Is collaboration the American church’s next great movement?
Enjoy this post from former Obama faith staffer Michael Wear. Be sure to also read Ur’s recent interview with Michael.
Today, partnership—a simple, benign idea in general—is perhaps one of the most counter-cultural concepts in practice. Division and polarization are now common themes in our lives. This is certainly true in our nation’s Capitol, where our politics is too often characterized by seemingly institutionalized gridlock and partisanship that prevents action on the issues that matter most. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that this spirit is not just confined to Washington. In our culture, our media, even our relationships, we often find it easier to retreat to spaces that only reaffirm our existing beliefs, rather than sincerely seeking to understand the perspective of those with whom we may disagree.
I served the President during a time of great change and challenge in this country, but I left with a greater sense of optimism and hope for our future than when I began. Through my work at The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I learned about the incredible power and potential of partnership.
Why should evangelicals care about immigration reform? We asked the leader of the Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Samuel Rodriguez. Samuel is the public face of Hispanic evangelicals, serving as president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He currently serves on the board of directors of some of America’s leading evangelical organizations such as: Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, Empower 21, and Christianity Today. Rodriguez is also the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award presented by the Congress of Racial Equality. We caught up with Samuel Rodriquez and asked him about immigration reform, racial reconciliation, and his new book, The Lamb’s Agenda.
You were the first Latino leader to give a commemorative address at Dr. Martin Luther King's annual commemorative event. Was that opportunity a dream come true?
Beyond a dream come true, the opportunity graciously rendered serves as a testimony to the purpose and promise of God for each of our lives. When I was 14 years of age, I saw a television special on Dr. King when a still small voice in my heart prompted me to write, "One day, God will enable me to connect with Dr. King's family as I serve our communities." With a commitment to holiness and humility, all things are possible.
You've said that Dr. King's vision will only happen through "the Lamb's agenda." What do you mean by that?
What are evangelicals' biggest misconceptions about President Obama? We asked one who knows him well.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Michael Wear. Michael was the faith outreach director for President Obama's 2012 relection campaign and until recently served in the White House Office of Faith and Community Partnerships. He recently cofounded Values Partnership with another Obama faith veteran, Joshua Dubois. This is a social enterprise that helps nurture public, private and non-profit partnerships within the faith community. Michael and his wife, Melissa currently reside in Washington, D.C. where they attend National Community Church. You can follow Michael on Twitter here: @michaelrwear
What is the biggest misconception evangelicals have about the President's faith?
There are some surface level misconceptions, or insufficiently informed judgments, some hold that are obvious: that he’s a Muslim (he's not) or otherwise not a Christian (he is), for instance. But I think a more fundamental misconception that some might hold runs deeper and applies to a range of politicians and public figures: that his faith is inanimate. What I mean by that is, I fear many of us talk about the President’s faith as if it is like anything else related to The White House or government—something to be debated or dissected, something to be poked and tested. And this can be done without much regard for the soul of the man.
I’ve prayed with him, and I’ve been with him as he’s discussed his faith in public and in private. He is no theologian, but he is a man on a walk with Jesus. He ponders scripture. He prays. He starts his day with a Christian devotional. We should be very careful about how we address the faith of such a person, President or not, particularly if we don’t have a relationship with him.
The President alluded to some of this in a speech he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010:
My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
If we care first and foremost about seeing men and women come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and to grow in that faith, than that should be our modus operandi when thinking about the faith of the President or any other person.
Working in the White House and on a Presidential campaign is a pretty intense job. How did you maintain your spiritual vitality?
My wife and I just adopted our first child. We have learned a lot about ourselves and God and the Christian community through this journey. But one lesson that has been driven home time and again is how deeply entrenched racial prejudice is in the United States.
This fact was reinforced in our adoption training. Because we pursued a domestic adoption (i.e., a child from the United States) and were happy to adopt a child of any ethnicity, our licensing and preparation involved learning to be a “conspicuous” family: one that can’t hide the fact that a child is adopted because he or she is ethnically different than the adoptive parents. We’ve taken classes on how to respond to insensitive comments from strangers and family, such as: “Is that your real baby?” or “Does he speak English?” or “She’s so lucky to have you,” which implies that the child would be less fortunate to be raised by parents of her own ethnic background. We’ve even learned to anticipate the question “Is that one of those crack babies?” which implies that the biological parents of a minority child must be drug addicts. Because our son, James, is African American, we are prepared to be on the receiving end of racial prejudice for the first time in our lives.
Perhaps a greater outrage is the dollar amounts that are often affixed to skin color. At our agency, the placement fee is the same for children of all ethnicities. But in many places in the country, adopting a Caucasian child can cost almost twice as much as adopting a non-white or biracial child. This is because ethnic minority children are deemed “hard to place”—fewer families are willing to adopt them—and are thus considered less desirable. Often, the lighter skinned a child is, the more expensive he or she is to adopt. This is true even among Christian adoptive parents and at Christian agencies. The Bible says all humans are created in God’s image. There should be no 50-percent discounts. How, then, can Americans—even American Christians—tolerate a practice that deems some children to be “less desirable” than others?
A couple of years ago, I took a road trip across the country with my best friend. We took our sweet time, rolled the windows down, and let our hair whip into tangles. We wandered off the beaten path a few times: the largest Catholic church in Kansas, the Precious Moments museum in Missouri. When we were in Memphis, we just happened to remember that this was the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. On a whim, we stopped by the memorial, complete with a tour of the museum erected at the hotel where the tragedy happened.
The sun beat down on us as we looked at the balcony where he once stood and saw the wreath hanging on the door of the infamous hotel room. We stayed for a moment or two, the sweat running down our backs as we thought our uncomfortable thoughts. And then we prepared to go on our way, off to the next adventure on our road trip.
But we were stopped by a large crowd gathering in the parking lot, everyone milling about and dressed in matching white clothes. Was this some sort of family reunion, or a tour group with a dress code? We watched as the crowd assembled in front of the place where MLK was taken from us, and we watched as everyone grew silent and still. Even the little children were sober-faced, heartbreakingly spotless in their white sweater vests and dresses.
The solemnity of the moment became very clear at once. While we were sight-seers in the land of oppression, for many this place was something akin to a pilgrimage. We watched as people paid their respects, tears in their eyes. And as we drove off, my friend and I suddenly felt like the outsiders we were. We tried to push away the uneasiness we felt, the words we couldn’t then begin to articulate. We had just wanted to pay our respects, to see a historical site. But instead we had witnessed collective grieving, had gotten a glimpse into what Dr. King had lived and died for. Even now, looking back, I have to wonder: were the pilgrims that day crying over his death? Or were they crying for our country, and how few of MLK’s dreams had come true?
Catholics defend their opulent facilities, and how it applies to evangelicals.
by Skye Jethani
If anyone knows how to ride out a scandal, it’s the Catholic Church; after all they’ve been at it longer than anyone else. This is not to diminish the remarkable contribution of Roman Catholics to both the history and current mission of the Church. But perhaps evangelicals could learn a few things from both Catholic successes and failures in this area.
The latest criticism to be leveled at Rome is that it doesn’t really care about the poor. It’s an odd accusation given the Roman Catholic Church has possibly done more for the poor than any organization in history. Still, no one can deny that the Roman Catholic Church likes gold-gilded furniture (almost as much as classic Bond villain Auric Goldfinger and the folks at Trinity Broadcasting Network). The Catholic eye for opulence has sparked this popular meme:
A post at the Bad Catholic blog has responded to the accusation with a defense of “nice churches.” First, the author identifies the complaint:
How Christians in Phoenix are loving the sojourners among them.
by Katelyn Beaty & Skye Jethani
Over at ChristianityToday.com you can read a report on how Christians in Phoenix are responding to the immigration issue. The way churches in Arizona have engaged is mixed, but they serve as models for the rest of the country as the presence of undocumented immigrants continues to be a political and cultural issue. Here's an excerpt of the article by Katelyn Beaty and Skye Jethani:
The Department of Homeland Security estimated that by 2011, the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona had dwindled to 360,000, the lowest figure since 2000. Then in 2010, Arizona's governor signed into law what's become a signature, and hotly debated, piece of U.S. immigration legislation. Combined with the economic downturn, SB 1070—which allowed police to stop anyone reasonably suspected to be in the United States illegally at any time—has led to an exodus of Latinos from Maricopa County.
"Many of our churches have lost a lot of members," says Jose Gonzalez, Hispanic director of the nonprofit CityServe Arizona. "One 250-member church dwindled to 100." Gonzalez is a Mexican native who has helped plan crusades for evangelist Luis Palau, making him el conector for hundreds of Latino pastors throughout Phoenix. "Many people are going to another state, going back to Mexico or Latin America. A lot of families are being divided. They are afraid of SB 1070. They don't know the difference between Joe Arpaio and the police department." (Arpaio, self-proclaimed as "America's Toughest Sheriff," pushes strident anti-immigration tactics that have landed him in a civil-rights trial that began the week this story went to press.)
Ian Danley, youth pastor with Neighborhood Ministries, knows one congregation that "went from $6,000 in tithes to $1,500 in one week. The church building was foreclosed, and for the first time in 30 years of ministry, the pastor is looking for a day job."
Local Anglo churches' response to struggling Latinos has been mixed.
Richard Land "overestimates" the church's progress on race relations.
by David Swanson
On an unseasonably warm Saturday in late March, my 3-year-old son and I took the train from our Chicago neighborhood to a rally downtown for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African American teenager who was killed in Florida a month earlier. The protest itself was predictable: calls for an investigation into the shooting mixed with intense frustrations. I was, however, surprised by one moment. Standing with my son on my shoulders, straining to hear the one of the speakers, I overheard one woman respond to a reporter’s question. “Why is no one paying attention to this,” she asked. “Where are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Why aren’t they speaking out?”
Two weeks later, in glaring contrast to this woman’s frustrations, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, weighed in with his own opinion about Trayvon Martin’s death. “[T]his situation is getting out of hand,” Dr. Land opined on his radio program. “And it’s going to be violent. And when there is violence it’s going to be Jesse Jackson’s fault. It’s going to be Al Sharpton’s fault.” In these few sentences, and the many that followed, Dr. Land carelessly exposed the ways race continues to divide our country--and our churches.
I mean no disrespect to Dr. Land. In recent years I’ve been encouraged by his compassionate and theologically nuanced stance on immigration reform, making majority-culture churches aware of the struggles of immigrant Christians in our midst. His has been a cool, refreshing voice after so much partisan hot air. Yet at the very moment when Dr. Land could have used his influence to unite, he resorted instead to clichés and stereotypes, confirming to many the priority of race over creed.
