Monday, December 18, 2017


Is justice inevitable?  Is it true, as Theodore Parker (a Unitarian minister) first said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice!”  One sees a touch of realism in that statement, that to get to justice we will have to wait quite a while.  There is also a touch of optimistic idealism, or even fatalism, that the force of morality is heading in a positive direction.

   Idealism is a slander used against Christianity, usually by Marxists and certainly non-believers.  Christians affirm that we are idealists, but only in the sense that we think prophecy and Scripture, via the revelation of God himself, is not chance or luck, but certainty.  The Reverend Parker’s statement however seems to be an echo of Christianity, almost there, but not quite.  He has its optimism, without its certainty.  Maybe he has its hope, but based on what?

    In the Christmas season we sometimes hear this passage from Isaiah 42…
“Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  [There it is!]  he will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  [There it is again!] He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coast lands wait for his law.” (verses 1-4).

   If this is true, then Jesus, the one about whom this passage promises, “will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth…”  Now that is a reason for optimism, and hope, and endurance.  I take it that this means Jesus will not stop till His work is done.  So, how is he going to do that exactly?   Is this solely the work of his Second Coming?  Is this a passage about trusting in the power of God to finally, completely, and inevitably bring about justice in the earth, by his power and intervention?

    And does that mean that the only thing we need is the faith to believe it?  That in spite of the centuries of war, of invasions, oppression, slavery, racism, colonialism, genocide, and the rape, pillaging, execution, and dehumanizing of one’s person, family, people, clan, ethnicity, and nation by other human beings we are simply to wait in constant faith?  Is this supposed to give us contentment, peace, and some kind of consolation as we bury the bodies?

   The Reverend Parker was an abolitionist.  This means he was an activist of sort, not someone who was content to simply wait for that “institution” to outlive its  usefulness.  He wanted to be an agent of justice, to be an agent of bending that moral arc toward the correct inclination.  

   As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, as a believer that we are the body of Christ on earth, as a believer that as God is a God of justice so also his people are to be people of justice, that as the Church of Jesus Christ we are to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout the earth, and that we are to make disciples of every ethnic group, and that as the Church we are to teach these disciples “everything that I have commanded you,” then the task of Jesus in pursuing and completing justice in the earth is also our task.

    We do this with a certain hard faced realism about that task, its difficulty, its horrendous price of martyrdom, its discouraging and frustrating delay, but also with a faith beyond our abilities, determination, and patience.  Our trust in the triumph of justice is because we rest in the triumph of Christ.  Our energy is found in confidence that he will accomplish some of that work through us.  As Isaiah puts it, “he will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.”   “The earth,” the place where we live, in the place that needs justice so desperately, the Lord Jesus is on campaign.  It is a place where we do grow faint, fall apart, panic, throw up our hands, and curse the world and others.  Yet Jesus does not, and therefore as he lives in us, we will not.

   I just want to encourage you.  The work of Jesus is the work of justice, and it is going to happen no matter what anybody’s army says about it.  We need to be about his work, preaching the Gospel, making disciples, speaking truth, living the Kingdom, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.  It is going to take time; that is what that little word “till” means.  That word also means that there will be a definite conclusion to the matter, and that is when the world is finally healed from its sorrow, turmoil, and pain.  


Wednesday, November 29, 2017


   So what does the average seminarian actually know how to do when he enters the ministry?  Notice, I didn’t ask how much he knows.  He probably knows more than he will ever actually make use of in ministry to real people, or even in ministry to himself.  Depending on the Presbytery that examines him he will probably be pressed to know a great many facts and details about all kinds of things theological, historical, and hermeneutical. 

    The candidate for ordination will be force fed with knowledge, and then squeezed like a lemon, so that the committee can examine him to the point of dripping out of him everything they can, up to the limits of his knowledge.  They will take him to the edge of his learning, and God help him if that edge is too far from the expectations of the committee.  The gulf between expectations and his deficiencies will not be easily tolerated, let alone any shaky, suspicious opinions, or convictions.  If found wanting he will be sent back for more study, and possibly for a few persuasion sessions.

    Studying is in fact what he knows how to do, and what the members of the Examining Committee know how to do.  This is what he will do to his disciples, and to any potential new officers; he will make them study.   And when it comes to any kind of hands on work of ministry, he will endeavor to study that as well on his way to actually avoiding it.  It is hard to learn from pastors these days, unless one has time for more study.  If one wanted to be mentored by a pastor, to catch some ministry skills he might be modelling, well, one would have to sit quietly while he reads, or uses some kind of software study material, or as he listens to a sermon series by a prominent scholar; that is if the student wanted to emulate the skills of his pastor.

    If one were to ask a seminary where the practical training comes in they might answer that they are in fact not a Bible College or Institute that teaches “ministry.”  Or they might say that is what internships are for, where they send recent graduates to learn from recent graduates who have no practical experience either, except in preaching on Sunday morning.  It is hard to learn ministry skills from pastors who are still learning theirs on the job, or have settled for a new definition of the job that has conveniently left off the skills of evangelism, home visitation, hospital visitation, prison preaching, doing acts of mercy and good works, and even counseling or conflict resolution.

   If such pastors are planting churches and asked to train new Elders and Deacons they repeat for them what they learned how to do in seminary.  Yes, they challenge them to study.  They give them as much theology, doctrine, apologetics, Catechism, and Book of Church Order material as these lay people can absorb.   They don’t necessarily teach them how to pray, or how to have a good argument in a meeting without getting mad and quitting the church, or how to handle a divorce case, or how to go on a mercy visit, or how to mobilize the laity to do ministry in the community, or how to design and organize various outreach kinds of ministry, or how to handle the pressure of marriage and child raising while feeling obligated to keep ordination vows and serve the church.

    Internships are not for a student to become a gopher for the church staff, or to be saddled with a particular ministry (such as nursery or Jr. High) that everyone else seems to be avoiding.  It is specifically to rotate him through essential skills; how to evangelize and share his faith actively and on purpose with strangers, how to visit widows, the elderly, the sick, and those in prison, how to prepare and execute a worship service, wedding, and funeral, how to moderate and help make effective a leader’s meeting, how to problem solve and deal with conflict on every level (other staff, Elders, Deacons, members and attenders), and how to cast vision for ministry.  He needs to do these things with and in the company of the Senior pastor and other leaders so he can hear their reflections and see their reactions in ministry context.

    Internships are to help a potential pastor realize if he has a work ethic or not, if he knows how to set boundaries for himself and his family as he does ministry, and if he has the capacity and willingness to sacrifice himself and his boundaries for the sake of the Gospel.   Internships should set up new pastors for the reality that one will often need more people, more money, and more time to get the simplest programs off the ground.  This reality will help new pastors learn the joy of frustration and anxiety, and be tempted to reach the heights of resentment and despair as no one seems to give a rip about his new idea.   Where will the volunteers come from, and where will the resources come from?   Oh yes, this is where interns learn the practical realities of faith and prayer, and that God makes things happen out of resources that aren’t yet seen.

    Without practical training experiences pastors will continue to be woefully unprepared to really train their members for ministry, and they will continue to avoid those experiences because it means risk, and time, which could be better spent in ….study.  Without passing practical skills to the people of the church then those church members will have no way of showing the love of God to the people of the world, or of learning how to get to those people and communicate the Gospel to them.

May the Lord raise up among us great training pastors, who take potential leaders into practical ministry and teach them skills by doing, reflection, and re-doing!


Thursday, November 16, 2017


  Let’s talk about sex baby!  It kind of seems that is all anyone is talking about these days, and maybe that is really good.  It is also sad.  It is certainly needed but at the same time it is a bit disturbing.  Surely no one of any mature years can be shocked that sex causes us so much trouble.  We are in a period of calling out old sins, old sexual assaults and harassment, even old rapes.  We are always (always) in a period of current sexual exploitation, brokenness, confusion, aggression, and need.

