by Anthony B. Bradley | Feb 10, 2012 | Feature, Headline News |
One of the realities of being a white Protestant in America is the historic freedom from needing a theological framework to confront structural and institutional forms of injustice due to race. Race continues to be a heavy burden for people of color in America. As such, a theological framework primarily oriented toward issues of personal salvation and morality is sufficient to address the questions of the dominant white culture. However, for blacks and Latinos, who not only have to wrestle with personal questions regarding sin and salvation but also evil from the outside because of their race, they need the Cross to provide hope that God intends to relieve the burdens and liabilities of being a subdominant minority. These burdens range from stereotypes and racial discrimination to issues of identity in light of Anglo-normativity and sociopolitical wellbeing. Blacks and Latinos need a comprehensive theology that deals with the cosmic scope of God redeeming every aspect of the creation affected by the Fall through the work and person of Christ.
Dr. Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and an UrbanFaith contributor, presents a comprehensive theological framework in his chapter in a new book I edited titled Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation. Bacote introduces the themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Renewal (CFRR). CFRR reminds us of the following: God created the world good, it was corrupted by the Fall introducing sin and brokenness into the world, but God has a unique plan to renew the entire creation through the work and person of Jesus Christ. That is, the entire creation formed and shaped by Christ will also be renewed by Christ and reconciled unto Him (Col. 1:15-23).
CFRR not only tells us who we are, it also gives Christians a vision of the implications of the kingdom of God. Christians are not passive bystanders but are called to be leaders in the business reconciliation until Christ returns to bring finality to the renewal process inaugurated at his death and resurrection in ways never before realized in human history (Rom. 8:12-25).
For those seeking to preach the Good News of what was accomplished in the work and Person of Jesus Christ to blacks and Latinos, the application of biblical texts cannot be limited to personal issues of salvation and sanctification. Subdominant minorities who are immersed in a world of white privilege need to hear hope that God also intends to relieve them of the complex burdens of being a minority — burdens that whites do not encounter in their day-to-day lives in America. This is one reason why minority teachers are vitally important in ethnic church contexts. Otherwise, applying the gospel to the realities of white privilege will likely not be addressed regularly. Now, by white privilege I simply mean the privilege, special freedom, or immunity white persons have from some liability or burden to which non-white persons are subject in America.
A team of authors led by Fordham University psychology professor Celia B. Fisher provides an excellent list of issues that blacks and Latinos need to reconcile with the Truth. In an article titled “Applied Developmental Science, Social Justice, and Socio-Political Wellbeing,” Fisher and her team remind us that when evil entered the world it created a context for the following burdens experienced by Native Americans, blacks, and Latinos in America: (1) societal structures, policies, and so on that limit access to minorities, (2) the persistence of high-effort coping with the reality of marginalization that produces high levels of stress, (3) psycho-political wellbeing and validity concerns which address the ways in which minorities apply human dignity to themselves within a context of Anglo-hegemony, (4) communities that accept dysfunctional behaviors as behavioral norms in the shaping of one’s personhood, (5) institutional racism which examines the “institutional structures and processes passed on from generation to generations that organize and promote racial inequity throughout the culture,” (6) proactive measures intended to dismantle racism, and (7) contexts to provide healing for those who have experience major and minor encounters with racist attitudes, beliefs, or actions.
The revivalist impulse by many evangelicals rightly understands that ultimate social change comes when members of society become followers of Christ. However, American history has clearly proven that personal salvation does not stop people from being racists nor from setting up social institutions and policies that deny others access to the means of liberty and human dignity. If evangelism alone were effective for social change, Christians would never have participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, been slave owners, created apartheid in South Africa, or allowed Jim Crow laws to come into existence.
Theologians like Abraham Kuyper remind us that, because of God’s common grace, evangelism is not necessary to persuade people to treat others with dignity and respect — after all, the law of God is written on the heart (Rom. 2:15) even though it merits them no favor with God. Therefore, work at both. We must morally form individuals and dismantle cultural norms of racism that become structural.
I suspect this is one of the major reasons why many whites are unsuccessful at reaching blacks and Latinos. If the gospel is not being applied to issues of the heart and issues that require outside, structural justice, we will miss areas in need of biblical application. Blacks and Latinos in America do not have the privilege of not talking about the issues addressed in the Fisher article, because all minorities experience aspects of those issues in various ways.
