Gracism: I Will Life You Up

In Gracism, David Anderson highlights Paul’s analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 as a call for unity in the body, with all members weak and strong contributing to good of all other members. No division of any kind is approbated for God designed his body so that each is reliant on the other and none are to stand alone. Anderson roots much of his book in verses 21 – 26:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, , while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Doing Life TogetherFrom this passage, he distills seven principles for the Gracist to put into practice.

  1. “Special Honor” – lifting up the humble among us.
  2. “Special Modesty” – protecting the most vulnerable among us from embarrassment.
  3. “No Special Treatment” – refusing to accept special treatment if it is at the detriment of others who need it.
  4. “Greater Honor” – God, as a Gracist, has given greater honor to the humble.
  5. “No Division” – when the majority helps the minority, and the stronger help the weaker, it keeps us from division within the body.
  6. “Equal Concern” – having a heart as big for our neighbors as we do for ourselves.
  7. “Rejoices with it” – when the humble, or less honorable, are helped, we are to rejoice with them.

In applying the first principle, the Gracist is committed to locating and lifting up those who are the fringes or our churches, our communities, and our cultures. This includes those who are in any kind of minority or in need of a voice at the table because their own is too weak or quiet to be heard. It takes extra effort to locate these brothers and sisters but as Paul teaches, these parts are indispensable to the whole and require special honor.

When we who perceive ourselves to be in the majority or in a position of authority attempt to put this into practice, David gives a word of caution in selecting our approach. There are many ways of offering ‘special honor’ that can be misperceived or denigrating to the very people that we are attempting to honor. Prayer is most appropriate but we can remove any authoritarian barriers by also asking the recipeint of our prayer to be in prayer for us, making us all equal in our need of the grace of God. We must be sure that any attempt that we make to lift others is seen by them as honoring to other than ourselves. He gives the excellent example of his church adopting a community in which they could come and serve and lift the people of that community. A wise leader cautioned him on his use of the term adopt as it connotes an authoritarian position over the weaker community, diminishing them and making them feel like children. A better term, he opined, would be to partner with the community, humbling the church and lifting the community to equal places at the table.

Who are the people in your world that need Special Honor? 

Jubilee in the Age of Racism

[The following was written by one of my spiritual mentors, H. Malcolm Newton. I was unable to find an online link to the old document so it is transcribed word for word here. It was originally published in the Faculty Column of a journal called Focal Point.]

The Mark Fuhrman developments in the O.J. Simpson case as well as the Million Man March in Washington D.C. tend to confirm the view that those failing to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It was simply a matter of time before circumstances exposed the deep-seated racial hatred running rampant in American society. Both incidents reveal that America is descending into “a state of psychological apartheid.” They reveal what “the future is going to be, unless the church grabs hold of its prime directive: to be God’s reconciling agent in the world” (Dr. Bill Pannell, The Coming Race Wars)

The Bible records the response of faithful people to events and issues. It is action arising from the foundation of biblical witness, church tradition and a a community of faith. Jesus’ call to repent and turn away from the destructive forces that permeated his society was followed by an invitation to be part of a new community of faith. The church cannot be just another social institution; it must be a new social reality presenting an alternative way of life.

The challenge is for Christian leaders to resurrect a new vision of hope and faith in the face of the spiritual nihilism and material decay in our inner cities. How does the church do theology (ministry) in light of such challenges? Strict doctrine, speculative theology and political ideology cannot be the basis for action. The church must root itself again in the values of the kingdom and live a theology of response.

Foundation to reconciliation is a theology of creation. Scripture records that God created the earth and the whole of creation is his. God gave Israel the use of the land, but it was not their possession: “No land shall be sold outright, because the land is mine, and you are coming into it as aliens and settlers” (Leviticus 25:23). Stewardship of God’s creation became a crucial aspect of Hebrew theology. The Torah taught that the right of property was subordinate to the obligation to care for the weaker members of society, such as the poor, the homeless and the stranger (Leviticus 25:35).