How can Christians engage the public square to encourage flourishing?
by Url Scaramanga
We are entering into another presidential election, which means Christian voices will be invited into the political discourse. Some of these voices will make us proud, and others may not. So how should we think about Christian engagement in the public square? Miroslav Volf articulates two dangers:
This video was produced by This Is Our City, a project of Christianity Today exploring how Christians are working for the flourishing of their cities. Here McKinley talks about the activism of Portland's culture and how the church can't just talk about activism, but vocation.
3. Social action is a partner of evangelism. This, finally, is where Stott lands on the matter. He believes that social justice and evangelism “belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself.”
Here is where John Stott not only reveals his theological brilliance, but also his Christ-formed heart. He recognizes that forcing every facet of the Christian life to fit into a mission/evangelism framework is untenable, and insisting that social action somehow justify itself in relation to evangelism is to ask the wrong question. In other words, we are having the wrong debate. Rather than asking how justice fits into the mission of the church, we ought to be asking how justice fits into the life of every Christian. Stott goes on:
“The reason for our acceptance of social responsibility is not primarily in order to give the gospel either a visibility or a credibility it would otherwise lack, but rather simple, uncomplicated compassion. Love has no need to justify itself.”
For me, this is where the debates about social justice and the gospel go off track. Atonement-only advocates demand justice advocates justify their emphasis on social engagement at the expense of evangelism. And justice advocates demand atonement-only advocates justify their emphasis on evangelism rather than social engagement. But, using Stott’s logic, if evangelism or social activism is flowing from a heart of love and compassion, than neither must be justified. Love is it’s own justification.
The wisdom of John Stott can help us reframe the entrenched debate around social justice & the gospel.
by Skye Jethani
Is social justice an essential part of the gospel? The question has been raging for decades, and in some circles the matter was settled long ago. But a new generation of evangelicals with a strong inclination toward social engagement is reviving the debate. But I'm increasingly convinced that we are framing the debate incorrectly, and missing the point as a result.
The latest example came last week when Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (my alma mater) hosted Jim Wallis and Al Mohler to debate the role of justice in the mission of the gospel. Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners, affirmed the centrality of social justice in the gospel, while Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it was an implication of the gospel but not part of it.
Disagreeing with Mohler’s point of view, Wallis said, “If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent.” He cited the examples of “atonement-only” churches in America that were on the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement, and churches in South Africa that defended the apartheid regime.
In a post-debate blog post, Wallis wrote, “Conversely, churches that have been on the side of justice, such as black churches both in the United States and South Africa, were always the ones to say that justice was integral to the meaning of the gospel and not just an implication of it. That should tell us something,”
In our celebration of justice and mercy, did somebody get left off the guest list?
Catalyst 2011 has sent a powerful message of Christ-centered justice and mercy for what Jesus called “the least of these my brothers and sisters.” So the message this week has been, “Come all you poor and brokenhearted. Come all you children and orphans. Come all you wretched of the earth—shoeless ones, hopeless ones, dispossessed ones, and forgotten ones.” Today at Catalyst we heard amazing, heartening statistics about huge strides in combatting world poverty. But, surprisingly, I only heard one (indirect) reference to abortion. So “Come all you unborn?” Hum, I think so.
I’m not criticizing Catalyst because they can only promote so many wonderful causes in two days (and I’m amazed by all that good that’s been done in 48 hours). I’m concerned about a larger trend: in our celebration of justice and mercy, somebody forgot to invite the unborn. I’m not sure why, but here are a few possibilities:
What does the Gospel say to us amid the death penalty debate?
by Shane Claiborne
Last week death was interrupted. Duane Buck was set for execution. His execution would have been the second last week and the eleventh this year in Texas alone… and two more executions are scheduled soon. When Presidential candidate Rick Perry celebrated his 234 executions as Texas governor in a recent debate, the audience roared in applause. As a Christian I found that deeply disturbing.
There is an incident in the Gospels where Jesus is asked about the death penalty.
Here’s the scene. A woman has been humiliated and dragged before the town, ready to be killed. Her execution was legal; her crime was a capital one. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.
Jesus interrupts the scene – with grace.
He tells all the men who are ready to kill the woman, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” And of course he reminds us all that if we have looked at someone with lust in our eyes we are adulterers. If we have called our neighbor a fool we are a murderer. You can hear the stones start to drop, as the men walk away.
Can we imagine a world with fewer bombs and more ice cream?
by Shane Claiborne
I was in Baghdad in March 2003, where I lived as a Christian and as a peacemaker during the “shock-and-awe” bombing. I spent time with families, volunteered in hospitals, and learned to sing “Amazing Grace”… in Arabic.
There is one image of the time in Baghdad that will never leave me. As the bombs fell from the sky and smoke filled the air, one of the doctors in the hospital held a little girl whose body was riddled with missile fragments. He threw his hands in the air and said, “This violence is for a world that has lost its imagination.” Then he looked square into my eyes, with tears pouring from his, and said, “Has your country lost its imagination?”
That doctor’s words have stayed with me.
In a country that is going bankrupt as it continues to spend $250,000 a minute on war, it is clear that it is time to re-imagine things. That doctor’s words have inspired a little something.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of September 11, Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and I are teaming up. And we have rallied a bunch of other artists and storytellers to create a 90-minute variety show and multimedia presentation to raise questions about violence and militarism and share stories of reconciliation and grace.
Why would Portland's openly gay mayor want to speak with Christian leaders at Q?
by Skye Jethani
"What was the highlight of the conference?" I asked another attendee. I wondered if it was Kevin Kelly, "senior maverick" at Wired Magazine, talking about technology and theology. Or maybe actor/director Mark Ruffalo talking about faith in Hollywood.
"I know it sounds strange," he replied, "but it was seeing the relationship the churches in Portland have with the city government." He went on to explain that he was from Atlanta--a city where nearly every city official is a church-going Christian. And yet the church in Atlanta doesn't have nearly as good a relationship with the city as in Portland. "It was very convicting," he confessed.
He was referring to the interview between Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, and Portland Mayor Sam Adams--the first openly gay mayor of a major US city.
Calling himself a "heterosexual with issues," Haggard says the evangelical church is off track about sexuality and grace.
With a new church and a new documentary airing on TLC January 16 (Ted Haggard: Scandalous), Haggard is back in the media spotlight. In this clip from an interview with ABC News, Haggard shares his new thoughts about the evangelical church. Do you agree with his perspective?
If this video is not working correctly, you can view it here.
Urban monk and author of "Jesus for President" visits the White House.
bu Url Scaramanga
Consider this the Ur version of TMZ. Last week Shane Claiborne attended a meeting at the White House with other Christian leaders to discuss the administration's fatherhood initiatives. The urban monastic leader is usually seen in a t-shirt and baggy cotton (or are they hemp?) pants. But for this special occasion Claiborne added a navy blue blazer to the ensemble. Looking sharp, Shane!
An inspiring and emotional testimony from a young North Korean student.
Nearly everyone who attended the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, last month agreed that the testimony of the young North Korean woman was one of the emotional high points of the gathering.
Her story of sacrifice, anger, salvation, and courage must be seen by every church leader. Not only is she inspiring, but her story reveals the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is building his church even in the most repressive and hostile places on earth.
Only 1 in 7 congregations is multi-ethnic, and churches are 10 times more segregated than their neighborhoods. Is this a problem?
by David Swanson
I spent Tuesday in a room in San Diego with 400 pastors, academics and ministry practitioners. There’s no shortage of Christian conferences these days, but there seems to be something exceptional represented by these folks. You might get a sense of what I mean should you look closely at the diversity of the participants of the first Multi-ethnic Church Conference. But beyond the racial and ethnic makeup of the participants, it is the shared theological and practical interest in the non-homogeneous church that makes this conference unique.
Why did 400 people from around the country come to learn about a topic that is barely on the radar for much of American Christianity? I think the conference’s first three speakers each answered this question in their own way. I wonder, do any of these resonate with you?
Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas and author Ethnic Blends, gave a brief theological overview of the multi-ethnic church from Ephesians. In 2:11 Paul points out the massive and accepted separation between Gentiles and Jews. He goes on in chapter three to describe “the mystery made known to me by revelation.” And what is that mystery? That “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body.” In other words, the most significant racial, ethnic and cultural divides have been bridged through the Gospel. My hunch is that many of this conference’s participants believe the emphasis on the Gospel’s reconciling power has been overlooked by too many of our churches.
The Cape Town congress reveals the blessings, and burdens, of the global body of Christ.
by Margaret Feinberg
Over the course of the last week, I’ve joined more than 4200 representatives from 198 nations to listen to dozens upon dozens upon many more dozens of speakers address many of the most challenging issues of our age. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
The Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelism should have been called The Lausanne Global Gathering. Many delegates were led to believe that we would have the opportunity to speak into the issues the church is facing. Using the word “delegate” to describe our involvement as well as the word “congress” suggested each of us would be given an opportunity to address issues as diverse as Scripture, poverty, AIDS, human trafficking, the shift of power taking place around the globe, and many more.
But the statements and papers issued at the Congress were written beforehand by a group of academics from around the world (many of whom I respect and appreciate very much!). For the first few days, I kept wondering, “When do we get to watch and participate in the exchange of ideas in a meaningful way outside of our assigned table groups?” Then I finally figured out the only outlets were the multiplex afternoon workshops where some of the academics would sit in and listen to the presenters and the very limited question and answer time with participants.
How a group of pastors is reaching a region as Christ Together.
By Brandon O'Brien
In late April 2010, more than 50 pastors crowded into a hotel conference room in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The event organizers, a small group of pastors from Chicagoland, were expecting 25 colleagues to turn out for the meeting. But when news got out about their visit, area pastors got excited. Scott Chapman, pastor of a multi-site church called The Chapel in Chicago's northern suburbs and president of the Christ Together network, shared with the Virginia pastors how Christ Together is helping churches across denominational and ethnic lines unite in service and evangelism to carry the gospel into their neighborhoods. He described a "sustained Christ awakening" that includes churches working together as the One Body of Christ to restore the reputation of Jesus in their area.
After the meeting, Scott Gifford, national director of Christ Together, attended two worship services that convinced him that this vision was taking root in Virginia.
The first was a Saturday night worship event in a predominately African-American Cornerstone Assembly of God in Hampton, Virginia. During the service, Pastor Gerard Duff preached from the Christ Together brochure.