If we believe the Bible speaks to the questions of the day, then we have to do a better job of developing the cultural intelligence that applies the Truth to issues of the heart and to the cultural spaces minorities inhabit as subdominant races.
by Jelani Greenidge, Urban Faith Contributing Writer | Jan 10, 2012 | Feature, Headline News, Jelani Greenidge |
NOT FEELING LUCKY: A gay activist used a clever Internet campaign to create a new meaning for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum's name on Google. Has the culture war gone digital? (Photo by Mike Segar/Newscom)
Since vaulting to a virtual tie with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum has become headline news in short order. And so, too, has his so-called “Google problem.”
For the uninitiated, Santorum’s name was dragged through the virtual mud after a series of controversial statements regarding homosexuality drew the ire of sex columnist and gay activist Dan Savage. In an effort to retaliate against Rick Santorum for linking homosexuality with polygamy, bestiality, and moral relativism, Savage polled his readers to find the most offensive definition possible with which to associate with the word “santorum,” settling on a byproduct of anal sex. He then launched an Internet campaign, complete with its own website, designed to point search engines to this definition when users searched for the name Santorum.
(Relax, people. The link was to Wikipedia.)
Because this happened awhile back, few people knew about this outside of Santorum’s campaign staff, his small-but-loyal following, and liberal bloggers who intentionally linked to Dan Savage’s website in order to embarrass the then-U.S.-senator. But since his Iowa resurgence, in an effort to play catch-up, political reporters and pundits have been delicately referring to this as Santorum’s “Google problem.”
But the problem has very little to do with Google. And in the big picture, it has little to do with Rick Santorum directly, although his feud with Savage vaulted his name into the internet spotlight. See, Google’s search algorithms direct users to what they’re looking for based on a complex set of criteria, which includes how many and how often people link to a particular website. The way that Dan Savage and his supporters were able to defame Rick Santorum is by intentionally manipulating that process, a term sometimes referred to as “Google bombing.”
But Rick Santorum’s problem is really not with Google, which is why his attempt to get Google to remove the offending search result, rather than proving his fighting mettle, mostly showed his ignorance regarding how the search engine, and by extension the Internet in general, works.
Instead of a Google problem, what Rick Santorum has is a meaning problem. And unfortunately, so do many other Christians in politics.
Words have meanings
See, the crux of the clash between conservative and liberal activists is often in the meanings or connotations of words. For Santorum and other Christians who believe that God’s standard for marriage and sexuality is for one man and one woman, the word “homosexual” or “gay” is shorthand for “deviant.” As in, “if you deviate from our standard, then you’re wrong.”
For Dan Savage and many of his ilk, I think that what’s so offensive is not simply the idea that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but that this sin in particular is so vile and morally objectionable that people who engage in it deserve whatever dehumanizing rhetoric is flung in their direction. That’s what they get, I’m sure they imagine Christians saying, for choosing that lifestyle.
Unfortunately, because of the decades-long conflation in American churches of Christian doctrine with Republican politics, many left-leaning, non-religious Americans have adopted distorted definition of Christianity. For them, the word “Christian” is an adjective akin to “hypocritical” or “judgmental.”
Many postmodern, Gen-X and/or Millennial Americans have similar cultural leanings, even if they grew up in Christian households. I have a friend who is a Christian, the child of a Presbyterian pastor. In his household, growing up, the term “conservative” was usually a slur, and to this day any reference to The 700 Club brings up a slight wave of nausea.
By itself, this barely qualifies as news, as it’s been covered ad nauseam by younger, hipper Christians trying to ditch the stench of stuffy cultural superiority.
But in this situation, it does explain a lot.
The gay civil rights movement
For starters, it explains why so many gay activists have borrowed the tactics, imagery, and rhetoric of the civil rights movement.
A galvanizing force in the Black community, the African American church has been, for decades and even centuries, the focal point of political activism for Blacks in America. And it’s easy to forget this now, but there were plenty of White people in the late ’60s who denounced Dr. King and the civil rights movement as rabble-rousing nonsense. So entrenched were these Whites in their typical Christian Baby Boomer upbringing, with an idea of Christianity as American as baseball and apple pie, that they failed to see the civil rights struggle as a biblical issue. It was countercultural, so for them it was wrong.
By contrast, many liberal White people voluntarily joined the struggle — especially those whose parents grew up in that time and for whom it became de rigeur to adopt many of the cultural artifacts of the Black church experience without actually believing in God, Jesus, or salvation. It’s like they got swept up in the passion of the struggle and came along for the ride, sort of.
