks. Let’s just do what we’ve always done when things began to go from bad to worse in our neighborhoods. In the words of one resident where Raheem Grant was murdered ‘"The neighborhood is pretty bad . . . ," she said. "Someone I know just got shot two weeks ago. I'm trying to move."
Thursday, July 19, 2007
A few weeks ago my friend and brother Anthony Carter exposed and exploded the myth that Reformed Theology is Anglo. I’m following up not because I can do a better job than he did in debunking that foolishness but because the source of the statement was a white PCA pastor. I’ve been in the PCA for over 17 years and have been ordained as a deacon, ruling elder and teaching elder. My entrance into reformed (aka biblical) theology came through God’s grace as I studied Scripture. I didn’t become reformed while in seminary or through listening to R.C. Sproul. (although I appreciate our brother and would recommend his writings to anyone whether black, white or Klingon)
I’m writing about this first of all hoping that my PCA brother did not and would not say such a thing or that he was misunderstood. I hope that this brother (as Tony Carter wrote) meant to say that the PCA is too white and directs far too much of its energy and resources on white people at the expense of other ethnic groups. If that’s what he meant than the brother gets a straight up AMEN! However, if he really meant to say that reformed theology itself was Anglo or too Anglo well then Houston… we have a problem.
In my view reformed theology while not always biblically and humbly applied (that’s a crucial point to keep in mind) accurately captures the essence of the over-arching biblical story which is God saving a people for Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The story of redemption is the story of Scripture. Thus, if we’ve got the story of redemption wrong and/or pushed to the margins our foundation, witness and mission will eventually lose cohesion, veer off course and become useless. We may be left with a church, but not the house of God which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Instead we’ll have a captive cultural entity that ‘worships’ a tribalized diety that exist expressly to advance the temporal agenda of ‘our’ people.
Reformed theology focuses on the main theme of Scripture which is by its nature acultural. The acultural theme of salvation is demonstrated throughout Scripture and especially in those places that declare and explain the gospel. For instance Rom. 3:28-29 reads, For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. This passage is critical in promoting the right biblical view of acultural theology. God presents Himself as the God not just of the Hebrews but of the entire earth. Think through this for a moment. Paul has just declared the most important and significant thing possible to a human being, society or people group, namely how we obtain and maintain a right relationship with our Creator.
Paul is proclaiming this gospel in a world populated by millions of people from thousands of societies each with a distinct history, culture and system of religion and yet he boldly declares that each individual human and each particular culture must approach God in the same way. Is God the God of the Jews only? Absolutely not! Is the God who chose the nation of Israel, had His word recorded in the Hebrew language, accepted worship imprinted with their cultural nuances also the God of the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, British, French, Chinese, Spanish, Arabs, Americans, Kenyans and African-Americans? Absolutely!
Are we thus to enter each culture with a different message, and different aspect of the Covenant Lord that suits their particular needs for dignity, identity and self-empowerment (which is what black theology or any other kind of ethnically based theology promotes) or the one unifying message of eternal salvation that brings us into a unified relationship with our Covenant Lord and with all of His people?
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. That succinct, wondrous and grace drenched statement by the apostle Paul lies at the heart of reformed (aka) biblical theology. It is a statement that applies to all people everywhere and at every time. It is a statement for the white, well-educated, upper class, suburban businessman and the black under-educated, underclass, inner-city struggling brother.
Now we know this is true brothers and sisters. The question I want to ask is this: Why is this issue arising now? Consider this: many believe the black church to be in serious trouble if not crisis. At the same time reformed theology is beginning to make an impact (small but growing) among many African-Americans. These two circumstances are not a coincidence. How is it that at this precise time we have questions as to the validity of reformed theology for the black church and black people? I ask you who would gain from this? Will the black church and black people be better off embracing prosperity theology? Will that theology move us to love God, His salvation and delight in Him as an end in and of itself? Should we pursue and adopt black liberation theology? Will that make us whole, give us a greater insight on God’s worldwide salvation and foster the unity of the body of Christ spoken of in Ephesians 4? Do we plan to start a Black Reformed Church to go along with the National Baptist Convention, African Methodist Episcopal Church and Church of God In Christ? Isn’t this the time to demonstrate to the church and the culture that it is true biblical theology alone that authentically unites believes across ethnic and socio-economic lines?
Or is the world right in claiming that the Scriptures, our salvation and our Lord are just part of a white man’s religion?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Monday, July 16, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
At 13 Michael Gilchrist is fairly assured that for the most part he will have his pick of colleges. In about four years the University of Michigan, Stanford, USC, the University of North Carolina, Duke, Villanova, Syracuse and others will be vying for his services. Mr. Gilchrist enters his freshman year of as one the top 4 or 5 high school basketball players in the country. Some are already projecting him as a top NBA pick and except for the new rules barring high school students from jumping straight to the pros he might be one of the few who could actually go straight from high school to the big time. Thankfully for Michael his parents appear to have him well grounded and if all goes as hoped he will have a sparkling high school career, spend a year or even two at a top college before going to the NBA and signing a multi-million dollar contract.