Do we have a communal, and not merely an individual, responsibility to engage in mission and justice?
In the final installment of Skye Jethani's interview with Jim Wallis and Mark Dever, they discuss the role of local congregations in God's mission of reconciliation. Dever and Wallis agree that Americans are too individualistic and that Scripture calls for a communal witness of God's power and love. The two leaders disagree, however, on whether or not evangelicals should partner with mainline liberal churches.
Evangelize mono-ethnic groups, but plant multi-ethnic churches.
by Mark DeYmaz
Tom Steers, founder and co-director of Asian American Ministries for The Navigators, recently wrote a guest opinion column for Christianity Today (July 7, 2010). The column is entitled, "Needed: More Monocultural Ministries". Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, and a leader in the multi-ethnic church movement, has written a response to Steers' article. Read part one of DeYmaz's rebuttal.
In arguing for more monocultural ministries, Tom Steers reveals the all-too-common misunderstanding of generations past committed to the Homogeneous Unit Principle as a pragmatic tool for local church planting, growth, and development. It is long-past time to recognize, however, that there is a significant difference between the need for evangelism focused on specific ethnic groups (more is needed, I agree) and the New Testament’s expectation that following salvation believers are to walk, work, and worship God together as one - in and through the local church - for the sake of the gospel.
Monocultural evangelism then? Absolutely. More monocultural churches? I say, absolutely not. What we really need is more multiethnic churches that understand and practice the HUP in their own context by providing for evangelism and basic discipleship of first generation internationals for precisely the reason the Steers suggests.
Steers believes monocultural churches avoid the problem of unrealistically expecting that “each of these groups assimilate to one another or to multiethnic congregations—at the same time they are trying to assimilate into U.S. culture.” This problem, by the way, is not always rooted in one’s ethnicity; personality is also a factor that plays a role in how soon or slowly 1.0s (a common name for first-generation immigrants) desire to engage the greater body. In fact I address this very thing in my latest book, Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity Into Your Local Church. In promoting a model I call, “Graduated Inclusion,” multi-ethnic churches can and will apply the HUP strictly for the purpose of evangelism and initial discipleship while simultaneously providing for the needs of 1.5s, 2.0s and beyond, all from within one local church.
What's the relationship between justice and justification?
Being justified by Christ leads a person to engage acts of justice. And the Christian witness of justice leads more people to be justified. But Wallis and Dever continue to disagree about whether justice is an "implication" of the gospel or "integral" to it.
A multi-ethnic church leader responds to the call for more homogeneous churches.
by Mark DeYmaz
Tom Steers, founder and co-director of Asian American Ministries for The Navigators, recently wrote a guest opinion column for Christianity Today (July 7, 2010). The column is entitled, "Needed: More Monocultural Ministries".
In the opinion piece ("not necessarily representing the opinion of the publication," as CT makes clear in the footer), Steers argues that a multicultural society demands more monocultural ministries. In so doing, however, he does not clearly state what he means by use of the term, “ministry.” Consequently, I believe he a) confuses evangelism with local church development, b) wrongly exegetes Scripture in attempting to support his claim, and otherwise c) speaks from assumption in stating what advocates of the multi-ethnic church truly believe. With this in mind, the following blog entry respectfully, but critically, challenges Steers' thinking.
“Some argue that since we are an increasingly multicultural society, our churches should become more multicultural. There is a certain logic to that. As long as there are people who want to be culturally and socially multicultural, or multiethnic, there also must be structures for them. Such ministries are crucial for healing America's racial and ethnic wounds. They potentially model the unbiased oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17.”
Theologically informed “advocates” of the multi-ethnic church however (at least, none that I know) are not suggesting, as the author states, “since we are an increasingly multicultural society, (that) our churches should become more multicultural.”
Articles, videos, and resources on the intersection of justice and evangelism.
The latest issue of our digital magazine, Catalyst Leadership, is now live. We going deeper into the controversy and questions surrounding justice and evangelism. It's a strong line-up of contributors from both Leadership journal and recent Catalyst conferences: Andy Stanley, Jim Wallis, Mark Dever, Bethany Hoang, Naomi Zacharias, Jim Belcher, Skye Jethani, Charles Colson, Shane Claiborne, and more.
If the gospel is not verbally proclaimed are we doing gospel work?
Is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and welcoming the stranger "gospel ministry"? In part 3 of the conversation about justice and the gospel, Mark Dever and Jim Wallis disagree about what can and cannot be legitimately called a gospel ministry. What do you think? If the gospel is not verbally proclaimed are we doing gospel work?
Pick up the Summer issue of Leadership Journal to read more from Dever, Wallis, and others on the intersection of justice and evangelism.
What did Jesus mean in Matthew 25 about judgment and compassion toward the poor?
In part two of the conversation between Mark Dever, Jim Wallis, and Skye Jethani, they talk about the judgment passage in Matthew 25. Was Jesus saying that our just and compassionate actions toward "the least of these" is central to our faith, or are they evidence of our faith? Is justice a gospel imperative or a gospel implication?
Pick up the Summer issue of Leadership Journal to read more from Dever, Wallis, and others on the intersection of justice and evangelism.
Can we call our church model “biblical” if we’re not reaching out to everyone?
by David Swanson
Ninety-five percent African American, five percent other. These are the demographics of the Chicago neighborhood where our three-month-old church has been planted. I am “other.” White. One hundred percent white. As the pastor of this young church plant, I have lost sleep over these percentages.
Most of the church planting models and examples I’ve been exposed to are very different from my current cross-cultural experience. In the recent past, the Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP) was viewed positively as the rationale for starting churches of demographically similar people. This principle states that it is easier for people to become Christians when they must cross few or no racial, linguistic, or class barriers. Ideally, then, these new churches were led by pastors whose culture, class, and skin color closely matched those of their flocks.
The HUP is seen less favorably these days, but it remains common for church planters to target culturally similar people. Categories such as cultural elites, the creative class, or young professionals may sound exotic but are often used to describe people most like the church planter.
Take the recent urban church-planting trend. Like me, many of these church-planters are not native to the city. So why are they leaving suburbia to start urban churches? In a recent blog post, Tim Keller identifies what I think is the primary motivation for many of these church plants:
“For the last twenty years, since 1990, American cities have experienced an amazing renaissance. People began moving back into cities in droves, and downtown/center cities began to regenerate at their cores.”
In other words, the children who grew up in homogeneous suburban churches are moving into America’s cities, followed closely by the next generation of church planters. The result? Young, urban, and homogeneous churches.
Is racial reconciliation part of the church's mission or a distraction?
The summer issue of Leadership features an interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis about the role justice ought to have in our gospel ministry. Over the coming weeks we'll be posting video segments of the interview hosted by Leadership's managing editor, Skye Jethani. In part 1, Dever and Wallis focus on whether or not tackling racism is part of the church's call or a distraction from its core mission.
We want to hear your reaction. Which perspective do you believe aligns best with Scripture and the church's mission? Stay tuned for more video from the interview in the days ahead.
Mark Driscoll's rant against Avatar reveals how blind we remain toward oppressed peoples.
by Paul Louis Metzger
Last week Dr. Metzger wrote on Ur about the novelty of multi-ethnic efforts in the church today. He asked whether justice was really taking root in our hearts, or is it just a trend. In this follow-up post he exposes our general blindness to injustice by referencing Mark Driscoll's comments about the film Avatar. If you recall, earlier this year Driscoll called the James Cameron film "the most satanic movie I've ever seen." A video with his full rant against the film can be viewed below.
Some friends drew my attention to the YouTube post of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon where he critiques the movie Avatar. I don’t know Pastor Driscoll, but I have watched the movie. There were two things that struck me about his remarks: his rightful concern for orthodoxy coupled with his desire for Christians to think critically about the worldviews that films present such as pagan spirituality; and his conviction that the movie attacks cultural progress.
Whether or not the director, James Cameron, intended to promote a pantheistic perspective (everything is God), I do concur with Driscoll that a pantheistic or monistic view of reality proves problematic for consideration of sin and evil—if we are one with the divine in our creaturely state, how can we be sinners? It also proves problematic for consideration of the need for a Savior—if we are ultimately one with God, why do we need a Savior to remove the separation? From a pantheistic or monistic perspective, separation is not moral or ontological; it is basically mental. According to this model, our sinful state is one of illusion. We fail to see things as they truly are, and we must cease living the lie and get in touch with our true selves which is not beyond us, but rather within us (what Driscoll refers to as the spark of divinity). I should also add that it is ultimately impossible to differentiate good from evil in a pantheistic or monistic framework: good and evil proceed from one ultimate reality, which is beyond good and evil.
So, I commend Pastor Driscoll for his biblical and theological convictions regarding pantheism. And yet I don’t find his brief statements on Avatar orthodox enough. Here I have in mind Pastor Driscoll’s statement that the movie attacks cultural progress.
This excerpt is taken from "Always Personal, Never Private" in the Summer issue of Leadership.
"When the status quo benefits you, your theology doesn't normally include changing the status quo. For most white, middle-class Christians, the world is working fine. So religion that includes social change doesn't matter. They want to leave things pretty much as they are."
Jim Wallis is the founder and editor of Sojourners, a magazine and community focused on the biblical call to social justice. To read the rest of the interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis in context, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
Does the church have a responsibility to care for the outcasts in society?
This excerpt is taken from "Always Personal, Never Private" in the Summer issue of Leadership.
"We have a special responsibility to make sure our brothers and sisters in Christ are cared for. Beyond that it is appropriate to care for the poor outside the church, but that is something for all humans made in the image of God to do, and Christians can certainly help. But the church isn't called to solve social ills."
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. To read the rest of the interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis in context, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
But what about the rise of justice as an issue within the church? Can it be explained away by the visibility of stars like Bono, or is there something more going on? And what does it mean to move beyond emotion and guilt toward a biblical and theological foundation for our justice efforts? These topics and others are addressed in the summer issue of LJ. Some of the voices in the issue include:
John Ortberg on prophetic preaching
Bethany Hoang on the justice generation
Eugene Cho on the risks of getting personally involved in justice
Jim Wallis and Mark Dever debating the role of justice in the gospel
Mark Labberton on the cultural and theological roots of the trend
We'll be posting excerpts, quotes, and videos from the summer issue in the coming days. And if you haven't yet subscribed to get all the great content in each issue of Leadership, click on the cover on the left side of the screen for a special offer.