   We live in a media atmosphere where, on the same day, we hear about someone guilty of rape that was never reported and a man who just spent 45 years in prison for a rape he didn’t do, but has now been exonerated.  Given the right context and circumstance, (especially of race and income) we have brought the hammer down hard on suspected rapists but let other rapists go free; usually because they were rich and powerful. 

  We have lived in an age of sexual hedonism where Hugh Hefner gave an apologetic for how free, frequent, and multiple partner sex means freedom from a puritanical life of constraint and up-tightness.  We live in an age of feminism whereby women want control of their own bodies, to have sex when and with whom they wish, to dispose of pregnancies when and how they wish, to dress how they wish, to drink and drug when they wish, and yet seem to expect men to act with restraint and take control of their own impulses.  Yes, they should, but men are as stupid as women when it comes to sex, and along with their stupidity often have the power to take what they want and cause great and lasting harm.

   We live in an age where people seem to think it is okay to grope other people, whether it be on the street where women grope attractive men who might be total strangers to them (and vice versa), to the office or studio where male supervisors and bosses think it is okay to grope employees.  We live in an age where teachers sleep with their students and pregnancy results either by them or in them.  We live in an age where female teachers go to jail for child sexual abuse of their teen-age boy toys.

  I am sure I don’t have to tell anyone the law, or what is right, or what God demands but can I say simply…Keep your hands off of other people’s bodies if they haven’t given you permission, and especially if they don’t belong to you in marriage!  Do not make sexual advances, remarks, innuendo, gestures, or remarks to anyone to whom you are not married!  Does that sound limiting? It ought to, and it will keep you out of trouble.

   We live in an age of open homosexuality and yet live in an age of denial about how behavior might be connected to HIV/AIDS and STDs.  Education and protection and advances in medications are the answer but not morality, not self-control, and certainly not censure for behavior.   We condemn human trafficking and indulge the porn industry.  What the hell is going on here?

    There is hypocrisy everywhere; in religious leaders who get found out as child sex abusers or as excuse-rs of the abusers and in politicians who call for legislation regarding various sex or gender related issues and then are found out to have skeletons in their own closets.  We live in an age of media “gotcha” for every celebrity, politician, priest, or leader whose failure may be a moment of indiscretion, a circumstantial and stress caused illicit relationship, or a hidden life of a stalker looking for prey.

    There are victims; they never asked for the abuse, they were never seducers, and they never thought it might happen to them.  Some of these of course were children or teens, some fearful about their livelihoods, some afraid of a closed door for advancement, some afraid of a counter-attack of reprisal, some physically afraid, and some just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some of these vulnerable folk live with a scarred and damaged psychology for the rest of their lives, a damaged view of their own sexuality, a perverted view of how to relate to members of the opposite sex, and some live on to recycle the abuse.

    Who among us can be pure?  Who among us has the right to speak?  If I am a sexual being can I reflect on these issues without admitting to my own desires, my own fantasies, my own failures, my own frustrations, my own recklessness to fulfill my own pleasure and exploit others?  No, not if I am honest.  I know how I have thought about women, my objectifying of them, my secret plans for using them, and I know how worse I would have been without the restraints of my own conscience, the reality of criminal prosecution, the reality of social and community condemnation and abhorrence.  I blame God for my not being worse than I’ve been.  The restraint of grace is what I count on the most.

   We are not pure, but we must speak.  Even if we have all failed, we must speak.  We must seek to protect our children, our neighbors, our spouse, our community, the vulnerable, and our future.  Sex is a great gift, but oh how twisted it has become.  Sex is a great need, and how powerful its desires are within us.  Sex is such a great comfort, a witness to confidence, an intimacy of love.  It is so damn dangerous.

   The attempt to attack either gender, alone, for sexual abuse or sin is both disingenuous and delusional.  The tendency to attack institutions, such as the church, either as institution or religious theology, is simplistic and a little too easy.  Of course there are failures in churches, in church leadership, in how they have dealt with abusers, in how they have sheltered them, in how they have failed victims.  This is true in every social institution where there are sexual beings.  The church however should have done better, and it must do better, and when caught in its failure ought to be called out. 

   Yet, again, wherever there are institutions made up of people, and those people are sexual beings, there will be sexual trouble.  The military which counts on professionalism to inhibit sexual misbehavior, finds out again and again that professionalism in and of itself cannot do it. The news media, which is the mouthpiece of this very story, finds corruption in its own ranks.  Every industry and business, educational institutions, and the arts, all have sordid stories.

   There are lines which must not be crossed, for those are the things which protect and enable society to function.  Yet, we are all in need of compassion. We all have to have some sane understanding of the temptation in many of us to cross those lines. This has always been hard for societies, how do we draw clear lines of safe and right conduct without producing self-righteousness, self-deception, and hypocrisy?  Which value system will win in how we live our sexual lives with one another in this world because it is a value system that decides where the lines will be drawn? Without those lines, those borders of decency, we produce a license for predation and with that the fear and determination to protect and revenge our own, and that leads to violence. 

   How do we deal with people’s shame, both of the abused and the abuser?  How do we deal with people’s guilt?  How do we deal with the reality of sexual passion without denying that we all pretty much have it and, for many of us, go through times, periods, years, and a lifetime of not quite knowing what to do with it?

    I come back to grace.  The powerful mercy of God, the grace of Jesus who died for sinners, the mercy of God to forgive the failures, the power of God to heal the victims, the power of God to change an evil heart, the merciful power of God to deliver the addicted and sexually imprisoned, the free adoption of God to make those who feel like orphans realize they have an identity as sons and daughters of a God who loves them.  We dare not “put a cork in it” because we were not made to simply suppress it, but we dare not fail to surrender its passions to a loving and gracious God who knows how to help us use it for his glory, and our joy.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017


    Every time African Americans seem to ask for their rights, or protest against injustice, or gain some political, educational, or economic footing there are those who see their gain as a loss for white people.  There is such a hysterical fear among some whites that any gain for African Americans is seen not simply as an achieving of their rights as full citizens but as a “win” over white people, as a step toward actual  “Negro” supremacy.

   I am reading (listening) to a great biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow.  Surely this must be a book that revisionist historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction are going to hate.  One of the things that jumped out to me in the book was the citing of historic quotes from those who opposed the implementation of the 14th & 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

    Some folks actually used the phrase “Negro Supremacy” to describe what was happening in the country during Reconstruction.  This is the time when 4 million freed slaves went from being counted as 3/5 of a human being for Congressional representation to being counted as full citizens.  Black people were to be given the full protection of the law, they were allowed the right to vote, and to run for office.  Those Confederates who would not admit defeat attempted to do everything they could to prevent black people making use of their rights.  The origins of the Klu Klux Klan came from this time and it was a time of terrorism, violence, and intimidation.

   It is interesting that the Southern states were allowed to increase their Congressional representation by counting black folks as full persons (they gained 40 extra seats) but did not intend for black folks to be treated as equals.  This was a perverse outcome of Reconstruction and made it harder for the Republicans (the party of the North and abolitionists) to continue the reforms of Reconstruction.  Virulent racism kept resisting any substantive change to the status of black folk (except as legal slaves) by wailing over “carpet-baggers” and injury to State Rights and racial fear of what free black men might do to white women.  White Republicans were assassinated, black men were slaughtered, schools that Northern missionaries had come down to build for freed black people were burned.  A reign of terror took hold until President Grant could break it through a targeted prosecution of Klan leaders. 

