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’ll be honest right from the start, I’m growing weary of hearing about Critical Race Theory and the debates swirling around it. I think far too much time is spent on either debunking or supporting it. In my honest opinion, it is jeopardizing our focus on Christ and kingdom matters in the manner prescribed in Scripture. From what I’ve observed, the arguments are rife with lazy and uncharitable assessments that have pit members of the family of God against each other. This also has made it harder for pastors who are striving to be faithful and navigate through issues of race and justice from a biblical perspective. I’d really not even write about it any further especially since so much ink is being spilled already.
However, there is one argument that keeps emerging that I feel compelled to address because I think it is a generalized and unfair allegation that misses the mark on why many Christians are opposing CRT. It’s simply this: those who claim that CRT has some compatibility with Christianity or at least can be used as a tool to diagnose the problem of racial stratification, tend to repudiate any claims of opposition as an endorsement of white supremacy. Why? Because the idea of CRT is to address white supremacy that has had its tentacles wrapped in the warp and woof of American society (I’ll expound on this in a minute). So it was no surprise to me when six SBC seminaries released as statement clarifying their position against CRT, that it was immediately met with charges of perpetuating white supremacy with pastors actually leaving the SBC over it.
Now in fairness, I do think that some of the opposition against CRT is based on strained and superficial arguments from those who see addressing any issues of race and justice as a deviation from the gospel. For this group, the SBC statement only adds further fuel to this opposition. I do think it makes it easier to dismiss raising any concerns related to race and justice. And we should be honest that a sub-group actually do want to maintain some sense of racial superiority and use opposition to CRT as a mask to cover it up.
But that is not the entirety of opposition. From my own perspective based on some extensive observation and interactions, I believe the lion’s share of criticism comes from Christians who strive to be faithful to Scripture and believe that addressing issues of race and justice should be sifted through its lens. These are ones who would not be quick to sweep racism under the rug and are honest about the travesty of our historical record. But they also see the how the framework of CRT produces fruit that is at odds with Christian practice according to Scripture, and in some cases can be a deviation from the gospel. God has provided the means by which we can analyze and address the underlying sins of race and injustice and CRT is seen as incompatible. I am one of those people.
You may be thinking from the title that this is going to be one of those posts that bashes white evangelicalism. After all, there has been a plethora of pieces over the past few years that have done just that. You know the ones. It’s where the author decries how white evangelicalism doesn’t really model the Christ in Scripture, isn’t accommodating to people of color, and wraps itself in a blanket of Americanism. Well I suppose if that is the description of a congregation and its worship services, then it makes sense to want to leave. Our churches are to model the other worldly kingdom with Christ enthroned and everyone subject to his authority. When we enter a worship service we need to be reminded that we are citizens of another kingdom.
However, I get the sense that the blasts against white evangelicalism have turned into generic diatribes against predominantly white denominations as if they all fit the description of American culturally entrenched gatherings that wave American flags as a symbol of faith and proclaim Republican loyalties as a mark of Christian commitment. I came across this piece in the Jude3 Project blog, The Catch-22 of Theological Decolonization. Cam Triggs cautions that spurning white evangelicalism can also lead to abandoning the faith. It’s a good exhortation but sadly, I found it echoes the same sentiment I’ve heard repeatedly concerning the rejection of white evangelicalism;
First, let me clearly say that we do in fact need to decolonize our faith. We don’t worship white Jesus or bow down at the altar of American exceptionalism. We need Gospel activists and multiethnic mediators proclaiming justice, teaching truth, and defending the faith from the cultural syncretism that so often plagues our churches. In that sense, we must be on guard against ways we have sinfully fused our articulation of Christianity with predominant cultural affinities.
Here is the problem with this exhortation, it presumes that unless a congregation is multiethnic (or at least promoting multiethnicity which I take to mean multi-racial) and speaking against justice (which I presume to mean promoting our present day justice causes from the pulpit), THAT congregation has bowed down at the altar of whiteness especially if the congregation is predominantly white and there may even be Republicans in the mix. This is the congregation I presume worships a white Jesus not that they are actually declaring Jesus is white. Never mind if the fabric of the service itself focuses on Christ with the acknowledgement that he has come for all people’s from every tribe, tongue and nation, that there is truth proclaimed from Scripture with exhortation on what it means to be sojourners in this world, there are commands to love our neighbor, and the faith defended from cultural syncretism.
Occasionally, I come across an article stating reasons to either choose a church or make a decision to leave a church. The recommendations typically look something like this. Don’t leave for selfish reasons. Find a church that honors Christ, teaches the Bible and takes fellowship seriously. All that is well and good.
Over at Core Christianity, I thought this was a good list on 4 questions to ask when looking for a church;
What does the church believe about Scripture?
What is the church’s confession of faith?
Is the church man-centered or God-centered?
Is Christ faithfully preached each week?
But one thing I’ve discovered in my varied church experience and many years of being a Christian is that it’s not always that simple. You can have those standard elements present but there still be a hole. Just because the preacher uses the Bible doesn’t mean he’s being faithful to Scripture. Just because he quotes Bible verses doesn’t mean he’s preaching Christ. Just because people gather, doesn’t mean there is genuine love in the body. Just because there is evangelism doesn’t mean the church is being faithful to its whole task.
There’s also the varied expressions of church practice. Aside from the absolute essentials of the faith to which any Christian must be committed, there are questions to be asked about the way in which church is conducted. What does that church believe about the sacraments? The practice of spiritual gifts? The make up (liturgy) of the service? Continue reading
During Holy Week, I read a devotional centered around Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in John 13:21-32. The premise of the devotional was how much Jesus loved Judas, even though he knew he would betray him and he did. Here is a snippet that I think speaks to heart of the devotional;
It is one thing to consider what Jesus would do in our situations. It is quite another to put ourselves into his life situations. When we do this, we focus on Jesus and the contexts of his decisions, instead of our own. In John 13:26, Jesus is serving the person he had just identified as his betrayer. If we were in the presence of someone we knew had planned harm to us, could we do the same? Jesus served Judas, literally and figuratively, without resentment or any effort to “get even.” Now that is love.
Our brokenness can cause us to struggle with showing love. We could feel and behave as if an “other” was a personified WMD (weapon of mass destruction) aimed at us, making us feel MAD (mutually assured destruction) in response. But we do not have to wonder WWJD. We know what Jesus did. We have his road map. Yet, his path for us may still cause us some internal struggle. We need not, even as good Christians, ignore that struggle. It is part of the process. Even Jesus was “greatly distressed in spirit, and testified, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, one of you will betray me’” (John 13:21). However, his love was greater.
Now I gleaned from the gist of the devotional that Jesus is showing us how to love our enemies. However, I found this angle a bit short sighted. Yes, Jesus did demonstrate love for Judas and overlooked the offense. But to leave it at that kind of misses the point of what was transpiring. Jesus saw Judas. He saw the betrayal. He turned the other cheek. Why? Because he saw more than Judas. He saw us. He was set to offer himself over as a sacrificial lamb to redeem those whom the Father called into his kingdom. There was something more at stake than dealing with Judas but to be the deal for mankind so that we could know the Father and reflect his glory. Continue reading