How would describe some of the rewards of leading a multi-ethnic church to pastors who have spent their vocational lives within a homogeneous church?
For eighteen years prior to planting Mosaic I served homogeneous congregations. Like my friends and colleagues serving such churches today, I was blessed on numerous occasions to experience God working in and through me for his glory. Nevertheless, my wife and I have found an inimitable dimension of the Holy Spirit, a unique power and pleasure of God, that dwells in the midst of a diverse people seeking Christ as one. Through Mosaic we have ministered with and to so many people who are different from us, people who in one way or another have encouraged, challenged, or validated our calling beyond what we might have ever known had we stayed within the safe confines of the homogeneous church. In addition, visitors consistently tell us that they cannot stop crying during the service. In such moments they sense the Holy Spirit near, in ways they are not accustomed to.
Of course, we also face discouragement along the way. At times, we think, "Let's just go back to doing what is easy, what we know, in a church with people like us.” But at the end of the day we return to the roots of our calling, mindful that in pursuing the path of a peacemaker we are blessed to be called "the sons of God," (Matthew 5:9).
Diversity isn't just a social issues, it's a biblical one.
An Out of Ur interview with Mark DeYmaz
Mark DeYmaz is the founding pastor of Mosiac Church of Central Arkansas, author of Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church and co-founder of the Mosaix Network. Mark’s recently published second book,Ethnic Blends, addresses some of the unique challenges faced by multi-ethnic churches. Urthling, David Swanson, spoke with Mark about the theology and challenges of multi-ethnic ministry.
In the book you argue that the New Testament paradigm for the local church is one that exhibits ethnic and socio-economic diversity. In your years pastoring a multi-ethnic church, what has been the theology that most compels people to embrace this ideal for the local church?
While God's heart for the nations is evident from Genesis through Revelation, such a broad understanding is not enough to inform pastors concerning their approach to ministry. A closer examination of the New Testament, however, reveals a very precise theology upon which the multi-ethnic/economically diverse local church should be built, a biblical mandate that cannot be ignored. Namely,
Christ envisions the multi-ethnic church on the night before he dies (John 17:20-23), so that the world will know God's love and believe.
Luke describes the model at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff.), the first mega, missional and multi-ethnic community of faith and the most influential church in the New Testament.
Paul prescribes unity and diversity for the local church in his letter to the Ephesians, where his theme is "the unity of the church for the sake of the Gospel."
Why Boeing, and not just the Bible, is responsible for the rising interest in global justice.
by Skye Jethani
40 years ago the Boeing 747 entered commercial service on route between New York and London. While the spectators marveled at the technological achievement—no one had seen 700,000 pounds of aluminum fly before—no one in the crowd realized that they were also witnessing a sociological revolution—no one except Juan Trippe. Trippe was president of PanAm, the first airline to purchase the massive new Boeing. The visionary businessman knew the huge plane would change air travel, but he predicted much more. Before the plane had even left the drawing board, Trippe said that the 747 would be “…a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.”
His remarks may have been interpreted as hyperbole in 1970, but most now agree that the Boeing 747 has been a significant catalyst of globalization. The Jumbo Jet, as it was affectionately nicknamed, represented a huge increase in passenger capacity compared with earlier airliners which in turn lowered the cost of flying. As a result the 747 made long-range, intercontinental travel accessible to millions of people for the first time. To use Thomas Friedman’s phrase, the Jumbo Jet was instrumental in making the world flat.
The immigration debate is an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.
by David Swanson
The national debate (or is it an argument?) about immigration has provided a huge opportunity for churches to proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel to an anxious country. However, rather than responding with courage and grace, many of us have either kept silent or responded in fear, nervous about an unknown future. Three recent stories reveal the weight of this cultural moment and show why churches need to engage the issue with increased wisdom, mercy, and justice.
On April 23, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law the broadest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. The legislation has been celebrated by some and strongly opposed by others, because it instructs police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Also in April, Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James released a television ad that quickly propelled him from YouTube sensation to a guest on The O’Reilly Factor. The ad promises to administer driver’s license exams only in English. “This is Alabama, we speak English,” the candidate says. “If you want to live here, learn it.” James claims his ad is not about immigration, but many are wondering who the “you” in the ad is if not non-English speaking immigrants.
Jim Wallis and Mark Dever go head-to-head on one of the hottest issues in the church today.
by Skye Jethani
What a day. I woke at 4am this morning to catch a flight from Chicago to Washington DC. The purpose of the trip was to conduct an interview that we’ll feature in the summer issue of Leadership Journal (which hits mailboxes and screens in July). The focus of the issue is on the intersection of justice and evangelism. It’s going to be a fantastic issue with articles from Eugene Cho, Mark Labberton, Bethany Hoang, Jim Belcher, and others. But the main attraction is the interview I just wrapped at a coffee shop on Capitol Hill.
I spent two hours in conversation with Jim Wallis and Mark Dever on their understanding of the gospel, justice, and the local church. For those who don’t know Wallis and Dever and can’t grasp why having those two interacting on this issue is a big deal, let me fill you in.
Jim Wallis is the editor and founder of Sojourners—a magazine and community of evangelicals committed to social action. Wallis has been engaged in justice issues since the civil rights movement of the 60s, and proudly shares that he’s been arrested 22 times. He’s an outspoken critic of linking the church to either a politically conservative or liberal agenda, but has been an advocate for the poor, the unborn, the marginalized, and the oppressed. For decades he’s been reintroducing the justice teachings of the NT to Christians who’ve neglected them.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and one of the founders of the Together for the Gospel network. He’s big on Reformed theology and one of the visible leaders of the New Reformed movement that seems to be sprouting everywhere in the church. Dever has been a leading voice against expanding (and thereby losing) our definition of the gospel.
Addressing doctrinal divisions on day one of the Q conference.
by Skye Jethani
The Q gathering kicked off in Chicago today. 600 Christian leaders in the church, business, social sector, education, government, and the arts assembled at the Civic Opera House to hear some very stimulating talks and engage in more conversations themselves. One of the highlights from day one was Tim Keller.
Keller used his 18 minutes (all Q talks are 18, 9, or 3 minutes...there’s a predominately displayed countdown clock the audience can see to hold the speaker accountable...clearly not invented by a preacher) to talk about the polarization in the church between the “justification people” and the “justice people.”
As Keller describes them, the justification people are all about justification by faith alone. Only after being justified can a person live as he/she ought to live. While Keller was in full agreement with this doctrine, he said the unfortunate implication for many of the justification people is the belief that “we are mainly here to do evangelism” and they view “justice as a distraction.”
What the health insurance reforms tell us about the new age of adult accountability.
Following this blog, I figured the best way to rack up comments was to write about health care. So I thought I might explore one element of the recently enacted health-reform legislation that grabbed my attention as a prospective pastor. Though I worked for a short time on Capitol Hill, much of the far-reaching legislation eludes my understanding. We will be sorting out the implications of these reforms for years, if not decades. But one provision stands out as noteworthy, because it exposes a major social change with questionable merit. Until young adults turn 26, insurers are now required to let their parents retain them as dependents, no matter whether they have married or found gainful employment.
The move will benefit many of the 13.2 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 who currently do not have health insurance. According to the Commonwealth Fund, almost 30 percent of this age group foregoes health insurance for a variety of reasons. Students may continue from college to graduate school through at least their mid-20s. An unhealthy job market directs others into internships, residencies, or part-time positions that do not provide benefits. Youth (with its high risk-tolerance) convinces some to take their chances that no catastrophic illness will befall them.
This new insurance mandate matches the new social reality for 20-somethings who cannot or do not become independent adults when they turn 18, or even 21. According to the Brookings Institution, about 70 percent of 30-year-old adults in 1960 had married, started a family, and achieved financial independence. That figure had dropped below 40 percent by 2000. More young men and women are attending college, but the median number of years needed to complete a degree has risen from four to five since 1970. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 without college degrees earned less money in 2002 than did men from the same age group in 1975, when adjusted for inflation. But their 2002 peers who finished college and completed at least some graduate school earned more than both groups. So if you want to achieve economic independence in your 20s today, college and perhaps even graduate school has become something of a necessity.
The church has a significant image problem and denouncing Beck won't solve it.
by David Swanson
The email provided a helpful link and instructed me to “Tell Glenn Beck: I’m a social justice Christian.” The blunt Fox News pundit had recently outed “social justice” as code language for socialism. According to Beck, should you uncover this sinister conspiracy at your church, the best course of action is to run “as fast as you can.” As Skye pointed out on this blog, the interesting thing about Beck’s claim is not its validity or his sanity but how “the church engages this issue of social justice and its role in the life and mission of God’s people.”
In the days following Beck’s rant, links were posted via Twitter and Facebook to articles and videos lampooning Beck’s character and claims. I was invited to join virtual groups to demonstrate my opposition to any version of Christianity that doesn’t claim social justice as a central tenant.
Why the stampede to distance ourselves from this talking head’s pontifications about social justice? I’d like to suggest two motivating factors—the tarnished public image of the American church and personal insecurities about our Christian identity—that, unfortunately, cannot sustain the actual pursuit of social justice.
It may cost us a bit more, but our nation has taken a compassionate step in the right direction.
by Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large
This morning—the day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the health-care measure—I feel a sense of gladness. I am glad that millions of Americans, many of them children, will have access to health insurance. I am glad that people with pre-existing medical conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurance companies. And I am also glad that some effort is being made to curtail rising medical expenses, and that certain special interest and business groups will be held to a greater accountability, and that the growing gap between the rich and the poor might be slowed.
I am glad not because I am a Democrat or a Republican but because I think that Jesus, who seemed to take great interest in health issues, is glad. Looking back on his life among people like us, he often acted as a healer. He seemed to delight in curing diseases, restoring disabled people to wholeness, and rewiring damaged minds. You cannot divorce these encounters from the rest of his public ministry. Health-care was in his frame of reference.
My favorite of the Jesus-healing stories is the one where a group of men rip open a roof and lower a friend into the presence of Jesus. I love how the Lord flexed with the moment and used the healing to offer people a vision of holistic health: physical and spiritual. I try to imagine the freshly healed man rolling up his mat and heading out the front door, walking unassisted for the first time in who knows how long.
Then, too, I wonder about all the people (apparently including religious leaders) who had crowded into that house and who’d made it impossible for the man in his original condition of paralysis to get to Jesus in a more conventional way—through the front door. How does it happen that people rationalized, that since they got there first, the suffering guy outside should be left to his own devices?
