Who Gets a Pass?

Not too long ago, the Seattle Pastor and his cohort successfully lobbied to have a book withdrawn from the marketplace because the authors had committed the crime of utilizing the Ninja paradigm to title the book and organize their leadership ideas. This application was deemed offensive because it made use of racial stereotypes and the kerfuffle that arose became quite the cause-celebre’. Since then I’ve noticed that numerous far more blatant Asian stereotypes have made appearances without notice by this group. Now I’m puzzled by what earns a pass and what does not?

Miley Cyrus Slant Eyes

Never a group to miss instances of Caucasians making ‘asian eyes’, I’d like for someone of this lobby to explain why Challies’ mocking of the Thai server’s language pattern in this tweet gets a pass:


Anyone? (insert crickets chirping) Anyone?

Obama’s Racist America

Barack Obama is obsessed with race.

He has rarely allowed a major speaking opportunity go by without bringing up and refreshing the meme that all of those who oppose him are racists. Over and over he reminds America and the world that he’s different from the other candidates, that people are going to fear him, and even, that he does not look like the faces on our currency. Putting his megalomania aside for a second (what, precisely has he done for us to consider his face for inclusion on the next new dollar bill?), what reason does Mr. Obama give for these propositions that he voices?

Because he’s black.

Barack Obama, supposedly the post-racial candidate, is obsessed with his race. He is using it to both bludgeon the battlefield into shape and to silence his critics. By cravenly attributing the choice for an alternate candidate to his skin color alone, Obama labels non-support as racial opposition. This silences criticism of his lack of experience, his socialist tendencies, or even his constant assertion of victimhood because the critic fears being named a racist. In tandem with his appropriation of the history of such giants as Martin Luther King, this kind of fantastic rhetoric cheapens the entire history of race relations in this country.

The trouble for Obama comes when those who will not vote for him are being slapped with the racist label while they look at the company of true racists that he surrounds himself with and wonder why he cannot also identify them.  Reverend Wright, for example, espouses a theology that treats all whites (based on their skin color) as an amorphous mass of evil. Dear Mr. Obama, when pigment content is the identifier of those who are targeted for vitriol, that is racism.

I believe, when Mr. Obama clambers down from his elitist tower to tramp amongst the hoi polloi, he is going to discover an America that has long moved past the sharp racial divisions that he wants to draw across her people. When he gave his “famous” speech about race several weeks ago, he stated that we needed to start a conversation about race. Perhaps the news has not penetrated the walls that he surrounds himself with but America long ago commenced this conversation with great results. Certainly he will encounter pockets of bigotry and outright racism which, being the logician that he has demonstrated, will be proof positive for him that ALL people are racist. Sadly, this is human nature and we will not be able to eradicate it until the new heavens and new earth are formed. Until then, to continue to utilize race and racism as an antagonist rant against those who don’t support his candidacy is not only unbecoming a presidential candidate but it will run the risk of reversing some of the racial progress that has occurred in this country.

Cone’s Perspectives on Black Theology

To complete our examination of James Cone’s book Black Theology and Black Power and the affect that these theological suppositions may have had on Jeremiah Wright we will look into some perspectives that he offers in support of the way he recommends that blacks in America (in 1969) interact with the White church, the Black church, and ultimately, with the culture as a whole. What one finds most difficult to understand about the way Pastor Wright continues to apply this theology is that he sees no change has occurred over the ensuing four decades that have passed since the publication and codification of these ideas. White America and relationships between whites and blacks have been perpetually locked in the turbulence of the sixties, there must still be endemic racism (institutional racism per Carmichael), blacks are still attempting to throw off the heel of the oppressor, etc. Your own perspective on these matters will greatly affect then the way that you reacted to hearing the sermonic sound bites that hit the news several weeks ago.