The year of release established a universal release of debts and freedom every seven years to all enslaved for debt (Deuteronomy 15). In the 50th year, the year of jubilee was celebrated (Leviticus 25) in which all land sold returned to its original owner or his heirs. The jubilee year met three basic demands for justice: remission of debt, liberation of slaves and redistribution of land.

God designed jubilee to protect the poor and weak. The Hebrew nation, however, strayed from this system of justice. God stood strongly with the poor through the prophets who frequently pronounced judgment on the nations because the poor had been oppressed, exploited and denied justice (Amos 5:7-13). God judged the nations because they had reneged on their promise to observe the jubilee and Sabbath years (Jeremiah 34-35).

Jesus’ message proclaimed the ethic of jubilee: release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and good news to the poor. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah, saying that these words had come true:

    The Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).

In Jesus the reality of jubilee was present.

The church must raise the question, what is the level of pain and hurt that minorities, and in particular black males, are experiencing in this country that they are attracted to Louis Farrakhan, a non-Christian? The evangelical church missed the opportunity to proclaim the good news to the poor because it has failed to understand the justice issues related to the poor. Farrakhan is trying to fill that void.

Evangelical leaders need to be empowered for a ministry of reconciliation. It is time that evangelical ministries become deeply involved in addressing the consequences of systemic violence, child abuse, battered women and gang violence as well as rivalry and conflict between and among ethnic groups. The culture of confrontation and violence taking hold in our cities is making new demands on the Christian community who can no longer ignore the pain and suffering of their brethren. Christians must validate the integrity of that pain and hurt in order to speak to the crisis in people’s lives. At the same time, Christina must talk seriously about agape strategies (love-informed strategies) and how to allow the grace of God to transform those lives and the society in which they live.

Christian leaders must proclaim to the drug user and drug dealer, the homeless, the prostitute and the gangs that Jesus is the Christ and that is the good news! The sin-bound, blind, brokenhearted and despairing need healing. The captive and oppressed need transformation. The devastated and ruined cities need repair.

As the presence of Christ in the world, the church is to become the embodiment of jubilee. Based on Scripture, I call upon churches, church agencies and the academic, theological communities throughout the country to consider, discuss, debate and take action. Establish “Adopt a Gang” programs that evangelize youth in gangs; commission missionaries to serve as court advocates for black and Latino juveniles; train street-corner evangelist to work with youth involved in drug trafficking; establish rape crisis centers and services for battered women; provide counseling for abusive men.

The crises generated by the capitalist urbanization process present an opportunity for the emergence of new moral and intellectual leadership. “The ascension of Farrakhan as a pivotal figure in the black community is a result of the failure of black church leadership to develop a coordinated program of evangelism and rehabilitation for black males” (Eugene Rivers as quoted in Christianity Today). If we, the community of faith,–black and white—rise to the occasion, we may be able to retrieve a generation cut adrift. If not, we will have brought down the judgment of God on ourselves for reneging on Jesus’ promise of jubilee.

Prof. H. Malcolm Newton is [was] assistant professor of World Christianity and director of Globalization at Denver Seminary.

Here is a PDF of the original article newtonessay.pdf

Gracism and Racism

Anderson defines racism as ‘speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture’ in Gracism. It is productive to add an aspect of power on the part of the racist that extends over the oppressed but we can continue in our discussion of David’s book without it. In beginning to lay the foundation of his ideas, Anderson begins by making the case logically and theologically that inclusion within the body of Christ makes sense in this day and age. Not only does the Bible make a clear case for reaching out to all people but it also makes clear our reliance on one another.

The excursus of 1 Corinthians 12 begins with an observation of Paul’s insertion of a reference to race and culture in verse 13:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greek, slave or free–and we were all give the one Spirit to drink.