If you hear "social justice" at your church, Glenn Beck says "Run!" There is another option.
by Skye Jethani
Back in January I wrote a post on “The Battle Lines Over Justice.” As more evangelicals are rediscovering the sections of the Bible that highlight God’s compassion for the broken and abused in this world, there is a fearful response by some that we will slide down the “slippery slope” of liberalism into a social gospel and evangelicals (particularly the younger breed) will abandon the cross of Christ. To prevent this repeat of history, some have their ear to the rail prepared to warn the faithful at the first hints of a justice train coming down the line.
I concluded that earlier post with this caution:
Is the stage being set for another church rift in the 21st century paralleling what happen 100 years ago? Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject? How we address this controversy, and not simply which side we land on, may impact the evangelical world for decades.
I’ve been trying to faithfully inform the members of my congregation about church history, the scope of the gospel (as it relates to their lives and all of creation), and what Scripture says about justice. I’ve been trying to offer informed theological reflection and create room for dialogue and understanding. In other words, I’ve been trying to avoid the name calling, paranoia, and finger-wagging rhetoric that too often accompanies the social justice issue in evangelical circles.
And then today I read that Glenn Beck, the conservative talk radio host and chalkboard wielding Fox New Channel star, begged Christians to “run as fast as you can” from their church if they encounter the words “social justice.”
Both conservatives and liberals have had their views of sexuality shaped by the culture.
by David Swanson
The title caught my eye: “Reverend reconciles sex and religion.” Was another church challenging married couples to make time for sexual intimacy for seven days straight? A pastor making headlines for an edgy sermon about the goodness of sex? A review of the latest book from a Christian relationship expert with new statistics about Christians’ sex lives?
Actually, the article was much less predictable than any of my guesses. The story’s focus, Debra Haffner, has the distinction of being both a reverend and a sexologist who believes her two professions “offer a unique insight into modern sexuality.” The Revered Haffner—who, by the way, won’t marry people who are virgins—thinks it necessary for “conservative religious leaders to reform their doctrines to fit modern times.” Such a shift includes focusing on the “quality of relationships” rather than on the morality of sexual practices.
As someone who falls within Haffner’s “conservative religious leader” category, it’s tempting to write her off. There’s little new in her claim that our sexual ethics need updating for a new day. Her reading of the Bible (“Genesis is full of affirmations of humans as sexual beings”) is certainly culturally bound and would likely confuse the Bible’s early interpreters. Frankly, it’s hard for me to take seriously any expert who doesn’t strongly consider the historic claims and traditions of the Church.
That’s why I also have trouble with much of the teaching and preaching about sexuality that originates closer to home.
Tragedy and chaos is a fertile ground for sex trafficking in Haiti.
Shortly after the earthquake, Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church in Seattle) and James MacDonald (Harvest Bible Chapel near Chicago) were on a flight to Haiti. Driscoll has been updating his Twitter and Facebook accounts with both hopeful and horrific messages.
USA Today has just published the first news report about the pastors in Haiti and the terrible victimization of young girls that is now occurring. Driscoll gave this report:
We were downtown loading up our film crew. There were no police, no medics, to be seen by a huge park with hundreds of people camping out with no where else to go. There was a little cart with a red umbrella and a man selling cell phones and cigarettes -- and a few young girls.
"You want to buy loving?" the guy asked me. I said, "What in the world are you talking about?"
But there was another guy there, who claimed to be a translator for a relief agency, who was negotiating a price for a girl. I asked him what he was trying to do. He said, "Oh, she's a friend of mine. We're just trying to connect."
That's ridiculous. A young girl. A man 20 or 30 years older. I told him this was unacceptable. MacDonald confronted him, too. But there were no police and you could argue all you wanted but the girl took his money and they walked away."
Is justice an imperative or an implication of the gospel, and why are people getting so stirred up about the answer?
by Skye Jethani
As I write this, Christian relief agencies, denominations, churches, and parachurch ministries around the world are mobilizing to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. But the call to alleviate suffering and rescue the oppressed is not only being answered in the wake of catastrophes. Over the last decade there has been a significant awakening to social justice issues among evangelicals. From Rick Warren’s PEACE plan to the efforts of Christian bands like Jars of Clay and Hillsong United, issues of justice and compassion have moved from a sideshow among evangelicals to the center stage.
Research conducted by LifeWay last year found that “Younger evangelical pastors are less likely to self-identify as conservative than older generations and more apt to view social justice as a gospel imperative.” Commenting on the findings, Ed Stetzer said, "I think ultimately that we are at a season right now where the issues of social justice are growing and a desire to integrate compassion and commission are clearly evident among younger evangelicals and evangelicals as a whole.”
Some are celebrating this movement as long overdue; the healing of an unfortunate rift in the church that occurred nearly a century ago by pitting social concern and justice against the preaching of repentance and salvation. The impact of the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy shaped the direction of the American church for most of the 20th century by creating an “either/or” scenario. Either a church cared about social justice or it focused on saving souls.
The fact that orthodox, conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals are now showing great interest in matters of justice and compassion may indicate the aftershocks of that rift 100 years ago may finally be over. Or are they?
Author Michael Crichton on the danger of green dogma.
This week leaders from throughout the world are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss the impact of global warming. The issue is still hotly debated in the US (pun intended), while polls in many other secular Western nations reveal wider agreement with the theory.
Best-selling author Michael Crichton became an outspoken skeptic of man-made global warming before his death in 2008. In this video Crichton uses his background in anthropology to explain why environmentalism is based more on religion than science. Do you agree? And how do you think the church ought to respond to the popular green movement?
Jessica Jackley no longer feels badly for the poor. She's doing something better.
by Marshall Shelley
Jessica Jackley was in first grade when she became aware of how the poor were being presented to her. She saw ads for parachurch organizations and appeals for missions groups that featured photographs of impoverished children with distended bellies and flies in the eyes.
She realized even at that young age that those pictures made her feel bad, and they caused her and her friends to give money just to make the bad feelings go away.
As she got older and had more awareness of the pervasiveness of poverty, and gained firsthand experience working with the poor, she realized that appeals that provoke pity and guilt were not pointing in the right direction. To get people to respond simply to ease their own discomfort was actually counterproductive. Such appeals don't help the poor long-term; these appeals eventually just make people calloused and cynical or at the least able to view such presentations with very little impact.
Jackley learned that what the poor really needed was not pity, but something much more useful.
A few minutes into his talk on the church and the environment, Matthew Sleeth, MD called up a young man named David to share his story.
David recounted how he had recently suffered a grand mal seizure. After a trip to the emergency room, David received some devastating news: he had an inoperable tumor the size of a racket ball growing in his brain. He’s 27.
Weakened by the economy, African-American and white churches merge to survive.
by Brandon O'Brien
A year or so ago, when gas prices were over $4 per gallon here in Chicagoland, something remarkable happened: people started driving the speed limit. Despite the threat of traffic tickets, commuters regularly speed by 20 miles per hour or more on our highways. But for that few months, people cruised at a modest and efficient 55. One of my colleagues put it this way: “What the law has been unable to do, high gas prices did overnight.”
I guess there are times when the promise of saving money gives us just the boost we need to do the right thing.
More recently, the current economic hard times have given a couple of churches in Louisville, Kentucky, a good excuse to do something they might not have done otherwise. St. Paul Missionary Baptist church, a predominantly African-American church, and the mostly white Shively Heights Baptist Church have merged.
Book review of "The Next Evangelicalism" by Soong-Chan Rah.
By Greg Taylor
My life and worldview will never be the same after living seven years in Uganda. My wife and children, our mission team members, and I all made friends with and learned from people who were struggling out of poverty but still lived full of joy and hope.
Unfortunately, few Western Christians have the opportunity to learn from believers in other cultures. As a result, we impose our own perspective on Christians worldwide.
In The Next Evangelicalism, professor and pastor Soong-Chan Rah says the evangelical church has been held captive to Western-white power and must be released in the same way the early Christian church was released from Jewish ethnic control. Nearly 95 percent of Christian churches in America have more than 80 percent of one particular ethnic group. Most evangelical churches are white monoliths.
"Racism," he says, "is America's original sin." Our culture and economy were built on the backs of Native Americans and black slaves. But American individualism and consumerism keep Christians from understanding and confessing corporate sin.
According to Rah, today's "slavery issue" is immigration.
Is the church being hypocritical about sexual ethics?
by David Fitch
I know this is little late, but for me, nothing illustrates the current state of the church's witness in regard to sexual issues in America better than the Ms. California/USA pageant episode a couple months ago. It was an embarrassing irruption of the Real that any follower of Christ has got to wince at (it's so embarrassing).
Here a woman prances before the media in a minuscule bikini (ironically designed by another ex-evangelical, Jessica Simpson), a woman who had ("sexually-enhancing") cosmetic surgery, who had been in a revealing photo shoot of some sort, and she is asked about her position on same sex unions. She responds by saying, "I think in my country, in my family, that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
The next day on the Today show, she said "I don't take back what I said." She added that she "had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God. It's not about being politically correct," she said. "For me, it's about being biblically correct." Using the "B" word - "biblical" - in front of the cameras makes her an evangelical stereotype. In the process she becomes a symbol of evangelicalism's lack of political (communal) credibility to witness to the gay/lesbian populations.
By saying what she said about gay unions moments after the swimsuit competition, Ms. California was basically telling the world, "We do the same things, but for gay people it's sin. Lust is good, objectifying my body is normal, the fulfillment of all desire is good." Then, on the other hand, she says to the gay and lesbian world, "But you can't do any of this, because you're different."
Recently I needed to repair my car and chose a mechanic across the street from Kenwood Towne Center near Cincinnati. Typically, when a mall is too proud to call itself a mall, the shops are upscale, and Kenwood is no exception. So while my vehicle was repaired, I went to the mall for an overpriced cup of coffee.
My eye caught an unexpected store name. In bright pink letters across the entry was "Justice," with a heart dotting the "i" for good measure. Seeing no photos of Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Dorothy Day, I looked up again to make sure I had read the sign correctly. Then I noticed a banner below the sign, which simply said, "Limited Too is now Justice."
Even entering the store, I knew that my definition of justice had very little to do with the products peddled by "Justice."
But the rebranding of Limited Too is part of a larger social trend. Justice is hip, even in our churches. Over the past five years, church after church has made justice a more prominent part of their stated mission, objectives, and vision.