Cone begins this way, ” Just as black revolution means the death of America as it has been, so it requires the death of the Church in its familiar patterns…We need a theology for the oppressed black people of America aimed at the destruction of racism in the society. Black theologians can no longer be tied to the irrelevancies of white American “Christianity.”” This theology lays its roots in black suffering; Cone insists that Black theology must see the reality of black suffering in the form of suffering and humiliation. The task of Black Theology is “to analyze the black man’s condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ with the purpose of creating a new understanding of black dignity among black people, and providing the necessary soul in that people, to destroy white racism.” It is, at heart, a way of restoring the humanity destroyed by oppression.

Following the path alighted by reformers before him, Cone presses on to the issue of religious authority answering the question of whether or not there is a ‘black’ theology. He is quick to point out that all theological authority is rooted in Scripture as Luther had before him so ultimately, the validity of his theology must be measure against the Word of God rather than the structures of man. Black theology, fomented in and by oppression, is formed only of doctrines of God, man, Christ, and Scripture that do not contradict demands for freedom now. It would be difficult to contradict this demand in light of God’s consistent demand for justice throughout the Scriptures. The crucible of oppression plays such a key role because it was through this hell that blacks came to know the Savior and through it, know that He identifies with them in their condition.

Black freedom that breaks the bonds of oppression necessarily requires the creation of new values likely to be alien and threatening to white society. This evaluation is stated by Cone to be based on the fact that “white American “Christian” values are based on racism.” This new value system is to be oriented singularly toward bringing alive the spirit of self-determination in the consciousness of black people. The newly enlightened will no longer be dependent on the white oppressor for their notions of truth, reality, or the proper approach to the relief of their oppression. This harkens back to the pre-Civil War black church which, in its independence from the white Church, was creative in its approach to spawning the idea of freedom among its members.

In conclusion, Cone closes with this:

Black Theology believes that we are on the threshold of a new order–the order of a new black community. The Black Power movement is a transition in the black community from nonbeing to being. In the old order, black people were not allowed to be human; we were what white America permitted us to be–no-things. We took on false identities which destroyed our real selves, our beautiful black selves. The new order (partially realized now, but not fully consummated) is an order which affirms black self-identity.

The Black Church and Black Power Part III

I continue with an examination of James Cone’s seminal book Black Theology and Black Power, oft cited as a formative factor in the vitriolic preaching of Jeremiah Wright. [ Part 1 here and Part 2 here] Liberation theology takes many forms, many dependent on the particular geography and culture in which it foments. Particular to Reverend Wright’s brand of theological discourse is the Black experience in America and its effect on the psyche of both black and white Americans.

The Black church found its roots in the same oppression that gave rise to the ideals of Black power, enslavement. Initiated by the white oppressive slave owner as one more way to deny the African heritage of the men and women dehumanized by him, the black church nonetheless found that it must develop from within its own theological perspective. The black church was unwilling to accept the notion that Christianity was concerned only with the freedom of a man’s soul but not his body. Furthermore, Cone reminds us, the black churchman did not readily accept the prevailing myth that God had ordained slavery for them.

The Black church was born carrying these twin concerns in its DNA and an attitude of accepting Christian tenets while rejecting the place that the white church offered. The independent Black church became the first institution free from White power and at liberty to focus on the concerns of freedom and equality for Black humanity. Cone quotes Mays and Nicholson; ” Relatively early the church, and particularly the independent Negro church, furnished the one and only organized field in which the slaves suppressed emotions could be released, and the opportunities for him to develop his own leadership.” As with all institutions organized by fallen humans, the rhetoric heated to the point that outright rebellion against the oppressive forces could be heard from the pulpit. Early responses to this cry included Nat Turner’s revolt which returned a measure of violence against the slave owners.

Early theological reflection in the Black church surprisingly did not lead most black preachers to decide that God was against slavery. The oppression and violence were counter to the character of God to be sure but they struggled to understand (in a Job-like manner) why He allowed such misery to be visited upon people He loved. While some church leaders were able to sustain a patience for God’s passivity towards their misery and the evil practiced by their white brothers, others could not. Many black churchmen came to the theological conclusion that God’s character demanded a more active response linked to His absolute abhorrence of slavery. Taking this expectation contrasted to His supposed silence, some in the Black church began to speculate on the very existence of God, wondering as Daniel Payne of the A.M.E. church did, “Is there no God?”

