Speaking of repentance please allow me to do so now. My post on Tuesday March 18th contained too much unbiblical anger and was far too judgmental of my white brothers and sisters. Even though I wrote out of anger I should not have allowed my words and the tone conveyed by them to carry such anger. My words should have been measured and tempered with God’s grace and the loving compassion He has toward His children who are also my brothers and sisters and will be for all eternity.
I’m extremely grateful to my friend and brother Steve for bringing this to my attention. Steve and I have been friends for years. He is a wonderful brother and a humble, godly man. Steve has served faithfully on CLF’s temporary board of elders and has been an invaluable help to me in the pursuit of my calling to shepherd God’s people. Whenever we start having discussions like these or anything that pertains to our church that might be culture sensitive he always begins the conversation by noting that he’s the 50 year old conservative white guy in the room. I appreciate his wisdom and insight and thank him for confronting me on my sin last week.
To my white brothers and sisters I repent and ask your forgiveness for my words and tone on that post (entitled ‘and this we know’). I should have known better and recognized that what I had written would not further our discussion but only lead to more division. Please know that I value your friendship and fellowship and pray that both can grow stronger. Please forgive me and Lord willing let’s continue to move forward in this necessary and hopefully edifying dialogue.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Saturday, March 22, 2008
My last post drew a comment that began with this question ‘In all honesty, why bother attempting to bridge the divide?’ The commenter went on to wonder in light of our past and current circumstances why we (i.e. black believers) should bother to bridge a gap created by white believers who it appear wish to maintain it even if they do so benignly.
Brothers and sisters whether we achieve a genuine level of ethnic harmony among the body of Christ in this life or not I believe that this is a discussion worth having. And since I know that I don’t have all the answers I would invite those of us who maintain blogs to participate in the conversation by hosting topics related to the pursuit of ethnic unity among Christ’s church. It really is high time for us to stop having conversations about having a conversation regarding ethnicity and actually begin the conversation. The question voiced by the anonymous commenter probably echoes the feelings of a good many believing black people. They hold no ill will toward their white brothers and sisters nor white people in general. They do not hate America nor do they wish this country any harm. However, my guess is that if you asked a majority of them if pursuing ethnic harmony with whites was high on their agenda they’d reply that it wasn’t.
In fact my own extended family may be quite typical of where most black believers are in this regard. They live in mainly or all black neighborhoods, go to all black churches and though they have white acquaintances at work they are just that, co-workers and little more. My best guess is that the only time any of my extended family comes into contact with white Christians is when they visit our fellowship. And I can tell you that from their point of view it’s no skin off their nose. I can also tell you that unless I had embraced reformed theology I would have been just like them.
So let’s begin with the question of the hour. Why should we attempt to bridge the divide? You’ll find that question and a very good, gospel focused answer to it posted by brother Lionel Woods who maintains the Black and Reformed blog in the comment section of my last post. But before we tackle that question I’d like to ask another and aim it mainly toward brother Lionel’s response and those who would agree with it. Should African-Americans pursue genuine ethnic harmony with our white brothers and sisters what would that harmony look like? We all agree that we don’t yet have it therefore I want to know what would it look like should we actually achieve it? We know the purpose in pursuing unity, I want to know what goal are we aiming for.
Please feel free to comment on this and Lord willing let’s begin to generate an authentic dialogue. Of course as believers we are to be mindful of our words being careful not to use them to tear one another down. At times the discussion will become passionate and that’s okay as long as that passion doesn’t become anger that’s expressed in an unbiblical manner toward anyone.
And here’s a homework assignment. (yes there will be homework and we might even create a list of required reading) Check out our fellow elder’s post that features the entire sermon by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in which he said ‘God damn America’. Listen to the message and follow brother Thabiti’s directions making comments on his site.
And above all please pray. Pray that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ will seek to bring Him glory in this area and not just protect our own ethnic or ideological turf. Pray that the main agenda of white and black believers will be the extension of the kingdom and the removal of anything on our part that prevents that. Pray that we can engage in a genuine dialogue that will result in the biblical fruit of Christ-like love and true unity. And pray that our example might result in the Name of Jesus being given high honor and praise among those who don’t know Him and yet truly want better ethnic relations in this country.