A new survey shows most churchgoers support torture. What should pastors say?
by Skye Jethani
A political dissident is arrested for leading a movement that threatens the stability of a region. He is ambushed and apprehended by his enemies, detained without a public trail, and tortured by soldiers at the command of their political leaders. No, I'm not describing Kalid Sheikh Mohammad or any other detainee held at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I'm speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.
The fact that Christians draw their faith, life, and identity from a Messiah who was the victim of political torture seems ironic in light of new research by the Pew Forum that indicates 62 percent of white evangelicals believe torture of suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. The research shows that people who attend church regularly were more likely to rationalize torture than those who do not go to church.
How do we explain these findings? Are Christians being more influenced by Jack Bauer than Jesus Christ?
Lurking behind this passive support of government torture is a utilitarian ethic that believes the ends justify the means - torture is justifiable if the information attained will save innocent lives. But David Neff, editor of Christianity Today, points out a problem with this argument:
Friday morning's opening session began with a powerful music video that told the story of a thirteen-year-old girl from the Philippines named Constance. The video was based on a true story and told how Constance was sold by her father into sex slavery for $9. The man who bought her used her as a star on his website. I didn't catch all the lyrics, but the video sent a powerful message about the pervasive effects of sex trafficking - a man paying the subscription fee for a porn site in his suburban home may be propagating the sale and purchase of human beings for sex.
Following the video was a short panel discussion with three women who are on the front lines of the war against the sex trade. Jeannie Mai is a television host who recently spent two weeks ministering in the red light district of Bangkok, Thailand. She was joined by Naomi Zacharias (daughter of Ravi Zacharias) of Wellspring International and Bethany Hoang from International Justice Mission.
Why isn't the church talking about issues of race?
by David Swanson
Stephen Colbert doesn't know his own race. The host of The Colbert Report, a satirical television news program on Comedy Central, claims to be colorblind, unable to discern his skin color. "People tell me I'm white," he said during one episode, "because I own a lot of Jimmy Buffet albums." The colorblind approach to race and racism makes for amusing television but is the height of na?vet? in real life. Yet for many churches this seems to be the preferred method of talking - or not talking - about all things related to race.
The beauty and peril of our diverse culture is impossible to miss. A quick snapshot reveals a president who shares a heritage with both Kenya and Kansas, a New York Post cartoon of a dead chimpanzee that stirs up memories of racist stereotypes, and teenage pop star Miley Cyrus photographed pulling back her eyes in an attempt to "look Asian." Stephen Colbert isn't the only TV personality who finds comedy in this racially charged atmosphere. Michael Scott, the hilariously insensitive manager of The Office, manages to repeatedly offend each of his diverse staff - no one is safe from his absurd stereotypes. A more nuanced primetime treatment of race can be seen on Lost where the island's castaways epitomize the global, ethnic, and class diversity and divisions of our day. In a society increasingly conscious of race and ethnicity, the silence of our churches grows more notable by the day.
This Christmas the failing economy will test our commitment to serve the poor.
by David Swanson
For all of our recent talk of being missional, these days of economic uncertainty may prove to be an important test. Serving and giving from a position of security is one thing; generosity to the poor despite a precarious financial position is something else. The days ahead will provide plenty of opportunities to welcome the migrant worker, advocate for the day laborer, feed the homeless, and house the unemployed single mother. Competing for our attention will be the powerful impulse to protect our own kingdoms and budgets. As Christmas approaches, should the coming of the Son of God fill us with the shepherd’s joy or Herod’s dread.
...the state needs to get out of the "marriage" business. It should recognize that as long as it uses that term and continues to privilege certain types of relationships over others this issue is going to divide us as a nation and is only going to become more and more contentious. We need to move towards the system used in many European countries, where the state issues nothing but civil unions to anyone who wants them, and those who desire it may seek a marriage from the church. When I pastored in the Netherlands, couples got a civil union certificate at the courthouse and then had a marriage ceremony at the church. This division largely negated the culture war aspect, and allowed those churches who objected to same sex marriage on biblical grounds not only to opt out, but to be able to continue to teach their biblical view of marriage unchallenged by the state....
The former Emergent coordinator blogs about his views on faith and sexuality.
Tony Jones, the former national coordinator of Emergent Village and the author of The New Christians, has articulated his beliefs about homosexuality on his blog. Jones, along with other Emergent leaders, has been questioned for years about his views on the debated cultural and doctrinal issue. Until now, Jones had always responded by saying he hadn't made up his mind on the question. "Homosexuality," he would say, "is one issue that I don't want to get wrong."
Well, it seems Jones has now made up his mind. The blog post, which can be read here, explains his journey with the issue from childhood. But Jones discloses that:
...all the time I could feel myself drifting toward acceptance that gay persons are fully human persons and should be afforded all of the cultural and ecclesial benefits that I am.
I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.
(BTW, for those unfamiliar with the acronym GLBTQ it stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning...depends on who you ask according to Wikipedia. And for those who are unfamiliar with the acronym BTW...are you kidding me?)
Clearly, Jones' statement is very carefully worded to convey his intent and nothing more. But for his critics and those suspicious of Emergent Village, this discloser will only add fuel to their fire. It should be noted that Jones no longer speaks on behalf of EV, and his remarks shouldn't be projected upon others within the Emergent conversation.
What the election says about our progress and decline.
by Skye Jethani
Amazing. How else can you describe what happened last week when Barack Obama became the first African American elected President of the United States? However you voted, whatever your politics, the election reveals something about the progress of our society. As George W. Bush said the morning after the election, it "showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union."
Amid the reflections there have been numerous references to Martin Luther King Jr.'s pioneering civil rights movement and his "dream." One Chicago news commentator on election night said the day King delivered his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he could not have known that a two year old boy in Hawaii would become the fulfillment of his dream. That got me wondering - is Barack Obama really the fulfillment of King's dream?
For many evangelicals, justice ministry is nothing new.
by David Swanson
We evangelical folk love conferences. We'll attend one across the country or host one in our spiffy new sanctuary--er, auditorium. Shoot, we'll even blog about a conference for those who couldn't make it. I've attended my fair share of these get-togethers, from California to Michigan, and blogged about them along the way. Perhaps that early American phenomenon--the frontier camp meeting--lingers in our memory and has found new expression at mega-churches and sports arenas around the country.
During my suburban ministry years, many of the conferences I attended were of the how-to variety. Think "This Old House" with Bob Villa, but substitute house with "small group," "sermon," or "assimilation plan" and Villa with (mostly) white pastors and theologians who write books.
This conference-going tendency must run in our evangelical genes, because the folks at my urban church also make these events a priority. Here's the difference: instead of learning how to improve their church, these city-dwellers are interested in improving their neighborhoods and city. The half-dozen people from our congregation who just returned from the Christian Community Development Association conference in Miami attended workshops that focused on bridging racial divides, homelessness prevention, and immigration issues.
Election day is here, but what will tomorrow bring?
by Collin Hansen
The view of America from Manhattan was pretty bleak on the morning after November 2, 2004. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, typically a levelheaded observer of world affairs, watched America become "two nations under God."
"We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is," Friedman wrote about the "Christian fundamentalists" who helped propel President Bush to reelection against Sen. John Kerry. "Is it a country that does not intrude into people's sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn't trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us - instead of dividing us from one another and from the world?"
The view north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, was even more ominous. Northwestern University adjunct history professor Garry Wills declared November 2, 2004, "the day the enlightenment went out." No longer did America take after France, Britain, Germany, Italy or Spain. No, Bush's America harbored "fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity." In short, the new America shared more in common with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Christian fundamentalists, still fuming over the embarrassment of the Scopes trial in 1925, had finally enacted a jihad Wills dubbed "Bryan's revenge." Now these Christians would be able to impose their irrational, bigoted opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Thinkers like Wills could only ask: "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?"
Is a green-letter Bible the answer to our environmental crisis?
by Brandon O'Brien
Late yesterday afternoon, I received a copy of The Green Bible (HarperOne), and I'm not sure what to make of it.
The Bible is "green" in composition, which I appreciate. Its pages are made of 10 percent post-consumer recycled paper, the words are printed with soy-based ink, and the binding is 100 percent cotton/linen. It is certainly a good-looking book (that marketing sleeve comes off). And it smells nice. I wouldn't mind if my bookshelves were lined with cotton covers.
But to put things in perspective, Thomas Nelson released a "green" Bible printed on recycled paper - the first of its kind - almost a year ago. So it's not the composition but the content of HarperOne's ecologically friendly canon that makes it unique.
Before they make it to Genesis, Green Bible readers encounter an impressive roll of contributors, each offering a sermon or article on some aspect of creation care: "Reading the Bible through a Green Lens" and "Knowing Our Place on Earth: Learning Environmental Responsibility from the Old Testament" for example. There's a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an introduction by Matthew Sleeth, poems by Francis of Assisi and Wendell Berry, and articles (mostly reprinted) by Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, N. T. Wright, and the late Pope John Paul II, among others.
But what truly sets The Green Bible apart is that it's a "green-letter edition." It's akin to the New Testaments in which the words of Jesus are printed in red. Except in this case, "over a thousand references to the earth and caring for creation" appear in green ink. While there are certainly more instances besides the highlighted ones that would have applied, the editors tell us in the prefatory material, they have chosen only those "speaking directly to the project's core mission."
What will California's controversial ruling mean for your church?
Last month the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Some are predicting that the California ruling will open the door to gay marriage throughout the country. How should church leaders respond? Skye Jethani, managing editor of Leadership, recently spoke with Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, about how his congregation is handling the controversial decision.
Let's make a couple of assumptions about a church leader who reads Jesus for President. First, he or she actually finishes the book despite the occasional punch in the gut. Second, that this same church leader agrees (on some level) with the premise that too much of our American church life has been shaped by our comfortable relationship with the state. If one accept both of these assumptions, what then?
While the book offers plenty of fodder for thought and conversation, it is not a how-to manual of subversive Kingdom living. Since most of us will not be leaving our churches to join a New Monastic community with Claiborne or Haw, what is our response? How do we serve and lead congregations that preserve Kingdom distinctiveness while demonstrating God's redemption to our neighbors?
One way to answer these questions is found in how Claiborne and Haw compose their book's last chapter: story telling. The authors claim, "Preserving the distinctiveness of the kingdom of God has always been the most important task for the church." And, "The only thing all Christians are called by the New Testament to imitate is Jesus' taking up his cross." Rather than tell us exactly how to do this, they've decided to show us in the final portion of the book.