   The reelection of President Grant in 1872 was the freest election for black voters, something they would not enjoy and not to be repeated again until 1968.  So powerful was racism that it resisted and finally broke the hold of the former abolitionists and Northern Republicans on the reforming and integrating of the South toward a real living out of the Bill of Rights.  One hundred years of racial darkness enveloped the South, and a system of Jim Crow segregation was allowed to deny black folks their full rights as American citizens.

   One of the things that comes to light in Chernow’s book is that even some abolitionists gave way to racism.  They had advocated and fought for emancipation but were ready to throw away the human rights of people of color and were not ready to count them as equals.  This fear of black ascendancy is irrational but it is based on real emotional passion.  Most of it is simple fear and pure anger, expressed and practiced as hate. It is a zero sum game way of thinking that if “they” gain “we” must lose.  This is as tribal a rivalry as one can find in the world.  We are not immune from it today, not in thinking, relating to one another, or in politics.

   Full rights, full protection, and full integration into the life of society and the country doesn’t mean anyone has to lose, except in someone’s preconceived ideas of what a society or country should look like.  This fear of “Negro Supremacy” continues to prevent white folks putting themselves into the shoes of people of color when they are profiled, treated unjustly by authorities, treated differently in schools, courts, or employment opportunities.  Racism prevents empathy and without empathy we can’t achieve unity. With unity our whole country prospers.

    For too long children have been lied to about the time of Reconstruction, lied to about campaigns of racial violence, lied to about the mechanization's of racist politicians to dismantle the achievements of the Civil War, and about the sacrifice of both white and black people who lived and came down to the South to realize those achievements.  Many of them were wonderful Christians who took their lives into the hands, and gave up their lives, for the glory of Christ and for the freedom of men. We all need to resist “zero-sum-game” thinking when it comes to treating people with dignity and standing for their rights.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017


This is an attempt to highlight, and maybe analyze, some of the trends I see in that part of the Christian community that is focused on urban, poverty, cross-cultural (ethnic and racial), justice, and community development issues.

   By way of full disclosure I am a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) minister, which means I am a Reformed Biblical conservative, and in my case, white.  I am also married to an African American woman, and a member of the Christian Community Development Association. I have been involved in urban, multi-ethnic churches and ministry since I was saved as a child.

    Since I have tried to participate in conferences and events dedicated to a Christian approach to the issues mentioned above I have seen various trends and developments in philosophy, theology, and personalities.   Obviously all institutions and movements are affected by their leadership and the personalities involved within them, and since people grow old, grow different, or pass away, leadership changes within movements and organizations.  This is inevitable, and movements and organizations often struggle to remain committed to their first principles after their initial leadership changes.

   All of the organizations and movements that I have been involved with, or have observed, are affected to some degree by national and general cultural trends.  There is both a desire to be relevant to those trends, and a corresponding resistance to some trends that seek to negatively affect the value system of these movements and organizations.  They have varied success in each direction.

   I am a member of one of the most conservative Christian denominations in the USA in what some might identify as the Evangelical camp.  It is not the same as fundamentalism, not simply nor solely evangelical, but Reformed, Covenantal, and Confessional.  That might be a difference meaningless to anyone outside of our own circles, but it does set certain boundaries for our members.

    One reason I am involved with various conferences and movements is because I believe the Kingdom of God is larger than my denomination.  I have my theological convictions, and my willingness to love, befriend, and fellowship with other believers doesn’t mean I have abandoned my convictions.  Sometimes my ability to fellowship and cooperate with other believers depends on their willingness not to demand that I surrender my convictions.     Discerning when there is a uncompromising conflict or knowing when I must separate myself from others due to conviction is sometimes both difficult and painful.  It is fairly easy to know when I hear something I don’t like, but that is not the same as a reason for separation.

    As I seek to participate in and enjoy the fellowship of the wider Body of Christ, (especially among those who care deeply about those things which have been too long ignored and even resisted by some of our American Christian forefathers), I know that I need God’s wisdom and love to maintain a faithful witness to the things I believe while working among those with whom I sometimes disagree.  My hope is that those believers who disagree with me would also seek for a godly tenaciousness in loving me, and being patient with me and those who believe as I do.

   Too many of my brethren tend to set very narrow lines to discern who is a brother, who is a friend, and are fairly quick to separate from fellowship.  This is true from both the “left” and the “right” in my experience.  I understand that sometimes there is no choice, and sometimes it is just not worth the effort to keep trying to build bridges when the other side keeps trying to burn them down. Sometimes that separation is formal and comes by declaration, more immediately it happens from non-participation and the ending of communication.

   I am committed to seeking to obey the Word of God and I take the prayer of Jesus (thus realizing what his will is concerning me) seriously when He says in John 17:21, “I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  The Scripture also says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

   Unity, peace, and love between the brethren are high values for the Lord Jesus, and thus they must be high values for his followers, which I believe includes me.  I have to keep trying to pursue these values. Among the Christian social activists I know, and among whom I include myself (and I realize that even as I use the phrase, “social activist” some of my conservative brethren have already drawn a line to distance themselves from me), there are various trends that can cause real concern, misunderstanding, if not clear distinction.  Sometimes that difference is fairly drastic.
    The most foundational difference would be an old argument in theology and that is the struggle between a liberal interpretation of the Bible versus a conservative one.  The evangelical social activists I am concerned about in this regard would still call themselves Bible believers, but their view of Scripture might not be consistently high, and I think some of them don’t realize that their interpretation of the Scriptures comes from a liberal interpretation of it and not a conservative one. 

   Please understand that these words, “conservative” and “liberal” are a bit different than the political meaning of these words.  Some would consider me a social liberal in some things while I would claim I am seeking to be consistently conservative in my interpretation of Scripture.  My advocacy of justice and mercy are not driven by social liberal politics but by a conservative reading of Jesus, the Torah, and the prophets.  My hatred and resistance to racism doesn’t come from liberalism, Marxism, or current fads, but from the commandment to love my neighbor as myself and the Biblical injunction to hate evil.

   So, when my brothers and sisters seem to pick and choose what Scripture they want to obey, or choose to ignore, then I see a failure to keep the Word of God in high regard.  One of the marks of that failure is a very convenient way of interpreting Scripture culturally, so that the things that smack in the face of current philosophical and political trends, and cause a bit of generational embarrassment, are softened, ignored, or changed in their meaning. The most obvious examples fall in the realm of sexual-gender issues.  It seems to be getting harder to tell the difference between a theological liberal and an intellectually sloppy Evangelical. 

  The power and impact of feminism has hit the Evangelical church and the wider Christian church hard.  In the world of evangelical social activism there are some who assume the everyone who is keeping socially and culturally current believes that women should be accepted as pastors and preachers, that this is progress, and that those who are opposed to it are not only failing to grow but may actually be oppressors of women.  The ordination and elevation of women preachers is not consigned to liberals alone, as some Pentecostal and prosperity preachers are women.
    My participation in evangelical social activist circles becomes offensive to feminist adherents when I use male focused language and seem to imply that only men are preachers.  They are correct in picking up the implication. Though they have little patience with my convictions they seem to expect that I will support women preaching and participation in leadership in the events we commonly attend and support.

    I recognize there are denominations of Bible believing Christians that ordain women, and I can fellowship and interact with those women in various settings.  Usually this happens in an “association” but not in a denomination, nor in a worship service provided in my church or denomination.   This is by Scriptural conviction on our part.  Advocates of women preachers would find it hard to be happy in my denominational circles, and might not want to even recognize the legitimacy of our convictions.