Lastly, here’s a message I preached on ethnic unity around this time last year. It’s entitled ‘One Nation Under The Blood’ and focuses on what God has done in Christ to create one new people.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, March 21, 2008
I’ve added a couple of more good brothers to the blogroll. If you haven’t already take some time to check out Wyeth W. Duncan who rights at A Debtor To Mercy and Scotty J. Williams our resident Black Creole Reformer.
A couple of brothers have begun to weigh in on Senator Obama’s speech and the issues of ethnicity surrounding his candidacy. At Magnify God, Ronjour Locke writes on the theme Won By His Blood, One By His Blood and Q-D.O.G. writes on coming out of the clouds and into the fray at Truth In the Innermost.
Also, you can find an interview on the attraction of black liberation theology by our own fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile at the Christianity Today website and check out his reflections on the speech at pure church.
Speaking of the elder, Tony Carter at Non Nobis Domine wonders if he is indeed a prophet.
Lastly, since we’re on the subject of ethnicity, unity and blogs I want to point out an observation I’ve made. The blogs I just added along with the ones listed above are all the projects of black reformed brothers. These along with A Man from Issachar (Eric Redmond), Pure Church (Thabiti Anyabwile) and Black and Reformed Ministries (Lionel Woods and Tyris Horton Sr.) regularly feature important, insightful content from brothers who are solidly reformed, Christ-centered and if I must say humble. Along with that as far as I can tell all of them are either fairly or somewhat politically conservative. I know a few of these brothers and have had contact with most and believe fully that all of them would repudiate Rev. Wright’s words and theology. Moreover, I’ve really appreciated those who’ve written on Senator Obama’s candidacy. They’ve been thoughtful, measured and open about the possibilities and pitfalls of his historic run.
And I have to admit that apart from Pure Church it’s unlikely that any of our white reformed brothers will direct you to these men for their thoughts on Senator Obama, ethnic issues in general or points dealing with reformed theology. I wonder why is that? And is it symptomatic of the evangelical church’s challenge regarding the issue of ethnicity? At this point in time can we honestly say that we’ve achieved any significant degree of ethnic unity? If so what evidence of such unity can we present to the world at large that would give us the credibility to speak to them about ethnicity? Finally, if the greater evangelical church decides to dismiss Barack Obama as a disingenuous political panderer how do they intend to address the issues he’s raised? Perhaps more importantly however is do they even care too?
The Lord’s Peace
Thursday, March 20, 2008
So where do we go from here? The speech has been given and with it the initial comments regarding Obama, Rev. Wright, the Black church, black people and of course the senator’s political future. Most seemed to think it was at least a very good speech, some an excellent one, still others a landmark one, while others dismissed it a merely a political one. As I reflect on the speech, the events that led up to it and the historic candidacy that set the stage for it a thousand and one thoughts flood my mind. For instance I wonder if those white people who chose to comment on the speech spoke to any African-American friends about their reaction to it? I also wonder if they have any black friends or even acquaintances with whom they can have an ongoing discussion about the issues Senator Obama addressed? But that’s water under the bridge or whatever the saying is.
For us (and by us I mean black people) the issue is where do we go from here. So far most of the reflections I’ve read regarding the speech center on how it will impact Senator Obama’s political ambitions. I’ve not heard or read much in the way of how this could present the country with yet another opportunity to talk about the ways ethnicity impacts the existence of all who live in this society. Whether this speech will propel us into a national dialogue on race, reconciliation and harmony remains to be seen. Though this particular time is unique we have had other chances to engage in such a discussion and failed to do so. For that reason I wouldn’t recommend that African-Americans hold our collective breath and wait for white folks to continue the process of moving toward some form of genuine ethnic harmony.
