Race, grace, and the work of the church

helping handsIn the midst of this Labor Day weekend, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for my church’s newsletter last year after a trip to St. Louis and thought I’d share it here.

Normally my Labor Day weekends are pretty non-eventful and I use the extra day to catch up on rest, reading or household projects. But this past Labor Day weekend busted that mold. I travelled to St. Louis, MO to attend the Leadership Development and Resource Weekend. LDR, as it’s commonly known, was started by a group of African-American students in conjunction with mentors at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN, a church of the PCA. The gathering has grown over the years into a multi-cultural representation of PCA members and friends to consider ways in which the church can address areas of disparities.

This year’s theme of the conference was Orthodox Activism: the Church in Pursuit of Social Justice. Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, crafter of the resolution on civil rights that was presented at the 43rd General Assembly,  gave the first plenary address and what rousing presentation. Dr. Lucas examined the doctrine of the spirituality of the church as cited in our WCF 31.5 calling for the church, “not to meddle with civil affairs . . .  unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary.” Throughout the history of American Presbyterianism, the doctrine of spirituality had been used selectively as the basis for uninvolvment in matters of social affairs, most notably civil rights. However, Dr. Lucas pointed out that the doctrine had been inconsistently applied and exhorted the hearers to consider ways in which the church should rightfully engage in matters of social justice for the cause of the gospel.

The weekend drew to a close with an apropos visit to one of St. Louis’ oldest Presbyterian churches that had great significance for the work of the church. Memorial Presbyterian Church, as it is now named, was established in 1868 as a gospel experiment that began a few years prior, in 1864. While the Civil War was headed to a close, some Confederate and Union soldiers wanted to test the biblical call for unification of the body of Christ comprised of radically diverse people without any preference to race or political sympathies. Imagine that! At a time when a war was fought in large part over the outcome of it’s black citizens, most of whom did not even share equal citizenship, racial and political lines were set aside for the sake of the gospel. Continue reading

Posted in church history, reflections and musings | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Another look at racial tension and stuff that divides Christ’s church

white vs black_headsThere’s been a lot of talk about race in the church of late, the need to talk about it, the need for reconciliation, the need to get gatherings to talk about it so that we can be reconciled, the need to point out racial disparities, the need for white people to understand their privilege, the need to keep talking about it, and do something.

Now I’m not necessarily opposed to bringing attention to ways in which the majority culture has imposed a standard of acceptability and normativity into the evangelical culture and the broader fabric of society. After all, we cannot dismiss the premise that resulted in slavery, Jim Crow and more subtle unequal treatment of minorities – that black skin was considered inferior. Especially being in the PCA, a denomination that recently took decisive action in repenting of a past that thwarted equal acceptance of black people and other minorities into the fold, I appreciate when we can bring to light how the church has behaved inconsistent with it’s mandate to welcome all who seek Christ on equal terms, as equal heirs to the kingdom of God. See this wonderful reflection here from an African-American PCA pastor.

But I confess, often experience tension. Tension exists because I don’t want to be dismissive of ways in which marginalization occurs with even an unconscious bias regarding consideration of black and brown people. Don’t believe this happens? Just check out the make up of prominent conservative evangelical conference speakers. But on the other hand, I think we can raise the issue to a point of prominence that should not be and become so overbearing with the issue that it distracts from our ability to truly live as those whose chief affiliation is union in Christ.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found to having conversations about race is the varying perspectives, sensitivities and experiences involved. Even for those with sensitivities, they still range on a spectrum. Specifically, for black people, the range goes from recognizing that injustices have incurred but also realizing that racism will continue until Jesus comes back and sets everything right. In other words, there is not a great expectation for every jot and tittle to be addressed since it is the product of a broken world. On the other end of the spectrum are those so sensitized to both historical injustices and present realities, that any slight can be perceived as a continued devaluation and proactive efforts are needed for correction for some kind of racial Utopia. Continue reading

Posted in Christian living, church life, culture | Tagged , | 2 Comments

That moment you trust in the Lord

man-praying whand raisedWell, first let me preface this post by saying I’m not so much referring to the moment of conversion, when you become a Christian. But I’m referring to is the on-going process of trusting in God to be who he said he is.

The other day I got into a good discussion with friends about trusting in the Lord. “What does that mean?” one asked. I think on a surface level we understand that to be trust that God is on our side and work things out. But I think it needs to deeper than that – trusting in who God says he is and relying on that in the face of contradictions.

