Posts Tagged ‘african american’

The other day a friend asked me whether I thought that
issues of race and ethnicity need to be addressed in the church. I firmly answered yes. This is a legacy that is hard to see due to our own interests and
desires. To those who are affected the most by the issue of race it is very plain that race is still an issue. Some may think that since Obama’s election as President of the Unites States that we live in a post racial society but judging from recent headlines I seriously doubt that we are post racial. In fact, we are anything but post racial. This can be clearly seen in comments on Youtube that involve race. While our public face on race is very politically correct the internet gives us the ability to remain anonymous. This anonymity gives people the freedom to speak what is really on their minds and spit venom on the web that is aggressive, demeaning, and degrading. The issue of race during the 2008 campaign and after Obama was elected has been in the forefront of American public life.

From the whole incident with the Bostonpolice and Henry Louis Gates which resulted in the infamous Beer Gate To the shocking police brutality inflicted on Jordan Miles
of Pittsburgh.We have seen many incidents that show that race is still an issue in this country.

Just to show the pervasiveness of race as an issue in this country here are a few other news stories from this year which reveal the past is not far behind us.

Santa Monica student bullied with noose and chain Santa Monica Noose incident

Virginia Teacher holds mock slave auction where white children buy and sell black and mixed race children Virginia Teacher holds mock slave auction

Big controversy over the ESPN magazine article What if Michael Vick were white?

These are incidents that show me that race is still an issue in America. Why? Because contrary to what the Christian right will tell you America wasnot only built on “Christian” values but also on the concept of the supremacy of one race over another. This is the legacy of white supremacy and we cannot just shrug it aside. It is built into our culture and  our public institutions. It seeps into our private life and relational interactions. As much as the civil rights movement made tremendous strides there is an ominous racial legacy that guides and influences the media, policymakers, and whole communities. It is a racial legacy that even affects the victims of racism as they themselves become oppressors of each other and of others who are not in power. This can clearly be seen in the recent Katt Williams Anti-Mexican Rant. I believe the legacy of racism can force one black man to insult and demean another brown man not just because he is a messed up individual (which may be the case) but also because race and ethnicity has been set up to divide people in this country and is connected to socioeconomic and class/power issues.

So is racism still an issue? Does race still matter? I say yes. But not in the same way as it did in the sixties. I believe the civil rights movement of the sixties addressed many legal and political barriers that were set up by racism but there are still socioeconomic and cultural barriers that need to be addressed. And this issue will only get deeper as the Katt Williams episode shows us that the legacy of racism has not only set up a black/white divide but also division among various ethnic groups as they compete for and pursue human flourishing in a democracy.

What are your thoughts?


We have been going through a series at church on the Life of David: Living a Dangerously Passionate Life. Last week’s sermon was on the topic of David the worshipper and worshipping without limits. The question asked was when it comes to worship how far is too far? Does God place a limit to our worship? I mean after being a Christian for 14 years I have seen it all from crazy sock worship to the holy ghost hokey pokey. There are many things that have made me cringe when it comes to Christian worship but I would have to say that when it is true and genuine worship there are no limits to its expression because we serve a limitless God.

That being said I would like to draw attention to the Vineyard emphasis on worship minus hype. From my perspective as an African American I struggle with the perspective and practice of worship minus hype. God deserves hype. In other words if we cannot hype God up and get crazy about God then he does not deserve to be called God. One of the tendencies I see is that because the Vineyard emerged in white suburbia Jesus is seen more as a friend. Intimacy and friendship with God prized and consequently we do not hype up our friends. It seems like empty flattery and disingenuous. It also leads to a comfort and inactivity because after all, our friends will always be there. In other words God can become in danger of being taken for granted

On the other end of the spectrum I think the African American church see Jesus more as king. The one who deserves to be made much of. So we dance and sing and shout because the King has given us victory. It is natural to look to Jesus as king when you are on the edge of poverty and despair. It means that God is someone to be reckoned with and deserves all that we have. It means that sometimes God deserves a praise break At the same time it can turn God into a cosmic vending machine and put the focus on what he gives and does versus who he is. It also can lead to worship that is just mindless activity and no intimacy.

No doubt none of these different traditions would deny the perspective of Jesus as king or as a friend but I do believe that in each one perspective on Jesus is usually overemphasized over the other. And although we may affirm all of who Christ is what we say is very different from what we do and our theology is usually expressed in our praxis.