So where do we go from here and how do we begin? The first place to start is with repentance to the Creator and Redeemer of the world Jesus Christ. What’s this have to do with our current struggles in America? Perhaps little. However, no matter how great the obstacles before us in this country they pail when compared to the reality that we’ve offended a holy God who will not allow us to use racism as an excuse for rebellion. I’ve written it before and it’s worth saying again that our main problem is not with white people or a racialized society. Our main problem is that we are not in a right relationship with God and further He will not accept us as righteous simply because we happen to have been black, poor and oppressed. We must repent and turn to the living God through Jesus Christ not as a means to the end of a better life here and now but as an end in and of itself. We must repent because God commands it and will most certainly judge those who refuse to repent.
But what about the life we live in the here and now? What good is pie in the sky if the white man is still living large while our communities crumble under the weight of the lingering effects of racism? Our life here and now is dominated by the pursuit of God’s eternal kingdom. And what will that look like? First and foremost it will move us into an ongoing experience of Spirit-filled, God-honoring and Christ-centered worship. Being the subjects of His kingdom means that we make the worship of the King our top priority. We organize our lives around the supreme privilege and sacred responsibility of worship. Bowing to our King and shepherd in worship is right because He’s commanded us to do so. And in the end we are accountable to Him for our lives and not ourselves. Worship also reminds us that we are people created in God’s image and thus cannot find definitive satisfaction in a materialistic lifestyle. For us the pinnacle of liberation is not achieving the American dream and the respect of white people, but in discovering the blessedness of bowing our hearts before our Creator in genuine, Christ-centered worship. Additionally, worship helps us to recall that the substance of our humanity isn’t determined by what white people think of or do to us. This frees us from waiting for them to acknowledge our collective hurt and pain, which for many of us is the way they could acknowledge our humanity.
Finally, worship moves us to long for a new and better reality. While we recognize that things aren’t where we wish them to be, we praise God that they’re not where they used to be. And yet we must know by now that this world, this country and the white people in it do not hold the key to our total and lasting healing, hope, love and destiny. Would it be nice to live in a more racially harmonious society? Yes, it would. Should we pin all of our hopes that we’ll ever live in such a society? No, the hope we have can never be grounded in people no matter how well meaning they are. No our confidence in a better future rests solely in the gracious nail imprinted hands of Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
First let’s set the record straight. As far as I can remember not one republican presidential candidate whether he was conservative, moderate or rino ever thought to address the nation on the issue of race during his run for the White House. And as far as I can remember not one of my evangelical friends, their evangelical political leaders (e.g. James Dobson and others) or the well known evangelical pastors ever pushed for a republican candidate or sitting president to raise and address the issue of race and ethnicity in this country. I do know that when President Clinton encouraged a dialogue on race in the mid-nineties the religious right shot it down with all the fervor of the army’s conquest of Bagdad. I know this because I was apart of a white evangelical church in VA and constantly listened to white evangelicals tell me that race was not a problem, that black folks just need to get over slavery and segregation and that if we were really smart we’d ditched the donkey and pony up to the GOP.
I also know that Senator John McCain accepted the endorsement of John Hagee who claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans. Interesting isn’t it? I didn’t hear evangelicals calling for Senator McCain to repudiate that remark. So are we to believe that the black bodies who floated down the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina were the direct objects of God’s judgment? Is that what Senator McCain believes? If not should we question his judgment in accepting Hagee’s endorsement?
Now trust me folks, I’m pretty well aware that Senator Obama knew of Pastor Wright’s feelings toward white people and America. And though you do not want to hear this many (not all) of pastor Wright’s views are held by a great majority of black people. Does that shock you? Probably and it’s more than likely because you have few relationships with black folks who will tell you the truth about our ambivalence as Americans. Look, most black people I know don’t tear up and get misty eyed when the national anthem is played as this country’s multi-billion dollar air force flies overhead including yours truly. Most of us treat July 4th as another day off and reason to cookout, not as a celebration of our freedom because the last time we checked General Washington’s black chattel were confined to the slave quarters when the declaration of independence was drafted.
Many of you may have seen the footage of Rev. Wright’s more controversial remarks. If not look at it again and don’t ask yourself why Senator Obama would have this man as his pastor, but ask why are those who were present reacting so enthusiastically to his remarks? These are the black people you and those in your congregation work with, pass by and smile at when they give you your change at the grocery store. Does that mean that I and others endorse or believe his remarks? No, it doesn’t. But we do identify with the feeling of alienation that generated such remarks. We do know that the only time America seems to want to affirm black men is when they’re driving to the hole or taking it to the house. We do know many white Americans (and almost all the white evangelicals I know) speak of the scourge of affirmative action and then whip themselves into a frenzy cheering for the black bodies who carry the rock for old state u during march madness.