The post-emancipation Black church displayed gradual changes in its theological underpinnings. While rejoicing in the freedom granted from slavery, black men and women faced new challenges in segregation and a more subtle dehumanization in Jim Crow. Blacks were certainly free from the bondage they had suffered but their freedom continued to be tempered by the fact that the White population at large failed to see them as fully human, denying the image of God within them. The former slaves lost their chains but had new bonds tied to them in the form of continued racist attitudes that led the black theologian to turn his focus from explorations of freedom to return to the White church’s theology of a better life ahead in the next world. No longer in rebellion, the Black church succumbed to the question, ‘what must be change about ourselves in order to be liked by our oppressors, thus making the evil stop?’ Cone points to this era saying “The black minister thus became a most devoted “Uncle Tom,” the transmitter of white wishes, the admonisher of obedience to the caste system.”

He makes this as the point at which a decline in the Black church began as the forces of capitulation to white demands for continued obedience softened the pulpit message. This weakness in the Black preacher is partly justified by Cone as he points out that to continue to challenge the White power was to put his church and his people at risk; an explanation perhaps, but the lack of obedience to Christ that it involved was a sin. The Black church convinced itself that they were doing the right thing in advocating obedience to white oppression in order to experience heaven in a future age. Albeit for different reasons, the apostasy of the Black church mirrored that of the slavery supporting White church.

Cone moves quickly forward to the turning point brought to life with the ascension of Martin Luther King and the return to confrontation between Blacks and Whites in America. He saw in MLK a rapid refocus in the Black church on the social justice Gospel that threatened Whites in their evil and also lead to the leader’s death. The author’s thesis comes full circle at this point in the book as he demands that Black power (the demand that Whites recognize the full humanity of Blacks and treat them with full equality as men (and women))  be at the center of the Black church and it’s theology. The first order of the Black church must be to re-instill in Blacks the gospel message that they are made beautiful and strong in the image of their Creator and that anyone who attempts to destroy this message (i.e. the White church and White culture) runs counter to the will of God. Cone reiterates, “The existence of the Church is grounded exclusively in Christ. An in twentieth-century America, Christ means Black Power!” Responding to the call of the gospel requires, in his mind, a return to the rebellion of the pre-Civil War black church and complete identification with the rejected and downtrodden, as Christ the Lord did.

Becoming a Gracist

I urge all of you to pick up David Anderson’s excellent book Gracism. As I’ve blogged chapter by chapter, Anderson roots his work in Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth to be inclusive rather than exclusive. He gives the metaphor of the Body of Christ being similar to the human body in every part being dependent on every other part. Putting this idea into practice would have a ground breaking effect on the impact of the Church in the world. Instead of being seen and countless separate enclaves of exclusivity. How do we get there though? Anderson offers these five suggestions, all rooted in the Body being led by Holy Spirit.

  1. Receive the Grace of God in Your Life First: It starts with us. Each of us who identifies as a follower of The Savior needs to ensure that we are fully surrendered to the work of the Spirit. Often we can be followers of Jesus for some time without allowing the Spirit to fully dominate our thoughts and actions. Until we do so, we will tend to be Christians whose actions and associations mirror the world at large be maintaining congregations of ethnic or racial separatism and exclusivity. Remember Galatians 3:26-28.2.
  2. Reach Over the Color Line By Inviting Someone to Your Church of Home: Even if you don’t feel like you’ve received the spiritual gift of hospitality, it should be a practice that we seek to display. We do this by inviting people different from ourselves into our most intimate surroundings, our homes or churches. Just as Jesus crossed every line imaginable, we as His people must also work to cross these lines as well. Remember Acts 1:8.
  3. Read on the Subject of Reconciliation: To be a bridge builder the Christian must devote the time and effort involved in the engineering practice. We must seek to understand not only our own corruption, of which the Bible provides more than ample evidence, but we must seek to understand the struggles, cultures, and dreams of our brothers and sisters of other races and ethnicities. Pastor David provides a short reading list at the end of the book of which I recommend all. I especially commend William Pannell’s book The Coming Race War. I once spoke with Mr. Pannell about my desire to make reconciliation a centerpoint of my ministry work to which he replied that it was the single greatest contribution the church can make in a world of desperate need.
  4. Relate on Purpose to People Who are Different: Humans tend to associate with those most like themselves. Our natural tendency is not to seek out others who exist in a different circle but this is Anderson’s prescription. He suggests that we make it our business to go out of our way to work, shop, or play in areas in which we are most likely to encounter those different from ourselves. In doing so we move outside of our comfort zone, allowing ourselves to feel the pressure of moving in different circles. This will help us to empathize with those we invite into our little circles. Remember Jesus moving out into Samaria in John 4.
  5. Link with a Church or Organization that Promotes Care for the Poor:  This goes without saying and should already be a mark of every Christian body. Jesus clearly values the care of the less fortunate and therefore, it becomes our care. Remember Matthew 25.