What do you think? Can God be worshipped without hype? What is the Vineyard missing out on by not celebrating Jesus as king? What is the African American church missing out on by not focusing on Jesus as friend? Do you think this is a fair representation of the two traditions? Is it possible to blend the two traditions together?

I just had a long FB debate/discussion concerning my last blog post. One of the things that was brought up was that I was singling out African Americans in the Eddie Long situation as the only ones who are too lenient with their leaders. It is painfully obvious that there are fallen leaders in the Body of Christ and many people will give them undying loyalty. I think that is a given. What I am attempting to communicate and what I have noticed is that as a people I believe that we let things slide too much and this is to the detriment of our community. From that perspective I could care less what Haggard, Swaggart, Bakker or whoever else have done. It is grievous spiritually but I am talking from a social perspective. African Americans as a people group are in a greater danger for allowing our leaders to abuse and manipulate us. We have the least amount of assets. We also are more prone to let our lives be guided by the church. The preacher still has a huge voice in the community and competes with the rapper for swaying the people towards this trend or that trend. And this is where I have to confess:

I have not done justice to my own community. I have been outside of my community critiquing it privately. Well that is not going to solve anything. I am now committed to offering constructive criticism as well as getting my hands dirty in my community. Yes everyone needs help but I believe we as African Americans are the saddest case of all. Out of all the ethnicities in America we have been given the most opportunity and we squander it. I am committed to at least figuring out why and attempting to put a stop to it. We are the last in everything except criminality and buffoonery. This is unacceptable! For the past eight years I have been leading and serving in a multiethnic church and it has opened my eyes to other peoples and other cultures but it has also opened my eyes to who I am and the plight of my own people. So Am I too hard on black people? Who knows. I do know that right now I am hard on myself.

I have been busy with a crazy spring quarter but well…I had to say something. I am sure you are aware of the Eddie Long fiasco and his $25 million out of court settlement. Guilty. Obviously. The thing is I was sitting and thinking about how leaders keep falling in the Christian community and especially in the black community and I got a flash of insight into why it makes me so angry. What really ticks me off is not the fact that he is spending $25 million of the church’s money to settle a clear matter of his lack of integrity. What really ticks me off is not how that money could have been used to fuel opportunities for black innovation and investment. What really ticks me off about this is that it is another example of African Americans being too lenient on our leaders. Reporters are saying that New Birth is collapsing because of the situation and many are leaving and not giving money. But you know what??? He will still have a following! Why? We are too nice. And it’s not just in the church. We let people like R. Kelly off the hook and say things like “judge not or you will be judged” and “we fall down but we get up”. Sometimes we need to fall down and sit down for a while and get ourselves together!

We tolerate anything! We will let our leaders abuse us, manipulate us, steal money from us, and profit from our oppression. Some people say slavery is over but mental slavery is alive and well in the black community. This has me angry and fumed and filled with questions:

Do other communities tolerate this from their leaders?

Has there been a stream of folks defecting from New Birth or is it business as usual?

What is it about black folks that we tolerate this stuff? What is the primary cause?

Chime in and let me know what you think!

Afam flag
Black History Month is almost over but Black History continues on. I want to talk about what it means to be black? Cornel West in his seminal work Prophesy Deliverance outlines four responses by African Americans to white supremacy. They are the exceptionalist tradition, the assimilationist tradition, the marginalist tradition, and the humanist tradition. The African American exceptionalist tradition lauds the uniqueness of African American culture and personality. The African American assimilationsist tradition considers African American culture and personality to be pathological.The African American marginalist tradition posits African American culture to be restrictive, constraining, and confining. The African American humanist tradition extolls the distinctiveness of African American culture and personality.