The second day of Shift 2008 ended with the Thursday Night Experiences, aimed at having the conference extend beyond just what happens in main sessions and breakouts.
To start the night, everybody began together in the main auditorium for a Q&A session with the band Switchfoot. The conversation covered everything from Switchfoot's "strategic touring" of good surf destinations, to the motivation and inspiration behind their music. Lead singer Jon Foreman and fellow band members discussed their desire to avoid the narrow labeling of sacred and secular, and instead create "music for thinking people," helping listeners question and think about the larger issues of life.
After Q&A, lead singer Jon Foreman played a short acoustic set of Switchfoot songs, as well as material from his new solo effort, and a new song written for the soundtrack of the upcoming Prince Caspian film.
Why social justice is much more than a political issue.
We've got our second podcast from the conference. Mark Miller is an author and pastor at Life Church in Wheaton, Illinois. He's speaking at a breakout sesssion at SHIFT on the topic of "Engaging Students in Global Justice." In it, he discusses his own journey of discovering global justice being much more than a political issue; it's a deeply spiritual one. He also discussed the excitement about a new generation of students who are passionate about following the way of Jesus by serving the needs of the world. Click below to hear the podcast.
Social activism is gaining popularity with evangelicals, but is it making any difference?
Kara Powell spoke during the final session at Shift this afternoon. Powell is the director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. She began by bursting a pretty big bubble. Many churches have gotten involved in short term missions trips (STMs) that often involve a service project in a developing country. But are these trips making any real difference?
The research isn't encouraging. Powell shared about how those being served by North American church groups often feel demoralized by our service, and how many wished these churches would simply send the funds so they could do the work themselves. On the flip side, evidence suggests these trips are having a minimal impact on students as well. In an article she wrote called "If We Send Them, Will They Grow?" she concluded that students who go on STMs are not more likely to become long-term missionaries, and it doesn't impact their materialistic lifestyles.
Powell said a lot of our local and international efforts toward the poor are really a placebo effect. They make us feel better about ourselves, but they're not really impacting people the way we'd like to believe. What's the answer? She believes we need to shift from shallow service to "deep justice."
How do we live as the people of God in the American Empire?
A few months ago, while visiting a church out of state, I had a moment of crisis. Just before the sermon, the pastor stood to give the announcements. After wrapping up, he invited a young man in military uniform to stand. The young officer had grown up in this church and had just returned from his first tour in Iraq. The pastor thanked the congregation for their prayers for the soldier and his family. The congregation responded with enthusiastic applause. So far so good.
But then the pastor reminded the church of the dangerous and noble work America's soldiers were doing in Iraq. He said they were protecting our American freedoms and that we should be grateful for their sacrifice. The congregation stood to their feet and began clapping?and clapping?and clapping. I have never experienced a more enthusiastic and prolonged standing ovation on a Sunday morning in my life.
What would you have done? I sat.
After the service I admitted to my wife that I was uncertain what the right response was in that situation. The tenor of the pastor's remarks and the zeal of the congregation's response did not seem to reflect Christ's call to love our enemies. I wondered how a brother or sister in the Iraqi church, which has come under increasing persecution, would have felt about this Sunday morning display of patriotism. At the same time, I felt like a total jerk for sitting while the rest of the congregation demonstrated their gratitude to the military. This experience and the questions it raised came to mind several times while I read Jesus for President.
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw condemn the church's adulterous affair with political power.
We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church's imagination. The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world's largest superpower have bent the church's identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds "guiding the course of history" a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual virtues of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love.
As you can tell, subtlety is not what Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw were aiming for when they co-wrote, Jesus for President. Apart from the provocative content - a mix of stories, biblical narrative, and political manifesto - even the look of the book provokes a reaction. The pages are filled with photography, artwork, doodles, and strange typesetting. Some will appreciate the book's creative format and others will find the style too different - not unlike the authors themselves.
For those unfamiliar with Claiborne and Haw, both are associated with what has been called the New Monasticism movement. Known for their emphasis on community, racial reconciliation, and peacemaking, many of these new monastics live and serve in what they call the "abandoned places of Empire."
Evangelicals and Catholics find common cause in protecting the planet.
In the early 1970s, conservative Protestants hit the streets to protest the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion. When they arrived with signs in hand, they discovered that Catholics had beaten them to the picket line. Since then, Catholics and evangelicals have found common cause in protecting the unborn.
Last week, Catholics and evangelicals found another issue on which they may someday join forces: saving the planet.
"I guarantee there isn't a homeless person in Portland who couldn't tell you the gospel verbatim. They've had to listen to it three times a day to get a sandwich. They've heard about Christ, but they haven't seen Christ. Who will sit next to them while they panhandle, who will enter their world? I've had friends doing that for 15 years. That is seeing the gospel."
-Rick McKinley serves as pastor of the Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. Taken from "Dei Laborers" in the Fall 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
"The American church as a whole needs to move from selfish consumerism to unselfish contribution. Those are poles apart. To start with a woman who's most interested in how many diamonds she's got in her tennis bracelet, and move her to sit under a banyan tree holding an AIDS baby- that's a giant leap. People in this culture are trained to think about me, me, me; I've got to do what's best for me. Even when we go to church we have this consumer mentality."
-Rick Warren serves as pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Taken from "It's Not About Rick" in the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The emerging response to personal justification and social justice.
David Fitch is back with part 2 of his critique of the emerging response to evangelicalism. In part 1 he noted the "we're in, you're out" mentality in much of the evangelical church, and the anemic emerging reaction to this black and white theology. Here, Fitch takes on our over emphasis of having a "personal relationship" with Christ while ignoring the social component of the gospel.
A second weakness I see emerging churches responding to is the individualizing tendencies of evangelical ways of being Christ's church. Our churches are organized to meet the spiritual needs of individuals, and our salvation is incredibly individualistic. Calling Jesus "a personal Savior" sounds like Jesus is in the same category as my personal barber, personal trainer, or personal dental hygenist (BTW, I don't have a personal trainer). The danger is making salvation all about me.
I know it didn't start out this way in evangelicalism, but it was latent in the structure of our soteriology. And so we have almost romanticized our relationship with God; created a narcissistic experience of it. And churches become all about preserving, maintaining, and nurturing this experience in their parishioners.
But the gospel is not about getting something, it is about participating in something - God's work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.
One pastor’s perspective on the immigration debate—and immigration opportunity.
We are putting the finishing touches on the next issue of Leadership built around the theme of ministering to people on the margins. Isaac Canales, pastor of Mission Ebenezer Family Church in Carson, California, has sent us this provocative article about ministry among immigrants. We're posting it here first to hear your responses. Some of your comments may be republished with Canales' article in the October issue of Leadership.
I am a Harvard graduate and the son of immigrants. My story is not unique. In California, where I live, immigration has been an issue for decades. We've lived with it every day of our lives, long before it became a divisive political issue. In California, even our governor is an immigrant. But most immigrants here are not from Austria. Most, like my parents, came from Mexico.
Today's debate over "illegal aliens" is not new, but perhaps a bit of historical perspective will be helpful.
My mother was kidnapped by her father when she was four. He told his mother-in-law that he was taking his daughter to the market to buy her shoes. He never returned. Instead he brought my mother to Bakersfield, California, where he supported her by picking grapes, cotton, and fruit. Eventually, he became a naturalized American citizen and was proud of it. He bought a house with white columns and a wide porch. That is where mama grew up.
Before trying to engage globally start practicing justice locally.
Nike has gotten a lot of marketing mileage from its straightforward motto, "Just Do It." In part two of David Fitch's post on social justice his message for church leaders is equally simple - just do it. Fitch argues that instead of focusing on national or global justice causes we must begin by acting locally. To accomplish this requires pastors to teach justice as a practice, something we actively do, rather than simply a concept we agree with.
If we are to avoid making justice into another program in the church we must resist the urge to make justice primarily about national politics, and only secondarily about local politics. For inevitably we get caught up in national politics believing that finally we are doing something. This then becomes an easy program to establish in our churches, and the work of local justice becomes an after-thought because political activism is always easier than living as a presence with the poor. It may be admirable and glamorous to help Jars of Clay fight Aids in Africa or Bono fight for Third World Debt Relief, but in the end I would ask us how much is accomplished if we cannot witness to a way of life that compels justice in our own back yard.
The main culprit here is that we pastors teach justice as a concept instead of a practice. For instance, we often make justice about the concept of individual rights or equal opportunity. It's an easy default move when we don't have visible justice going on in the local body itself. Yet defining justice in this way, as a concept born out of democracy and capitalism, individual rights or equal opportunity, too easily enables us to forget about doing justice in our local church by deflecting attention to national arguments. If we wish to see justice take shape in our midst we must go beyond rights to seek the simple righteousness of God fulfilled in our immediate locale.
Preventing social justice from becoming just another program in the church.
Recently we discussed Scot McKnight's belief that the gospel typically preached by evangelicals is too individualistic, and how it actually makes the church an unnecessary part of following Christ. David Fitch, pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois and a professor at Northern Seminary, shares McKnight's perspective, and in this post he reflects on how an individualistic gospel makes our attempts at social justice a peripheral program of the church rather than an integrated part of our faith.
When we pastors think about leading God's justice in the church, our first inclination is to organize a ministry. It could be a soup kitchen or an outreach event to the poor "down in the city". Sometimes we will find ways to become active in policy making on the local or national governmental level. We are tempted to make justice into another program of the church.
If we are to avoid turning justice into merely a church program we must first resist the urge to make salvation "about me." Evangelicals (of which I am one) often describe salvation as a personal relationship with God. It is intensely individual. In Christ I am justified before God as an individual. And then, after being justified through faith in Christ, I pursue a personal daily relationship with God as well as personal holiness and then of course (if we get to it) social justice. It is an add-on. In this way we split personal salvation and social justice.
LaTonya Taylor is an editor with Ignite Your Faith magazine. Here she offers perspective as a Christian, an African-American, and a woman.
The maelstrom radio shock jock Don Imus started when he referred to members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" is winding down. The Scarlet Knights issued a statement accepting Imus's apology for words he called "insensitive and ill-conceived."
I find this outcome so far only partially satisfying. People heard something outrageous and were outraged. They understood Imus's words were both racist and sexist, attacking the Rutgers players' beauty as people of color, as well as their stewardship of their sexuality. And the market spoke. After initially suspending Imus in the Morning for two weeks, CBS canceled the radio show, and NBC Universal canceled his TV simulcast on MSNBC's cable channel.