      However, the trend I see in some events is a desire to have more women preachers, even when some fail to preach very well (some women are amazingly gifted communicators so this has nothing to do with innate ability). Sometimes this whole area is fudged a bit by referring to a “plenary speaker.”  I have no problem with women being plenary speakers; some of them have great things to say and I need to learn from them.  It is the assumption of the preaching office that causes concern.  The problem is not women, the problem goes back to the interpretation of Scripture and with a lack of consistency on that part too many things begin to shift in Biblical application.

      I don’t see very much concern, by leaders in Evangelical social action settings, for those of us who don’t really believe women should be up there preaching.  I believe they mistakenly think that justice for women requires this elevation of women that conservatives believe God designed for men. The desire for gender diversity has sometimes trumped content.  As with several of these trends this tends to drive conservative believers away from participation as they seek other venues where they will not have this conflict.  I am not sure if social activists Christians even know that there are many Christians who no longer attend their events.  I don’t think this difference is going to end anytime soon, and for some it will never end. 

    One of the things I don’t hear very often from Evangelical social action folks is the necessity of conversion, which implies the necessity of evangelism, and the irreplaceable part the local church plays for true community and cultural change. Corresponding to those necessities then is an imperative to plant wholistic, Gospel preaching and Spirit empowered neighborhood loving congregations in the communities of the poor.

     In fact, one might misunderstand some of the economic community development rhetoric and believe that God is already in the communities of the poor, we need to listen to the poor and not tell them anything, and that by utilizing their assets and their own ideas they can change their own communities.  Well, maybe it is not a misunderstanding; maybe this is what some Evangelical social activists think.  Of course God is already among the poor.  He is already everywhere.  Yes, the poor have resources and they need to use their own assets and take ownership of their own development.  Yes, many outside forces have coalesced to create poor communities and they are not simply the result of the moral or immoral personal choices of the poor.

     However, it is a denial of the Gospel and the entire missionary history of the Church to think that any individual or community, poor or otherwise, doesn’t need a spiritual conversion into a life of discipleship.  It is also a denial of reality that those captured by their sins among the poor don’t need to be set from them; that freedom cannot happen by social improvement.  Does the preaching of the cross matter?  If it does then it doesn’t matter as a historical anachronism, as something we Evangelicals used to do, or did once in a neighborhood.  It matters just as much today, and will matter as much tomorrow so as to be a constant dynamic.  The proclamation of the cross is as much needed today, for everyone, but especially among the poor as it has ever been.  The commission of Jesus is still in force.  Any Evangelical social activist who doesn’t believe in the necessity of preaching the cross and need for people to be saved is simply and only a social activist, but not truly an Evangelical, and without the Gospel his or her social activism is inherently limited in power.

   Can people socially, culturally, and economically change without believing the Gospel message?  Certainly they can.  I don’t think one has to be a Christian to stop being a drug addict, or a gangster, or an alcoholic; though many have found deliverance from these things through Christ. One doesn’t have to be a Christian to value education, finish school, and learn a good work ethic.  One doesn’t have to become a Christian to learn how to manage their money and gain financial literacy, or to value marriage, or to raise children with love and boundaries.  I think Christianity gives a person a great foundation, and reasons, to pursue such things but these things don’t require Christianity, and they are not the same as Christianity.  This was the great mistake of 19th century missions with their so-called Christian civilizing of the savage.

     However, real character change cannot happen without the Gospel.  A real understanding of purpose and identity cannot happen without the Gospel.  An assurance of the forgiveness of one’s sins cannot happen without the Gospel.  A hope of heaven cannot be real without the Gospel.  The power to love neighbors and even enemies, and to come together as a church community in love, cannot happen without the Gospel.  I don’t want to give up either side of the challenge, that of preaching and believing the Gospel and that of wholistic love that provides resources for communities to achieve justice and human flourishing.

   In line with this need to remember the Gospel is the unfortunate abandonment of recognizing the need for good churches, really good churches, to be planted among the poor.  I am in favor of non-profit, or for profit, social enterprises and ministries to help in the work of social and economic community development.  It is just not enough in and of itself, nor is it the main agenda of Jesus, nor is it the self-governing and self-perpetuating organism God created to be the most grass roots kind of an organization.

    Churches don’t simply exist to supply funds to non-profit Christian ministries, non-profits exist to help accomplish the wholistic work of the Church.  It takes great leadership, and loving cooperative leaders, to get these ministries to work in concert and mutual support.  Far too many well-meaning non-profits have lost their connection to the church and to the Gospel.  Many of them do really good work, but they are not the local church.  Obviously the common pastor who is not radicalized by a Gospel love of the poor, or a God given thirst for justice, will seek to “have” church, but fail to do the really hard mission work of building a local congregation in places of need.  These kind of pastors are hard to find, but God still raises them up, and we need thousands more of them.

    Another dynamic within Evangelical social activist circles is the discussion of how we should deal with racism, with white privilege, with institutions that wittingly or unwittingly support white advantage.  Even the terminology is problematic.  Proclaiming white supremacy as the enemy, with its historic horrific icons of the KKK, the Nazi party, and violence without a differentiation between the average and often clueless white person who lives in the luxury of white privilege produces misunderstanding and alienation.

    The growing antagonism of people of color who have become frustrated with Evangelical institutions and their slowness of change, or resistance to it, or the deafness of white evangelicals to the pain of those who continue to suffer the brunt of police brutality, profiling, over-policing, and mass incarceration has given a seeming new incentive for racial separation.

    As the commission on race riots once pointed out anger is often a symptom of improved conditions, due to heightened expectations married to a rising frustration.   There is also a feeling of power, a self-confidence to not care for the feelings of those perceived as the problem.  So language because more strident, and declarations are made, and division is seen as acceptable.  The reality and problem of racism in America has created a long history of division and separateness, sometimes by overt racism by white people, and sometimes by reaction from people of color.  The black church is a creation of white racism, at least if one remembers the story of Bishop Richard Allen and the African Methodist Episcopal church.

    Many of these voices of frustration are not from people of color who grew up in segregated churches but by many who have been reached, educated, mentored, and supported by white evangelical institutions and churches.  They have experienced these institutions from the inside, even as these institutions were, in and by their conscious effort, trying to be less "white."  Too slow, too late, and still un-woke can make the Evangelical experience hard to take; especially when Evangelicals take political actions that seem monolithic while being racially obtuse if not hostile.

    There are multi-ethnic churches which are mono-cultural, some of them are identity and culture killers for minorities.  Other multi-ethnic churches are more cross-cultural where people are “becoming” like each other in culture, with majority folks becoming “slaves” to other people groups to serve them.  Discerning the difference between these kinds of churches is important.  There are reconciliation heroes, and they have not wasted their lives.  They will bear eternal fruit, and on earth they are seeing the Kingdom realized; which is what we all are supposed to be praying for in the Lord’s Prayer. 

   The realization and actualization of love in a mixed cultural community is hard and cannot come without cost and sacrifice. It happens intentionally, by faith, and God's grace. I have found it worth every bit of effort, and wished all my brothers and sisters in Christ thought it so.


Monday, October 16, 2017


   How are we to pursue reconciliation?  Is reconciliation a legitimate or worthy goal?  How do we define it?  How do we know when it has been achieved, and is it achievable at all?

    If reconciliation is making something whole again, if it is making peace, if it bringing what has been torn back together so that it is mended where then do we begin in measuring the break, the wound, the rupture, and the alienation?

    How deep must the wound be before we say it is incurable?  How strong must the pain, hurt, and bitterness be before we admit we can’t get over it, we can’t overcome its distraction?  Pain has a way of grabbing our attention and it tends to distort our perspective and relationships.  It was meant to do that so we would understand our peril and our body or soul’s clamor for survival.

