Big Government in Black and White

Big Government in Black and White for urban faithAmong other controversies, the health-care debate has shined a light on the different ways that African Americans and European Americans think about government in the lives of people.

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 that has been going on in our nation about health care when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a health-care 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 health care, 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 health-care reform bill would. Both the management of war and health care 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 health care? 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 health care worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans, life in the U.S. began with 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 history sheds light on 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 his or her 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. Primarily, government has been the catalyst to open the door to freedom from slavery, even if Jim Crow Segregation was one of its initial alternatives. Overall, government has been the instrument through which substantive change has come for African Americans. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government-led realities.

Could this be the foundational reason why, in this society still influenced by race, many European-Americans are concerned about big government while many African-Americans 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 a part.

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.
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A College Football Reality Check

For the past 20 years, Brad Gaines has driven 175 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Russellville, Alabama, three times a year to visit the tiny cemetery where a friend he barely knew is laid to rest.

In 1989, after a collision on a typical football play, Gaines, a tailback for Vanderbilt, walked back to his team’s huddle, but Chucky Mullins, a safety for Mississippi, didn’t get up.


Got Courage?

Got Courage? for urban faithIf following Jesus has become a boring, monotonous experience for you, as it has for many of us, perhaps it’s because we’re afraid to act on what we claim to believe.

In my last column, I wrote about feeling the rumble of spiritual revolution within my own mind, heart, and soul, and hearing the faint whisper of a battle cry from others as well. Well, the fires of uprising within me are still being stoked, most recently by Gary Haugen in his book, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian. I read it two nights ago and felt like I had found a good friend who understands exactly where I am. Our conversation began with these words:

Is it okay to bore grownups with the gospel? I ask the question because I sense among many Christians today a subtle but deep discontent. I don’t think they would call it boredom because that sounds too flippant, but I do sense a powerful but largely unspoken sense of disappointment in the way their Christian life is turning out. ..[A]t the end of the day we thought our Christian life would be more than this — somehow larger, more significant, more vivid, more glorious. But it’s not. Driving to church on Sunday feels a bit like Groundhog Day, the movie where Bill Murray’s character is forced to pathetically relive exactly the same day over and over again.

…It had seemed like following Christ was supposed to be a bold adventure of power and beauty and singular importance, but the reality that keeps emerging appears to be something very different. And in very deep ways, it’s disappointing.

He had me at “discontent.” And he kept my attention as he led me through the rough terrain of rationalization, generalization, and self-pity that stands between me and the life of true adventure with the Master I so long for. Excusing my milk-toast mediocrity by blaming circumstances, or reasoning that a lot of other Christians feel this way and manage to make peace with it, or feeling sorry for myself don’t cut it. At the end of the day, I’m forced to deal squarely with the harsh truth: I’m just afraid. Maybe you are, too.

I’m afraid to let go of the ordinary because it’s what I’ve known. But I’m beginning to realize that while ordinary has been a companion, it’s never been a friend. Using our talents and gifts in a way that we can control, in arenas with which we’re familiar, is not the path to overflowing living that we’re all called to. It’s the path to … Well, what we all experience. Predictability. Boredom. Wanting more.

But how do we get from here to there?

Maybe like me you have an education, ministry experience, drive, and passion. Yet I’m asking as the rich young ruler did, “What do I still lack?” Quite simply, courage.

Haugen, who is the founder and president of International Justice Mission, posits that the remedy for this kind of restlessness is to abandon the desire for comfort, safety, and certainty. I see that these things keep my feet firmly planted in what Haugen refers to as the “Christian cul-de-sac of triviality and small fears.”

Sure, we see grave and glaring injustice and know that it’s evil. We can intellectually condemn violence and oppression. But we need to take action. And that is the heart of how he describes courage: taking action even when it is scary and hard, and especially when what we’re moving toward is dangerous and could potentially overtake us. Haugen’s battlefields involve fighting for justice against aggressive evil and violent oppression. Sex trafficking of women and girls, property pirated away from widows, and modern-day slavery — these are his pathways to courage.

It sure sounds exciting, but maybe a little too exotic for most of us. We’ve got bills, laundry, fundraisers, deadlines, children, church, and bad hair days to contend with. But it’s great that someone is taking these things on, right?

Perhaps there needs to be a smaller beginning. If you frequently visit this website, you’ve read articles about Black teenagers living lives of sexual degradation; the brutal death of a teenager at the hands of his neighbors and classmates; urban children being educated in substandard schools; and the urgent need for healing and restoration in our communities. Have you ever responded in any way to anything you’ve read?

I issue a “courage challenge” to every visitor to this site: 1) pick one issue represented by an article, 2) pray about it every day for seven days, and 3) email a friend and ask them to do the same.

We can each find our own pathway to courage, and Jesus will direct us to and meet us on the path. By taking my first step on my path, I see Jesus walking into a brothel, crack house, or slave trade business and bringing freedom to people trapped by the evil of their oppressors.

The most shocking thing of all? Jesus looks like me. And He looks like you, too.

It's Reading Time

Book Reader 125x175Did you know that October is National Book Month? Oh, I hear you: “Thanks for telling us now that the month is almost over.” Well, just because the month is over doesn’t mean you still can’t crack open a good book and explore new people, places, and ideas. I mean, when you get down to it, shouldn’t every month be a National Book Month?

UrbanFaith contributor Linda Leigh Hargrove certainly thinks so. That’s why she compiled this excellent list with suggestions for both fiction and nonfiction books dealing with African American history. Check it out, and then get yourself to the library, your local bookstore, or an online book site and get busy reading.