I believe the humanist tradition holds the greatest promise when it comes to defining black identity. If you talk to an average black person on the street what makes them black? what makes them African American you will get a multitude of answers. Some will pump up their Africanness and talk of the its superiority and not realize they are trapped and hedged in by American values. This is the main flaw in the exceptionalist tradition. Others will talk about how they are American and that our ancestors have struggled hard to make it in this nation. They will talk about how absurd it is to want to embrace our African heritage and what’s wrong with those n—az over there who won’t get their act together? All this is said without realizing all of America will not totally accept them. This is the flaw of the assimilationist tradition. The next answer will be how different we all are and we need to express ourselves the way we see fit and not be hedged in by being African American. It’s time to get beyond racial and ethnic categories. This is the marginalist tradition and the main flaw is that it too is idealistic and it supports a naive individuality at the expense of community and political praxis. The humanist tradition celebrates and applauds African American culture and tradition while at the same time not idolizing it and perceiving it as perfection. Being black in America is a both/and proposition. There is good and there is bad. That is what it means to be African American and that is what it means to be human. I’m connected to my African American brothers and sisters and I’m connected to the human race. This is why I love hip hop, dreads, stories my grandfather tells of life in Oklahoma, and the beauty of a well cooked pot of gumbo. At the same time I can deplore the senseless violence of the ghetto, the exploitation of the community by prosperity preachers, and the most horrible movie in the world: Soul Plane. African American is African and American. Both/And.

Scapegoating is on the rise these days. I believe we all have a need to find someone or something to blame. This is not anything new. It has been done to my people for years. Once we were emancipated from slavery, the embittered Southern poor blamed African Americans for all of their problems and they took us out in the woods and hung us on trees. They found their scapegoat. Recently it has been immigrants. Yes they are to blame for all of our problems. They overspent our federal and state budgets. They sanctioned and unjust war and let the economy wither and die. Now as we are approaching the anniversary of September 11th we find scapegoats to blame for that horrible massacre and we say its Islam and Muslims. We have pastors burning qurans and people marching on Washington. All in an attempt to find someone to blame….a scapegoat. Scapegoats can usually be identified by three characteristics:

They have to be weak and voiceless. To be a proper scapegoat you cannot be in the center of power. You must be at the margins. Those with power do not get blamed for the problems that we collectively face even though they collectively lead us. It is those who have no say so and no voice in the decisions that get blamed and are scapegoated.

They have to be different. The scapegoat has to be in the minority and be different. Uniformity is often equal to holiness. This is quite opposite of the nature of God who is three persons in unity and not uniformity. He is a unity in diversity and yet we see difference and diversity as a stain.

They have to be purged. In order to deal with this problem the scapegoat has to be purged. Whether its lynching them on a tree or deporting them back to their country or burning up their defiling books or holding them without due process for being a suspected terrorist, it is a way to rid the land of their unclean presence so things can be made “right”.

On September 11th I will not be scapegoating. I will be baptizing people as they make a commitment to the one who was the ultimate scapegoat. In John 11:50 Caiaphas the high priest says “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” And so he died as a scapegoat for the Jewish people but also as a scapegoat for all of us. In so many ways I wish that was the end of this awful practice. Sadly it is not and all I can do is pray that we do not continue to blame innocent victims for our problems but work collectively to deal with the challenges that face us and look in the mirror at what needs to be purged and made right.

Yes I said it. I am still a part of the black church. But first I want to clarify what that means. I do not mean the black church in a local church sense but the black church in a philosophical/ideological sense. The black church was started as a way to affirm the culture and dignity of African Americans. It was a sign and an expression of freedom at a time where although politics, economics, and even sports were controlled by whites the one thing that was still the ownership of African Americans was worship! This is my culture and I have not left all of it in a particular locality. I take it with me into my small group interaction, my sermons, my mentoring times, my prayers. I cannot deny who I am especially as I am involved with a group of people seeking to create a third culture. My contribution is important.

Whenever you enter a cross cultural situation you cannot leave behind who you are. Most think that you have to become 100% Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese etc. to relate to people within that ethnicity and culture. The real fact of the matter is that is impossible to be 100% incarnated into a different culture. You would have to be born into the culture. I believe many are afraid to truly relate to others on a deep level because they fear their identity will be left behind. The truth is as Sherwood Lingenfelter says in his book Ministering Cross Culturally “the goal of every missionary and possibly every Christian should be to become a 150% person.” It means not to deny who you are but to become more than who you are by the give and take that you experience as you relate to others incarnationally.

So I am still part of the black church. What does that mean? It means that I still am in solidarity with all those who are oppressed and want the justice that God brings. It means that I release others to worship in the form that they want to worship in. At the same time it means that in whatever context my intonations of speech, circular method of preaching, crowd participation etc. etc. betray me like Peter’s Galilean accent betrayed him in Jerusalem. Yes I am still part of the black church.