Unlike most African-American high school freshman Michael Gilchrist won’t have to worry about whether top schools will be interested in him, how he’ll pay for college or if he’ll be accepted with sub-par grades and SAT scores. In fact, if history is any judge Michael will be accepted by the school of his choice even though that institution of higher learning is fully aware that he may have every intention of leaving after a year or two. Many of you know that the top two draft picks of this year’s NBA draft spent just one year in college. (in fact of the top 12 American raised players only 1 completed a four year college career) Now I don’t begrudge the young man. He’s been blessed with exceptional athletic talent at a time when the NCAA generates millions of dollars from the skills of young black men like himself.
Though we often speak of the issues of diversity, integration and affirmative action I wonder if the real matter is one of opportunity. In other words who gets access to opportunity and how do they get it? Those who support affirmative action believe it will grant opportunities to those who would ordinarily not have access to them. Those who oppose it believe that affirmative action is a form of racial discrimination and is therefore morally wrong. For my part I struggle with the issue. I know that the vast, vast majority of black high school freshmen won’t receive the attention or opportunities that Michael Gilchrist will. At the same time I don’t think anyone should be denied an opportunity on the basis of ethnicity. And yet absent of superior athletic talent it seems that most black high school freshmen will have a difficult pathway toward college.
Once more I have to ask the question: where does the church fit in? Is the end of affirmative action a time for evangelicals to notch a victory in the culture wars or an opportunity to demonstrate God’s compassion for His creation? What could happen if the black expression of God’s church worked along with the white, Asian and Hispanic expressions of the church to show the same kind of interest in minority high school freshmen as the Big East, SEC and Big Ten will show in Michael Gilchrist? What might happen if we went beyond holding joint worship services and actually began to work toward maximizing the opportunity for every minority high school freshmen who had a desire to attend college? What if the church demonstrated that we were as much or even more interested in seeing minority youth get opportunity as we are seeing the end of affirmative action?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Friday, July 06, 2007
Is it morally right for school districts to use ethnicity (we’re all one race cf. Acts 17) to assign students to schools in order to increase diversity? According to the latest Supreme Court ruling it is no longer legal regardless of whether or not it‘s morally right. Once announced the decision was either hailed or decried by those on the left and right. The comments by both demonstrate once more that America is a divided nation with both sides entrenched, distrustful and disdainful of the other. In light of that I do hope that believers can refrain from casting those who disagree with them as either politically correct imbeciles or knee-jerk conservative bigots.
Since we’re debating the merits (sorry for the pun) of affirmative action I’d like to get behind the issue and pose some questions in light of this decision. The school districts in question were barred from using ethnicity to in order to achieve a desired goal of diversity. The issue at hand seemed to be achieving a certain measure of ethnic diversity. The question I’d like to ask is this: Is it necessary for our society to have a certain amount of diversity? Most of us would probably agree that it’s desirable, but would our society suffer if the vast majority of our children were educated in ethnically homogenous environments? If it is necessary to have some diversity how could a school district, college or company achieve it without getting sued? If a lack of diversity does in the long run harm our society does that harm outweigh any attempts to rectify it?
Have our churches been less effective in our witness because most of them are largely consists of believers from one ethnicity? Think of some of the leading evangelical reformed churches in our country? If we believe that they’re effectiveness hasn’t been unduly hindered because they’re largely homogenous can we convince the society that the pursuit of diversity is necessary and not just desirable? It’s one thing to conclude that the government should not and cannot force diversity, but it’s a whole other issue to believe that people will simply make nice especially when issues of education and opportunity are at stake.
Another set of questions to consider. Should African-Americans be more concerned about quality education then diversity? Is the drive for diversity about resources for a good education or do we really believe that having our children in the same classrooms with white children is valuable in and of itself? Granted there are some wealthy school districts that outspend inner-city (code for mainly poor and black) districts by a two to one ration. But what if we could deliver a high quality education to our children that would prepare them for gainful careers in this high tech 21st century world despite spending disparities? Would we still have as much interest in diversity? One more point concerning this. With night falling on affirmative action is this the time to put our energy and effort into quality education instead of diversity no matter how desirable it is?
Finally, (at least for this post) how should the church react? Is it enough for us just to applaud the ruling while hoping the next one will be the final death knell for affirmative action? Are we prepared to show the society that diversity is desirable not because it’s politically correct but because God intentionally chose people from every ethnicity to make up His church? Will we make the effort to include a diverse group of people in our lives in order to honor one of the prime implications of the gospel?
