I haven’t written an end of year reflection in a couple of years. But was we approach the new year in just a matter of hours, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts and also some personal updates.
The last time I wrote a reflection was the end of 2020, months into a pandemic and increasing divisive heat. At that time, here was an observation;
If there is one thing I can say about this year, it’s been one of exposure of hearts and where our loyalties really lie. I say this primarily of the Christian whose first loyalty should be to Christ and his kingdom with loose commitments to the social and political factions of this age. But this year with all that’s happened–from COVID, more police shootings of unarmed black people, lockdowns, and a bizarre election cycle–has pulled back whatever veneer resided over socio-political orientations we tried to mask with our Christian presentation. Not to mention the tensions that have ramped up in the church over the issue of Critical Race Theory that has created more divisions. That’s why I say it’s the year that got us. It exposed us. It showed what we truly valued. We can no longer hide.
Since this time, I have observed that exposure has provoked more of a camp settling and less persuasion efforts on why so and so or such a such position is wrong. What do I mean by that? It seems that people, professing Christians in particular, have resigned to their perspective camps. There is less persuasion with an interest towards Christian unity and more of a huddling together around respective socio-political agendas. And that goes for issues on the left AND the right. And while that may make for some superficial peace, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Continue reading →
While scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I got wind of the kerfuffle in Los Angeles where City Council president, Nury Martinez, was caught on tape in a private meeting where she and her colleagues used racial slurs towards the black son of a fellow council member. She apparently felt comfortable in the presence of her colleagues to say what she really thought. You can read more about that here (pardon some language). Update: the context was a meeting about redistricting that would diminish the voting power of black residents, according to this article. I understand she has now resigned as president of City Council but still remains on.
To be honest, it really didn’t surprise me. My family moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1969 when I was 5. Growing up in that area (predominantly Inglewood), I observed a lot of tensions between Blacks and Latinos. Stereotypes, segregation of the two groups, and even hostility was not that uncommon. I moved to Boston 1n 1994, just a few years into the start of my professional career. So I really wasn’t that aware of the inner workings of city infrastructure, particularly among social or political coalitions. But from what I witnessed as a teenager and young adult, I can imagine how these kind of attitudes would spill over into the social and political infrastructure of the city. I would have thought that dynamic would have changed by now but maybe not.
In fact, observing some threads on Twitter from those with more first hand knowledge of the dynamics there, I saw allegations of power structures among Latinos who were in positions to orchestrate elevating their group and creating barriers for others, namely Blacks. How much this is true, I cannot say. But the charges obviously resonated with several people who believed that Latinos who held the purse strings, so to speak, made it difficult for other groups. Again, I’m just observing the charges made, not affirming them. Continue reading →
By way of a personal update, anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that my writing has slowed down quite a bit. That’s not intentional. I just haven’t been able to write as much or the way I’d like to as evidenced by the several unfinished drafts in my draft bin. I think it is largely attributed to my job as executive director of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic heritages from around the globe. I’m also a staff of one so my many hats pulls me in all kinds of different directions as I work to advance the organization’s mission and expanding programming. I may write on that more later. In the meantime, I have kept up podcasting on the Family Discussion podcast that I co-host with the Rev. Marcos Ortega. We just finished our fourth season as we continue the trek through the categories of systematic theology applied to the issues of our day. Season 4 focused on humanity and sin so we had quite a bit to say about gender, human sexuality, and race. We’ll pick that up in season 5 as we move into Christology. You can check out more that here. But I really do want to get back to writing on a regular basis, if nothing more than just to download some of the processing that goes on in my head as I observe our current landscape.
And so that is what I intend to do here as the 49th General Assembly (GA for short) of the Presbyterian Church in America just concluded this past week. In case you don’t know, this is the annual meeting of commissioners (pastors/elders known as teaching elders or ruling elders) to conduct the affairs of the church. I’ve tuned in to the livestream since 2016 and been on a learning curve ever since. The parliamentary proceedings can get really complex. But in the deliverance of the committee reports and overture debates, you do get a sense of what the church is grappling with and attempting to bring in submission to the obedience of Christ and to be a faithful witness to him.