    Reconciliation is a big word and the Bible applies it to various kinds of relationships.  In theology the biggest meaning is with the human race and God, with those who were of the first Adam and now included in the second Adam.  The next biggest meaning is with people groups, especially between Jews and Gentiles, but by extrapolation and extension then between all sub groups of Gentiles.   The third and most personal is between persons, especially between believers.

    In parallel with the doctrine of reconciliation and its practical application is the reality and demand of love.  Love is of course the motivator of reconciliation; God’s love.   God is the one whose own creation has been marred and broken.  The creatures of God are the ones who rose (and fell) into rebellion and have attempted to hide from him, deny his Lordship, then deny his existence, and to attempt to kill him both by unbelief and crucifixion.

     Mankind is the sinner, and God is the lover.  God is also the offended party with every right to anger and the claim of justice.  Though rejected God is the pursuer, and it is left to him to find some remedy; not simply for his justice but also for restoration.  It is left to him because the wound we have caused between ourselves and God is too great for us,(we who are the guilty), to close.

    God is the model of reconciliation.  He demands morality (and all that living justly demands), a demand as it were to go back to that first Edenic obedience.  It is a preconceived and manipulative attempt to help mankind see his inability to ever make things up to God as obedience in the Edenic sense is, for all of us, now impossible.  The Law is a school teacher to bring us to the Reconciler.  The illumination of our incapacity is our gateway to salvation, the revelation of our inability for self-recovery and self-rehabilitation is the birth canal of our hope to and in a Savior who has the power not only to forgive, but to transform.

   God is love and those born of God must love their brothers.  Love demands reconciliation. Reconciliation is not simply a worthy goal, it is a necessary pursuit, an imperative.  Reconciliation is as necessary to spiritual and relational healing (and as inevitable) as the closing of flesh is to the action of coagulating blood upon a cut. 

    Theologically speaking reconciliation has already happened in the sense that all the necessary work for it was accomplished by the activity of God upon the cross.  God provided for the satisfaction of His justice at the cross. God’s anger was satisfied at the cross. God brought the Jews and Gentiles (and all the Gentiles in their various histories and war) together at the cross and made them “one” new man at the cross. God broke down the middle wall of partition between those who had the Law and the patriarchs and those who did not, at the cross.  God ended the hostility with those who were separated between circumcision and uncircumcision, at the cross.

   God knows no impossibility in reconciliation.  The greatest sinner is not beyond his reach, the depth and depravity of mankind’s rebellion has not delayed or dismayed him.  The judgement in the time of Noah showed how close we came to an eternal schism, the violence of man ended God’s patience with those of earth, yet God saved a remnant.  In that remnant contained not only the seed of the woman (Christ) but the seed of all the hate monsters that make history so depressing.  God would not give up and God has not given up.

   Have we sinned since reconciliation?  Let each person confess the truth for themselves.  Yet reconciliation remains an accomplished fact of God, and provides the continued hope of forgiveness, though our lives sometimes scandalize the continued grace of God.

    Do we wound each other as nations, as ethnic groups?  How much horror or national shame can we endure, how much hurt can we bear, how much failure of our very humanity can we admit without recognizing ourselves as beasts, and how can we live with that?   How much revenge do we want, how much reparation?  And even if money was given, what heals the trauma, and who brings back the dead?

   Love must pursue reconciliation.  It is the only thing strong enough for its motion, the only thing to make the unreasonable reasonable.  Love forgives, love will not hate a brother.  Love makes “the other” our brother, our neighbor.  Mercy is the payment by the wronged for the unpaid debt of the one who did the wrong.  Zaccheaus stated he would make restoration, but Jesus was already on the way to his house, already calling him out of his tree, giving grace previous to restitution.  Reconciliation pursues and precedes and restitution follows.  Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it can’t.

     Some things between nations can’t and won’t be fixed, though that doesn’t mean those with love and a conscience won’t (or shouldn’t) pursue love and reconciliation with whatever resources and tools they have.  Sometimes reconciliation cannot happen between persons; danger and death prevent it.  Yet forgiveness must pursue, as far as it can, and that is driven by love.  So what is left for those things unresolved?  What is left for justice unsatisfied between nations or persons?  If we are reconciled to God are we allowed to cease or suspend the pursuit of reconciliation in the world due to our own hurt, our own bitterness, our own sense of righteousness? 

    Self-righteousness does not heal, it drives us apart.  We may be right about being wronged, and be totally wrong about how we try to make things right.  The reality is that we may attempt to reconcile and fail in the attempt, we may be continually wronged even as we are ready to forgive, we may be hated and killed by those who hate us (justly or unjustly).  Our doing right doesn’t guarantee anyone else will.  But, if God has reconciled us to himself then we are impelled by the power of love to proclaim a message of reconciliation.  We are caught up in the ministry of reconciliation because it is the ministry of God, not because it is our social or political passion.  To be given the ministry of reconciliation means we must practice being peacemakers, and for the followers of Christ it cannot be replaced with anything less. 

   What about truth and justice?  Do we simply deny these things, do we stuff our grief and carry our own sorrows?  Honest reconciliation is one of integrity. Reconciliation is a truth telling work.  In salvation God always calls us to repentance; God always calls us to the humility of honesty, to the brokenness of confession.  Reconciliation is no easy work, not for the pursuer, nor for the guilty.  Yet reconciliation is not a conditional love, it is not a hostage taker of relationship otherwise it would not be a peacemaker but a warmonger.  God’s love sought us and found us, and we have to do that with each other.

   What about what is unresolved, how can we let that lie, or sit, and how can we live with ourselves if we don’t wring out our full payment of blood?  May God then treat you as you would treat others, may God then call for his last payment, not from his son but from you.  Christian, we are called to a life of faith, and part of that faith is waiting for healing, and I make no light thing of the faith needed to wait for it.  There is a tree there, in that city, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.  It is obvious then that the unresolved must wait for the City which is to come.


Monday, September 18, 2017


One Sunday I sat around a table with some dear friends who all have adult children.  The conversation turned to the subject of children in the church who were raised in Christian homes and who no longer attend church.  This was not a concern with them not attending “our” church, but the fact that these particular young adults weren’t attending anybody’s church.  Let me state that my concerns here are not universal for this generation, because many of them are as solid in their faith and Christian lives as any who have lived before.

   This was not a conversation solely about a certain generation, but about families and children we all knew.  This was about our pain, the pain of parents who dearly love their kids, prayed for them, taught them, challenged them, brought them to church, gave them the best education we could (and for some that meant Christian schools and Christian colleges).   Now, it seemed that some of these kids were spiritually wandering, living immoral lives, or in outright defiant denial of the Faith.

   I am aware of articles and books about this present generation and how a growing number of their number have decided to stop going to church, let alone how many of them have never come at all. All kinds of folks are weighing into the subject, and some are trying to come up with the formula of how to design the church experience to bring them back.  I tend to avoid these kinds of solutions as they always seem to support the predispositions of the one writing for how they think a church service should be conducted, such as how contemporary worship is being rejected for more liturgical and traditional worship, etc.

   As I travel around the country and meet some old friends and my generational peers I am often told of the pain my friends are experiencing as they yearn to see their own children not only come to faith but to stay in it.  My friends yearn to see their adult children be the godly people their parents have hoped to raise.  They yearn to see the next generation taking their place of leadership in the church, no matter how it worships or where it meets.

   I wish I had the wisdom to analyze the problem accurately and the brilliance needed to show parents the magic words, method, or strategy to bring their kids back to the Lord and the household of Faith. I confess that I don't.  I do have some questions, and some thoughts which I will share with you.  I also know some of these kids are never coming back, but my sincere hope and prayer is that even if happens after my present generations dies the seeds that were planted in them will bear good fruit.