Many believe that this ruling will eventually lead us to being a more fair society and it might. Others are convinced that it was morally right regardless of the practical implications and they have a point. But should we at least ponder the possibility that it might ease the path toward us becoming a more separate society than we already are? And if it does would it really be that bad of a thing. If so, what are we the church of the living God willing to do about it?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
What is the state of the Black Church? I pondered that question having recently read Eric Redmond’s interview with Alton Pollard the new dean of Howard Divinity school and listened to a News and Notes program segment on the history of African-American religion. I’d encourage you to listen to the program and read the interview as they provide some insight on where the academic wing of the black church is at this time.
While thinking about both I couldn’t help but wish I had gotten a chance to ask one question, namely: ‘Do the claims of Christianity and the bible have to be true for our faith quest to be valid.’
Among the things I read and heard that sparked this question was the following quote by Dean Pollard ‘Children, women and men alike find meaning in life through the culture of their origins, in the family, by their faith, and through the body collective.’
Now I could certainly be reading too much into Dean Pollard’s answer, but it struck me as if he were assigning faith to the category of pure subjective intuition. In other words I may have a faith that helps give me meaning while you might have a different faith that gives you meaning and neither belief system has to have any truth to it at all.
If faith therefore is merely one of the ways I find meaning for my life is it necessary for that faith to be based in truth? For instance, there are numerous traditional African religious views of creation. That fact leads to the conclusion that while all of these creation stories can differ and be wrong, they cannot all differ and be right. (right in the sense of giving an accurate account of how the earth, solar system, universe and humanity came to be) And yet, they can all still give meaning to those who believe them.
I got this same feeling hearing one of the guests on News and Notes describe the Exodus story. She was explaining why this particular story gave so much hope to enslaved Africans but (and you’ll have to listen to the interview yourself) it appeared to me that she relayed it in a way that reduced it to little more than just a story that didn’t need to be true in order to inspire.
I know this may sound a bit irrelevant and perhaps I’m a somewhat paranoid. But what happens if the experts of the faith (or should I say our faith) don’t actually believe that it’s true but just useful for this time? What might happen in the day black folks by and large overcome our persistent social struggles and find we have no more need for a faith to give us meaning and assist our struggle? What might happen when black folks are doing well and can find ample meaning in their identity as Americans, the reality of full, meaningful integration and like other groups can simply enjoy life here and now?
I wonder will African-Americans at the dawn of the 22nd century even see a need for Howard Divinity School or for that matter any kind of faith at all?
To Him Who Loves Us...
We are never far from the issue of race/ethnicity in America. Just a few weeks ago archeologists discovered the hidden passages used by the enslaved
Africans of President Washington when he lived in Philadelphia. How ironic to be reminded of the cruelty of slavery in the cradle of liberty. Last week the Supreme Court made yet another ruling regarding the legality of using race as a factor to achieve diversity. Howard University recently hosted a forum for the democratic presidential candidates where most of the questions focused on issues of race and ethnicity.
Though we’re never far from the issue of race and ethnicity however doesn’t mean that we’re getting closer to fully solving this most difficult of dilemmas. For many in America wading into issues of ethnicity is similar to wading into the ocean. All know it’s there, most have had at least a passing glance at it, some actually have waded in up to their ankles while precious few have gone deep sea fishing. Believers have fared little better than non-believers in the turbulent waters of ethnicity. More often than not we adopt the standard ideological positions and then parrot them back to the choir.
If we are to carry out our mandate, disciple our culture and advance the kingdom, Christians must look beyond our political positions, address ethnicity theologically and think and pray through what it means to live out the implications of the gospel regarding race and ethnicity.
This will take thought, patience, humility and consideration which are virtues too often absent in our discussions on race and ethnicity.
When wading into the depths of ethnic dialogue it’s helpful to remember that believers have a dual responsibility in our witness for the Lord and His gospel. I believe Scripture calls for us to take an active positive role in whatever community the Lord has placed us in. At times this means we will disagree with one another over the best way to work for and achieve positive ends for the community, city, state or nation we’re called to serve. That doesn’t mean that those who don’t see things our way are stupid, utterly evil, unpatriotic or race traitors and we shouldn‘t portray them that way. Our second responsibility is to highlight, broadcast and embody the truth of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The implications of the gospel therefore may call for us to pursue a particular course of action that few in the general society would even think of. Our citizenship in the kingdom will move us beyond ideological boundaries in our quest to accurately witness of the character, nature and ways of our gracious God. Hopefully looking at race and ethnicity in this light will keep us on track and in check so that we don’t commit the errors of either never going into the water or jumping in and winding up lost at sea.
To Him Who Loves Us