And we do know this. Senator Barack Obama will give a speech on the issue of racial healing and national unity not too far from the very spot where people who looked like him served as lifelong slaves for the very people who began this land of liberty. And while I can’t say for sure I have the sinking feeling that a good many evangelicals will dismiss him and the speech, remain convinced that black people just don’t get it and pray for the day Senator John McCain takes the oath of office and leads the charge against abortion, Islamic fundamentalist, heterosexual marriage, lower taxes, less government, maximized gun rights, family values, school vouchers, privatized healthcare, social security reform, decreased business regulation, vociferous border enforcement and last but not least a strong military.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Who would have thought that Barack Obama could be so divisive? I’m sure you’ve seen the debate that’s lately raged across the reformed evangelical photosphere concerning Senator’s Obama’s view on abortion and those who identify themselves as evangelicals who haven’t completely ruled out voting for him despite those views. Our good brother and fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile has written an excellent post addressing this from one angle and recently penned a follow up to it. Justin Taylor has posted several pieces (here, here and here) and referenced a number of others. Anthony Carter also wrote a very helpful article on Senator Obama.
My hope in writing this is not to pour gas on a raging fire but to add some insight that I pray will bring black and white bible believing Christians together in a dialogue that needs to happen. I write this from a position of having spent significant time among black bible believing Christians and white evangelicals. I don’t want to begin with Senator Obama or his position on abortion. But before going on please understand that I think it is wrong and ungodly. I also believe that it is an inconsistent position. For justice for the poor and powerless must extend to all those without power whether born, just born or unborn.
And this is where the quandary lies for me and many other African-American believers. On the one hand we don’t in any way support Senator Obama’s or the Democratic parties position on abortion or gay marriage for that matter. At the same time myself along with most of the black believers I know support some form of gun control, believe that government can play a more constructive role in our lives than most conservatives believe, don’t believe universal healthcare is a horrible idea, aren’t for a huge military, and believe that tax cuts aren’t the only way to stimulate the economy. And yes, most African-American believers I know still support some form of affirmative-action.
Apart from that most black Christians I know believe that we still live in a country where systematic injustice plays apart in opportunities for blacks and whites. That doesn’t mean we’re convinced that it’s still 1968, but neither do we think that America has reached the point where all of us are genuinely judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. Does that mean that all African-American believers hold these positions? Of course not. But part of the challenge I found in living and serving among white evangelicals is that they tend to only listen to those blacks who agree with them and hold them out as the examples that all other African-Americans should follow. This prevents having an ongoing dialogue to discover why African-Americans hold these positions.
Having lived and served in a white, evangelical church and observed plenty of Christian conservative I can say that most white evangelicals I know stand on the opposite side of those issues.
But that’s not the heart of the matter. It’s the way both group view the issues of race, class, opportunity, etc. and how they affect black people. And this is where the abortion issue is affected. From my experience (which is not universal) many of the white evangelicals I know and spoke with regarding these things did not believe that this country still had substantial challenges that revolved around ethnicity. They did not believe there were any true instances of systematic injustice only isolated occasions of ignorant behavior. And when blacks spoke to them or related examples of racism they then questioned our perception. For example I read an article from a conservative commentator about the incidents of racism that occurred in a MD Denny’s in the mid-nineties. His conclusion was that the problem wasn’t racism but black people’s failure to recognize plain old poor service. It seemed that whenever we began to speak of racism our white brothers marginalized our thoughts and feelings by saying that it was only the media stirring up more trouble or Jesse Jackson wanting to stay in the limelight.