(For a pop culture example, imagine Steven and Elyse Keaton from Family Ties in their twenties, singing “Kum Ba Ya” during a protest.)
So when these liberal White folks (or others close to them) struggle with their own sexuality, then later come out of the closet and choose to adopt publicly gay identities, it makes sense that they would generalize the Christian response to homosexuality as just another example of people in the church rejecting anything countercultural. It’s logical. They did it to the Blacks, now they’re doing it to us.
Understandably, many socially conservative Blacks are uncomfortable and even resentful when queer activists link their struggle to the civil rights struggles for African Americans, if for no other reason than because Black folks hardly ever had the luxury of staying in the closet for political or business reasons. But despite being socially conservative, most churchgoing Blacks are still an overwhelmingly Democrat voting bloc, which means that popular African American politicians usually have to work a delicate balance between having a positive voting record on gay rights but not being too outspoken on the issue.
(This is one of the reasons why President Obama, regarding gay rights, tends to let his subordinates do the talking.)
So the questions abound: How can we accurately represent Christ and the church for those who don’t believe? Is there or should there be a theologically orthodox, African American Christian response to the civil rights movement? And what does any of this have to do with Rick Santorum?
For these and other answers … stay tuned for Part 2.
by Andrew Wilkes | Dec 9, 2011 | Feature, Headline News |
CIVIL DISCOURSE: Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes provide a model for constructive Christian dialogue across political divides.
Left, Right & Christ is a thoughtful examination of the intersection of evangelical faith and politics by two evangelicals who have spent their careers working amidst the tensions of that sometimes-crazy political space. In the book, coauthors Lisa Sharon Harper, a politically progressive Christian, and D.C. Innes, a politically conservative Christian, engage in a constructive dialogue about the issues that are defining the nature of political discourse in our nation today — healthcare, abortion, immigration, gay marriage, the environment. (Full disclosure: I helped research Lisa Sharon Harper’s portion of the book.) A couple months ago, Innes and Harper held a panel discussion and book signing with Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Innes, an associate professor of politics at King’s College, offered a construal of Christian public engagement from the right; Harper, director of mobilizing at Sojourners, shared one from the left. Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. Having read the book and attended the launch event, two things merit mentioning here here.
The role of technology in disrupting consumption and employment
An audience member noted that technology plays an often-overlooked role in reconfiguring labor markets and purchasing patterns. For instance, the advent of automated teller machines — ATMs — marks an improvement in the access and availability of money for consumers. ATMs, however, reduce the need for the traditional function of tellers in local bank branches. As more banks adopted ATMs, consumer patterns shifted and the demand for a certain type of labor diminished.
Neither Innes nor Harper fully integrates this ongoing development — Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter calls it creative destruction — of technology in particular, and capitalism more generally, into their account of the State, the Market, and the Church. To their credit, though, both authors acknowledged the point once it was made. Technology is an existential issue as much as an instrumental one. Phrased differently, it not only alters what we do, but it also radically re-arranges our way of being in the world. I left the panel thinking about this question: What does it mean to be the Church in a world where technology is such a powerful force? To put it crudely, is a proximate cause in unemployment and underemployment from Wall Street to Main Street and our consumption of everything — from the news we read to the Facebook updates on our profiles — is mediated through technology? I’m still pondering this one and I encourage you to consider it as well.
The use of Scripture in political arguments
While reading the book and listening to their remarks, I noticed an interesting difference between the co-authors. Ms. Harper generally constructs her arguments from passages of the Old Testament. Her treatment of Genesis 1-3 distinctively accents the image of God doctrine and shalom theology. It is rather commonplace to hear Christians from the left invoke the Hebrew prophets or the Imago Dei as a resource for biblical claims about justice and human dignity. Harper’s unique turn within that conversation is to take Genesis — rather than say, Amos or Isaiah — as her starting point and then to deepen the appeal to the image of God doctrine by connecting it to shalom — the sense of wholeness and right relationships between people, between people and creation, and between people and God.
Mr. Innes, conversely, places the weight of his arguments in New Testament passages like Romans 13:1-7 and 2 Peter 2:13-17. His vision: God ordains the government to restrain human sin, punish evil, and praise the good. The last point is particularly important for the professor, who draws a distinction between a government that praises the good (i.e. distributing civic awards like the Presidential Medal of Freedom) and a public sector that attempts to provide goods such as housing, healthcare, and so on. Innes’ arguments — in the book and in person — conclude that a State with large public expenditures and direct service programs overreaches the biblical proscribed role for government.