   There are various reasons adult children who have been raised in the church stop going, and stop believing.  Those are two different categories but sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.   As we look at any problem we often look for someone or something to blame.  Whose fault is this; the adult child, the parents, the church, the culture, the age, the Devil?  

   I don’t intend to relieve anyone of their guilt, if they are in fact guilty.  If we as parents have failed we have to own that, and repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness and we need to ask forgiveness from our kids.  If the church has failed, collectively or individually, then those institutions need to own up to it and seek for renewal and revival.  If it is the culture and the spirit of the age then we need to understand it and learn the methods of dealing with it.  We can take it for granted the Devil is involved, but we know Jesus has defeated him.  We just need to learn his tricks and fight him well.

    Who is responsible for adult children of Christian parents leaving the faith and the church?  Well, first of all, they are.  This is a hard reality but if our children are not truly saved then they will go to eternal judgment.  There aren’t any protective parents that can prevent it.  If they reject Jesus, if they deny Jesus, then he also will deny them.  It doesn’t matter if they were baptized as infants, baptized as a believer sometime in their childhood, or prayed the sinner’s prayer in your hearing.   If they are not truly saved, then they are not truly saved.  It is foolish in my opinion to keep consoling them with comments like, “I know deep in your heart you really do believe.”  That might be a parent’s wish but it is not the fruit of their lives, and it is by the fruit we discern good trees from bad.

   I want to be pretty up front with that, and with them, because in an analysis of our parenting some of us may have been too indulgent, and too excusing, of and for our kids.  When they stand in front of Almighty God the parent won’t be there to make excuses for them.  Their choices are their choices and they eventually will have to own them for themselves.  One of the best things all of us can do for our children is to help them understand that, as we should have done many times in their lives.

    There is no doubt some of us have made our children stumble.  There are so many ways we as parents can and have screwed up.  Often trying hard to be wonderful parents we have instead set up our kids for a pretty big fall.   How might we have failed?

     Our parent’s generation seemed to struggle with emotional detachment, being harsh and making their love conditional, and sometimes living a fundamentalist, legalistic, yet hypocritical life; full of self-righteousness while denying the realities of their own materialism, racism, and various other sins.

     Our generation (Baby Boomers) became too permissive, certainly with ourselves.  Our children have seen us in our addictions, our lusts, our anger, our own kinds of hypocrisies while they have seen us go to church but it not seeming to make us very different from people in the world.  Many times we backed off from pushing our kids too hard, and we indulged them at almost every turn.  It was almost as if we and everything in the world revolved around them and existed to make their life happy and fulfilled.   Our self-indulgent congregations reflected our own family life-styles and desires.

    To complicate matters our children entered into a world that does not reinforce absolutes, seems to deny eternal or even temporal accountability.  They entered into a world of intensive and manipulative appeal to the sensual, to self-centeredness, to libertine indulgence without seeming consequence.

    Many of our children who deny the faith are materially successful.  They have the social skills, they have the education, personal discipline and ambition.  These things without Christ are worldliness, but deceptively so, and we parents have too often let them get away with thinking that their progress even without Christ was okay with us. 

    Many of our children have a social conscience, and their peers reinforce the notion that this in and of itself is what makes a person moral, and it also makes them feel superior to anyone who does not care as passionately for their cause(s) as they do.  In an ironic twist the Baby Boomer generation that tried not to be judgmental with their children created a new self-righteous generation. The passion of their compassion is often without any kind of absolute moral compass, they are swimming hard but it is often out to sea and not toward home.

   Religion and dogma are too binding for them, cutting them off from their peers, bringing feelings of embarrassment upon them.  To take the step of radical commitment to Jesus in full understanding of his exclusivity and his claims of solitary access to the Father can be too isolating for many of them.  They don’t want to be more religious and yet less passionate about justice causes, they don’t want to lose the option of a self-focused lifestyle in exchange for the hassle of time demanding church life, church personalities, and church conflict and drama.

    Some of our grown kids have and will struggle with simple rebellion against their parents, and God.  Some of them will struggle with addictions of drinking, drugs, pornography, sexual encounters, and the body indulgence of sports, athletics and exercise.  Some of our kids will struggle with their own educational and material success.  These things are not new to human beings.  Nevertheless, any or all of them of them are the thorns and weeds that grow up to choke out real faith. 

    Now, the good news:  We have the weapon of prayer, and we must not stop using it.  The Word will accomplish that to which it was sent and good seed in good ground will bear much fruit.  The Lord knows those who are His. The battle is not over yet, and we may die before we see the outcome, so we have to put our hope in God’s faithfulness and not in the power of our worrying to make things change.  Failure and brokenness are God’s tools to break the pride and obstinate hard hearts of men and women, and even if it scares you to see your kids go through it, sometimes that is the only way they will reach heaven.

   Your tears are not in vain, but don’t weep in despair.  Keep trusting in Jesus to do the work.   Receive his forgiveness if and where you have failed.  Have confidence in the Gospel you know your children have heard and understood.  Stop apologizing for your faith or your call to them to come to Christ.  Be ready to welcome them home, and assure them of that, while you remind them with gentleness, love, and consistency that they ain’t yet where they need to be.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Lately I have been reading articles by a few Evangelicals who are deeply committed to racial justice.  As I agree and sympathize with much, I do find myself in reaction to some of the things they have said. These ideas, and others like them, spring up from time to time, although often in new phrases and provocative rhetoric.   Some of what they have said is not new, they are echoes of various lines of thinking that have been part of conversations that have been present as long as I have been involved in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. 

   Ah, you will see I mentioned a word that is part of what is at stake in the conversation, and that is the word “reconciliation.”  The phrase “racial reconciliation” is a term that has been at times threatening, revolutionary, and welcoming to people who have been convicted about the racial and ethnic alienation that has been present in our society since the idea of race was constructed to help both Arabs and Europeans feel justified in their exploitation of various nations, namely those nations and ethnicities of color.

   This term is also slammed, shunned, and discarded by some as being either misunderstood or misused, and thereby not radical enough in the quest for justice. Some have postulated there can be no reconciliation since we were never unified to begin with, and though this sounds like it might make sense, the idea discards Adam and Eve and Noah as a unified human race, Babel as the dividing of the nations, and the calling of Abraham as a Jew to divide the world into Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised).  I take that criticism as a cheap rhetorical trick with no logical foundation.  It also seems to accept the postulation of race as a biological reality and not a constructed one.

     Some don’t like the word “racial” since it was a socially constructed idea to explain “color” in various human beings and to assign them a lower status by white people.  No less a person than John Perkins has recently spoken powerfully against this word since it creates differentiation between people groups, and God is no respecter of persons.  He thinks that our continued use of it perpetuates the differentiation in a negative way.  Nevertheless we all pretty much admit to such realities as “racism” and doing away with the term is not going to do away with racists anytime soon.

    Then there is the criticism of the entire phrase as one seen to be preferred by white people because they see it as an individualized process or event and fail (or refuse) to see systemic injustice in the broader society.  One of the writers I read wants only to speak of “white supremacy,” and feels that is where the onus belongs, on the white community. I certainly sympathize with the need to see justice as a larger issue than simply our personal bias and prejudice.

    White Supremacy is a term that is searching for some consensus.  It seemed to have a historical context in the teachings of the slave justifiers (even among Muslim scholars prior to the Western slave trade) the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and going back to Nazi Germany’s view of the “Superior Race.”   The attempt to dump the guilt of such association  on all white people due to their being in the numerical majority, having inherent white privilege as a cultural majority in a racialized nation, and or being clueless as to what systemic injustice does to people is problematic at best, and frankly, racist at worst.