On top of that there were the constant negative jokes, emails and stories about President Bill Clinton and his wife. Another example: during Mr. Clinton’s presidency I had the opportunity to hear a major evangelical speaker (most of you would know of him) in northern VA. Before the message he had a conversation with someone as a way of introducing him that evening. The speaker mentioned being invited to the White House for some event and went on for a few minutes describing his time there. At one point the announcer asked if he met and spoke with the president. When he replied ‘yes’ the MC followed up by asking sarcastically ‘well how is she’? Most everyone in the audience broke out laughing at the joke. However I noticed that most of the blacks in the room neither smiled or thought it was funny.
Sorry for the long post, but I feel it’s necessary to tell my white brothers and sisters that for many of us the way you view race, your disdain for Democrats in general and the Clintons in particular display your utter lack of real concern for us and the issues our communities face. To be straight brothers and sisters most of us scoff at your declarations that the church not the government should advocate for the poor knowing that most of your churches are structured to spend their resources on their members and not poor black people. We view you with skepticism at best and hypocrisy at worst when you compare abortion to slavery, tell us that we of all people should be on the front lines fighting against it and then are among the most resistant when it comes to America offering an official apology for slavery.
Most of us are convinced that if abortion were outlawed tonight and we turned to you for support in the other issues important to us that you would retreat into your conservative political ideologies and we would be on our own. Please, please understand, I’m not writing this to raise your level of guilt. Nor am I asking you to look at issues involving ethnicity the exact same way the many of your African-American brothers and sisters do. I do believe that we would all do well to sit down, have a frank talk on why we are where we are, consider the possibility of changing the way we approach politics and seek the Lord on impacting this country with His peace, righteousness and justice for the sake of the gospel.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
So who are evangelicals looking to put their hopes in? Are they awaiting the second coming of JFK and the mythical Camelot? Someone who though he may have vague ideas gives them hope that we can be more than we are? Or are evangelicals pinning their hopes on the second advent of Ronald Reagan? A man who can take up the Gipper’s mantle and return pride and greatness to the nation?
How about neither. That doesn’t mean we won’t vote (though some of us might not). It’s just that the very act of voting for a man or woman reminds us of the flaws and fallibilities of even the best leaders. Consequently though we might support one candidate over another we never promote them as the answer to all of our problems, challenges and issues. And we never, ever tell others that any particular candidate is the key to the peace, prosperity, security and well-being we desire.
When the society looks to us for thoughts, reflections, answers or suggestions regarding who people should put their hope in we show them Jesus. For us remembering the supremacy of Jesus brings us back to the reality that this world is ultimately not our home and therefore we’re not bound to pursue the overall political, economic and military hegemony of the United States or any other country. Recalling that we have an supreme, sovereign, unrivaled Savior, Shepherd, Lord and King anchors us to the reality that the eternal kingdom of the Lord of glory will press on whether or not America is the strongest or weakest country on earth.
Regardless of our political differences the people of God who’ve been exiled to America recognize that the more people place their hope in candidates who promise change, prosperity, stability, experience, strength, values and yes hope the more they’ll be disappointed. So we offer Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is still the main point, theme, subject, and substance of history, life, salvation and your story. We offer Jesus because He and He alone is the answer to all of our real and root problems, challenges, issues, stress, distress, pain and longing. Jesus and Jesus alone is the one who brings sense, shape, meaning, satisfaction, security, stability, change and hope to our lives now and forever.
Is Jesus the answer to all of our worldly problems, cares and concerns? Will faith in Him give us immediate relief from pain, debt, physical illness and relational strife? Are we offering people a magic key to their best life now? No, not at all. In fact for some belief in Christ might worsen their circumstances. People who believe in Jesus struggle with unemployment, too much debt, physical illness, hard-headed children and parents who just don’t understand. Many of us live with lingering grief, sorrow, loss and disappointment. So then why offer people Jesus if He hasn’t even solved the real felt needs of our own lives? Because Jesus has solved the one unfelt need that would follow us through our graves and into eternity. In doing so Jesus has brought us into His eternal kingdom, secured our place before the living God and freed us from joining the rat race in a futile attempt to enjoy the best quality of life here and now. Now we live to bring glory to our Savior and do that partly by investing ourselves in our neighborhoods, communities, cities and world to address the very issues that are important to everyone else.