At the event, Wallis and Innes held a brief but interesting exchange on regulation, Wall Street, and punishing evildoers. Wallis agreed with Innes that punishing evil and restraining sin is a biblical function of government. He then challenged Innes with a question like the following: “Why not apply the insight about punishing evil when it comes to Wall Street?” Innes did not offer a response, although in fairness to him, Wallis did not substantiate his provocative inquiry with a specific example. Nevertheless, given the high-profile conviction of Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading — and his eleven-year sentence, the longest ever issued for this type of offense — Wallis and Innes certainly stumbled upon a discussion worth having.
The panel discussion took place with a refreshing amount of charity amidst contrasting perspectives. Despite harboring significant and perhaps irreconcilable differences of political opinion, neither one made the argumentative move of questioning the other’s faith, audibly doubting the “biblical” nature of the opposing argument, or otherwise resorting to ad hominem attacks. Harper and Innes’ book, and their public dialogue, provides a helpful example for Christians from left to right. In a political environment that incessantly caricatures and stereotypes contrasting points of view, a steadfast refusal to bear false witness — and its corollary commitment, telling the truth as we see it — is a distinctive gift of conversational charity that Christians can bring to democratic discourse.
by Larycia A. Hawkins | Aug 8, 2011 | Feature, Headline News |
LOSING MOMENTUM: Can GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann continue to win over doubters with her ambitious presidential bid?
The rise of Republican congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann as a serious presidential candidate has provided one of the more curious storylines for political observers this summer. As a female political scientist intrigued by Bachmann’s ascent, I initially wondered if she might best Mitt Romney in the primaries — a feat that Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to accomplish on the Democratic side in her bid against the eventual presidential victor, Barack Obama.
Now I’m wondering if my curiosity was misplaced. You see, a few weeks back Bachmann’s momentum seemed inevitable. Polls showed her hanging neck-in-neck with Mitt Romney.
Lately, however, she’s been singing the blahs.
Not the blues, the blahs. The same old blah, blah, blah songs that failed to inspire Independents and youth voters to vote for Republicans in the last election. Bachmann is singing from the same hymnbook that the Christian Right has been floating around since the 1980s—the same old song that lost Republicans the 2008 election. So what is the evangelical contender getting the most pre-primary buzz — Michele Bachmann — to do?
To be successful in the 2012 race, Bachmann must drop the national anthem of evangelical politics — God, guns, and gays. This song of “the 3 G’s” has played itself out. That Michele Bachmann supports the 3 G’s is intuitively obvious. So why keep singing the same tired tune?
We know from Bachmann’s biography that Jesus is her homeboy. We know based on her ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association that even if she’s not personally packing an Uzi, she supports your right to do so. We know from the horse’s mouth that she signed a controversial pledge supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman — a controversial pledge because it also stated that African American children were better off during slavery than they are in 2011 under the administration of a black President.
Sounds like the same old refrain that lost the GOP the election in 2008. Is there anything new in the 2012 Republican knapsack or is Bachmann simply the same old Sarah Palin wine in new wineskins? To be a serious contender, Bachmann must refashion her image, bucking the widely held assumption that she is Palin’s Midwestern clone — even if secretly, she is. But how?
Time for a new tune on the evangelical political iPod. Push the evangelical envelope by singing the 3 P’s — pluralism, peace, and Priuses. This new hymn is in the style and key of a core constituency — youth voters. Tout religious pluralism in the campaign, including interfaith efforts to combat issues like sex trafficking. Embrace the increasing numbers of young Christian pacifists who oppose the current wars and the notion that any war can be classified as a just one. Emphasize environmental concerns in a convincing manner given that global warming is an undisputed fact according to a majority of young evangelicals, many of whom probably think Jesus would probably drive a Prius.
Youth voters, including young evangelicals, were crucial to Obama’s victory in 2008. Obama understood that young voters are devoted to the 3 P’s, but not so much the 3 G’s. Yes, evangelical youth are more pro-life than their parents, but they are more likely to believe that Jesus was a social justice revolutionary in the manner of Shane Claiborne than the harbinger of a holy war against public schools.