Now, I’m about to get real honest in this post. What about to share is not for those whose life has gone pretty well or even better than expected and/or those inclined to dismiss the realities of living with deep disappointments. If that’s you, you might want to sit this one out.

For those who have experienced disappointing twists and turns, busted dreams, failures of various sorts and the overwhelming feeling that you thought your life would turn out better than it has, and boatloads of unanswered prayer this post will probably resonate with you. Because let’s be honest, all of these factors can take a toll on our ability to trust in the character of God.  You can be substantially challenged when experiencing a good amount of unanswered prayer, when you’ve longed for him to intervene in situations and circumstances and he hasn’t and those nagging questions if God really cares bubble up.  It’s when you’ve poured your heart out to the Lord for years for personal concerns to get back…nothing. It’s when you’re confronted with pending change of circumstances for the worse, and you wonder is God going to hear me this time? I know I have. And I know how easy that is, over time, to allow those thoughts to dominate, to shape how we see the character of God. Continue reading

Posted in Christian living, faith | 1 Comment

On racial tension, convictions and hope in the Christian community

white_black kidsI’ll state up front that this is a reflection piece based on observations, conversations, on-line interaction and ruminations. It is a way for me to process the events and responses to events that keep swirling around in my head in the interest of being fair but also empathetic with concerns of injustice where it exists.

With yet more instances of police shooting of unarmed Black men, the lament and visceral reactions are understandable. And the more I consider the evidence of these isolated and tragic incidences, the more I ask what this is really about. The quick answer is racism, the devaluing and hatred of Black lives. Of course that is what the Black Lives Matter advocates will have us believe and nothing else.

And really, who can blame this response? Considering the lengthy trail of historical injustices against Blacks in this country, it makes sense to me that each incident is like a fresh reminder that all men [and women] have not been treated equal. In fact, I think its safe to say that reminders of sins past fuel fans on the fire of present grievances and contribute greatly to how these instances are viewed. For each police incident causes a sort of PTSD and demonstrates the toll of years, no make that centuries, of image bearing transgressions and the stain they left on too many souls.

The fear, though exaggerated, is completely normal under such circumstances. In fact, I think it’s to be expected and why empathy is so critical. When brothers and sisters see black bodies die at the hand of police, it is reasonable to hear the hyperbole of not wanting to leave the house, fearing for life, concern for fathers and sons and wondering if a routine traffic stop could end in death. Don’t be so quick to judge, correct or dismiss. There is pain involved. Continue reading

Posted in culture, reflections and musings | 10 Comments

Why Positively Powerless (expanded) is positively needed

book cover_positively powerlessRecently, I was in a business meeting in which I represented the organization I work for in a collaborative project with other organizations. The collaborative involved a grant application and therefore was contingent upon receiving those funds to be implemented. While we were putting the application together, at times others involved would assert positive declarations about receiving the funds under the premise that this would happen if we just declare it…in Jesus name.

These folks were acting on a strain of teaching that has infiltrated evangelicalism, that is positive declarations are needed to make circumstances happen. In Positively Powerless, Laura Martin, DTS grad, addresses the foundation and fallacy of this teaching as it contradicts the premise of Christianity. She sketches the historical development, which is built on the Positive Thinking movement that considers the mind a force in which we can “will” events in our favor. She notes this is not found in Scripture but rather has its foundation in Eastern Mysticism (I would have loved to see this built out a little more).

She then provides a snapshot of what Scripture does provide regarding the reality of sin and how that has impacted us. More importantly, Christianity is not built on positive declarations but rather submission to the lordship of Christ. In Jesus’ upside down kingdom paradigm, “success” from a kingdom perspective will sometimes result in our lives not looking successful or at least as the world sees it. We will see complete reversal of the Fall’s effect in the new heavens and new earth, but not entirely now. I love that she brings up Joni Erickson Tada because she is a prime example of what successful Christianity looks like from a Christian perspective, which does not jive with the proclaimers of positive thinking.

The chapter entitled A Christian View of Self is particularly noteworthy.  Fueled by the the prominence of self-esteem that took root in Christian teaching in the 20th century, positive thinking places an emphasis on the power of self to create reality in contrast to the emphasis on Christ. She concludes, “When the church came under the power of this movement it had the significant consequence of distracting us from Christ, shifting our priorities, and creating a different gospel entirely.” Indeed, this movement has created a great distraction and emphasizing the wrong things! Continue reading

Posted in Christian living, contemporary castophries, discussion | Tagged | 3 Comments