So go on and cast your vote for the candidate of your choice, but remember to put your hope in the savior God chose for us, Jesus Christ.
To Him Who Loves You…
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Glory is one of my favorite all time movies. It was based on the events surrounding the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment one of the first all-black army regiments to serve in the Civil War. The movie starred Denzel Washington (for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick and many other actors who gave fine performances.
The movie did an excellent job of examining black manhood especially once the new soldiers are recruited and begin training. At one point they notice that unlike regular Union soldiers they do not have uniforms. This along with other issues uncovered some of the tensions the men had with their white officers and their real place in the scheme of things. Were they just eye candy for northern abolitionists or would they be treated like other American men who wanted to fight for their country? Eventually they get their uniforms which provided them with a palpable sense of pride in themselves and their regiment.
However, soon after receiving the uniforms the Union received a communication from the confederacy regarding black soldiers. In short the confederacy wanted to make it clear how they would regard black men taking up arms against the south and those who commanded them. White officers captured commanding black troops would be executed. Black troops wearing Union uniforms would be shot on sight. As the gravity of their situation sinks in Denzel’s character walks up to another soldier and in his best mocking sarcasm asks ‘still want that blue suit boy’?
Paul begins the third chapter of his first letter to Timothy by declaring that those who desire to serve God’s flock as overseers strive for a good and honorable work. An overseer is one who watches over the spiritual care, nurture and maturation of God’s people. What Paul did not say here but elsewhere is that this noble task is also a very, very difficult one. Though I’ve only been involved in full-time pastoral ministry for a short time (around 13 years and only about 6 as the lead pastor) I can still remember the zeal of my calling and the strong desire God gave me to serve Him by serving His people. I’m am filled with gratitude to my Lord for giving me my heart’s desire and allowing me to start and pastor a group of God’s people in the city of my birth. More than that He’s given me an outstanding group of saints to serve. The good folks of CLF astound me with their love for me, my wife and family. Their yearning to serve our Lord and support their pastor humbles me beyond measure and reminds me that though pastoral ministry is difficult and draining I still would want to do nothing else.
I would like to take just a moment to both encourage and caution those young men who like me are filled with zeal to preach, teach and lead the flock which Christ purchased with His own blood. My first admonition: slow down. Do not be so anxious and hasty to take the mantle of teaching. And always remember there is a distinction between teaching and shepherding. Pastoral ministry isn’t just about your knowledge or ability to deliver that knowledge with eloquence and power. More and more I’m finding the need to ask our Lord to just make me faithful in declaring His word regardless if I do it with great skill or eloquence. And more and more I’m asking Him to fill me with His Spirit so that I’ll serve the needs of God’s people with integrity, gentleness, humility and wisdom. Become an expert at cultivating humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and love for God’s people before becoming an expert at delivering the word and wowing the crowds. Or as the old saints would say ‘sit yo happy self down and get some God in your heart before you open your mouth!’
Here’s another admonition though it may appear to be a bit odd. Before entering pastoral ministry ask God to send you a good wife and learn the value of shepherding her even as you discover the depths of your own pride and selfishness. For too many years I neglected my own wife and pushed her to the margins for the sake of ’the ministry’. God showed me that it wasn’t He but myself I was serving. I was busily feeding my own need for affirmation and achievement. A man who neglects, is harsh with and emotionally abusive to his wife is a man who in a quest for his own name will abuse God’s people. The value of your theological acumen is greatly diminished if it hasn’t taught you the grace and humility to love your wife as Christ loves the church. A man who hasn’t come to the point of valuing, cherishing and building up his wife is one who has no business teaching, preaching to or leading the church Christ shed His own blood for.
Finally, though you’ve heard it before please take some time to pray for your pastor. Though he’s not perfect (and Lord knows we’re not) if he is striving to serve with integrity and faithfulness he needs your prayers. In fact, right after you read this take the time to pray for your pastor now. Pray for his strength, wisdom, perseverance and encouragement. Pray for the man who knowing the toll it takes on his family, his responsibility before His God, the care he has for the Lord’s flock and the fire he’s certain to receive from the enemy still decides to put that blue suit on with joy.
To Him Who Loves Us…