   Let me be clear, as our former president used to say.  I think white supremacists are dangerous, and the belief in white supremacy is the essential building block of intentional white privilege.  In short systemic decisions to deprive people of color of their rights while seeking to maintain those of whites is due to an evil and deceived thinking that being white is superior and something to be maintained by economic, political, and social means.   The use of violence to achieve and maintain racial advantage has often followed soon after, but not all those who agree with this racist ideology or who passively and/or ignorantly go along and enjoy its benefits are people who would engage in violence. 

  I also believe that racists can be converted and changed, and that the white population that is carried along in the stream of white privilege has a conscience that can be stimulated by truth and justice. This is one of the  historic realities of the power of the Civil Rights movement in our nation, and no matter the mockery by some of the Christian Church the fact is that some of those Christians were touched and awakened to help bring about legal and substantive change in our society.  It did not happen without them.  

   Political ideologues, in their rhetorical world, are adept at polarizing issues, leaving no middle ground, and thereby marginalizing people who are still learning and still becoming conscious of issues.  In their eyes you are either as radical as they are, or you are the enemy.  Taking and using such political device and rhetoric may sound and read as prophetic, but the question remains as to whether or not it is genuinely Christian?  Some of it frankly is bitter, a bit mean, and seems to take delight in making people feel miserable.

   Some of the rhetoric is no better, and serves no other purpose, than name calling.  I suspect some of it is an attempt to feel powerful, a sort of triumphalism, through the use of language. Rhetorical “one ups-man-ship” might make one feel better but I don’t think it convinces anybody but one’s allies.  Instead of seeking peace, which is a Christian duty, command, and practice, it alienates.  I believe one of the worse things we can do is to use language (no matter how lyrical or artistic) that is confused, opaque, and that causes more misunderstanding and less healing.

   One of the realities we live in is that of a demographic white majority in the United States, and lately we are seeing in the white population (both here and in Europe) a strong reaction against and resistance to any changing of that reality through immigration.  White cultural reality is very strong in Evangelicalism, and those minorities which are present in a white Evangelical world are forced to encounter “white normativity.” Whether or not white people in majority or whole admit to the presence of other cultural realities in the United States I think "white normativity" is going to be a cultural reality for a long time to come.  

   Some minority individuals decide that self-segregation is what they would rather pursue for their own cultural comfort, healing, and safety.  They seek an escape from the cultural fatigue and aggravation which seems to be fairly consistent in the education and training of “one more white person,” who has only now realized and admitted there are other cultural realities.  If it is not self-segregation it sometimes seems to be an emotional self-alienation with a lot of complaining.  

    There is a corresponding majority culture reaction by which racial issues are simply shut down, walked away from, or mocked and ridiculed if a white person feels racially aggravated. Too often white people seem to react to racial issues, or even some racial event on the news, as if every mention, achievement, or expressed anger of black folks was taking something away from them.  When that resistance to engaging in a healthy understanding and realization of racism gives up to listening, learning, and hoping then the turn begins; the turn to reconciliation and justice.

   The price to pay for real “reconciliation” is high for each of us in our own ethnic and cultural groups and we pay it in different ways.  I believe minorities pay a higher price but it is arrogance to assume others are paying nothing (though they may not being paying the full price yet), it is disingenuous and dangerous to assume it will cost any of us little.  There is both an illegitimate and a legitimate price to be paid. The illegitimate price of self-hatred and complete assimilation into the “other” while discarding our own culture and ethnic identity pays negative dividends in self, family, and community.  There is only one thing worthy of paying the legitimate price of reconciliation (which is a long exposure to misunderstanding, insult, attacks of various kinds, and sacrifice in relationships,) and that is the pursuit of being the answer to the prayer of Jesus; that we might be one.

     The argument for expanding the term White Supremacy to include the entire white population (and thus take the onus off of specific political and violent groups) as responsible for systemic injustice seems to negate the idea of personal repentance, and personal relational healing, and declare it to be inconsequential as long as injustice continues. In an attempt to thwart individual evasion of institutional racism it makes the personal repentance of racism meaningless.  We agree that change must be pursued in "loosening the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke," as Isaiah says in chapter 58:6 Change has to begin somewhere, and more pointedly in "someone." From such individuals justice begins to arise, and it must if the repentance and change is real.

     To take the term White Supremacy and make it universal rather than specific to hate groups is to deprive all of us of the vigilance needed to monitor their incipient violence and to be prepared to resist it.  White supremacists must love this universal application and definitive inflation.

   I would like to be one of the few voices lifted up to defend the word “reconciliation.”  Not only do I like it, want to practice it, and have paid some measure of a price to pursue it, but my bottom line is that I think it is Biblical.  It is a word far greater than race, full of grace and mercy, includes all the Gentiles in the Body of Christ (thus including in its central idea inter-Gentile union), and the Jews, and is one of the soteriological effects of the death of Jesus on the cross.

    Reconciliation is not a word to despise for the reason that being personally reconciled (to God or people) does not automatically end systemic injustice, but rather a word that is to be preached!  It is our future hope that Jesus will reconcile all things to himself.  In short, it is a process which God commissioned, a message and a ministry we should all be caught up in and which will not be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  

    To reject reconciliation, and yes, racial reconciliation, and substitute it with permanent guilt until there is complete systemic change, is defeatist, despairing, unrealistic, and ultimately creates more division.  I think it is better to spell out, and preach out, the price of real and Biblical reconciliation; the cost of sacrificially enslaving ourselves to other groups to win them, the cost of suffering with and for them in a true “becoming” with them.

    One phrase that comes up is “white fragility” in the context of conversations about race and injustice. I think I understand the historic dynamic but unfortunately this is a universal human problem, and not simply one that can be assigned to one people group.  It is difficult, as a representative of a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group, to constantly hear the pathology present in one’s own people group carped on by another ethnic group.  Racial conversations are frequently difficult and sometimes feel threatening; the use of blaming and provocative language in the guise of the pursuit of justice (without giving hope) I believe will be self-defeating.

     I have seen this reaction in various groups when the issues of public health and social concerns and "pathologies"are listed by race or ethnicity.  Invariably the argument is made to stop blaming those listed as representative of the statistics (from our ethnic group, or our ethnic group a whole) and attack something else; the system, society, and history that has helped to create those problems.  I’m just wondering if you can feel my love if I keep telling you how bad your people are?

      Can any of our identified racial groups own any of (their) our peculiar or popular sins? It is no doubt difficult. Will our identified racial groups continue to resist group labeling as insulting and demoralizing?  I have a suspicion that they will, therefore such labeling should be used tenderly, strategically, tactfully, and even lovingly in trying to bring about change.  Every cultural group has particular sins that should bring shame to them, and certainly the white majority in this country has earned much of the shame and guilt that generally they don’t like to hear about or embrace. 

     Guilt, by itself, is an insufficient motivator and is quite often the edge of the blade on which people will either divide into denial, anger, and resentment on one side and admission, confession, and a search for restoration on the other. The preaching of the Gospel always contains the bad news of sinful reality, but it is not a Gospel at all if it doesn’t have “good news.”  

     The Gospel, the real Gospel of Christ, is not true to itself if all it does is stick people with guilt and leaves it there.  This is not a way of saying that we shouldn't preach against societal or national sins,  it is a way of saying that with repentance there is forgiveness, there is grace, there is, (watch it, here it comes…) reconciliation.  I see that word as one which has a milestone beginning but continues as a process, both personally, socially, institutionally, and ecclesiastically.