Pastor Anderson closes the book with an African proverb that can guide all of us in bridge building. So long as we are willing to keep people unlike ourselves at a distance, it is easy to see them through a filter. Getting closer and closer allows us to see that we are all alike; fallen humans in need of the love of the Savior.

When I saw him from afar, I though he was a monster.

When he got closer, I thought he was just an animal.

When he got closer, I recognized that he was a human.

When we were face to face, I realized that he was my brother.

Gracism and Celebrating Together

The Gracist seeks opportunities to rejoice with others, seeking to be inclusive of all people in the celebration. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about the twin needs to both suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with all who celebrate.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (NIV 1 Cor 12:26)

This sounds like the easiest prescription of all in David Anderson’s fine book Gracism. Celebrate with those who celebrate hardly seems like it needs to be said but David reminds us of our tendencies; we celebrate with those who are like us but we have a buried envy of those unlike us who find success or celebrate their unique ethnicity, heritage, race, etc. Rejoicing with others seems to be easier than suffering with them, but our jealousy of their success, our envy at how they have overcome barriers, and worse often make celebration harder than we think. The circumstances are familiar:

  • someone in the body is having a baby, even though I am barren
  • someone in the body gets a new care and I’m still walking
  • someone in the body is getting married and I’m still single

Perhaps the best example that Pastor Anderson offers as an example of our struggle is Black History Month. Do we as the Body celebrate the achievements and struggles of our black brothers and sisters? Making a token mention of the event or inviting a black brother to speak in our pulpits or any other singular activity is not an adequate effort in unifying the Body. The eye cannot simply acknowledge the big toe, it must be consistently cognizant of the balancing contribution made by the toe and the struggles that it faces that they eye never sees. All races, ethnicities, and socio-economic divisions must seek inclusivity in all of their actions of ALL of the Body, regardless of how our corrupted selves feel about the efforts.

Gracism and Modesty

Modesty is not a term often associated with discussions of race but David Anderson makes an intriguing point in the next chapter of Gracism. The discussion of modesty derives from the next verse in 1 Corinthians to be applied:

…the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty. 

Modesty, in context, is more than just a reference to one’s manner of dress or personal actions. It is a reference to the covering of one’s vulnerable areas. David gives the example of clothing and how it can be alluring and expose parts of our bodies better left covered or it can be a shield of sorts, offering cover for those areas of our bodies that we don’t want seen or that need a bit of protection. As he brings the metaphor to bear on the body, we read the passage as saying that before we express judgement or decide to expose areas of the body of humanity that are unsightly or need covering, we consider the gospel impact of offering a covering first. In others words, there are some issues within the the Body of Christ such as race or culture that are best dealt with behind closed doors, behind a drape of modesty. David is quick to point out that this modesty is not the same as sweeping sin or abuse under the rug.

Special modesty clothes the manner in which we speak about other cultural or racial groups because we place the unity of the Body as our highest priority. Division within the Church, whether it be racial or theological, does nothing to forward the gospel and everything to diminish our Lord and the love he offers. The Gracist is committed to giving our all to contribute to the dignity of others regardless of our differences. We focus our energies on making each other look good rather than exposing our vulnerabilities. Christ is glorified. 

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