Less talk about gay marriage and more talk about greening the ghetto would take the evangelical agenda, and Bachmann’s campaign, to new heights. It’s time for a new song in an increasingly outmoded evangelical hymnbook.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of UrbanFaith.com or Urban Ministries Inc.
by Jimmy McGee | Aug 3, 2011 | Feature |
Rev. John Stott (1921-2011)
Have you ever participated in one of those get to know you games at the beginning of a gathering of people who barely know each other? You know, “ice breakers.” In today’s world, some people have built a career around this type of activity. One ice-breaker game I dread is when you are asked to describe yourself in three words or less. Each time I’ve participated, I have been amazed at how creative folks can be. I also have been amazed at how self aware people are. You can always tell when you hear sighs or the word “yeah” spoken softly. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about using this exercise to describe John Stott, the humble gospel preacher and theologian who passed away last week at age 90. I thought of two words that best sum up his more than 50 years of faithful Christian service: Devotion and Discipleship.
I met John Stott on a couple of occasions in person, and he once replied to a letter that I wrote him regarding a tough decision I faced regarding my education. I was wrestling with a choice between seminary or graduate school. Rev. Stott thanked me for engaging him but said he was not familiar enough with me to lead me in either direction. He encouraged me to struggle further and discuss it with someone close to me whom I trusted. I don’t think I actually expected a reply from a man as busy as he was, so to receive his thoughtful response in the mail was a pleasant surprise. And from what I came to understand, that kind of personal outreach and encouragement was not unusual with Stott.
Let me share some of the reasons why I join others in celebrating his life, and mourning his loss.
Devotion and Discipleship
John Stott was renowned for his devotion to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. It is commonly known that he chose to not marry and remain celibate so that he would not be distracted from focusing his full attention to the Scriptures and sharing his love for Jesus. His passion for and fascination with Jesus is clearly seen in his books, including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, The Contemporary Christian. Recently, I’ve been absorbed in his last published book, The Radical Disciple, in which he shares his critique of the 21st century church and reflects on his life and ministry. In each of his works, he reveals an uncompromising love for Jesus and His church.
Stott’s devotion informed his discipleship to Christ and inspired his love for God’s people. He was known for his commitment to the training and nurturing of pastors and Christian ministers throughout the world. My friend Richard Allen Farmer, another leader who was deeply influenced by Stott’s example, says this:
John Stott was that rare mixture of statesman, scholar, pastor and careful Bible expositor. He had such high regard for Scripture that it made those of us who preach take it more seriously. His book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, forced me to renew my personal commitment to expository preaching. In addition to being a proud Brit, he was a global lover of Jesus who was as effective as he was infectious.
Stott was a “world Christian.” He learned from history and was always mindful not to replicate the poor behaviors of past missionaries. Regardless of a person’s background, he sought to honor and respect their cultural perspective. As his ministry progressed, it was apparent that his understanding of the gospel began to include social justice concerns and issues related to overcoming political oppression and fighting for the dignity of people as well as for their souls.
Many have mentioned his pivotal role in the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, as a key moment in his growth as a Christian leader with cross-cultural sensitivity. But I wonder if an earlier event was even more instrumental in this regard.
A Liberating Voice
During the many times Stott was the expositor at the mission conferences sponsored by InterVarsity, there was one occasion in particular that some think made a great impact on him. Many of those in attendance at the Urbana 70 conference say that Stott was deeply moved by evangelist Tom Skinner’s plenary address, which was titled the “U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelization.” Stott reportedly listened to this historic speech intently and then looked into the eyes of the black students that filled the seats on the floor. He probably was able to see their spiritual passion and longing for justice in a new way. That experience, I believe, helped expand his worldview to see how our faith needs to be present and engaged in the issues that confront our world.
I am certain Stott could’ve spoken at any black conference or church and, through his humility and love for the Scriptures, communicated a gospel that would liberate the souls of those who struggled to find their voice and shalom in the world. He would’ve applied the message he shared in his book The Contemporary Christian, that a follower of Christ should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Without both, he is unarmed. With the newspaper only, you have the calamity and depravity in the world with no hope to offer. With only the Scripture, you have hope but no sense of where to apply it.
At Urbana 70, Tom Skinner remarked that “all truth is God’s truth.” I think John Stott understood this. He did not express an Anglican truth, a European truth, a white man’s truth; he was filled with the truth of Jesus Christ. And he sought to study and pursue that truth so single-mindedly that his life became a testimony to what true Christian devotion and discipleship should look like.