   It is progress when any community faces its reality head on, and in humility and courage seeks to change its culture toward righteousness, both personal and social, in its behavior. As the Scripture says in Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  Does any of this humility and courage happen without change in individuals?  I would submit that it cannot. Does it suddenly happen generally, culturally, systemically, politically?   While some despise the individual aspect of Christian faith as insufficient for corporate change it is nevertheless a historic (societies and nations have changed) and realistic part of the whole, it just has to be preached (consistently) as a beginning and not an end in itself.


Friday, August 25, 2017


  Did anything ever really happen in history that all of us could agree on?  Is there anything that has happened at which we could all say, “that was evil, that was bad, and that should never have happened?”  Is everything up for interpretation?   If we agree certain events did happen do we have the right to define and interpret it only from our ideological position?  Do only the victors have the right, and the authority, to write history?  Do the losers have the authority to rewrite it?   Does the majority have the right in their privilege to assess, define, and articulate for everyone, or just themselves, or not even themselves if it offends the minority?

    Is anything really true?   How long are we allowed to keep words and phrases before someone tells us we can’t use them anymore, that they have become offensive and that the way they are used has taken on new meaning and we are no longer allowed to use them?  I confess that sometimes I am a bit confused by the independent and self-authorizing claim to redefinition. I am thrown into asking, “who the hell made you Noah Webster?”

    We have certain philosophical and political dynamics which put us into a veritable sea of a tidal lexicon.  Post modernism has sought to empower people (groups) by allowing them to control their own narrative.  This sounds democratic and just, until of course one realizes that controlling one’s own narrative is no guarantee of honesty, accuracy, or the absence of self-deception. 

   Political ideologues have realized that allowing the simple acknowledgment of historical tragedy forces people into owning shame.  To accept guilt allows the other party power and leverage, especially relating to social issues arising from that guilt.  Therefore it is politically expedient to deny certain parts of history, or to deny the ownership of the guilt of it, and in essence to rewrite it by not allowing it to be discussed in any open and engaging manner but only as vituperative demagoguery.

   All the abuses of fallacious arguments are evident in political discourse today, and much of it centers on race.  The issue of race and the history of race and racism in our country is a subject of much pain, anger, and guilt, or a tortured reactive denial.  The election of President Obama heightened the discourse, and racial feelings were often disguised and concealed behind political sentiments, although not as well hidden as some supposed.  Some political demagogues sought to silence any protest or complaint about racism as simple hucksterism.  Much of the populace became immune to any racial sensitivity, tolerance, or desire for understanding let alone reconciliation.  Certain politicians saw the issue of race as their Achilles’ heel and became hard hearted and steel faced about the subject, building a Teflon heart and a non-stick conscience, and their followers repeat the mantras of denial.

   Where is the great moral center of the country that was shaken by the actions of civil rights heroes and disgusted by civil rights villains, such as Bull Conner, George Wallace, the KKK, and those who bombed Sunday Schools?  That moral center allowed us to make national progress but the prominent political discourse of today is toward extremism and polarization, with an attendant deafness to anything said by the other side.  If people are not deaf they have become deft at redirection, where the deflection of criticism is simply by way of assigning the critic to the camp of some other political party or political person’s worst previous political act or opinion or indiscretion.  It seems to fail the comprehension of some that one could be opposed to certain policies of Trump and not have to be, at the same time, an advocate for the policies of a Clinton or Obama.

   This is not new of course, such radical division helped to create the Civil War, and that conflict continues to simmer in a rather consistent fight to revise its causes and see its main participants as heroes. Certainly it was about land and States Rights, but more accurately and primarily about a State’s right to not only allow slavery but to encourage its spread.  Certainly many of the men that fought for the South thought they were fighting against the tyranny of a Federal government and for “freedom,” while in actuality propping up those governments intent on continuing the chattel enslavement of others.

     Such incongruity is part of the American dilemma.  The Confederacy is full of tragic heroes who were fighting on the wrong side.  No veneration of their personal faith or gentility can wash their hands clean of the blood of their victims, either that of the slaves or of the nation’s soldiers committed to preserving the Union whose majority voted against the wishes of the slave owners. 

    As one pursues the dialogue about race and racial history one sees the ebb and flow of vocabulary, redefinition of terms, and the attempt as it were to create new realities.  There is a white majority, a dominating white culture, in America.  As with all dominant cultures in any society or nation it has privilege.  Some of it is intentional and intentionally protected by various individuals and groups, some of it is a de-facto reality that the majority assumes, accepts, and avoids confronting.  I don't believe cultural majorities can erase all privilege or normality, it comes with being a majority.

     However, when one peels back, as it were, the onion of history it is simply jaw dropping amazing how many economic, land and real estate, and political decisions in our local, state, and national past have been made on the basis of race and for the protection of white privilege.  Some of the benefactors of privilege are oblivious to it as a social reality and become offended, in a very American individualistic kind of way, to think that they are privileged at all. 

     What complicates the European-American experience is the historical social construct of race to create and perpetuate “white privilege.”  If I am not inherently superior to you it is hard to justify my taking your land, and taking you to another land against your will, and making you work for me in perpetuity – which means not only do I own you but I own your future and the generations that will come from you. Such arrogant beliefs of inherent superiority make people bestial. 

    How does the minority, the descendants of former slaves, speak about these things?  How can these things be spoken about and with members of the majority culture?   White dominance at one time forced a black man to hold down his head and his eyes and his only allowed response was a “yessa masa.”  Is the dialogue now only bitterness, is it hate, is it insult, is it condemnation?  If we were not Christians this might be an unsurprising historical outcome.

   Is the discussion in our current era only about white intransigence, ignorance, and the mockery of inept attempts for reconciliation?   Is reconciliation despised both as a process and a goal?  Is freedom become by definition a new segregation with a certain triumphalism and assumed moral superiority, but this time on the part of, and driven by, ethnic minorities?

    So the dictionary changes where (supposedly) racism can only be exercised or practiced by a majority person or institution that holds power, but cannot and will not be owned by a person of color, since by definition of being a minority they cannot actually hold power.   The dictionary changes whereby “racial reconciliation” is a white goal and is now considered a fiction since there was no “conciliation” in the first place.  The dictionary changes where any sociological reflection on minority neighborhoods or demographics that delves into pathologies of such communities is off limits as it produces shame and seems to deny the person-hood of those who live there.  So, the word "thug" cannot be used because it (supposedly) replaces the “n” word.  The dictionary changes as cross-cultural or multi-ethnic cannot be defined as such if a white person is in charge in any meaningful way.

    These are all current examples of problems within racial discussions, and some of it frankly is wrong, arbitrary, illogical, and fueled by an incipient racial agenda rather than a Christian one.  The only way to peace is through truth and love.  Redefining terms as a way of feeling powerful through provocation doesn’t always get us to peace.  Every time I use the word black or white to assign problems, patterns, or pathologies to a certain group it is incumbent on me to be careful and precise about my explanation.

     But not only that, because I am a follower of Jesus, because I am trying to be a peacemaker (which I believe one must be if they are to be faithful to Christ) then I must also be loving, because it is through loving each other that men know that we are His disciples.  This means I must be fair, and kind, and gentle, and seeking always to speak the truth in love.  If I am faithful to Jesus I must be humble, longsuffering, preferring others in honor, and intentionally seeking to be at peace with them.

   Can I not be angry at injustice and sin?  Not only can we, we must be, and this is part of telling the truth.   Yet, the way I tell the truth says much about my intention.  What is my agenda?   Where is the commitment to peacemaking?   Will I achieve it by humiliating or destroying you? Whether one wishes to use the term racial reconciliation or not, reconciliation is a message and ministry from God and through God’s people; peacekeeping is the way to blessing.

    As a believer I am intentionally stuck with a commitment and a submission to the Word of God, the final arbitrator of what is actually true, and right, and good.
James 3:17-18 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."