But part of me hopes that Imus's remarks also lead to a redemptive conversation within the Christian community. I hope we can move from satisfaction over Imus's punishment to think about ways we can redeem his situation--and others like it.
Some commenters in the blogosphere, on message boards, and in the mainstream media have raised some important questions: What's the big deal? Some shock jock said something kind of rude, but sticks and stones, right? Don't rappers say worse things every day? Isn't Imus's real mistake mocking the wrong group? And wasn't one of the players overreacting by saying his comments had made her "scarred for life"?
All good questions. It's possible the "scarred" comment was the statement of an overwrought college student. But I don't think so. At one of the most important moments of her life, a moment she and her teammates had striven to reach, a moment culminating years of positive choices, she realized that some will still view her negatively because she is a woman--and an African-American. That's a startling realization, particularly for those of us who've been insulated from some of the struggles of our forebears.
For ten days each winter filmmakers and film-lovers descend upon Park City, Utah, for a movie-watching frenzy. The Sundance Film Festival has been taking place since 1978 and has evolved into one of the premier independent film festivals in the world. Our man on the scene is David Swanson, associate pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This week he's attending Sundance with students from Fuller Seminary in conjunction with the Windrider Film Forum to explore the intersection of faith and culture.
After settling in with our host family from Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a few of us set out to explore the town. On the bus ride into Park City, we interacted with an actress from England, a film music coordinator from New York, and a bunch of high school students from L.A. Later that evening we watched War/Dance, a tragically beautiful and redemptive documentary about refugee children in Uganda.
After a quick night's sleep, we lined up for a 9:00 AM screening of Save Me, a film about a young man's journey through a Christian "ex-gay" 12-step ministry. This was a hard film to see and one I would only recommend sparingly. I left the theatre completely wrecked - my head spinning.
Gordon MacDonald brings together Gerald Ford, Pat Robertson, and Oprah as he asks what real Christian behavior looks like.
I took a bit of morning time to watch President Ford's funeral service as it was televised from the National Cathedral. There was music (Christian hymns which have buoyed the heart for many generations) sung and played with a beauty, a grandeur, and an artistic excellence that made the soul soar. There were scriptures-so appropriately selected-read with great dignity. There were eulogies (marked with affection, historical reminiscence and humor) that reminded one that Gerald Ford was a very good man. Words like decent, nice, and principled were used more than once to describe his character. All in all, it was a cleansing experience to watch that funeral.
Then later in the day, my wife, Gail, called me down from my study to watch a few minutes of Oprah Winfrey who has brought into being a school in South Africa which will train hundreds of girls who come from the deepest poverty, from abuse and molestation and AIDS-dominated circumstances. The gleaming smiles on the girls' faces, their alertness in responding to questions, and their simple girlish beauty was stirring, arousing tears. All in all it was an inspirational experience to see what Ms Winfrey has accomplished through her compassion and determination to help others avoid the kind of background out of which she came.
Then in the evening on the national news came the report that Pat Robertson was informing our nation of a word he has received from God to wit that several million Americans (who knows where or how) would perish in some unspeakable disaster in 2007.
This morning I attended a prayer breakfast in my town for World AIDS Day. Despite the blizzard conditions, leaders from local churches, schools, and relief organizations gathered for the event. More than a few people remarked about the odd group. My table had three evangelical pastors, a newspaper reporter, and a board member from an organization led by a gay man. Across from us were Roman Catholic nuns in their habits, Wheaton College students, and leaders of the gay community.
The two main speakers represented the polarity of the group. Ruth Bell Olsson is the leader of the HIV/AIDS ministry at Mars Hill Church near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ruth comes with solidly evangelical credentials, and she also happens to be Pastor Rob Bell's sister. The second speaker was Dan Pallotta, founder of AIDSRides and Breast Cancer Walks. Pallotta's passion for AIDS awareness stems from his own experience as a gay man in Los Angeles watching many in his community die from the disease.
In a time when cultural divisions are as distinct as blue and red, the coming together of liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and gays, was refreshing - at least to me. But not everyone is happy about the emerging connection between evangelicals and those outside the conservative camp. Rick Warren, for example, has taken flak for inviting pro-choice Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to Saddleback to speak at the HIV/AIDS summit today. Saddleback responded to the critics:
"We do not expect all participants in the Summit discussion to agree with all of our Evangelical beliefs. However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by Evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all ? government, business, NGOs and the church. That is the purpose of this Summit."
The world is shrinking. One can hardly go a day without hearing about events in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, or Israel. Recently leaders from around the world gathered in New York for President Clinton's Global Initiative Conference to discuss the challenges we face. Pastor and Leadership's editor-at-large Gordon MacDonald was there.
I was recently invited to the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in New York City by the former president. As far as I know only a handful of evangelicals were present among approximately 1,000 political, business, and cultural leaders.
The CGI Conference is a crossroads of ideas and networking to reduce cultural and political barriers that separate human beings and create the grounds for conflict and disaster. Panel topics included (1) Energy and Climate Challenge; (2) Global Health Issues; (3) Poverty Alleviation; and (4) Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict. They were populated by people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Farmer, Kofi Annan, Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, Bill Gates, and Paul Kagame (president of Rwanda). And I have named only a few.
Amazingly, there was little energy spent on politics. Rather there was an incredibly serious tone, a clear awareness that the world is in greater trouble today than it has ever been.
What do a pastor, a politician, and a pop star have in common? Until recently, not much. But Bono, lead singer of the band U2, has managed to unite these unlikely groups around the issue of social justice. As a self-appointed ambassador for the poor, Bono has helped the evangelical church in America become more sensitive to those in need around the world and awakened our marginalized, or in some places forgotten, call to seek justice. But, is the new focus on social justice just another pop-Christian trend? This week Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, ponders that question.
I had a very, very haunting conversation with a good friend who is a pastor at a church in southern California. We hadn't seen each other for awhile and as we were catching up he was excited about a ministry he was starting with used clothing stores where all the profit goes to orphanages. My friend has had social justice and compassion ministries as major part of his church ethos since it began many years ago, definitely in the PB (pre-Bono) dispensation.
As he was showing me photos of his latest venture with the clothing stores he stopped and said, almost with embarrassment, "This sounds really trendy, doesn't it?" What was haunting to me and what I have thought about since the conversation I had with my friend, is what if it is true? What if social justice and compassion projects are simply the latest trend?
In December, Brian McLaren was arrested along with 115 other activists while peacefully protesting the federal budget that he believes unfairly treats the poor. As one of the most visible participants in Emergent Village, McLaren's increasingly outspoken political views has some wondering - is Emergent a new camp for Christian liberalism? In this post Tony Jones, the national coordinator for Emergent, responds to critics by championing Emergent's conversational purpose and celebrating the group's diversity.
I read a lot of blogs, my wife and friends say too many. And some of those blogs are deeply critical of Emergent Village, a decade-old friendship that has, after my family, become home to my most important relationships. My Emergent friends, old and new, love Jesus and are robustly grappling their way into God's future. It seems to me that the two most important commitments that we in Emergent share are 1) we are ultimately hopeful about God's future, and 2) we are committed to moving forward together, as friends.
What continues to surprise me is how dangerous some people consider this friendship I'm in to be. If you take some of these blogs (and books) seriously, those of us who make up the Emergent Village are a great threat to the Christian church - we have undermined doctrine, truth, and church life. The fact that we're discussing theological items that have been previously deemed "undiscussable" is considered grounds for labels like "heretic" and "apostate."
When Gregory Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, preached about the danger of mingling the mission of the church with conservative politics he ignited passionate responses on both sides, and 1,000 people left the church. In part two of an excerpt from Boyd's new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan 2006), he says much of this passion is fueled by the false belief that America is a Christian nation and that the church's role is to reinforce that belief.
What gives the connection between Christianity and politics such strong emotional force in the U.S.? I believe it is the longstanding myth that America is a Christian nation.
From the start, we have tended to believe that God's will was manifested in the conquest and founding of our country - and that it is still manifested in our actions around the globe. Throughout our history, most Americans have assumed our nation's causes and wars were righteous and just, and that "God is on our side." In our minds - as so often in our sanctuaries - the cross and the American flag stand side by side. Our allegiance to God tends to go hand in hand with our allegiance to country. Consequently, many Christians who take their faith seriously see themselves as the religious guardians of a Christian homeland. America, they believe, is a holy city "set on a hill," and the church's job is to keep it shining.
Midterm elections are heating up across the country, and many analysts expect evangelical voters to remain a potent political force. But not everyone is encouraged by the church's ascent in recent years to political power. Gregory Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, has written a new book addressing the dangers of intermingling the gospel and the GOP. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2006), outlines Boyd's concerns and chronicles his pastoral attempts to extricate the cross from the flag. Below is an excerpt.
Like many evangelical pastors in the months before the 2004 election, I felt pressure from a number of right-wing political and religious sources, as well as from some people in my own congregation, to "shepherd my flock" into voting for "the right candidate" and "the right position." Among other things, I was asked to hand out leaflets, to draw attention to various political events, and to have our church members sign petitions, make pledges, and so on. Increasingly, some in our church grew irate because of my refusal (supported by the church board) to have the church participate in these activities.
In April of 2004, as the religious buzz was escalating, I felt it necessary to preach a series of sermons that would provide a biblical explanation for why our church should not join the rising chorus of right-wing political activity. I also decided this would be a good opportunity to expose the danger of associating the Christian faith too closely with any political point of view, whether conservative or liberal. The series was entitled, "The Cross and the Sword."
Last week the Oscar nominations were announced and Brokeback Mountain, popularly known as the "gay cowboy movie," has been nominated for more awards than any other film. Although not a financial blockbuster, the film has been heralded by critics as a cinematic triumph. Newsweek's Sean Smith wrote, "Brokeback feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people's ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships."
Despite Hollywood's growing appreciation for evangelical viewers (and evangelical money), Brokeback Mountain was not marketed to church-goers. However, after reviewing Brokeback on ChristianityTodayMovies.com we received the following letter from one Christian who saw Brokeback Mountain, and believes there may be a hidden blessing in this film for the church.
Thank you for your honest review of Brokeback Mountain. First, I want to point out that I am a born-again believer who has known the Lord for many years. I have also struggled with homosexuality most of my life. Because I accept the written word of God as truth, and because it teaches that homosexuality is sin, I have never accepted homosexuality as an acceptable orientation and lifestyle. For obvious reasons, I wasn't sure if seeing Brokeback Mountain would be good for me. But, I saw the film anyway and I am glad that I did.