The apostle didn’t casually mention the union of all members of the body and then toss in this reference to race and culture. In fact, it can be argued that this applies a filter through which the remaining verses of this pericope are to be read. A new reading of the verses 14-27 points us to action; anyone who may feel, look or truly be ‘unpresentable’ or ‘weaker’ must be handled, and even honored, differently. The Church body should never be content with those that surround them, they must constantly be looking toward the fringes looking to include other parts of the body who something to contribute to God’s mission.

We as the body are confronted with questions that derive from this idea. We must ask ourselves first if our church, small group, or Bible class represents a group that Christ would assemble, being inclusive as He was. We must confront our choices by asking if we are perpetuating segregation among Christians and simply justifying it with my preferences and comfort? Those who militate for multi-ethnic churches within the Body must prepare for disagreement. Anderson recounts an attack from an African American man who felt that his message was against the black church, calling him a menace. His reply is stark where he says:

I’ve never read a text of Scripture that outlines God’s design for a one-race church….As much as I love the black church and at times miss it, there will be no black church in heaven. There will be one church and it will be multicultural. One bride, not a harem, is what Jesus is coming back for.”

A sobering thought for those who insist on continuing in unicultural ministry. Are you truly reflecting your Lord?

An Introduction to Gracism

book coverI’ve put this off for some time because discussions of the racialized Church that I have been involved in have devolved along the lines of Emerson’s conclusion in Divided by Faith: Caucasians can never understand any other race because of the blinders of their “dominant” position in the world. I don’t believe that to be correct and, for now, we’ll leave it to another day. I’m going to start a new series discussing the ideas in David Anderson’s new book Gracism: The Art of Inclusion. Anderson is the Pastor of Bridgeway Community and the author of two other highly recommended volumes, Letters Across the Divide and Multicultural Ministry. In his latest work, David offers an encouraging way of bridging ethnic and racial divides within the Church that works around the analogy of the body that Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 12. Anderson expands on the idea that every member of the body needs every other member and that none are to be minimized or excluded. Especially applicable to the overall theme are verses 22 and 23:

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.

What separates David’s thinking about race is that he views racial problems as being equal opportunity. All people, regardless of skin color, can be racist because it is a sin, not just skin, problem and because of this endemic sin, everyone can also be a victim of this evil. He says “There must be an answer to dotism [racism & bigotry of all types] that doesn’t leave people feeling left out, judged and discriminated against. … There must be a theological response to racism in the culture and racial segregation in the church. Right? There is–its’s gracism.”

The Lovings Were Heroes of Change

On June 12, 1967 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the Loving decision and changing the history of interracial marriage forever. This decision has had long reaching effects, not just for my own family in which two families are bi-racial, but for the 3.8% of all marriages that have chosen to cross the once taboo boundaries. At the time that Richard and Mildred Loving were married, their union was prohibited by state law and they were subject to incarceration for breaking out of the constraints of race and following their heart. They certainly would have lived out of the spotlight given the opportunity but their name will forever be remembered as the catalyst for change that so many are thankful for today.

The Association for Multiethnic Americans has a brief piece here.

An Associated Press article on Mrs. Loving and her story here.

Contributions of the Asian Church

A theologian who I have read and respected for some time, Simon Chan, is interviewed in the June 2007 issue of Christianity Today. The theme of the piece is missional theology and one question in particular challenged some long held beliefs about ethnic churches. The interviewer, Andy Crouch, asks What does the Asian church have to contribute to our understanding of discipleship and mission?

I believe the traditional Asian family structure, with its emphasis on extended family and authority within the family, could be very helpful to the Western church and its tendency to atomize the Christian community into autonomous individuals. Western people have great difficulty understanding that a hierarchical structure is not necessarily opposed to individual freedom. They tend to think of hierarchy as an arrangement of domination. But that is not the way we see it in Asia.

There is much to be said for a restoration of the community ethic within our churches. Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the idea of our ‘personal’ relationship with Christ, damaging the notion that we are created for community and hindering our acquisition of the theology that derives from it.