Another question: on being woke and Christian

I’ve been pecking away little by little on a follow up to my last post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church. It occurred to me that there are some more questions I’ve been chewing on but didn’t get out in that post. But I also wanted to parse out the concerns I raise from real interest and needs with respect to Christian engagement with issues of social justice, for what it’s worth. My goal with all these questions is not to criticize for the sake of criticism and it’s certainly not to dismiss legitimate concerns. I wish to honestly evaluate if how we are going about the task of racial reconciliation is counterproductive to the cause of Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, Darrell Harrison over at Just Me Thinking wrote this fairly piercing piece, How Woke Theology is Hurting the Black Church. The heart of his concern is that present day social justice movement efforts are subordinating, if not undermining, the root of a Christian response to the ills of this world–that is, the need for redemption and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Highlighting the work and influence of James Cone, a noted Liberation theologian who Harrison believes is captivating the mood of the current discourse, Harrison writes;

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of a particular ethnic people, to whom salvation is viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

I’ve observed that a common retort to present day social justice efforts is describing it’s adherents as embracing a social gospel and liberation theology, not holding to biblical theology or maybe not even real Christians. In other words, it’s easy to reject efforts as simply being a social gospel. To some extent, this can be true. But this low hanging fruit can become a much too easy way of dismissing sincere Christians who are looking to live out the gospel in their lives. Here is where I would caution haste assessments of what’s actually going on with the present day movement and those who espouse it, less we unjustly accuse brothers and sisters of Christ of being heretics. Continue reading

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Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church

Yes, you heard that right, my white church. Why not just the church? In fact, I bet the title alone will set up some keen anticipation for me to address   everything that’s wrong with the white church and how it’s whiteness is harming people of color, how silent the white church is on issues of social justice and generally are wielding it’s power of white supremacy against the health of the church. Sure, there will be some that will roll their eyes, shake their heads and wonder why people keep being divisive with race labels and such. But I’ll get to you later.

Because of this anticipation and it’s increasing prominence in our present day discourse, I’m provoked to ask some questions. They are not easy questions nor are they questions meant to be dismissive. They are questions that have been bubbling up for some time as I observe the landscape.

Now, I have no doubt that there are prejudicial attitudes among some churches that have all white or predominantly white congregants, a lingering remnant of an ugly and rather lengthy historical legacy. We can’t be naive about the historical trek that subjugated black and brown skin to an inferior status such that people who possessed these attributes were not even worthy of being called citizens or even fully human, but slaves and second class citizens who dared not pollute the purity of white culture. We also can’t be naive about the role that the American evangelical church played in supporting this mindset and actually used the Bible to justify such twisted thinking. Yes, this actually did happen.

I get that. I get that church still has some ways to go with respect to racial reconciliation. I get that despite all the progress–and there has been progress–there remains a level of ignorance that still needs addressing. Even though we’ve come a long way, I get that some are unaware of their own unconscious biases that do need challenging if we are truly going to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because, if I’m not mistaken, that is the goal to live together as the family of God. Continue reading

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

On conservatives and race: do black lives really matter to the right?

black-lives-matter-super-169In my last post, I addressed an issue of priorities that drives politically conservative Christians to not only be drawn to the GOP but also feel compelled to endorse it’s candidate to uphold priorities. Specifically, I noted issues of life and traditional values and expressed the following.

These concerns are quite legitimate. We care about the rights of the unborn. And we care about the liberties granted us under the founding principles of this nation, that are to ensure freedom of worship. And so the typical response at elections is who will align with these values.

I confess that I had a particular audience in mind when penning that post, those who insist that the GOP platform is the most compatible with Christian values regardless of who their spokesperson is. For this crowd, these are concerns that are most directly linked to issues of life and morality. It is not lost on me that these priorities draw the conclusion that other concerns Christians care about don’t matter. These would be issues that have been under the lens, particularly with with the emergence of Black Lives Matter–issues of racism, policing, criminal justice, education, and poverty. These are issues of life and morality as well, which weigh heavier on people of color. For this reason, a major criticism of the right, and primarily Republicans, is that there is a disinterest and disregard for the concerns of minorities. Some will even label the Republican Party racist.

I do think there is some validity to this criticism. The elevation of abortion, religious freedom, and same-sex marriage has been a traditional platform of the Christian Right, made prominent in the 1980s with the so-called moral majority. Let’s be honest about who this movement represented: white Protestant America. Continue reading

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