In defense of color-blindness (sort of)

There is an impetus today to reject color-blindness and the reasons are quite valid.  If someone says, “I don’t see color” or worse, “God doesn’t see color” rebuke is the natural impulse since God himself created a beautiful array of shades. So when we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and the broader world, we should see this sovereign creativity at work that lends to the picture in Rev. 7:9-a conglomeration of people from every tribe, tongue and nation the Lord calls to himself.

But there exist an even deeper concern to reject it. Color-blindness has typically meant that the concerns of non-white people are diminished or dismissed. Because in reality there has been an racial and ethnic primacy at work in the church, and particularly the American church, for a long time.  That is when a person is considered first because of their skin color and second by their Christian status. One would have to have their head buried in the sand or be in complete and utter denial to not recognize this is precisely what happened with black and brown people in America. To distorted minds, the melanin determined the human value, casting those with darker shades into a dehumanizing existence. Even worse, that such views were egregiously supported by myopic renderings of Scripture and harsh development of theories like curse of Ham and that relegated melanin richness to an inferior and sub-human status.

In this reality, we see the ways in which  melanin richness has met with inconsistent and disparate treatment and the church was not exempt.  Consequently, segregated enclaves became a harbor of spiritual comfort. So it naturally concerns many today, particularly people of color, that persistent marginalization occurs and there is a natural rejection towards the concept of color-blindness because of it.  No, we don’t want to deny or dismiss these concerns of partiality that have plagued, not only in the larger society, but particularly the church for so long.

Black and brown Christians feel this angst, particularly being in spaces where they are acutely aware of being the minority. It’s natural to walk into a predominantly white church or other white spaces and see white people first. Prejudicial attitudes exist to varying degrees among some white Christians where the presence of minorities create a heightened sense of dread because they first see a minority first.  The temptation to evaluate the other first on the basis of skin tone remains. Skin tone is just a manifestation of a deeper cultural crisis, historic infractions and sinful inclinations. Where black and brown people have been rejected in various forms from consideration of church life, where prejudicial attitudes have and do exist among white Christians, we are tempted to filter another’s presence first through this reality, and then second as Christians. Continue reading

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The church in the age of MLK: the culture and us

mlk_giving-speechThanks to the memory section on Facebook, an article written by Dr. Anthony Bradley popped up from two years that I shared titled The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity. It was a raw reflection from seeing the movie Selma but also being from the South, he knew all too well the realities that existed for black citizens especially having parents that lived through Jim Crow.

But he makes a specific point regarding the church;

As a theologian, this is where the movie became really interesting. Those who joined King were mainly Jewish, Protestant mainliners from the North, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. Conspicuously absent were conservative Protestant evangelicals, especially those from the South. In fact, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was the highest ranking non-black religious figure in America to join King in the Selma march. This raised several questions for me: What was different about Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions that allowed them to freely join the fight for voting rights while evangelicals chose to do nothing or join the cause to support Jim Crow? Where were the Calvinists who believed in total depravity? Where were the evangelicals? Where was Billy Graham? Where were the Jonathan Edwards fans? Where were the Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and so on? I am asking because I do not understand.

What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

These are great questions, especially considering the fiercest defenders of segregation were evangelical Christians. A common retort that I’ve heard is that people weren’t really Christians. I think that’s a cop out. But perhaps the answers are probably more obvious and sobering than we might think. I believe the cultural forces that saw black citizens as inherently undeserving of equal rights and treatment were so permanently entrenched in the church, that Bible reading and believing folks accepted this premise without batting an eye. How else do you explain the cognitive dissonance? Continue reading

Surprised by the deficiency of the Spirit

worship singingAs I wrote about in Hearing God Speak regarding my master’s thesis, one of the books I interacted with was Surprised by the Voice of God  by Jack Deere. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances.  Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself.  He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.

Unfortunately Deere’s proposal echoes a view that I believe many Christians have adopted about the work of the Holy Spirit especially related to the Bible and our Christian walk. T To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the Bible to “hear the voice of God.”

I propose that this position undermines the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in relation to the biblical text. It presumes that the Holy Spirit cannot be fully active with just Bible reading alone or if the preacher simply reads and explains the text. Now Deere does not dismiss the power of Scripture, since he does have a chapter entitled God Speaks Through the Bible. But the thrust of his proposal is that it is insufficient. But I don’t think it adequately relates the Holy Spirit’s involvement revelation, which is how God made himself known.

Deere’s premise rest on the fact that the Holy Spirit began the age of revelation in the book of Acts, which gives us a prescription for how we should hear from God [1] Well, if we see that Scripture is a product of revelation, that is how God made himself known, that prompts us to go back to Genesis and follow along as His story progresses. The covenant promises and acts of God in relation to his people unveil a progressive revelation, in which he provides the Law and to which the Prophets testify.  The people and miracles that he used were for the purpose of revelation, which unrolls progressively through Israel’s history with the expectation of fulfillment of covenant promises. The progressive revelation culminates in the Son so that the fullness of the Godhead is revealed in the Son (Colossians.2:9; Ephesians 1:9-19). The Son fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18) and all the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20). Continue reading

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

On being called into ministry

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for Parchment and Pen in 2011. These are some thoughts I spent some years in working out on the question of what it means to be be called into ministry. 

pupit w bibleOne of the essays in my application to Dallas Theological Seminary required that I respond to the question of how I knew I was called into ministry.  While I understood that question to be more related to affirming events that led me to apply to seminary, I find that the idea of being called into ministry has not only been a popular catch phrase but also bears some examination.  I say this because I believe the call to ministry has been designated as a special call to select individuals based on God’s selection for specific ministry roles.  I do believe that has some merit as I indicate below, but I think it might be different than what is commonly thought of as a call.

First, I think the ‘call to ministry’ as designated for select individuals is misleading.  All Christians are called into ministry because all Christians have spiritual gifts that are to be employed for service to the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10).  That doesn’t require some specified direction but a working out of those gifts as we grow in our Christian walk and seek to serve the body.  1 Corinthians 12:12-24 identifies that everyone has a part to play in the growth of the body (also supported Ephesians 4:16).  I don’t dismiss the fact that God may have specific roles or even specialized ministries that he directs us to (after all the local assembly does require pastors, elders and deacons), but it is more indicative of our progress in the faith and a capacity bear larger burdens for service.

Second, the New Testament witness to the concept of calling is predominantly related to the salvific call of election. God calls individuals into the body of Christ. It is within the service to the body that one works out there inclination. And there is much to be said for passion and desire.  I heard a popular preacher say once that if you want to know what you should be doing pay attention to what drives you and what bothers you when its off.  I don’t believe that should be equated with a critical, fault finding mission, but an inclination of things that God has placed within us.  This is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. But in time, we will find ourselves inclined and passionate in certain areas of ministry that we will gravitate towards. This actually factored in quite a bit in my essay. Continue reading