You also can hear where there are divergent opinions regarding the church’s direction, which has been increasingly heightened in recent years. That is compounded by the blogs, tweets, and posts seen on social media on a regular basis. There have projections of an inevitable church split produced by factional concerns under the rubric of the oft cited phrase “peace and purity of the church.” Despite what some may say, I do believe there is generally a strong commitment to Scripture though the applicational grid may be skewed in different directions. Continue reading →
I get the concerns about what has been labelled “wokeness” as the product of secular ideologies that are sweeping the broader culture and infiltrating the church. In my opinion, these ideologies are unmoored from the scriptural witness of how we are to view and value each other. Even as a tool, I do not think CRT and anti-racism premises and methodology take us to a healthy place to actually be reconciled with each other as believers in Christ as the other-cultural entity that are we. In fact, as I wrote about here, they are likely to have the opposite effect and create unwarranted division in the body of Christ.
However, I have another concern some Christians are so adamant about refuting wokeness and CRT that any discussion on race and justice gets dismissed as a product of liberalism and a sign that the koolaid from the broader culture is being imbibed.
The problem is that actual racism does exist where mindsets deem the “white” race as superior even in subtle ways. I’m not saying this is true of white evangelicalism as a whole and I personally have a disdain for those generalized accusations. Nor should we impose the weight of historical injustices on to present circumstances and paint dishonest pictures. But we really aren’t doing Christ’s church any favors by ignoring racism where it actually exists. Unfortunately, anti-CRT campaigns have the tendency to do just that and will give cover to racial partiality because “wokeness” is deemed the real enemy.
In 2020, I learned of a story that happened in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. The story was published in Faithfully Magazine and the link is here. In a nutshell, a couple of families had moved from Idaho where they had been involved in white supremacists organizations. Even though they had come out of this affiliation, they convinced the pastor they left those kind of teachings behind. Apparently not, since the men became elders and began teaching racial superiority precepts in bible studies such as the “black” race doesn’t have the capacity for complex thought. The article is rather lengthy but here is the relevant portion to my point;
Not a day goes by that I don’t open up social media to find some kind of spurious rebuttal of concerns about CRT, labeling it as a boogeyman conjured up with hysteria by people who really don’t want to address racism in this country. And yet, stepping back from the battle over CRT, which in my opinion, has turned into a battle over words that obfuscate the real issues about the ideas in play, even the casual observer has to see that something has fundamentally changed about the way race is not only being addressed but also the way racism is being perceived. In the past 5-6 years, we have drastically shifted from a desire to mitigate racism through fair treatment of individuals to making everything about race that actually works against the desired goals of the long struggle for civil rights.
To quibble over words and technical definitions of CRT severely undermines what has been taking place with the social justice paradigm over the past few years. Whatever you want to call it, real people are being swept up in this ideology and regurgitating its doctrine that unfortunately is even impacting the church and relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. On that note, please consider this post from guest contributor Kevin Briggins that he originally posted on his Facebook page. I think it really spells out why so many people are raising concerns and why I wanted to host it here. It’s a bit longer than my usual posts but definitely worth the read.
By Kevin Briggins, Guest Contributor
It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t been very clear on my engagements on race and culture. Some have said my engagements have been one sided, so I feel the need to clarify some things and to paint a broader picture of my engagements on race.
The 2016 presidential election was a major turning point in the life of our church in Augusta. This coincided with our church moving from a suburban setting to an inner-city setting in late 2015. This change in setting put us in closer proximity to poverty and with the reality of true historical racial division. The church we merged with was a dying church that had become the victim of “white flight” and unfortunately had not engaged the new community around it. This was something we desired to change as we didn’t want to be a church that drove into the inner-city for Sunday services and then drove back out with no community engagement, which is the practice of many predominantly black and white inner-city churches. We had several church members and pastors move into the community and we were also thinking of ways to engage the community. At the time our church was predominantly white and middle class with a mixture of black, Hispanic, and Asian families. We were also a Reformed (non-traditional) Southern Baptist church. I’m saying all of this to lay the context for what begin to happen in 2016. Continue reading →